34. Drummoyne 1936.
‘Where’s the booze? A man can’t be expected to celebrate a wedding without booze!’ George Dupond senior had clearly partaken of plenty before he gave his daughter away. His beery breath had wafted over the wedding party, much to the embarrassment of Violet and disgust of Hovee. But he did manage to remain standing long enough to witness kissing of the bride and to follow them outside where Martha joined him, holding him as steady as her strength would allow.
‘Shh! George, these people are teetotalers. They won’t be having beer to celebrate. You’ll be lucky to be allowed in for a cup of tea!’
She dragged him to the truck that was their transport and George’s source of income, when he wasn’t in court resulting from his numerous misdemeanours.
He climbed behind the wheel while Martha organised George Junior, Margaret and Louis onto the table top and Alan into the cab, to sit in the middle of its bench seat.
‘Do you want George Junior to drive? You’re a bit under the weather.’
‘Under the weather!’ he snarled. ‘You don’t know what under the weather is!’ He moved the gear stick to “neutral” and pressed the starter. It whirred until it began to slow. ‘Jesus Christ! Don’t say the bloody battery’s flat!’
Martha looked out to see if any of the Rays had heard the language. It seemed they hadn’t, being already on their way in more modern cars that started first go. But she could not let the opportunity pass. ‘George!’ she exclaimed. ‘They’ll hear you!’
‘Let the bastards. See if I care what those bloody wowsers think.’ He tried the starter again and it caught. He rammed the gearbox into first and jerked ahead. ‘Anyway, I can drive pissed better than bloody George can drive sober. I practice driving pissed.’ He laughed as he changed into second gear with a crunch of protesting cogs and accelerated, swinging onto the main road with squeals of fear and delight wafting in from children clinging to the loadboard.
The Dupond family arrived at 38 Baker Street after all the other guests, and were confronted by Violet and Hovee at the front door.
Young Mary had been waiting and led the children through to where scones, cakes, sandwiches and lamingtons had been arranged in the sunroom, while Violet blocked her father’s way. ‘Dad, you’ve been drinking and if you embarrass me in there, I will never speak to you again.’
Martha began to sob as she held her husband’s arm.
Hovee stood with his new wife, his faced hard and fists clenched by his side. George took in the threatening stance and leered.
‘So you think you could take me on, do you? That’ll be the day.’ He laughed and leant forward to push Hovee in the chest. Hovee stood his ground but did not move his hands.
‘This is our wedding day and I want it to be a happy one but this is my father’s house where we have been given a home so…’
‘So what?’ George had stepped back but appeared to be still angry.
‘We don’t allow strong drink in this house, so if you have any on you, I’d like you to leave it in the truck.’
‘In the bloody truck? There’s no booze in the truck or I’d have my own party in the flamin’ truck and bugger you lot.’
Martha was now crying openly. Violet closed the door and stood in front of it, blocking his way. ‘Dad! Leave now. You will not ruin my wedding day.’ She turned to her mother then hugged her. ‘Sorry Mum, I can’t let him in there. They’ll never forgive me.’ She turned to Hovee. ‘Tell George to get the rest of them together. They’re going home.’
Hovee disappeared into the house while her father glared at her.
‘You’re not my daughter.’ He spat at her feet then turned, pulling Martha with him down the three porch steps. On the last step he stumbled and was held up by Martha. He shook off her hands and pushed her ahead. ‘I don’t need your bloody help. Get in the truck!’
Her siblings stared wide eyed at Violet as they pushed past and ran down the steps. Margaret stopped and hugged Violet.
‘Happy marriage Sis.’ She said. Then with a wave, joined the rest of them clambering aboard.
Hands clasped, they watched as the truck lumbered up the hill toward Liverpool Road. When it had left for Fairfield they re-entered the house. ‘I feel terrible about that. Poor Mum, she’ll cop it when they get home.’
He stopped her and lifted her chin to kiss her softly then led her along the hall to the party.
‘Where’s Mr and Mrs Dupond?’
Mary junior seemed oblivious to Violet’s remorse, but her mother was quick to leave her duties at the big tea pot and hug her, then with a soft ‘there, there’, lead her into the kitchen for a chat.
4. 38 Baker Street 1937.
Mary Steadman Ray lay on her death bed. The heart attack that brought her down was no surprise to her family at Four Mile Creek, where Hovee and Violet had driven in the old Rugby for a two weeks honeymoon.
A heart attack had killed Mary’s father and his father before him, but the girls seemed to have escaped the scourge until now.
Violet sat at her bedside holding Mary’s soft small hand and gently murmured a hymn she had learned at school. ‘Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…’ she sang, listening to laboured breathing. All the others were asleep, or at least in bed.
She had taken over the vigil from Clarissa at midnight and she would sit here until the men were up about six. She smiled, as she pictured herself helping Clissy get their breakfasts of oatmeal and eggs with sausage, then cut their lunches while they ate.
They had work now, renovating a cottage for one of the churchmen but that would end in a few weeks and they would have to again rely on the garden and the fowls for most of their sustenance.
She took Mary’s pulse. It was weak and fluttering. She sighed and stood to look out over the dark street in time to see a ragged man stagger along clutching a wine bottle against his chest.
She sighed and mumbled the words that had become her prayer of thanks. ‘Oh Lord, thank you for a loving man who does not smoke nor drink!’
A low moan drew her back to the bed. She lifted one limp wrist and finding no pulse, flicked her stethoscope into her ears and listened. Nothing.
Death was not new to Violet, but she sat heavily and then buried her face in the old woman’s breast. ‘I love you Mumma Ray,’ she whispered and lifted her head to stand and pull the white sheet up to cover Mary’s face.
Outside the room, she walked to the kitchen to fire up the old gas range and move a full kettle onto the burner, then sat to let this moment be hers. The history of this family was etched into the old deal table where, at its peak, ten people ate, argued, laughed and cried. Gouges, where bored children picked with fingernails and some with knife ends told of their immaturity. Spills of a lifetime created a wider mosaic. Her finger traced those before her and she cried for the loss of this brave, warm woman who had taken her in as her own and counseled her in the ways of their two flawed men, who in their own way were sober, hard working and brave.
Old Mary gave her the greatest gift. She taught her how to forgive, even her own father. Mary convinced her she needed to do that so as not deny Martha, her mother who suffered for her love, the occasional presence of all her children and potentially grandchildren.
She sobbed again with the thought that she had not yet conceived. It was not through want of trying. Hovee was a considerate and gentle lover and although fearful at first, now shared with her the desire for a child. Remembering the old lady’s words that: ‘God will bless you soon enough, young lady. Don’t be too keen to bring children into these hard times.’
Violet smiled as she recalled the smells and emotion of love making and counted her blessings.
At last she was ready and stood to wake the family as the kettle began to hum.
There would be a lot of tea drunk today.