Angels In Darned Socks & Patched Trousers Essay

I sat silently next to the lifeless form of my twin brother. I had loved Dave. We’d never said ‘I love you’ to each other, but deep down our hearts were knit together. Two sides of a coin. Dave the head and me the tail. Without both sides a coin was useless. Without both twins, the Sinclair household would have never been the same.

*

Dave and I were born on the 3rd of February 1932 in Sir Henry Parke’s old home at Meadowbank. After Dave was born, the midwife said, ‘Hang on Mrs Sinclair, I think there is another one coming.’

I arrived ten minutes later, hence the tail. Not that it was going to be of any financial advantage to our mum. Jack Lang, who was the Premier of the State at the time, had brought in child endowment that year, but it was only paid to the firstborn. Ivena, or Luce (pronounced Loose) as we boys later called Mum, only ever received the one endowment for ‘the twins.’

*

It had been eighteen months since I knew that Dave was dying. He kept losing his balance. He put it down to back problems and eventually sought the help of a chiropractor. That led to a doctor and finally a specialist. The diagnosis? Motor Neurone Disease. Those three words were Dave’s death sentence.

We’d both grown up thinking that death would never happen to us and that we were invincible. We’d never talked about death, never even thought about it. We’d brushed with it on a number of occasions, even dared it, but had never been afraid of it. We’re all a bit like that when we’re young. Act first, think later.

But now we were both being forced to face death head on – or at least Dave was. I was just the younger twin, by a smidgeon, helplessly watching as an insidious disease stole my brother’s life bit by bit. Someone told me once that we don’t grieve for the one who’s gone, but rather for what we’ve lost. I was losing so much more than a brother and a twin. I was losing a part of myself.

Dave had worked as a gardener at Bankstown Hospital, and there were some who believed it was there that he contracted the disease. We’ll never really know.

During those last months I visited my brother every afternoon after work. Dave never complained, even when the disease had progressed to the point that he could no longer work in his own garden. He could always seem to be able to find something to smile about.

A big leather chair had been bought for him; one that swivelled, reclined back and had a comfortable footrest up front. Dave spent the rest of his life in that chair.

*

There were many afternoons when I would call in after work to find my brother leaning back with his legs propped up and the radio blaring out the latest race report from the track. Dave had always loved putting a bet on the horses, and even in the state he was in he still liked the idea of taking a bit of a gamble.

On this particular day, I walked in to find Dave sitting up with a big grin on his face.

‘What have you been up to you rascal?’ I asked.

‘I told ‘em, ‘he chuckled. ‘I told ‘em it’d win.’

His cheeks were flushed with excitement. It was the first time I’d seen colour in Dave’s face for a long time as I asked, ‘What are you talking about?’

‘I told Martin and the rest of the family that they should put all their money on Linda’s horse.’ Now Martin was his eldest son, Linda was one of our nieces, and the horse was a two year old called Caminito. ‘It came in at 100 – 1. I put ten dollars on it,’ he added while he continued to rub his hands in anticipation of the huge sum that he’d just won. ‘It ran in the one mile race at Kembla Range in the Improver’s Handicap. It won one length by a head.’

‘What a shame he wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy his winnings,’ I thought. So while my heart was silently breaking, I slapped my brother gently on the shoulder. ‘That’s great! So what’re gonna do with the money?’

‘Thought I’d send Elva on a well deserved holiday. Whadda you think?’

Elva was Dave’s wife of thirty years. She was a tiny thing, rather fragile looking, but had a hidden strength that never ceased to amaze me. I knew that Dave would be lost without her, especially now, and he knew that she’d never leave him alone.

A lump formed in my throat, but I was able to just keep the tears at bay. I had to remain strong. Deep down though I knew that it would take a lot to fool Dave. We were twins after all, and twins have what you might call a sixth sense when it comes to reading each other’s feelings.

Watch The Video Of Bob Sinclair’s 80th Birthday Speech

*

Those feelings surfaced the next time I saw him. Some days were better than others. This was not one of those days. My brother was feeling low. I sensed it and Dave knew it.

‘You know this thing’s killing me, don’t you Bob?’

It was the first time he’d admitted it, at least to me. We’d danced around it, made jokes about it, but not today. ‘Yeah Dave, I know,’ I sputtered as a single tear trickled down my cheek. I couldn’t help it. I’d kept my tears bottled up for months.

Dave never let on that he’d seen my moment of weakness. Perhaps he didn’t want to acknowledge it. After all, we were a mirror for each other. When Dave sneezed, I usually wiped my nose. If I acknowledged my weakness, then he would have to recognise his own. It was only Dave’s incredibly strong will that was holding him together, and I wondered if I could have shown such courage had we exchanged places.

