My dad and I built my first and only cubby house when I was five. It changed my life. The cubby was the scene of much fun and laughter, and eventually became the location for intensely fun activities.
I was lucky to be very smart from a young age, and so I learnt a lot by helping dad build my cubby. Many of those things learnt were quite unexpected. My father is methodical, just not very practical. He is an accountant, which hardly imbues carpentry skills in any shape or form. Therefore, by necessity, it became my job to interpret the plans. Otherwise, I mostly just handed him nails and lengths of timber.
My mom was a research scientist doing stem cell research. She knew how to use a microscope, but not a hammer, so no help was forthcoming from the maternal parental unit.
We started the construction by laying out all the supplied timber in easily identifiable piles. It soon became more complex than my father could handle...
“Pass me the timber labeled number four, please, and some of the large nails.” Dad requested.
“Don’t you want number three first?” I queried.
“Fu ... Damn. You’re right. Number three first then.”
“I don’t think it goes there. And I think you have it upside down.”
My dad started hammering. “OW! Fuck that hurts.”
And so on. I could see slow but steady progress was being made.
On the practical side, I was learning how to suck your finger when you hit said finger with the hammer instead of the hitting the intended nail.
“What does damn and fuck mean, Dad?”
“What? Well grownups sometime use certain words to vent their frustration or when in pain.” My dad carefully replied. “So the exact meaning doesn’t really apply most of the time.” He clarified.
“But I’d like to know.” I stated with my best puppy dog look on my face.
“Ok, here’s the deal. Once you can grow a beard I’ll let you know.” Was my dad’s frustrating reply. Ugg, growing a beard? Disgusting! “Oh, and Tim, don’t use those words in front of your sister, and especially not your Mom.”
Perplexed I replied, “But Mom already knows those words and more.” My dad stopped working and looked up at me with an apprehensive look. “That’s why I’m asking you. She just said ‘later, ‘ when I asked; which means never.”
My dad sighed. Dad does a lot sighing. Come to think of it, mom also sighs a lot.
“Can we alter my cubby to have a chimney for Santa to use?” I asked, as Santa was very important to me.
“Your stocking is hung up next to your bed, so Santa will always use our house’s chimney,” my dad explained. “Besides, your cubby is not all that big. What if you get a Roo and a Croc for Christmas?” My dad kidded me with a grin.
“The Croc would eat the Roo if it could catch it. Besides, I don’t have a stocking, we always use a pillow slip.” I corrected him. “It is bigger!” I proudly informed him. I already realised older girls may like getting small presents, but little boys like me loved big presents. I accepted his reasoning on the lack of need for a Santa chimney as I have a logical mind.
The cubby was finally finished, with many more heartfelt sighs from my dad, with much shaking of finite fragile fingers, suffering from many heavy heartless hammer blows.
My sister Suzie, who is one year older than I am, came out to inspect the finished cubby. Being the bossy one of us two, she immediately demanded her own cubby.
Dad was still nursing throbbing fingers, so he said, “Next Christmas!” to much wailing and gnashing of teeth by my sister. I realised my dad is nothing but fair in his even treatment of us, even though I think he had a quiet sob, later in private, at the thought of the pain coming to him next Christmas.
So I was forced to share my cubby for a year. It was no real hardship, as I liked playing with my sister - even though she is bossy.
Next Christmas, Suzie’s duplicate cubby was dutifully if reluctantly constructed with much paternal blood, sweat and fingers sacrificed to the cubby house gods. Using the side wall of my cubby as a common wall, they were attached together like mini Terrace houses, but without the flower pots growing exotic “herbs”. My dad had not learnt any practical skills in the past year. Therefore Suzie this time was the recipient of similar impromptu, impressive and unexpected lessons, as I previously had, on finger sucking and the increasing of her vocabulary. I had retreated to my cubby, as I knew by now when to disappear.
Once her cubby was finished, Suzie immediately got me to help move all her toys and dolls into her new cubby. She then shoo’ed me out, and shut the door in my face!
She could have at least thanked me, or let me watch her play with her silly dolls. I grumbled to myself.
I could hear her arranging her things “You will look good here. You can guard the door. No, you can’t have a cup of tea yet.”
Normal Suzie chatter.
“What are you doing?” Suzie asked me after a while.
“Nothing.” I replied.
“This is boring!” Exclaimed Suzie with a huff. She is good at huffing.
