This week one of my family’s life-long friends passed away.
I’ve known Rad virtually all my life; he and his wife, Maureen, ran the service station down the road from our Drive In in my home town of Grafton. My earliest memories are of popping into the servo and seeing Rad dashing out from the shop to fill up our car – wearing just a pair of thongs and white shorts.
When dad’s cancer got really bad and we gave up the Drive In, Rad and Maureen bought it as their retirement property. Even though the Drive In itself had to close, knowing that the property was in the hands of people who understood how important that place was to us was a source of comfort for me. The Drive In was the one place of my childhood that I cherished the most.
We moved to Sydney after dad died and we didn’t make very many trips back to Grafton. As the years went on, contact with Rad and Maureen was less frequent, usually no more than a Christmas card every year.
Three years ago Dan and I went on a holiday up to Coffs Harbour and we made a day trip to Grafton to see the town I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. By no deliberate planning of ours, we ended up being in Grafton on the 20th anniversary of dad’s death.
That day, we spent the afternoon at the Drive In with Rad and Maureen. We saw how they honoured the Drive In while converting the main building into their home. The waves of gravel covered up with grass and dirt; the cement footings from where the screen used to be still visible amongst the bushes. The projection room still with its tilted window facing out to where the screen used to be. They showed us a folder of dad’s newspaper clippings and paperwork that we’d left behind when we moved away, still in their original folder and stored away safely all these years.
For me, that day was the beginning of what has since been a renewal for me. Of remembering who I am, where I’ve come from and most importantly, remembering my dad as the passionate person he was. Dad died a month after my 8th birthday and most of my memories of him are tainted by what the cancer had turned him into.
Before we left the Drive In that day, Rad showed us his collection of woodwork. Of bowls and plates and wine holders he’d made with old trees and fence pailings from the property. He let me take home this clock, made from a cross-section of jacaranda tree that had grown on the grounds of the Drive In, the place that I love the most.
So when mum rang to tell me that Rad died, first thing I did was stand in the kitchen and look at our clock. The clock that represents so much of my past and what matters most to me. I cried for what my family had lost, for another lost connection to dad.
And I remembered how lucky my family was to have someone like Rad. He was one in a million.