A guy came into work to buy something and when I asked his surname to put in point of sale, he said “Fox, Mr Fox”.
I smiled to myself the whole time I served him and as we chatted I said, “I have to tell you something. When you said ‘Mr Fox’, it reminded me of my Dad.”
“How’s that?” he asked. “Well, my Dads surname was Antonievich, and he couldn’t be bothered spelling it for people. He had a dog he called Romulus the Fox because he was a small build, with a small pointy snout and perky ears and a bushy tail that curled up behind him. He had all the hallmarks of a fox. That dog went everywhere with him. One day when the phone operator asked for his phone number and name he said ‘Fox, Mr Fox’ …and from that day on he used that name when he had to spell it. So when you said Mr Fox, that memory came flooding back to me.”
Mr Fox laughed and then brows furrowed asked. “What was that name again. Your surname?” “Antonievich”, I repeated and then again in the anglicised way. “Not Louie?, he said. Louie that raced at stock cars?” “The same, I nodded. Did you ever watch him?”
“We did, he said in wonderment. We did! He was amazing to watch. The daredevil on the track. Course we were so poor we could only go a few times a year. It was a highlight, he remembered wistfully. We could never have afforded a race car, he added looking at me as if we must’ve been sooooo rich….we were poor”
“Oh god no, I said, we weren’t rich at all. We were dirt poor and there were many arguments over Dad spending money on cars, but he could weld and was a mechanic and an electrician, and him and his mates could make something out of almost nothing. No, we were pretty poor, don’t you worry.”
He smiled and said, “you know we were so poor my Grandpa gave us a block of land and Dad went to the bank and they agreed to give us enough money for Dad to build a house. When the bank manager looked at the plans for the house to be built into a sloping section, he noted it had a large concrete block bottom. He suggested to Dad he use posts to hold the house up, so when we got a car it could become a garage.”
“My Father looked at him incredulous, he continued, ‘are you mad? he said to the bank manager, when would we ever be able to afford a car!’ It was the most ridiculous suggestion that the family laughed about it for years. The notion that we might ever get a car. That’s how poor we were, he reiterated. But tell me….why was your Dad giving his surname when making a phone call? I don’t understand.”
“Well…I said. We were soo poor we didn’t have a phone line to ourselves. We shared our phone with six other people. It was called a party line. So if you made a toll call you had to give your name so they knew who to charge it to. How old are you?” I asked. I mean, he looked older than me and now I have grey hair I can ask people that!
“I’m sixty eight”, he replied pulling himself up to full height and tipping his head back slightly. “Well didn’t you have party line?” I asked. “No, he said, I’ve never heard of it.” “Well, that’s how poor we were.” I said, thinking I might have won this round. We played the ‘we were so poor’ game a bit more…
“Do you remember getting your first orange or banana?” he asked. “I do, I said. It was in a Xmas stocking. Grandpa bought us bananas as a treat and oranges were few and far between. I don’t know why we didn’t grow them….”I mused thinking they should’ve been home grown. “Lollies were just at birthdays and you might get a couple, not a packet like nowadays” he jumped in with. “Yes, I nodded in agreement, but everyone had plenty of fruit in their home orchard…he nods in agreement…and we had figs too because Grandpa was a Dally, but apples and peaches as well as a big veg garden.” I add.
He went on to describe all the veg they grew also. And how they would ride their bikes up and down the road and how their Mum never worried about them. “Oh we never had bikes I said. We were too poor for bikes. We played up the paddocks making fun out of sticks and in the hedges.”
“…and we didn’t have many clothes either he said. Not like the kids of today. Latest everything.” “Well WE certainly didn’t go shopping for clothes, I added. Our clothes came in large rubbish bags from other Catholic families or the cousins. I was about fourteen when I remember going to a shop and looking at clothes with Mum. We came home and she made a copy of the one we liked.”
“What about Kingasini? he started. Remember that?” “I do!” I said, however while I remembered the name, I couldn’t quite remember the game, but he was on a roll reeling off all the games they played. It had to end. This gentle jogging of the memory.
“The kids don’t care, he said. I try to tell them stuff but they just laugh.” “Oh but they will, I said. Tell your grand kids. They will love it. I tell mine all the time and they love hearing the stories.” “Do they? he asked stopping and looking back at me. I feel like I want to tell them what is was like but it seems they are too caught up in today’s world to care about mine.” “Write it down, I said. They will all be lost one day, and that’s a lovely gift to give them.” “I will!, he said. What a good idea. I will write them some stories…. Thank you! he called as he went down the stairs with a bit more of a spring in his step. I enjoyed that!”
“My pleasure”, I called back.
Kingasini, I thought to myself. What the hell was Kingasini?
Talk Soon, Tricia