‘We’ve had some good times though, haven’t we?’ said Dave.

‘Great times mate. Great times.’

‘There were some bad times too, but you know what? The funny thing is this – I’ve forgotten most of them.’

‘Me too. Growing up in Redfern wasn’t easy, but we had lots of laughs.’

‘Sometimes,’ Dave sighed, ‘I wish we could all go back there just one more time.’

*

‘Did you win?’ I asked as I entered the room the following day.

‘What?’ Dave answered as he lifted his head up.

‘The races,’ I prompted. ‘Did you win?’

‘Didn’t have a bet today.’

Alarm bells went off in my head as I looked at my brother more closely. I could see the disease sapping my brother’s strength and I knew he wouldn’t be with us much longer.

‘I’ve been writing them down,’ he informed me.

‘Writing what down?’

‘The memories. You know, growing up in Redfern, the people we met, the scrapes we got into.’ He reached over and grabbed several sheets of paper. ‘Would you like to hear what I’ve been writing?’

He looked very tired and I thought the effort might be too much. But because it seemed so important to him I made myself comfortable. ‘Sure, let’s hear it.’

*

‘My wife…’ He paused to take a breath and to check that I was listening. I acknowledged his unspoken enquiry and Dave continued. ‘I don’t know what really attracted me to her, this ten year old freckled faced kid. She wasn’t what you’d call pretty, but she had a sound elfin-type face.  Impish could be another way of describing it, beneath a pronounced intelligent forehead. Her eyes, yes her eyes, those mischievous eyes. That and that alone must have been what drew me to her. They were hazel in colouring, a pretty hazel. I guess they were the first pair of hazel eyes I’d ever seen.  They matched her gold tinted hair as it rested on her shoulders, being complimented by a coloured ribbon. She was quite tiny and frail looking. Her arms and legs painfully thin: generously peppered with freckles, which suited her. Being only twelve years old, I guess oldies would have called it ‘puppy love’, but I only had to have a fleeting glimpse of her and something strange occurred to my whole being. To this day I am still affected by her presence. Not exactly the same, but in a more mature way. Now after nearly thirty years of married life with this same girl, my mind’s eye still sees that little skinny kid that was my everlasting love and devotion.  This love has not wavered even slightly.’

*

At times his voice cracked and I could see this wasn’t easy for him. I hadn’t realised Dave was such a good writer. Not bad for a kid who’d left school at fourteen.

‘It’s strange,’ Dave continued, ‘the things that pass through one’s mind sitting here in this chair day in, day out, night in, night out. I think of my boyhood with my brothers, sisters, mum and dad. The good times mostly. You tend to forget the bad, that I’d say were less in number than the good. Then when we reached our teens we joined the church groups, went on picnics, parties and made our own fun. When I was courting my girl and my brothers kept gate crashing for the sheer devilment, she’d make them toasted sandwiches and coffee. And the way they used to tease her when I brought her to our home for a meal. I remember the bike rides through the city streets, four boys and one girl on weekends. My girl. It’s amazing what memories stay in one’s head.’

Dave was clearly exhausted by this time, the effort of constant speech draining what little energy the disease had left him. But I didn’t want to interrupt.

Dave’s breathing became shallow and stressed. He laid the papers down on his lap and looked at his brother. ‘Bob, can you finish reading this?’ he asked as he then closed his eyes.

It was painful to see him like this, a weak husk of a man. He should’ve been out pruning his roses, watering his violets and mowing his lawn. Not withering away in a dark room like a flower plucked from the garden. I wanted to take him in my arms. I wanted to squeeze the disease right out of my brother’s body, but such thoughts were fruitless. So I simply reached over and picked up the papers instead.

‘As children,’ I continued, picking up the story where Dave had left off, ‘we had great times, making up games as we went along, never interfering with other people or their properties. Well most times. With the war on, and because times were hard, we kids put on backyard concerts. I don’t remember what we did, but it seemed to go over all right. We’d charge the local kids a penny for admittance so as to raise money for the servicemen. Our older sister Bub organised all of this.’

‘I remember when the Salvation Army used to hold their conventions in Prince Alfred Park with their big tent raised. We used to allow them to use our toilet for a donation towards the war effort, and Mrs Fitz next door did the same.’

