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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The toadstool battle

My Dad, who always appeared to be a bit severe to me, could sometimes surprise me mightily.

   One day, a couple of days after a big storm it was, we were walking by the creek for some reason down Aunty Anne's end of our place, so now you know exactly where I'm talking about, and we came across a great toadstool clump in the grass by the creek bank.

   There were heaps of little puff-balls about the size of a mandarin (pronounced "mandar-een" for the unknowing) and a few huge ones that would have been near as big as a rock-melon (honey-dew).

   "Let's have a toadstool fight," Dad said.

   I was shocked – this didn't sound quite like my father, but I was definitely up for it. I may have been only eight or so, but I had a sturdy arm and great throwing accuracy derived from my practice walking home from school of hurling good sized stones at fenceposts – and though this appears nowhere on my academic CV, I say now with pride that I very rarely missed. No Goliath could have approached me, mate – I would have struck him down without the encumbrance of a slingshot and cut off his head just like David did, except that my little pocket-knife would have been stretched to its limits….

   Where was I? Oh yes, the toadstool fight.

   Never had I fought my Dad on such terms. Let's face it – on any terms. Usually, he told me what to do and I did it. And now he was telling me to try to hit him with toadstools from a range of ten metres. No kid could resist that, surely.

   Within a minute I had gathered a good sized pile, having no idea how long the battle would last.  He collected maybe eight, at most. The battle began. I couldn't believe how agile he was at dodging my well-aimed toadies, but fenceposts aren't a moving target and my father was an ace rugby league player in his day, and he'd sidestepped many a tackle.

   My approach was Gatling gun. His was heavy artillery. He hurled one or two my way, but I could duck and weave every bit as well as he. A fraction better maybe, and I was a smaller target.

   My ammo supply started to run low. He had but one left - a monster. I bent down to pick up the best one of the few remaining. I straightened up and was about to position myself for a throw when I saw it coming. It looked the size of a Jap pumpkin. Off-balance, I could do nothing but turn my back.

   I don't know if you are aware of the consistency of a big toadie but it's about that of fresh cowdung when the mob has been feeding on new spring growth. Sloppy. Very sloppy. There was this splattery noise and I can still feel to this day the sensation of almost being knocked over by a direct hit square in the middle of my back.

   I had a sudden appreciation for what it must have felt like on the Bismarck when she (he?) copped a torpedo amidships. All right, I don't really know if the Bismarck copped a torpedo amidships but I'm on a roll here, so let's not be bothered by a mere historical trifle.

   What did I do? Would you believe it? I burst into tears. The utter shame of blubbing like that. There was my father, cackling away like a schoolboy and me thinking only that my mother was going to roast me for getting the back of my shirt ruined. It was a good one too – you know, the white cotton one with the green bands on the sleeves. That one. Every time I said to Mum, "I like this shirt," she would smile and say, "I like that shirt too." So you can imagine how sad she would be now that it was spoiled.

   But it's true – what a wuss. A sissy. I didn't think it all through at the time, standing there with yellow goo running down my back, or I would have realised one incontrovertible and consoling fact – there is no way you can get into trouble with your mother for a ruined shirt if it was your father who had done the deed. No way in the world.

   And there was my father, just grinning away.

   "Come on now. Stop being a girl and get your shirt off."

   I peeled it off, still sniffling a bit, and he waded into the creek. He rinsed the shirt thoroughly in its crystal-clear spring water, and wrung it out with the strength of a man used to carrying a bag of pollard over one shoulder. He waved it about a little. It was a hot summer day and barely damp when he finished.

   I put it back on and it looked only a little bit the worse for wear after the assault. Maybe Mum wouldn't even notice. It wasn't as if any shirt of mine ended the day as it started, ever. And by then I had realised the clause in the contract "Dad did it" was going to be my saviour anyway. I was as untouchable as Al Capone until they got him.

   The relentless drone of the cicadas seemed quite cheery as we walked home in the Queensland sunshine. The bottlebrushes looked redder than ever against the deep green of the branches shading the water. The tropic sky was blue and cloudless.

   In retrospect, toadstool fights with your Dad are fantastic fun; if you let him win, of course.


  1. One I didn't win. It was Victory in Europe day - V-E Day - 1945. The end of the war was to be announced that afternoon. My parents, like several others, had arranged to go to a celebration party. A letter had been written to the small village primary school headmistress, getting permission for me to leave school that day an hour early. I was nine years old.

    The appointed time arrived. I raced happily out of school, much to the envy of my classmates, and set off to walk the half-mile home. On the way, I passed a favourite spot; a large field where a line of trees on the far side concealed a delightful stream. I thought, well, maybe I just have time to go and paddle in it on the way home.

    Guess what? In the shallow brook, I found some petrified wood. It was beautiful. Magic. Maybe there was some more. I splashed my way along the meandering stream, across more fields, into the woods ... and somehow lost track of time.

    In the meantime, my parents, standing at the door in their best Sunday clothes, waiting to go out, became increasingly anxious. After a while they began to comb the neighbourhood looking for me. Then they got really worried and called the police.

    Search parties were organised and were gathered outside our home when, at dusk, I arrived with some wonderful specimens of petrified wood in the pockets of my sodden shorts. 'Oh dear,' I thought as I took in the situation.

    Putting the best possible face on it I approached my stern-faced father.

    "Did we win the war?" I asked.

    I have never forgotten his exact words.

    "The war has only just begun," he said, as he went to collect his dreaded slipper.

    Was it worth it? At the time, no. In the warmth of remembrance ... every bit of it.

    1. As Kath would say to Kim, I have just one word to say to you: Why are you not writing a blog???

      Great story thanks Bob. You would have scared the oldies silly. In fact, it reminds me of a quite funny thing that happened when Lyn and I did pretty much what you did:
      "Doing the right thing"

    2. Lovely story, Bob. Yes, I'm with Denis here...where is your blog?

  2. Those are both beautiful stories that transport me to the 'mind' of childhood. Denis, I bet your dad had played mushroom fights when HE was a boy, and this was a moment of stepping out of the responsibilities of adulthood- such a nice memory for you, despite the upset (very interesting psychologically if you had the energy to go into that!) I wonder what those giant mushrooms were? Puffballs? No, they are not wet, but powdery.

    The second last paragraph takes me right there.Thank you. And you too Bob.

    Julie M.

    1. You could be right about the puffballs. What I'm talking about are edible when fresh, I believe, and palatable – sliced like bread and fried in a pan, but we never did eat them.

      I thought that the powder was created when these same puffballs dried out in the sun, retaining their shape but simply turning to dust inside. I could stand corrected on that, but I have seen that happen. So I never thought of them as being different species.

      There was also a type of large mushroom we called "horse" mushrooms, which looked like regular field mushrooms, only the size of an adult's hand or larger. The problem with them was that the smell while cooking, and their flavour, were so strong they were unbearable, unless picked very very young.


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