I was just about to pedal home when someone stopped me. I haven't seen him for some years and then only to wave to in passing. When my parents moved to this house he was in high school.
He is the older of two boys. He was the responsible one who didn't cause his parents too much worry. His brother was the wild one, always in and out of trouble. We would hear furious arguments coming from the house and the yard and heard tales of his bad behaviours. He was not expelled from school but they asked him to leave because he was so disruptive. He was probably responsible for a lot of graffiti. He had fines for speeding. He was trouble.
Their mother was intensely house proud. Her hobby, if she had one, was housework. At eleven o'clock at night she would be cleaning the front step because there was a smudge of dirt on it.
Their father had had by-pass surgery and had apparently changed from being a fairly relaxed friendly individual to an anxious and reclusive one.
But my parents got on well enough with them. When the husband retired they went to live in another part of the state where he could indulge in his passion for fishing. We wondered what would happen to the boys. The older one had just finished his chosen course and was starting work. He married his long time girlfriend and moved just up the hill from us. He has two boys - lively boys he told me.
He talked to me about his parents, now elderly. His father is in a nursing home after falling down some stairs. He has Alzheimer's. They can't sell the house in their country town. There are problems. It is the end to the romantic dream of retiring to the country - the one that worked while they were young enough and fit enough to live there. It is the one that does not have the facilities for old age.
I could see how worried he was.
He hadn't mentioned his brother but I asked. He suddenly smiled.
"He's turned out okay."
"What's he doing?"
"He's a plumber...did all the qualifications too."
Then he looked at me and said, "I can remember you telling Mum not to worry - that he'd be okay. How did you know?"
I thought back. There were three things I think. The first is that he loved (and still loves) animals. Animals went to him. Strange dogs would talk to him. Cats would climb on him. He could hold his hand out and birds would take food from it. The next was that I once saw him, when he had no idea anyone he knew was there, help an elderly woman up the step into the train and insist on her being given a seat. Lastly he would go fishing alone. He told me once, "need to get away from it all". He would read while he was doing it. He read a lot.
I told his brother these things. He stood there thinking for a moment and then nodded.
"Yes, he still does those things and he's turned out okay."