Friday, 2 December 2011
I am surrounded by reminders of my mortality. I decide to visit Sydney to track down some family sites which I hope will help me fill in some gaps in the family saga. I call my cousin and suggest we spend a couple of days together exploring. The visit will coincide with an old friend's 60th birthday celebration.
I arrive three hours late after my flight out of Brisbane has been cancelled and a seat found for me on a later plane. Cousin Steve picks me up at the airport and we talk about the state of the nation and his state of health. The economy is pretty shaky and Steve's year hasn't been much better. He's had a hip operation and then a strange virus which doctors couldn't identify but which attacked his heart. He makes light of it but later his wife tells me he's definitely not running on all four cylinders. This is ironic for a man with a passion for cars. He has a 1950 something MG TF convertible in his garage which he has done up and in which he goes touring. He and the car both look pretty good but they are, to be honest, both getting on.
Steve and I spend a day mooching around inner city Leichhardt uncovering a series of Italian and Irish connections. Leichhardt was, and is, Sydney's 'Little Italy' and was the first port of call for many migrants looking for affordable housing. The Fruit and Vegetable shop from 1910 has gone but a few locals tell us there was still a fruit and vege business on the corner of Paramatta Rd and Norton Street until the recent past.
The Kilcoyne family (two Kilcoyne girls married two Capelin boys) had settled in Leichhardt in the early 1880s, about the same time Lorenzo, the original Italian connection, was disembarking from his disastrous venture to the Pacific with 200 other Italians. Their house is still there and the woman living there is home and shows us through. We are following a warm trail. We visit the local Catholic Church, St Fiacres, where the weddings took place and confirm that the wedding photos were definitely taken in front of a backdrop featuring fake pillars. I check out St Mary's Cathedral the next day hoping to find the very pillars there - but am again disappointed. We track down two other houses built by various members of the family and have a coffee at Bar Sport, a place that my Sydney friends tell me later is an icon of Norton Street. The coffee is good.
The next day I am at my friend Mark's house in Glebe, having slept on the floor overnight. He's the one turning 60. His family have arrived from Rockhampton and Perth and we are 11 in the house over three days. Well, most of them have. His sister in law can't make it as she is nursing her sister who is seriously unwell. I also learn that a cousin of Mark's wife has been knocked down by a car and taken to hospital the day before. She's from Israel and looked left instead of right as she went to jog across the road on her morning run. Her partner was well in front of her and didn't know she'd been hit, only that she never arrived back from the run. Sydney's like that. People disappear all the time. After a series of frantic phone calls they track her down. She's okay. It was only a glancing blow.
Around mid morning a call comes from another relative apologising that they won't be able to make the party. The husband has just been taken to hospital having suffered a heart attack. It's turning out to be quite a weekend.
Understandably the conversation for the remaining two days often revolves around health. The party goes well. No one is taken to hospital, though a few are going home a bit worse for wear thanks to Mark's generous bar tab.
I visit the Police Museum and am disappointed to find I don't have a National Security file - I was always too afraid to really stick my head up too high during the Vietnam protest years.
Next day Cousin Steve and I drive to Woollongong to visit our only remaining uncle on the Capelin side. Cyril is 83 and pretty unsteady on his feet but he has a memory of a teenager and tells us stories with people's names, dates and even the time of day. He swears his longevity is based around his heavy diet of dairy products and cream.
On the way back to Sydney for my flight home I get a text message from my wife, Andrea, telling me that my younger brother has completed his angiogram procedure and that they've inserted a stent into one of his major arteries. He's going to live. He retired three weeks ago and has been at the hospital every other day since then having tests after some chest pain. Can I pick him up from hospital the next day as his wife is on crutches after foot surgery and can't drive; Andrea isn't available as she'll be at work - its her third last week; she's been retrenched.
It seems I'm the only one left standing. I feel fine. But I do have strange thoughts as I swim my twenty laps of my local pool where I wonder how long it would take the other swimmers to notice my body on the bottom of the pool if I karked it mid swim.