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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Doing the right thing

Those of you with spectacularly good memories, or who either loved or loathed an earlier tale will recall that I made mention of Policeman Sugars and his son’s toy car, a decade or so before I got my license.  You DO recall that? In that case, you’ve got an even better memory than our old town gossip, who, like the Bourbons, learned nothing and forgot nothing. I won’t mention her name here because she may yet get at me from beyond the grave.… and she may still have relatives round Calliope.

   What happened was this. For some reason, Robin Sugars, the copper’s son, threw a rock at me and it hit me below the right eye. I don’t remember why but it’s irrelevant, as 6-year-old boys will hurl rocks at each other for any or no special reason. Maybe it was that I said Robin sounded like a girl’s name, and if I did say that, then it would certainly have been good enough reason to chuck a gooley at me. I would have thrown one at him for less. Be that as it may, let’s move on.

   His father was mortified by the incident and contacted Mum with profuse apologies. I guess it doesn’t look great that the cop’s son is assaulting his schoolmates with a deadly weapon and inflicting a wound that should have been stitched. But fifteen miles is a long trip over the rough unsealed road to Gladstone just for cosmetic surgery, so something made of Elastoplast did the trick in holding my face together till it healed. We were tough, or so we pretended. Truth was, I was more scared of getting stitches than having scars.

   My eyes are surrounded by scars that needed stitches and didn’t always get them, but those are other stories, some worth the telling. Not here and not now, though.

   The upshot of the apology was that I was invited round to the policeman’s house at an undetermined date in the future after school to play with Rob Sugars, just to show there were no hard feelings. In fact, six-year-old boys forget such things as minor battles almost immediately anyway, so the gesture was mainly to comfort the adults. You can see I even started to call him ‘Rob’ so he could have a more macho sounding name instead of soppy Robin. (Maybe I DID say he had a girl’s name!)

   My sister Lyn, two years older than I, was good friends with Ann Sugars, Rob’s sister, and it transpired that we took it upon ourselves to go visiting the Sugars residence after school not long after. Lyn may remember the details of the decision to go, but I don’t. What I did know was that Rob Sugars had a pedal car with a real steering wheel, and I wanted desperately to drive that car.

A similar model to Robin Sugars' pedal car, 
minus aerodynamic fins
  It’s not that we didn’t have wheels, because we built many a billy-cart. These were steered by a rope attached to the T-piece. It worked OK, but the turning circle wasn’t great, which was just as well really or there would have been many more spills.

   But billy-carts don’t have a steering wheel, and I coveted that particular advance in engineering like no other. Rob had the car and wide verandahs round the police station house, and I had a blackmail advantage over the stone-throwing incident, while Lyn and Ann were keen to do whatever eight year old girls do when they play together – that was the least of my concerns. All I wanted was to drive the car with its real steering wheel.

Common billy-cart. No steering wheel.... 
   So, we played, very happily. And we played. The 4.30 sawmill whistle blew  - a time when we had always been home for at least half an hour. Mum never really knew exactly when we came home as she was always milking at the time, but home time was round 4 pm at the latest. We were having way too much fun to stop playing, until the shadows lengthened and it got close to sunset – about the time Mum would be home from the dairy.

   The police station was on the western side of Calliope; our property was on the east. Maybe Mrs Sugars shooed us off at last, but at some stage it vaguely occurred to us that we should have been home long before. We set off, and then remembered one unbreakable rule of our household – we had always to get the mail from the Post Office before coming home – or Dad said he would send us back for it. That was a long walk for short legs. The mail had to be collected.

   So.… we stopped at the Post Office, and discovered something outside our comprehension. The PO was shut! The door was firmly closed. It had never been closed before when we collected the mail after school; it was always open. But then we had never tried to collect the mail at about 5.30 pm before.

   Thus for probably the first time in our lives we had to try to solve a dilemma too great for us – the clash between the inflexible rule that we had to bring home the mail, and the fact that the PO door was closed to us. It could have been so easy if we had an ounce of cunning between us. We could just have forgotten about the mail, said that there was none – as was often the case – and got ourselves home as fast as we could. No-one would have been any the wiser, on that count at least. But to do that was beyond our understanding of the way the world worked.

   No. We were as bound by that conflict between Dad’s command and the closed PO door as Isaac Asimov’s robots were bound to their three laws, but whereas the laws of robotics did not conflict with each other, our two, for the first time in our experience, did. Strangely enough, we did not even understand this conflict. We agreed that the only solution was to sit on the steps of the PO and wait till it opened again, collect the mail, and get home as soon as possible.

   Meanwhile, Mum had arrived home from milking to find the house deserted, which must have been rather alarming. Dressing quickly in something more presentable than yard clothes, she ran over to Aunty Anne’s and asked if she’d seen us, as we always went past Aunty Anne’s in the hope of being given food on the way home from school. She never disappointed us, I have to add. Aunty Anne immediately despatched her youngest son Des on his bike to ride down towards town to see if there was any sight of us.

   He cycled steadily on through the fading light and it became clear that we were not on our way. We had our mission to complete. He headed for the school via the route we would have taken home. All was quiet down town (inasmuch as Calliope had a ‘down-town’) but he located us without too much trouble sitting cheerily enough with our legs swinging over the edge of the PO verandah.

   ‘What the heck do you think you’re doing?’ he growled at us. ‘Why aren’t you home?’

   ‘We’re waiting for the Post Office to open so we can get the mail,’ said Lyn, as confused as I was that we were getting roused on.

   Des was lost for words, briefly. He stepped off his bike and ordered us to start walking, with him. ‘Your mother’s worried sick!’
"It's sure to open soon...."
Illustration by Watto

   ‘But why?’ we didn’t ask the question aloud. After all, WE knew where we were and we weren’t worried, so why should she be? It simply didn’t make any sense to us. The fact that there were coal trucks constantly going through Calliope at a pretty good rate of knots on our route home was of no concern to us – we were used to them. There were other dangers, no doubt, beyond our ken, but we didn't have a clue about them.

   ‘Walk faster!’ Des urged us on, and before long we met Mum heading our way with a very worried look on her face. We still didn’t really get what the fuss was about. The thing I noticed about her was that she was in street clothes instead of cowyard clobber. What had brought that on?

   The worried look changed to immense relief the moment she figured out who the three figures emerging from the gloom were.

   ‘On the Post Office steps they were. Waiting to get the mail.’ Des couldn’t resist a bit of a grin, though Mum’s face told us it was no laughing matter that she thought her two errant children had disappeared forever.

   Poor Lyn of course must have copped the brunt of the scolding, on the grounds that she was nearly two whole years older than I, and a girl, and therefore should have known better than an addle-headed boy, but I think Mum was just too relieved to find us alive and unharmed to have her whole heart in her condemnation. The truth was that mea was just as culpa. We both knew we shouldn’t have been home that late, but I don’t think we ever thought we were doing the wrong thing by waiting for the Post Office to open its doors to us again. To us, it could have happened at any moment.

   It makes perfect sense to you, doesn’t it? Mind you, we might have rethought it a bit had we known that would involve sitting there waiting all night, missing not only dinner but breakfast. We were getting mighty hungry!


  1. LOL ... that's a classic story ... and yes, makes perfect sense ;)


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