Chapter 1: Wedding 1
Patrick had a fine trip. He got carried a bit by a flight attendant, nursed, got changed, and slept. Our hire car was ready. We packed our stuff, put Patrick in his capsule and we were off. As Weena was familiar with Adelaide, I let her drive.
We found our way to Riverton, driving north on A32 through Elizabeth and Gawler and bearing right where the B82 to Clare forked off.
"We'll be coming back this way. We're staying in Clare," I said. "But I want to get oriented. We need to turn right on 'Mill Street' something just before the middle of town."
"I love the precision of that!"
"None of your sarcasm, lassie! It's the Riverton Uniting Church and should be on our left."
Everything (well, nearly everything) had been rescheduled. The Evans-Swartz wedding was on Wednesday, the 27th. We would drive back to Adelaide on Thursday, stay at the airport motel and fly to Brisbane early on Friday, and then to Roma. I hoped that Patrick would survive. My folks were thrilled at have extra days with him. Evans had cleverly arranged things so that all the non-family out-of-towners had been put in a motel in Clare.
"There it is!" It was, as expected, a smallish rural church. I wondered whether it would be big enough, but realised that it wasn't my problem. My guess was that Evans would only have two dozen guests — including us, anyway.
"OK. Let's go a bit further, see if there's a place to eat, then make a U-turn and find our way to Clare."
We saw nothing worthwhile. Twenty minutes later we were in Clare. We found the motel easily. We learned there was a country club with a 'posh' restaurant as well as at least two other restaurants and the motel itself. Patrick was awake and clearly ready to dine. Once we registered, I ferried baggage while Weena took care of him. We wandered into the 'lounge' to find several men and a woman in military clothes — not dress uniforms.
After introducing ourselves we were invited to join them for 'pub food' at the Magpie & Stump in Mintaro. "Where's Mintaro?" I asked.
"Southeast. Can't be hard to find," was the response. Weena was busy with Patrick, who'd already seduced the one woman in the group. "See you've got a wee 'un."
"Yes. Just five months old." We all introduced ourselves — all except the ladies, who were busy.
"I know who you are! You're the bloke who as at Monkey Mia!"
"Right. That's where I met the Captain and Willy."
"You're a bug guy."
"I thought you'd be some sort of academic weirdo."
"Oh. I am. I'm in disguise for the wedding." I got a great laugh.
One of the officers said he had a map and we could form a sort of caravan. Three cars, it turned out. Weena handed Patrick to me and went to get his bag. We all went out to the carpark. I opted to be last. When Weena appeared, we put Patrick in his capsule and the bag on the floor. Then we started out. We drove south a bit, then turned east. We were among vines in a moment. I wondered whether they'd all have to be burnt eventually.
The Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of SA has studied what impact phylloxera would have on the state's winegrape growing regions and the state's economy. It shows the Riverland would by far be the hardest hit followed by the Clare Valley where growers profits would be cut by 41 per cent. -- 2002
And then there was a sign and the town. It was really worth coming to. We had a nice meal at the Magpie & Stump and (claiming Patrick as an excuse) returned to the motel fairly early.
The next morning we had a decent breakfast and drove north on 82 to Gladstone, across to 32 through Jamestown, where we stopped to change Patrick and have a so-so lunch, and south on 32 to Riverton. We were driving slowly through Riverton when we saw Evans, Willy and several others in front of the church. I pulled over and stopped and Weena got out and waved. I got Patrick out and we crossed over. It turned out to be Willy's parents and the minister. After the introductions Willy's mum invited us for afternoon coffee. Weena accepted immediately, the minister said he'd see us at the rehearsal and went back inside the church, and Weena suggested that I take Evans and Patrick and she would ride with the three Swartzes.
"Thanks for the rescue," the Commander said as soon as we were sitting down. "I've hardly had any time for ten days."
"The minister seemed OK."
"Better than I had feared. I didn't want a minister who's so solemn he'd make me feel guilty for being an atheist, but I also didn't want some merrily non-religious registrar who'd try to put everybody at ease by being jokey: "Please say 'I do' — I'm worried that one day someone will say 'I don't'!" The registrar at a friend's wedding actually said this. If I'd been the groom, I'd have strangled him with the ring.
