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Once upon a time in Brisbane

there was a little worker’s cottage in a suburb called Murarrie,
where a grandma with big bear hugs squeezed the air from little chests,
and ginger nut bikkies and ginger ale were devoured
by knobbly kneed kids, unaccustomed to such delights.

This Grandma was a magical memory maker
and cast her spell on all her grandchildren
so that one day they would also become magical memory makers.

She had ginger hair, turned grey, deftly brushed and restrained
with brown squiggly hairpins, into an abundant bun, always.
She was short and plump, but strong in arm and opinion.

A macadamia bush would greet us, alongside Grandma, at the front gate,
dark green and rich with nuts, more scattered on the grass
leathery casings with lips cracked open to reveal the shiny brown prize
the macadamia nut
eagerly collected by the grand kids, and placed carefully in a hole
in the cement three step staircase leading to Grandma’s kitchen.
Crack!
Hammer smack.
don’t eat too many or you’ll get a tummy ache
wise words dismissed without delay by hungry children.

Running like crazy around yard and house
searching for new surprises,
close scrutiny of bookshelves was a must
scrabbling through the ever-changing hodge podge
collection of tattered paperbacks –
Biggles and Boys Own Annuals,
the three boys had grown and left home but the books wanted to stay.
Reading material was given, taken, returned, taken again –
an inter generational book merry-go-round.

Wood and glass cabinets were full of dust collectors, but
endlessly fascinating for the mind and eye of a child.
Old styled dressing table with large mirror, so full of stuff,
large hairbrushes, bobby pins, talcum powder,
dangling necklaces, jewellery boxes,
old fashioned perfume decanters –
perfume dispensed at the squeeze of a fabric covered air bubble,
yellow tinged formal photographs
of a long time ago
with Grandpa, black and white, and well dressed
for the annual photo of union leaders,
heading up the plasterers.

A pot belly fridge choking with ice
grumbled at the back of a tiny kitchen,
resenting little hands
opening and shutting,
opening and shutting
don’t let the hot air in.

Monstrous mango trees cooled the little Queenslanders
and protected skin, tin and timber from scorching rays.

A dilapidated wooden fence peeked out from under
the tight embrace of a mulberry bush,
the luscious fruit blushing.

A crooked, cracked pathway on a lumpy backyard
led to the outhouse,
one room backyard dunny
placed as far away from the house as the garden would allow.
A bucket of wood shavings beside the grim toilet was used to hide offerings.
Grandma would say discretely
I’m off to visit me Aunty
or
I’m going to drop a penny
when needing to go to the backyard dispensary
and I wondered where this lady was hidden, and what happened to the coins.
At night it was always wise to journey to the outhouse in pairs
hearts pounded fast, only slowing when safely back inside,
in front of the old black and white box television,

with alien antennae.

Grandma the cat lady
cats, cats and more cats,
there was the inner circle, her own cats,
and there was the outer circle,
the motley crew of strays,
diseased, skinny, mouldy cats
scary cats
the smell of dried and tinned cat food
competed with sunlight soap
for a place in our memories of
Grandma’s place.

Then there were the thick, putrid smells from the local tannery,

punishing our nostrils when the wind made a bad choice in direction,
hanging about like crows in the school yard
waiting for children to finish lunch.

A Westerly wind would answer our prayers
and the smell was gone,
replaced by freshly mown grass,
marble cake and tea.

Time spent at the gingerbread house,
under the spell of the magical memory maker,
weaved some magical memories indeed.

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