Today my family and I celebrated my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday. As part of the event each member of the family – children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – all contributed a few pages of writing detailing their own accomplishments in life and memories they had of Frank Robb. The book that was eventually collated, in no small effort by my eldest uncle, Chris, who harvested well over fifty entries, stands as a legacy of not only my grandfather’s life but of all the lives he went on to father. In a sense, each one our accomplishments are also his, for without him the beautiful collection of talented, kind and incredible people who are my family wouldn’t exist.
For this post I’ve decided to put up my contribution to Grandpa’s book. For those reading who aren’t family, some of the following may be obscure references to people you don’t know, but if you’re happy to preserver let me just state one pertinent detail: I have a twin brother named Damian.
The rest I think you can figure out yourselves.
MY first encounter with Grandpa has, regrettably, been forgotten. I was three months old and it was just after my family’s departure from Launceston, Tasmania. My perpetually generous grandparents had agreed to temporarily house the in-transit Robbs, and brave a household that contained four children under four.
Although I don’t remember the first time Grandpa picked me up and held me in his arms, that first contact, I appreciate the effort involved in providing a roof over my young head. I’ve since wondered, as he cradled me, if he had any clue whether it was me or Damian he was holding.
IT was in Barry Street, Preston, that I have my first memory of Grandpa. I remember waking under the layers of sheets and blankets in a foreign bedroom, seeing my brother in a bed opposite me, and creeping out of the room into the sun-splashed bedroom of my grandparents. Grandma would usually see me first as I stood unsure in the doorway and call out a greeting, giving me the invitation I was waiting for. I would crawl over the bed and wiggle down between my grandparents, and Grandpa would wrap an arm around me. I remember the weight from the layers of coverings and the warm clean smell of that bed. I felt safe, and happy, and Grandpa would turn his head, focusing on my face, a smile in his eyes, and ask, “Now, which one are you? Damian?”
THE next memory I can conjure is in the early Traralgon days. These were the days of the mazda van, of a crowd of cousins playing in and around the almost clean pool, of food in huge platefuls emerging from the kitchen, where a collection of aunties and uncles laughed and talked, to be taken to the carport where Dad was preparing the perfect coals for a barbeque. These were the days of long weekends and bonfires.
I can remember the frenetic pre-cleaning of the house and then the silence before the storm as we waited for our family to arrive. Then that first car would appear, its white hood emerging from the head of the driveway, with Grandpa behind the wheel. The bubble of anticipation would burst inside my stomach, sending waves of excited energy through my limbs, because it meant the holiday had begun. Next would follow the cries of happiness and hellos, the procession of kisses and hugs, with Grandpa stopping amongst the activity to hold me at arms length, study me, and ask, “Damian?”
MY teenage memories are of a plethora of Robb-Family gatherings, of the Stewart’s backyard, the Donahoo’s house, and the Benalla-Robb’s shed, of Christmases, birthdays, and twenty-firsts. Of speeches (always peppered with a call-out from Lindsay), of food and dancing, and talking and laughter.
And always amongst the mass of family and the thrum of conversation I could be sure to find the matriarch and patriarch in the thick of it, the foundations stones that had brought us and held us all together. Grandpa would recite stories with nods and smiles from those who had heard them multiple times before, and keen interest in the faces of those first-timers, myself often among them. There was always a hand shake and a hug, a quick query to determine who he was talking to, “Don’t tell me. It’s Damian?”, and I was folded once again into the festivities and family.
AS I moved into working life as a nurse and relocated to Brunswick West and the charm of McLean Street, my memories of Grandpa moved as well to Latrobe Village, which the Robbs quickly infiltrated with our large numbers and animated chatter. The memory that stands out most of the Village actually occurred towards the end of my high-school days. We had congregated in the function centre to celebrate Grandpa’s eightieth and I, against warnings from my mother, had consumed too much alcohol at the after-Deb party I had attended the night before. Alcohol poisoning would later be used to describe my state, and while I, regrettably, was in no form to interact with Grandpa that day (as my sister who found me spread-eagled on the lawn bowl’s field can attest) I was led to his bed where I was left to sleep it off.
Ironic that after all those years I found myself back in the bed of my grandparents, and more so, that the warmth, weight, and cleanliness of those blankets still offered the comfort and safety that they had ten years before.
FINALLY I’ve arrived at the most current stage of my life and the most recent memories of Grandpa. I live in Ardeer, and work as a district nurse across the North-West of Melbourne. My work as a nurse has given me a particular insight, and bred a distinct admiration, for the endurance and energy my grandfather continues to display. At an age where many of his contemporaries settle into a sedate and unchanging lifestyle, bowed by their weariness and ailments, Grandpa continues to make the most from his life, refusing to let age be an excuse, even to the point of having a knee replacement in his late eighties. His love for life and family act as a guide and a benchmark, and are attributes I would be lucky to emulate in my life.
THIS book has been made to commemorate ninety years of living. From the stories he shares, from his collection of memoirs, and from the sheer scope of his progeny, it seems to me that’s exactly what Grandpa has been doing.
And, thanks to him, so are all of us.
AND because I wouldn’t exist without Grandpa, I guess I can overlook his mistaking me for Damian.