“Do you want me to come over to your side?” I asked trying to be helpful. “We can play like we always do.”
“What’s the fun in having my own cubby if you’re in it?” She said irritably.
“How about we knock down the wall between us which will make us one big cubby? “ I suggested.
“Cool.” Suzie agreed happily. “I’ll get the hammer.”
So we knocked out the common wall to make one big cubby. Much fun was had with the hammer doing this! Also, no sucking of fingers was required! The gods must have been satisfied with the already offered paternal sacrifices. Plus, our dad was no where to be seen. I think he said he would be needing Post Trauma therapy before he would go near a hammer again. I looked that up as I was worried about how much he was talking to himself. It didn’t look promising for any cubby extensions!
Sharing this bigger cubby was fine with just the two of us. Eventually, though, girl cooties and boy bugs were raised as issues by our friends. So, we took turns in using it when our friends came over to play and hangout.
When our friends weren’t with us, Suzie took to using me as a pillow, even though I was skinny and therefore pretty bony. I didn’t mind as I got to stroke her beautiful golden hair. This made her “purr” with pleasure, reinforcing this activity until her using me as a pillow became a habit.
I was jealous of my sister as the colour of my hair was more of a silvery blonde. So I went to my parents and asked “Why can’t I have gold hair, too?”
“We used up all our gold on Suzie, so we had to use Grandma’s silver for your hair.” Mom responded with a straight face.
“Stainless steel cutlery is so much more practical, anyway. No tarnishing, so Grandma would have been happy.” I stated knowingly.
I then asked the obvious next question, “Why doesn’t my hair oxidise?” having been reading my mom’s university chemistry books.
“Must be your shampoo.” My dad joked.
“What colour hair would a third sibling have had?” I questioned further, making my dad laugh at mom. I think mom was starting to develop a Tim look, halfway between frustration and something else.
“A bronze baby,” my dad replied with a smirk.
I don’t think I can trust all of my dad’s answers!
We were firm believers in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Who wouldn’t be, what with all the loot to be gained.
Suzie told me, (I should say, ordered me), “We will believe in the tooth fairy until we both run out of teeth.”
At the time this seemed to be going to happen sooner rather than later. One or the other of us were always missing a tooth or had a tooth starting to get wobbly. It was encouraging for us to see new teeth growing back. A never ending supply of money, or so we thought at the time.
I was down to my last wobbly front baby tooth when my sister decided to help it along. She did like to be in control. She would speed up or stop time if she could. Hence I was standing in the open bathroom doorway with a string running from my tooth to the doorknob.
“I don’t like this.” I said, my voice quavering uncontrollably, and with tears in my eyes.
“Don’t be such a baby,” exclaimed my sister impatiently.
“But it will fall out by itself!”
“It won’t get lost this way,” my sister told me.
“But,” SLAM! “Ow, ow, ow!” I whimpered clutching my mouth.
“AWK,” from Suzie.
She had swallowed my flying tooth! She had slammed the door pretty hard.
““CACK, argh, gross,” croaked Suzy with bulging eyes.
“What about my tooth? The tooth fairy won’t leave me any money!”
“Fuck your tooth and the money!” Suzie angrily responded. I could see dad’s language lessons were already being put to good use.
Suzie ran into the kitchen. “Mom, mom. I swallowed the tooth! “ she exclaimed. “Please get it back out!”
My confused mom asked “Isn’t Tim the one with a wobbly tooth?”
Once she found out what had happened, mom reassured Suzie that swallowing my tooth was not going to kill her. “Do not attach string to any other teeth ... or to any other parts of Tim’s anatomy,” she warned Suzie, which knowing Suzie as well as I did, only reassured me partially.
Later that night I was woken by a flickering light coming from near Suzie’s bed. “You don’t make it easy,” grumbled the blue looking Tooth Fairy to me, “how am I going to get your tooth, now?”
“Can’t you use your magic wand?” I queried, still being half asleep.
“Hmm, good idea,” said the Tooth Fairy. “It should be just long enough.”
Which is how Suzie found herself waking up choking then vomiting from having a wand poked down her throat and triggering her gag reflex.
“There it is!” the tooth fairy exclaimed triumphantly, “and here is your money,” she said to me.
“WHAT THE FUCK!?” came from Suzie. I could see those language lessons were very useful!
The Easter Bunny was cool. Who doesn’t like chocolates? Plus the hunt for Easter Eggs was always heaps of fun.
