Memory lane ... Old home movies and photos let us get to know times - and people - that have come before. (Photo unrelated to article)
I have known my partner for just over five years. In that time we have had two children, signed on for a crippling mortgage, built a gigantic deck, installed a remote on our 50-year-old garage door and located all the local pubs where "kids eat free". As you can tell, all the important stuff has been achieved with great speed or, as my dad says, "You don't muck around, do you, darling?"
One of my life's regrets (apart from not being born Greek ... the gyros, the plate smashing, the abundance of family, dancing, and spits over the barbecue in the backyard) is that I met my partner when he was 32 years old, and not when he was one day old.
I'm a naturally nostalgic person, so these home movies, hours of them, are my idea of heaven
Weirdly, we grew up within about 4km of each other, he with his brothers, and me with my sisters. I think we even spent our pocket money on lay-bys at the same toy store called Griselda's. Great times.
Luckily, his father made movies. Lots of them. In the early '70s, he invested in a Super 8 camera. No doubt it would have been a massive outlay because, from what I can gather, back in the day blocks of land were sold for $5 a square foot, and TVs were roughly $4 million. Sure, seems fair. Anyway, my father-in-law set about documenting every baptism, birthday, picnic and backyard burn-off that occurred in that family from about 1972 to 1983. The 8mm film was then left in a box for 25 years or so until about two weeks ago, when my partner, The Chippie (aka the second-born son), took them all away and had them converted to DVD.
What happened next was one of the most memorable days of my life. Because I pressed play and there he was: as a baby, as a boy. The man I knew better than anyone, in a time before "we" even existed. His first birthday party, in 1976, was held in a garden shed, the table piled with Iced Vo Vos, home-made chocolate cake and bright-orange cocktail frankfurts. The chubby blond baby in the metal and orange vinyl high chair looked bewildered by the fuss. His Uncle George, resplendent in Barry Gibb-style chest hair and an open-neck terry-towel tee, tenderly ran a hand over the birthday babe's round little head in a gesture of such familiarity and love that it caught in my throat.
The films are achingly sweet – and hilarious. Outside a cathedral on the occasion of one son's baptism, the lens swiftly veers from a cavalcade of safari-suited parishioners to an unfolding drama in which a Hillman Hunter is in flames in the middle of the road. Reminded of the scene, Chippie's dad exclaimed, "That's right! A car exploded!"
I'm a naturally nostalgic person, so these home movies, hours of them, are my idea of heaven. In their flickering frames, I saw faces of people that confirmed with one look the kind, memorable people I'd only been told about. The Chippie's paternal grandmother passed away decades before I came on the scene, and I'd heard wonderful things about her. Gentle, they said. And sweet. And funny. And what a cook! To see her, fussing in the kitchen and cheekily shooing away the Super 8 with a tea towel, or sitting quietly on the couch as the family socialised around her, confirmed without words the kind of woman she was. I felt I'd met her.
The Chippie's family knew how to live large. Weekends were about charred snags on makeshift barbecues, kung-fu fighting under the Hills Hoist or driving the Torana to a sunny spot to feast on egg sandwiches and Auntie Norma's world-famous cakes. They got out and about en masse. Not to theme parks or shopping centres or the movies. Just being together was the event. It's inspiring.
My favourite scene is in the lounge room of the old house where the Chippie grew up with his parents, brothers and his blue-collar, happy-faced Grandfather Popsy. Popsy was a mountain of a man who raised his daughters, one of whom is my mother-in-law, after their mother was taken suddenly by breast cancer. I'd heard he had a big heart. Now I could see it. Because there he was, silently, on my TV, shiny with joy, in his impossibly crowded lounge room, dancing what looked to be the dance of Zorba the Greek. These, I thought, are clearly my kind of people.
I believe in fate. Perhaps my yearning to be born Greek is a nod to my children's great-grandfather, who, despite having been born Irish Catholic, could summon an internal bouzouki with the best of them.
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also on Twitter.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.