None of us knew Hendo too well. He was old, he lived alone, and he drove a grey Morris Minor ute. There was a mandarin orchard out the back. Canna lilies and black-eyed susan down the sides, and a neat lantana hedge out front. He was a gardener.
Why does my throat tighten now ?
We'd visit, in a group, and he'd welcome us with sweets. Seems to me, when I begin to write - about anything - that forgotten images and feelings surface. Partly why I'm careful with what I choose to write about. But here I am, with Hendo.
I swear I don't know what I'm going to write next. A mandarin orchard.
The fragrance of this orchard in blossom, and the afternoon light in stripes along the rows, and kids barefoot in shorts and t-shirts crazy on his jellybeans and lime or rasberry cordial weaving their game in it all. This feeling in my throat is longing, maybe.
Still. White butterflies. Deep, bottle-green shadows.
Not old Hendo, or orchards or sweets, but just plain longing. For a time when I was closer to the truth of things, and felt that life would be anything that mattered, or nothing much that didn't.
Hendo was a veteran of the first world war, was gassed, and spoke funny, sort of through his nose.
He had an oak tree in the front yard, and hung a swing on it for us. We all had Hendo's in our lives - old folk, alone with a history that if you were old enough to understand, might make you cry - and as kids, we ran through their lives laughing.
As a grown-up now, I find myself listening more. Bringing fruit, sometimes a bottle of wine. We sit on the verandah, and crazy kids run through. Lookout for the TOMATOES !, we might sometimes yell.
He was eighty then - he's way gone now - but he's every bit my life, and when mandarins are in blossom, Hendo : a swing, an afternoon-sun-striped aftenoon, are here, now. As real as a dream, as the war he survived, and the wars we wake each morning to.
He built a little house, and made a garden around it, and up the back he planted mandarins, a lemon, and some orange trees. We kids loved that place, though there were many others like it 'round here.
No-one else talked through their nose, but, and no-one else thought to hang a swing in the front yard, just for us.