‘I can’t forget old Bill. Mum took in the old fellow. She’d known him before we were born. I don’t think anybody else would have taken him in. She made up a room for him in the old shed at the rear of our house. She did this by dividing the rather large abode into two sections; one for him to reside, the other section provided me with an area for my woodworking, which I was quite keen on. A few years after I was married though, the shed was mysteriously set alight, and whatever tools I had were destroyed. Mum laboriously wallpapered Bill’s room: made up a single bed and provided a wardrobe for his clothes. It looked rather comfortable and neat, but after Bill had been in it a while it seemed to deteriorate rather rapidly. The smell that seeped from within was indescribable. I’d say it would have been a mixture of body odour, metho, kero, phenyl, urine and the foulest tobacco odour imaginable. He smoked a pipe almost constantly. I sometimes think the tobacco could have been a mixture of horse or cow dung. It was quite off.’

I paused for a moment. I remembered Bill well. He was a character you’d never easily forget. ‘Bill didn’t like our younger brother Dinny. Din used to mimic poor old Bill. He’d walk behind him imitating his every move to perfection. Din would have us in stitches laughing. When Bill came to the kitchen table for meals, us kids would argue as to who would sit the furthest from him because of his body odour. Poor old Bill had a curly, bushy moustache, which when he ate or drank, somehow collected considerable quantities of food and liquids. He quite expertly removed these by gathering the ends of his moustache with one hand, pushing them into his almost toothless mouth and sucking off the residue collected throughout the meal.

Well this then brought us to the highlight of the meal. After he’d finished eating, Old Bill would push back his chair and shuffle out the back door and down the back steps. Dinny would then proceed to imitate Bill’s sucking of the moustache, push back his chair as Bill had, and then shuffle to perfection out the back door and down the back steps in the same direction. Us kids would be laughing so much, and mum would be calling out to Dinny to stop it. I think poor old Bill had a dislike for him. I can’t imagine why, can you?’

*

I looked up from the page. Dave still had his eyes closed, but seemed to have a smirk on his face. He was obviously enjoying hearing about some of the fun times that he’d recorded. They were bringing back a lot of fond memories for me too. While I had been reading the story about Dinny and old Bill, in my imagination I had seen all my family in the kitchen. I could hear the clatter of the spoons on plates, the chatter, the laughter and of course my younger brother Dinny’s antics. The memories were nearly as good as being there for real.

‘Anyhow,’ I read, ‘Dinny had a pet cat, which used to sleep most of the day and tomcatted most of the night. Bill would go out of his way to find this cat. The cat had no idea of what was going on around it when it was deliberately kicked by Bill as he muttered, ‘Get out of my way Dinny Sinclair.’’

‘What really turned us kids off about Bill was the incident involving our pet black hen. We could put up with his smell, bad manners, kicking the cat when it was asleep, but this little black hen followed us kids around like a puppy. One day Bill whipped out his pocketknife and cut off its little head. I guess he was acting under orders. However, when it was placed cooked on to the kitchen table, as the main course, there was no way us kids would eat it, no matter how hungry we were.’

*

I wasn’t sure if Dave was awake and listening, but I kept reading. It was nice to lose myself in the past, and to remember Dave as he used to be: young, vital and full of life.

‘You’ll like the next part,’ Dave pointed out.

So he was awake. ‘How did you learn to write so good, Dave?’ I asked him.

‘Just a natural, Bob,’ he grinned. ‘Just a bloody natural.’

*

‘Cricket – any excuse for a game of cricket. We had quite a long narrow yard that was roughly cemented. When a hard cricket ball made contact with it, look out. You had to really be alert to protect not only the wicket, but also yourself, especially when Dinny bowled at you. Dinny’s run up began around the corner of the house, completely out of sight. Before you knew it he’d let fly with a fast delivery. If you missed the ball, it would either crash into the galvanised tin double gates behind the batsman, making a terrible din, or else it would fly right over the top. The gates were six foot high. It was quite noticeable while we were playing, that people would automatically lower their heads well below the top level of the gates, in order to ensure a safe passage.’

‘I remember one sharp delivery from Din that was struck by Bob. It sailed over our side fence, went straight through our next-door neighbour’s glass windows above the side door. Bounced off her lounge room wall before landing in the middle of the dinner plate from which she was eating.’

When I’d finally contained my laughter, while wiping the happy tears from my eyes, I read on, ‘Like the time Mum was going out, and she told us to be careful not to do any damage while she was away. She’d no sooner left, than Dinny hit the ball straight through the closed dining room window. Bob and I dug into our pitiful savings, took measurements and proceeded to remove the rest of the pane. Bob then pedalled about a mile or so and purchased a new pane and some putty. With the pane in place and puttied, it looked too new, so we rubbed some dark tan boot polish into the putty to make it blend in with the dark chocolate window frame. Perfect.’

‘That night at dinner, four little angels ate their meal in silence, occasionally entering into the normal conversation. As the four of us started to leave the table, Mum said, ‘Oh, by the way fellas you did a pretty good job on the dining room window.’