"But although I didn't want a big jolly church-or-marquee ceremony, I didn't want a no-frills, no-guests non-event either. So here we are."
"And your future in-laws?"
"Oh, they're OK. I don't think that five years got them used to a daughter in uniform. And getting wounded ... And getting married to an officer! Well, they're very nice. But they just don't get it."
"But in 48 hours it'll be over and you'll be off — alone with Willy."
"That's what keeps me going. Here we are. I'll tell the story of how we met. That'll get me out of the spotlight."
It was a pleasant-looking, medium-sized farmhouse. The yard looked kempt. An elderly Blue Heeler waddled over to greet us. "Hey, fella. You look like a good 'un." I patted him and got my hand licked.
"Are you a dog fancier?" Evans asked.
"I like them, but a city's no place for one like this. There were always several around my dad's place in Queensland. Heelers are working dogs, but they're a bother when they get old. Blue heelers are prone to hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy and deafness. This boy's got hip problems and's getting blind. But I bet he's a part of the family."
Mr. Swartz had come out on the porch while I was petting the hound. "You've got it right, Gordy. He's nearly 15. Someday, maybe this year, maybe next, I'll take him out in the bush and shoot him. But not until I have to. And I'll do it myself." We were all quiet for a minute. "Come in and wash his spit off your hands."
I was amazed. Nearly 15! I thought most blues live around a dozen years.
Weena, Willy and Mrs. Swartz were having a fine time with Patrick, who was wide awake, drooling and waving limbs in every direction. We sat and chit-chatted a bit and had tea and cake.
"So, Gordy, you're the best man," said Mrs. Swartz. "How did you two get together?" Willy laughed.
"Let me tell," said Evans.
And he told the tale of Monkey Mia — with only a bit of embroidery — and then recounted my instantaneous diagnosis of the body in Queensland. And my lecture on phylloxera. My ears were tingling.
"That's really something. I'd never thought that knowing about critters like that was important. Though I have heard of poisonous ticks and phylloxera," Mr. Swartz remarked. "I guess that you blokes really protect the country."
"And Willy, too," I threw in. "She's actually a wounded hero."
"Yes. And I remember her first dress. And putting up her pigtails for Sunday School." Mrs. Swartz was getting teary with nostalgia. Patrick, who'd fallen asleep, gave a jerk and began to cry.
"I'd best feed and change him, and then we'll get on our way. Gordy, get all the details you'll need about rehearsal and ceremony, OK?" It was OK. Rehearsal's at 4pm; ceremony tomorrow at 10am; reception and lunch to follow. We made our adieux and I paused to pet the heeler one more time and headed for the church.
The rehearsal wasn't a big deal, though I learned that there'd be no sword arch. "I don't think any of us owns a sword," Evans laughed. I asked about his uniform, as his retirement had gone into effect while they were in Margaret River. I found out that in most military weddings the groom will wear a military dress uniform, but some retired military personnel who marry after their service has ended may opt for a military wedding — in uniform. He said he'd see us at the motel — Willy's parents had decreed that they couldn't see one another between the rehearsal and the ceremony.
We drove back to Clare by driving south, then north.
At the motel, though it was still early, the Navy contingent was in the lounge — quite well-oiled already.
"Want to join them?" Weena asked. I shook my head. We went to our room, bathed and changed Patrick, and I told him a story while Weena showered.
In the beginning, there were two worlds: fire in the south and ice in the north. Between them was the great emptiness. When the heat and cold met, a creature emerged from the melting ice — Ymir, the frost giant. From his left arm grew the first man and woman; from his two legs, the family of frost-giants. Ymir fed on the milk of the great cow, Audhumla, who licked the ice, releasing a man called Buri. Buri had a son called Bor and Bor had three sons: Odin, Vili and Ve. The trio killed Ymir and drowned all the frost-giants, except Bergelmir, in his blood. They made our world from his body and the dome of the heavens from his skull.
"He's asleep. I'll put him down. Where's that from?"
"It's Old Norse. I'm not sure whether the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda."
"Gosh. I thought you were sure of everything!" We laughed, I showered, we read, we decided that the cake had been enough and that we'd avoid the (mostly liquid) bachelor "dinner"; and practised for Patrick's eventual sibling instead.