Then came more politically correct times for the children in Oz, and the Easter Bunny started getting competition from the Easter Bilby (a small native Australian marsupial, looking like a cross between a rabbit and a mouse.) This was all a bit confusing for little children and even young boys like me, but all was good as these Bilby’s were still made of chocolate. You can like anyone who is made of chocolate. Besides, she was cuter than the Easter Bunny - don’t tell the rabbit that!
The very next Easter after the tooth fairy recovered my tooth from Suzie with such great effectiveness and efficiency, my sister thought she would get back at me by stealing my hoarded Easter Eggs and eating them. She apparently blamed me for the idea of using the wand even though when I made the suggestion, I thought wands were only used for magic, not to induce vomiting. Aren’t they called magic wands for a reason? I suppose having a pointy magic wand stuck down your throat would be an unpleasant way to wake up.
The first I knew about the theft of my chocolate eggs, was when I tripped over this big rabbit who was sitting beside my bed. I had just been woken up by the sound of thumping, so was not looking out for a rabbit but some other more familiar source of the half-heard noise. But then who does look for a bunny when they jump out of bed ... and it was the day after Easter.
The rabbit grunted then hopped up on the bed. “Watch where you are putting your big feet,” she complained angrily. “Bad enough I have to make the time to come back and punish your sister. Do you know how much time and effort goes into making all your eggs?”
I stared at the talking bunny with understandable surprise. “Who are you?” I asked, astonished at this apparition. Nothing like an unexpected conversation with a rabbit to wake you up.
“And I suppose you want me to replace the eggs she took and ate?” She complained with a scowl.
“You’re the Easter Bunny!” I blurted out stupidly. Maybe I wasn’t quite so awake.
“No I’m the tooth fairy.” She said, piling on the sarcasm.
“Don’t go there,” I warned.
“Oh, touchy subject?” She asked with a contemplative look.
“No for me, just painful. But ... Suzie...”
“I think I’ll make her vomit the chocolates up all over herself. Will that be enough?” enquired the bunny.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.” I said, feeling trepidation at the thought of Suzie getting a repeat of the Tooth Fairy’s methodology.
“Why not? Afraid of a little mess?” Shaking her head and curling her lip.
“No, yes ... I didn’t realise you had a magic wand too.”
“Of course I don’t have a magic wand! I have magic ears!”
“Wand? Ears? What the fuck?!” Said Suzie apprehensively, quickly sitting up in bed.
“I know what to do,” said the bunny happily. “No more stealing, Suzie!” she ordered with a wiggle of her long bunny ears...
Suzie suddenly got a look of extreme discomfort on her face.
“SHIT!” she cried out very appropriately, leaping out of bed with a loud liquid sounding fart.
Wow! Chocolate can make a huge mess. Especially when partially digested.
“Chocolate Rocket powered Suzie!” crowed the Easter Bunny. She was laughing so hard I thought she’d wet herself.
“We have lift-off!” she quipped once she could draw breath without laughing. This only set her off again...
“So, do you want your stolen chocolates replaced?” She enquired once she could control herself.
“No thank you.” I replied a bit shakily. “I never thought I would think this, I seem to have lost my appetite for chocolate, for a bit.”
“Ok, see you next year,” she breezily said, winking and waving as she hopped out of our bedroom window.
I think Suzie learnt a lesson from that. Don’t fuck around with traditions. Though, knowing Suzie, most likely not.
I have always been smart which, by accident, caused me to skip a grade. On the second day of the school year, I had been sent to my get my sister from her class due to some paperwork snafu. Knocking on the classroom door, I waited then entered when the teacher called out to come in.
“The office said to give you this note,” I said to the teacher who took the note and put it on her desk unread as she was busy asking the class a question.
“Sit down next to Brian. Brian put your hand up for him.” The teacher instructed.
I dutifully sat down in the indicated seat, giving Suzie a look of bewilderment. She just smirked at me.
The teacher continued the lesson by asking a simple maths’ question for which I was the only one to put their hand up to answer. I answered in a bit more detail than the teacher expected, though I also included the answer she had wanted.
Startled, she exclaimed “Have you had this question before?”
“No,” I replied, “but I read my mom’s Uni books.”
“Is she a mathematician or statistician?” she enquired.
