Wednesday, 26 December 2012

"1951", he says and looks around

at the gathering.
It is the year my sister's father in law came to Australia from Cyprus. He was sixteen and spoke no English. He travelled with a cousin not much older than himself. They were the advance party.
His first task was to find a job. His second was to learn English. After that he worked hard. He brought out his wife. He brought out each of his siblings. He helped to bring out his wife's siblings and, last of all, he brought out his parents.
There are four children. My sister is married to the engineer. His brother is a forensic chemist. One of the girls is an accountant and the other works in the court system. Their children, his grandchildren, have gone further still.
Papou, as the grandchildren call him, finished school at the end of primary school. His wife had three years of school. She cannot read or write English and her Greek is limited, becoming more so as Alzheimer's gains a greater hold on her mind. Their story is not uncommon, they did not have the same opportunities to continue their education but they made the most of their opportunities anyway. They were not given all the assistance migrants are given now.
Papou had surgery recently. He is much younger than my father but his body is almost as old. He is, quite simply, worn out. He has not, like many other men in his position, taken care of his health. You go to the doctor only if you feel really, really ill. Other than that he would still prefer to rely on the folk type medicine he was brought up to believe in. He does not really understand the Alzheimer's that is taking his wife from him - but does anyone really understand that?
But, despite all that, yesterday he was happy. He was happy to be where he was. He was happy to have his children and his grandchildren there. The last grandchild finished school this year.
Papou insisted on being Father Christmas. The cheap red outfit the family bought more than twenty years ago is growing threadbare in places. This year there was a new "beard" of cottonwool.  Adults and children alike posed "sitting" on his knee (actually on the arm of the chair). He handed out their gifts. There were cheers, laughter and demands of "wait" as multiple cameras caught the various moments.
Everyone is "much too old" for Father Christmas but - it's tradition.

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