One of the major reasons for this Spring road trip was the fact that my cousin, Megan, was getting married in Sydney and Dave was asked to officiate the wedding. We also try to make it up there once a year to visit my Baba and Deda, who are definitely not getting any younger, as we are reminded often upon our arrival.
We miraculously managed to do the whole journey from Canberra without any stops and arrived just in time for lunch. Baba was busy frying the potatoes and Deda managed to spend half an hour watching the boys play cricket before retreating to his ‘safe space’ in front of Bonanza, the classic Western series. The table was groaning under the usual bountiful spread- chicken schnitzels piled precariously on the plate, fried potatoes, beef goulash, vinegary salad, walnut layer cake, apple cake and as many strawberries and mangoes as you could possibly wish for. Part way through the feast my Mum and Dad arrived and the boys were ecstatic at the reunion.
In some ways it is like time stands completely still whenever I visit my grandparents. Baba always collapses on her favourite chair in the kitchen, gazing tiredly into the ceiling and occasionally over to the television controlled by Deda, hands with a wiry tremor, feet resting firmly on the stool, as he stares intently at shows he has probably seen a thousand times- ‘MASH’, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, ‘The Golden Girls’. They interact civilly but sparsely, unless somebody has the misfortune of triggering one of the showdowns where both use the opportunity to rail against the other to a fresh audience (though these have been more rare of late). Their routine is like clockwork and change is feared or scorned. They are, as Baba puts it, waiting to die.
It is almost like magic the way the food appears on the table, though the effort that goes into even one of those dishes is significant. I would hazard a guess that there were at least thirty schnitzels alone! Baba gives off an air of mystery in the way she is able to pull it all together, despite being mere months away from her 80th birthday. She still tells me off for the same things, with the same resigned shake of the head, ‘Put on your shoes, Emma, it is no wonder you are sick when you walk around like that!’ The moment when this ‘normalcy’ crosses over into pure nostalgia will be cause for much sadness.
Though they expressed much joy at our arrival and Baba’s withered fingers worked so tirelessly to feed us, I sensed relief in their faces when we told them it was time for us to check in at our accommodation. Two crazy boys and a cranky baby are not the usual fare for this house!
The Alpine Villas were spacious and new, though cheaply fitted out with appliances and furniture already showing signs of strain despite the house being recently constructed. The list of rules and extra penalty fees for any signs of living remaining after our departure left us feeling a little like we had stumbled upon a school camp rather than a guest house. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to be able to spread out and separate the boys to avoid the night time shenanigans we had become accustomed to. Baba had sent us home with enough leftovers to feed us for dinner and lunch the next day, with her incredibly generous over-estimates of quantities.
Dave and Dad took the boys to see Blinky Bill the next morning and then we began to get ready for the wedding. It all went smoothly until Dave had to leave early to ensure everything was set up for the ceremony. Eli lost it and refused to calm down for some time, with Mum and I involved in the epic battle at various stages. It ended with a very tired little boy falling fast asleep while Mum held him tight.
Surprisingly, despite having to transfer a sleeping preschooler down a flight of stairs and into the back seat of the van, we managed to make it on time for the ceremony. The beautiful Megan arrived right on time and Dave did a professional and smooth job as the celebrant. However, on my part, coming prepared with a bag full of activities and treats seemed to have little effect on the child wrangling. Eli had woken up in a foul mood and stalked around the back of the crowd muttering ‘This is a BAD wedding’ (his charming response to everything when he is grumpy) so Dad had to quickly whisk him off out of earshot. I really cannot imagine how things would have panned out if I had to manage the three by myself at a 5pm wedding. I was incredibly grateful to have my parents there to help.
I must admit I breathed a significant sigh of relief when Dave had loaded the kids into the car and I was able to spend an evening chatting, drinking. dancing and laughing with my third cousins and their wives. There was such an air of celebration and excitement and the speeches were both moving and hilarious. I felt really privileged to able to share in this moment with my extended family.
I did look at the empty places beside my plate with wistfulness and over at the 9 month old baby at the neighbouring table who was still happily chewing on a napkin at 9:30pm, but I know this feeling would have soon dissipated had we attempted to persevere with the reception. Who would have thought kids and weddings are such a hard mix….