“No, she plays around with pluripotent stem cells and is investigating their Telomere lengths effects,” I stated. “It is quite interesting how the exactly correct length,,, “
“I’m sure it is interesting,” she interrupted. “But we should get back to mathematics. Thank you for your detailed answer!”
She continued with the lesson with occasional questions to the class, which I was delighted to answer.
I started to enjoy myself. This is more like it!
The teacher, after my having had a day in her class and her finally reading the note, realised I should not have been in her class. But I was more advanced in my knowledge than any of her other students so she decided to keep me! I think she liked the thought at least one of her students would know the answers.
I was very appreciative as it was better than being sent back into the little kiddies’ class. I was a bit upset with my previous teacher, as I did not get to play the drums. The triangle is such a wimpy musical instrument with a tinny “Ting, ting, ting” sound. It doesn’t even have more than one frequency.
Though I did get to sit with all the girls... I pondered.
This class advancement meant I was now in the same class as my sister. This actually brought us even closer together, as I would often help her with her homework.
She was pretty smart, but apparently I had a knack for explaining concepts more clearly than the various teachers we had over the years. Or, I actually knew the correct information, unlike some of our teachers!
One big problem with being advanced a year was the perception I was not boyfriend material by all the girls in my class as I was both younger and initially smaller than them. I eventually realised being smart and a nerd didn’t help attract girls, or at least it wasn’t enough to overcome the age impediment. My school years were a time of worshiping budding beauty from afar.
In high school, we had a number of inept teachers. One of which was science teacher who was so inept she was dangerous. We were lucky none of the other subjects’ teachers had chemicals to play around with!
The inept science teacher got us to drop sodium into water to see it “burn”. Unfortunately, and teenagers being teenagers, some kids dropped in more than the safe amount, resulting in explosions all around the laboratory, sending burning metal sodium flying everywhere. No lives or eyes were lost; miracles do happen.
Another time she was doing an experiment on the front teacher’s desk with a Bunsen burner. Turning on the master gas tap she proceeded with the experiment. A couple of minutes later, a sheet of flame shot over our heads with a loud whoosh to a gas tap which had been left on at the rear of the lab. Much excitement, and a lot of “wow’s” and “cool’s!”
Fortunately we survived this teacher with arms and legs intact, only losing a bit of hair, a few eyebrows and the occasional eyelash.
Our mum did wonder about the holes in our clothes, though...
These experiences inspired me into doing chemistry experiments of my own with my mom’s makeup, food from the pantry, cleaning supplies from under the kitchen sink and some thinner from dad’s shed. I know, a recipe for disaster as I did not know the chemical makeup of the makeup.
Fortunately no explosions ensued. The resulting concoctions creating an almighty stink. The smell and stains never quite coming out of the old wooden kitchen benches resulting in new granite benchtops having to be bought and installed. Apparently stone is more stain-proof and odour resistant against exposure to chemicals and boys. My mom was happy with the new benchtops, but not the loss of her makeup. Dad didn’t like the bill for the benchtops, promising to take it out of my allowance. To which I replied “My allowance?”
“Oh Christ,” said dad, “I forgot you didn’t get an allowance, yet.”
And so started my mercenary career. Earning money from doing odd jobs for neighbours, tutoring other kids and getting an allowance!
Plus I got a really cool chemistry set from Santa the very next Christmas. Better late than never, the whole family agreed. And no (reported) explosions resulted from this set, despite Suzie’s urging me to create something exciting. I kept the experiments mostly dull so I would keep my allowance. I remembered the large amount on the bill for the benchtops and now had a better appreciation of money’s value.
So Suzie and I were close mates, exploring the surrounding suburbs and nearby bush, and getting into mischief. Mostly due to Suzie egging me on. She was the evil child. She was always getting into trouble for staying out late with boys. I was innocent! No boys for me, or girls! Well, almost innocent. I did admire from afar, and the noises coming from Suzie’s room in later years kept my imagination on hyperdrive or warp speed five...
Our favourite celebration was Christmas and the most revered fabled character was Santa Claus. Besides giving us all the best presents and more presents than all the other celebrations combined, Christmas was even better than birthdays. It lasted longer, with better food and with no candles on cakes to get embarrassed about not being blown out.
Christmas was always a special time. We got to decorate the Xmas tree and house with lights and tinsel, tear open presents, eat lots of yummy food, and play with relatives who we only saw once a year. Though sometimes even a ‘once a year relative’ was too much.