The Old-timer

Reads: 62  | Likes: 2  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 3

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


A youngster befriends and old fellow.

Submitted: August 25, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 25, 2018

A A A

A A A


Old Jimmy Grant was a council worker who cleaned the gutters and drains alongside roads in our part of the world. He used a specially-shaped broom with a hoe on the other end to sweep the gutters clean, a shovel to pick up the rubbish and leaves, and his own horse pulled the council dray. With practiced ease he shovelled his sweepings into the dray.  I was seven or eight the first time I caught up with him as I dawdled on my way home from school, and as any boy would, I walked behind the dray holding onto the rear corner of it watching Jimmy work.  I’m not sure that old Jimmy even noticed me the first few times and I can’t remember how often I was towed by that rickety dray, or what routine Jimmy had, but it seemed to me that he cleaned along our road one day a week. Anyway, after a few times, Jimmy did notice me and he asked me if I wanted to sit up on the dray. I didn’t need to be asked twice, so I shinnied up the spokes of the front wheel and with a puffed out chest, rode all the way home.

Dad happened to be at the gate and smiled when he saw me atop the dray, he strolled over for a yarn with Jimmy. Usually I would have hung around to earwig, but I must have been hungry or needing a pee, so I left them to it! I found out soon enough what the conversation was about! The pair hadn’t met before, but Dad’s life-long interest in horses had him taking a shine to Jimmy’s half-draft horse straight off. He was called ‘Darkie’. Dad apparently had a half-pie ulterior motive; we had a four acre paddock that he wanted it cultivated in preparation for a crop of spuds. The underlying outcome though, was that from their encounter that day, the pair became rest-of-life friends.

Come the next Saturday, Jimmy arrived with Darkie to pull the single-furrow plough that Dad had borrowed from a farmer mate. I spent the day leading the horse, except when they made the complicated manoeuvre to turn around at the end of each furrow. I thought I was the main man leading Darkie, but I’m sure Jimmy and Darkie had it well-covered! A month later they came again, this time with a grubber to further break up the soil. According to the conversation, there had been several frosts so the soil seemed to break up fairly well. After another fortnight they were back with leaf harrows to finally till the soil. My job was to stand on any clods, or bash them with a stick. Or was that a ruse to keep me out of the way?

Planting the spuds took a while, but Dad didn’t want them to come right all at once anyway. We used baling twine tied to sticks to keep the rows straight and I hefted two cream cans, one with the seed spuds and the other with blood and bone powder. Dad handled the shovel and held the hole open, while I threw in a spud and a handful of blood and bone manure. First crops of spuds are always best-croppers, he told me, and come autumn, we dug them by hand and bagged them into wheat sacks as we went. The big ones were for the table and the small ones to be sold for seed. I went with Dad to Jimmy’s place to deliver half a dozen bags, as payment for the cultivation work he had done.

I remember the address to this day! Number one Domain Terrace! Jimmy lived with his two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. Mary had difficulty walking because she was a polio survivor. Of the three siblings, none had ever married. Inside, their house was as old-fashioned as they were, the first thing I noticed was that they still used a coal range for cooking. It was as black and shiny as a brand new one! I think the weekly painting with Imp Black, the same stuff my mother used on our fire grate, kept it that way. Their sitting room was wood-panelled to about five feet up the wall and was highly polished, but very dark. In the centre of the ceiling was a lampshade two or three feet in diameter, it had a kerosene lamp that could be adjusted up or down by pulleys and counterweight. The room smelt faintly of wood-smoke and kerosene, with a hint of lavender. The elderly people spoke with refined manners and they obviously cared for one another.

I wasn’t privy to whatever arrangements Dad made with Jimmy, but he must have retired or been replaced by the council, because I no longer saw him on the road, instead, he arrived at our house twice a week to work in our fairly extensive garden. We kept forty hens, and every now and then he would slaughter two and prepare them for cooking, one of them he took home with him wrapped in newspaper. Every second Sunday morning, I would accompany Dad to Jimmy and his sister’s place just to visit and to take Saturday morning’s Press. They liked to read the death notices and spoke in dulcet tones about the likely cause of death of people they knew.

Our number two milk truck was a 1936 Austin 10 and my Dad had me driving it as soon as my feet could touch the pedals. Once he was happy with my ability, he used to send me off on my own to Jimmy’s with the newspaper, where we shared a cup of tea and a buttered water biscuit. It became my ritual for the couple of years or so. Sometimes my mother would send some vegetables or eggs because Jimmy had become too unwell to bike all the way to our house to help in the garden.

A small stream passed through their property and on spring Sundays we all used sit among the daffodils on the bank to watch for the first ducklings and count them. Through the summer we watched their progress, but eels took their toll. They enjoyed feeding the ducks and the eels as well, usually first thing in the morning and still I remember the day Elizabeth warned Mary, the one who had suffered polio, that the banks could be slippery with morning dew and to be careful when she feed the ducks. The very next day Mary must have missed Elizabeth so went out in search for her. She found her face down in the stream! Poor Elizabeth didn’t survive.

I didn’t get to go to the funeral, my parents thought it best that I didn’t miss school. Sadly I never saw Jimmy or Mary again. I have no idea on whose authority, but they were moved to an elderly person’s hospice somewhere in the city and my parents were never told where they had been taken.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply