I was woken up by the noise coming from Granny’s bedroom. It was 3 am in the morning. I could hear Granny walk into the kitchen. I guessed she was going to make a cup of tea for herself. She often did that when she couldn’t sleep at night.
“Did I wake you? Sorry honey!”
“Have another nightmare?”
“It’s not a nightmare, just a dream.”
“Was it a bad dream?”
“No, not a bad dream, a dream that keeps me alive.”
“What did you dream about?”
“One day I’ll tell you all about it, now you better go to bed.”
* * *
Granny used to live with us when I was much younger. Both Mum and Dad worked. Granny was the one who fed and dressed me. Later, she would take me to school and back home. She was the one who kissed my bruises and made them feel better. She was the one who knew all my friends’ names and what they liked.
I was much closer to Granny than my parents.
Mum and Granny were always clashing. Mum threw things around, left clothing to pile up and shoes everywhere. Granny was a tidy, organised and clean person.
On the most practical level, Granny liked to do things properly, meticulously. She was a perfectionist and had a highly analytical mind. Dad was just like his mother, that’s why he was so successful in his field.
I liked to be with Granny, especially hanging out with her in Officeworks, the store that supplied stationary. She had a habit of keeping a diary and making to do lists; she had lots of pens and nice notebooks.
Mum didn’t like Granny much; she said Granny lived in a dream world of her own.
Poor Dad was torn between Mum and Granny for a long time. Finally, Dad bought a unit for Granny to move in when I was old enough to be on my own after school.
During the weekends and school holidays I would go to Granny’s unit and stay for a couple of days or more. I liked to talk to her. She had a keen intelligence and a capacity for learning and made her decisions based on sound judgments. According to her, practical facts were preferable to naïve or airy beliefs.
Granny’s unit was in Kew. When I asked her why she chose Kew to live, she said: “My heart has stayed in Kew ever since I was young.”
I noticed that every now and then, Granny would be woken up by her dreams in the middle of the night. Afterwards she would sit in the lounge and stare into the air. If I asked her what she was doing, she would send me to bed and say she’d tell me one day.
* * *
That ‘one day’ was due. I wanted to know what Granny’s dreams were all about, how come they kept her alive?
“You are so much mature then I was at 17. Computers and telecommunications have certainly changed the whole world’s behaviour.”
“So, will you tell me your dreams?”
Granny cleaned up the breakfast table, I loaded the dishes in the dishwasher. We both sat down on the couch where the winter sun shone in.
“This morning I dreamt that I was walking on the street on my own. I saw someone I knew. I called his name, he stopped and turned around but he didn’t recognise me. He still looked like what I remembered, but I am not the same, I am an old lady now.”
I watched the sunshine on Granny’s silver hair. She looked like an angel from heaven above. But this angel looked so sad. I didn’t understand why she felt sad just because a friend didn’t recognise her?
“He was not just a friend, he was your grandfather.”
My grandfather was dead, that’s what Dad told me. He said he never knew him because he died before he was born.
“No, honey, he is pretty much alive. I know because he comes to my dreams often, that’s his way of reminding me not to forget him.”
“Where is he?”
“He lives in Kew, in an old house that belongs to the family.”
“Near your place?”
“I don’t know! Honey, when I met your grandfather, I was 18. A naïve 18 year old, not a smart 18 year old like today’s young girls.”
“You don’t know where grandfather lived? Weren’t you living together?”
“Are you sure you are ready for this?”
“Granny, I am not a kid any more. Dad and Mum won’t not tell me anything, and I think I have the right to know who my grandfather is.”
“You are right honey, you have got his eyes – beautiful grey eyes, that’s where your Dad got his from!
I met Rhobert in the summer time in Beaumaris, that’s where we both lived at the time.
One day my mother sent me to get some groceries from the local milk bar. Three boys nearby spotted me and started to hassle me. I didn’t know what to do; the more I kept my silence the louder they became.
Suddenly someone took my shopping basket from me and said: ‘Mum wondered where you were, hurry up before Dad drives past here, you’ll get into big trouble.’
I hurried along and followed that person away from those boys.
That was Rhobert, what a brave person he was. One against three? Not many people would dare.
I asked him later, wasn’t he scared those boys may pick a fight with him?
‘Of course I was scared, but I couldn’t let them hassle you and do nothing about it. If they fought with me, at least it would be a chance for you to run away.’
We were both doing our HSC that year. We bravely started to see each other every day after school. Later, when the final exam was over we would spend the whole day together. We fell head over heels madly in love.
His mother had a wealthy uncle who had never married. After he passed away, she inherited his mansion in Kew. The condition of the inheritance was that she and her descendants could live in it but were not allowed to sell the property. If no one wanted to live in it for more than a year, it would be donated to some health organisation.
Rhobert’s family waited till he finished his HSC examinations, as they didn’t want to disturb his studies, then they moved to Kew. The mansion had been vacant since early that year.
On 13th December of that year he followed his family and moved to Kew. It was an unhappy day for both of us. He called me that night using a public phone and told me that his parents had had a fight because his father forgot to connect the phone. In a week’s time he was to travel to Wales by himself; he would like to see me one more time before he left. But there was no public transport in Beaumaris and he couldn’t ask his mother to drive him over without a good excuse.
We both cried with desperation.
You see, in our generation, we were too young to be allowed to date. Both our parents were kept in the dark, they had no idea we were in love.
Before he hung up the phone, he said he would try to call me tomorrow.
I waited anxiously for his call the whole of the next day but he didn’t call.
The next day passed, again he didn’t call. I didn’t go out of the house, my ears were erect and tuned in to the phone. I didn’t want to miss his call. I missed him terribly.
A week later, I knew he wouldn’t call ’til he was back in Melbourne so it would be while. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see him before he left for Wales, but I understood that was the way it was. I would wait, I didn’t mind waiting.
When I found out that I was pregnant, I couldn’t tell my mother anything about Rhobert, except his name. I didn’t have his address, not even a phone number. I didn’t know his father’s first name and the surname Jones was too common to search for. I didn’t know his mother’s maiden name so was not able to find the mansion that used to belong to her uncle. I didn’t know where he lived in Beaumaris, we always met somewhere near the shop.
My father went ballistic, he wanted to kill the boy who had done that to me, and my mother couldn’t stop crying. To avoid the shame on our family, my parents sent me to Nanango, a small old country town in Queensland, where I stayed with my auntie until your father was born.
While I was away, my parents sold the house in Beaumaris and moved to Lalor. No one knew us on the other side of the city. After I came back to Melbourne, my parents told the neighbours that my husband had died in an accident.
Rhobert and I lost contact.
That kind of situation would never happen in this time and age. You’ve all got a mobile phone, contact is simple and easy. I belong to the old and unfortunate times.
I never gave up the hope that one day I would see Rhobert again. The feelings we had for each other would not disappear, we were meant to be together, and we would find a way. I knew it, and I was very sure of it.
Sometimes life gets me down and I can’t see the positive side but once he comes to my dreams, I pick up the positive vibe again and soldier on.
When two hearts are connected, nothing will keep them apart.”
“You didn’t really know him very long.”
“No, but it was the best time in my whole life. Some people stay their whole life together and dislike each other, do things to spite each other. What I had in that short time was total devotion, dedication and commitment. I pray to God every night to let us bump into each other, to let me have what I deserve, let my son know his father, let my grand-daughter know her grandfather. That’s not too much to ask from God, is it?”
Granny passed me the tissues. Through my tears, I saw the trust, faith and confidence on her face. The love between my grandparents must have been so strong that it could last for 43 years and never fade away.
At that very moment, I knew I was going to do something to try to find my grandfather, for Granny and for myself.
I started my search on the internet; it was not an easy task!
Mum didn’t like the idea that I spent my free time searching for my grandfather. She thought I should concentrate on my studies.
All my marks were good, as always, so she couldn’t win the argument.
“Your Granny is not all there. Come on, who would be waiting for some phantom to turn up like a miracle?”
“Grandfather is not a phantom, that’s why I am searching for him.”
“You are wasting your time, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Sometimes when people are facing a drastic situation, they block out the painful memories and make up some fancy story to make themselves feel better.”
Sometimes I thought Mum being a psychologist had destroyed her ability to know that people have their individuality. We were not all made from the same mould! You have to treat each case as it is.
Dad didn’t care how I spent my time, as long as I kept my part of the bargain and brought home good results for my studies. He wanted me to have a good education. He paid my private school fees, never questioned the extras that the school asked for. He was happy with my progress at the school, that’s all there was to it.
“So you do believe Grandfather is somewhere in Kew?” I asked Dad.
“I didn’t say that. I am happy for you and Granny to have some common goal. Who knows what you can find in your research? That’s what education’s for, to train your brain to think.”
The internet was my first step in the search for my grandfather.
Later I moved to the Melbourne residential phone list and called everyone listed as R Jones or B Jones. It was a total of 437 phone numbers. Even if it had been four thousand, I knew I could do it, and I would do it.
“Hello, may I speak to Mr Rhobert Jones…I am not selling anything, I am looking for Mr Jones who was born in 1949….”
“….Do you spell your name R-H-O-B-E-R-T?..”
“…..did you move to Kew from Beaumaris in 1968?…”
“….did you know someone called Deborah?….”
It was not easy on the phone talking to people you didn’t know. It took a lot of patience, self-control, persistence and perseverance. If not for the reason that I had, I would have given up calling after a few tries.
After months of dissatisfaction on the phone, plus Mum’s discouragement, I was about to give up hope. Suddenly my hard work got a result. Just to make absolutely sure, I double checked with the person on the other end:
“Was your father from Wales?”
“He was born there.”
Yahoo, I had done it, I had done it! At last I had found my grandfather. Granny’s dream had finally come true.
Granny’s reaction to the news was worth all the hard work I had done. For a while she sat in silence, tears coming down her face, her hands held tightly together in front of her chest. Then she cried with joy, her face beamed with delight. It was the first time I really understood what happiness meant.
We sat face to face at the kitchen table after Granny calmed down. Strangely enough I felt closer to her than I had ever felt.
“I am old and wrinkled, my hair is grey, my eyesight is blurred; I am too far gone compared with when I was 18.”
“Don’t forget he has got old too, it’s not like he’s still 18 and you are 63!”
Granny lost her calm temperament. One minute she wanted to make a tuna sandwich for lunch; the next minute she wanted to go to Leo’s to buy some delicacy.
She dropped a mug on the floor, spilled the tea all over the kitchen floor. When she tried to mop the floor, she knocked the basil plant off the bench.
“Calm down Granny. Let me clean up the mess, you need to sit down and let the idea of meeting grandfather sink in first.”
“I have been looking forward to seeing Rhobert ever since we were parted. It’s been too long, I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t want to disappoint him.”
“How can you disappoint him? You’ve been waiting to see him all your life, that is enough to melt any man’s heart.”
“The gravity and time took away his image of me, maybe I should leave it as it is, let him remember me the way I was.”
Granny kept changing her mind. One minute she wanted to cancel the meeting, the next she couldn’t wait to see him. We both couldn’t sleep well at night.
* * *
It was a gloomy Sunday. Granny spent the whole morning worrying about her hair and outfit. I’d never seen Granny worry so much about her appearance before. She was very much like a teenage girl going out on a first date.
We picked a corner table at the nursery café on Burwood Highway. There were not many customers around at 2.30 pm.
An old man walked into the café. I didn’t take any notice of him. He walked straight to us and asked:
I jumped up. As surprised as I was, I offered him a seat.
I went inside to order drinks and watched them from a distance.
He was a lot older then 63 for sure. Granny’s face had lost its glow. I didn’t know what could have gone wrong.
The meeting was short. He was not my grandfather. The poor man had a hearing problem. He was born in 1931, his father was born in New South Wales, and he had had a girlfriend called Debbie when he was a young man.
There was disappointment felt by all three parties.
“I told you, you were wasting your time. Robert spelt with an ‘h’? I don’t think so. Granny made it all up, it’s her illusion.”
That was my Mum, and she thought I was a difficult teenager.
Granny became withdrawn after the meeting. She lost her focus, she was not interested in what was going on around her anymore.
Two weeks later, Granny died in her sleep. I guess she lost her hope and dreams; she was willing to go.
Dad, as a dutiful son, wished to bury Granny in her favourite suburban cemetery; Mum wasn’t happy with the cost.
“That’s the last money I can spend on my mother. I don’t care if it costs me an arm and a leg”, Dad said with tears running down his face.
I couldn’t get over the fact that Granny was gone. After the burial I strolled along the cemetery path, hoping to find some answers: why did Granny die at such a young age without any sickness? Why did she have to suffer through life through no fault of hers? Where was my grandfather?
Sobbing badly as I was, I tripped over on my own feet. I sat on the ground and cried my heart out.
Dad was following me at some distance. Suddenly I heard him cry “Oh dear Lord”.
I got up from the ground, wiped away my tears and walked toward where Dad was kneeling. On the tombstone in front of him was written “Rhobert Jones – The good die young – 13 Dec 1968”.