‘I can’t forget our old friend down the lane. He lived in an upstairs room and being a…’

I had reached the end of the last page. ‘But you haven’t finished it Dave.’

‘I know. Maybe Bob you’ll finish it for me one day.’ He coughed, a rough gut wrenching cough. ‘I’ve left my run a little too late.’

From that day on though we shared story after story about our happy days in Redfern. The stories were always accompanied by much laughter and I was pleased to see that Dave had not lost his sense of humour. At least the disease hadn’t robbed him of that.

*

By late October my visits to Dave had become part of my daily routine. Little did I know that it was about to end. As had become our habit, we drifted into another story of the past, but in the middle of our conversation Dave said, ‘You’d better go, because I need to go to the toilet.’

‘Let me stay and help you Dave,’ I requested. ‘Come on,’ I said. ‘I’ve seen you on the toilet before. It doesn’t worry me.’

Because we had been sharing so intimately throughout the previous months, I thought that Dave would be open to me helping him. ‘No! No! I don’t want you to see me.’

I could see the idea stressed him, and even though I was stung by the rejection I could understand that my brother was trying desperately to hold on to whatever pride he had left within him. So I left him to Elva’s care and waited outside the door.

Now in order for Dave to go to the toilet in those latter days, Elva had to hoist him up in a fitted harness. She would pump the contraption until it lifted him out of his chair. This then allowed him room to relieve himself. I had never seen this done before, and Dave obviously didn’t want me to see it now.

However, I couldn’t resist looking. I had to know what my brother was going through. So I peaked. The shock of what I saw took me greatly by surprise. Dave looked like a wizened old monkey. He’d shrunk until there was nothing of him but skin and bone. It was hard to believe that this wretched being had once been the strong twin brother I used to wrestle with. Although I had spent so much time with Dave, I suddenly realised that I had underestimated the power of the disease that was sucking away the life of my twin brother. Somehow I had blocked out of my mind, through the months, the amount of suffering and pain Dave was undergoing. I thought to myself,  ‘How could I have been so unaware for so long?’

After Dave had finished, I re-entered the room, but was so overcome with emotion that I didn’t know what to say. I certainly didn’t want Dave to know that I had disregarded my brother’s wishes. So I took his hand and made excuses. ‘Well listen mate; I better go because June will be wondering where I am. She’ll have tea on. I’ll call in again tomorrow.’

‘I won’t be able to talk to you tomorrow,’ whispered Dave.

‘Come on mate. What’s up with you?’

‘No, I won’t be able to talk to you tomorrow.’

‘Go on. Get away with you.’ I thought Dave was pulling my leg, having me on. ‘Anyway, listen I’d better go. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?’ I quickly left the room before my emotions could overtake me.

I sat in my car for a long time outside Dave’s house that afternoon. Shock had overcome me so much that all I could do was weep. The brother whom I loved was just a mere shadow of the twin I’d grown up with throughout the years. There was nothing I could do about it. I had never felt so helpless in my whole life.

*

When I arrived the next day Dave was in a coma and I regretted that I hadn’t listened more carefully to Dave the day before. I wished I hadn’t let my own emotions sweep me away.

His two sons, Craig and Martin, were at his side. Naturally they were upset, but somehow talking seemed to help. I told them of my visits with their father, and how we’d reminisced for hours on end.

‘Yeah, Dad was always telling us what you both used to get up to,’ Martin said.

So I told them about the antics, the funny tricks and games we’d played on each other at school, and even through the Boy’s Brigade years. I showed them the notes their father had made and I could see they were pleased. Talking about the past seemed to lift the heaviness from the room, and before long we were all laughing.

I happened to glance in Dave’s direction to find that he was smiling a big beautiful smile. I walked over and stared down at him. Dave was still in a coma, but somehow I knew he’d heard and approved. ‘You rat,’ I said to him. ‘You’ve been listening to everything we’ve been talking about, haven’t you?’

When I returned to talk with Dave’s sons again, to tell them some more stories that their Dad and I had discussed throughout the months, I looked back at Dave and there he was once again giving me a terrific smile. The grin took me back to when we were kids. Dave had always had that certain smile, especially when he was up to some tricks. It was a smile that could never be easily forgotten.

And that’s how he died.

© Peter G. James Sinclair 2011

 

    • Subscribe for new blog posts to be sent to you via email...

    • Readers
       
      Posts
      57,441
      |
      1,008
      Subscribe Below For Updates
       
      Subscribe Via Email
      View Facebook Fan Page
      Follow On Twitter
  • Featured In..