Whenever we arrived, Granddad was always down in the shed. Nana would kiss us, wet and sloppily, brushing our cheeks with the prickly hairs on her face, and say: “Gus is down in the shed.”
Nana’s house was a house of rooms, and every room was different. The hallway had mirrors, umbrella stands and magazine racks. When you walked down the long strip carpet, you felt the front door close behind you.
The lounge room was always dark, with the curtains drawn. There was a rich velvet smell of the floral lounge mixed with the musty old photographs on the bureau. The big wooden television set shone with hand polishing and, on the privileged occasions we were allowed to watch it, hissed with snow and ghostly figures. Under the set was a perfectly preserved specimen of a turtle with a neat spear hole my uncle had put in the shell.
The kitchen was cold and scrubbed. The stainless-steel sink was bright under the lace curtained window. Above the stove, the tannin-smelling teapot, cosy and caddy. The Laminex table top where the broken freshness of sliced bread did battle with old cheese and tart gherkin.
The vestibule, where we all sat with Nana, had green lino and shelves of preserves and a big kerosene fridge.
The bedroom, with the big quilt-covered bed, smelling darkly of decay, where old postcards and letters were rummaged from a camphor-wood box on the dressing table and a big jarrah chest on the floor.
The toilet was in the laundry, across the red-painted concrete floor, next to the cement troughs and the built-in copper. A ballerina with a crocheted pink dress sat on the doorstop and another, in blue, demurely covered a spare toilet roll. The green Air-wick was always open and there was a box full of torn newspaper squares, which I never chose to use.
Nana would say: “Go and tell Granddad you’re, here.” And I would go. I still remember the way: past the tank stand and the television mast; the high grapevine where there were white and black grapes in season and we were allowed to swallow the seeds because Nana did; the little storage shed with separate bins for wheat and pollard, an old galvanized dipper in each; the parrots in their cages, one nearly a hundred years old with a long curved beak and dangerous; to a fork in the path, where the passion fruit trellis began.
Granddad’s shed was on a kind of peninsular that stuck out into the big chook yard where there were at least 20 chooks, red, white and black and several nasty roosters. His shed was built like a perfect miniature weatherboard cottage with an angled corrugated- iron roof and its own guttering. There was a paned window facing the house and another that looked out onto the chook run.
I’d knock on the tongue-and-groove wooden door and Granddad would growl: “Come in.”
His shed was always tidy. Every kind of woodworking tool was hanging over its painted silhouette on the pegboard, or lying neatly in its place along the back of the bench. Every chisel and saw looked sharp, ready to cut. The hammer handles were worn with gripping, and every tool for which I had no name looked mysterious and useful. The big, solid bench was clean and the heavy vice at the end clamped shut.
In front of Granddad was always a tin of Capstan ready rubbed and a book of papers. There was always a bent cigarette between his stained fingers, and smoke hanging in the light above the windows.
Granddad would say “Hello Boy” and tell me to tell Nana he would be in soon. I never thought to ask if he ever did any work but I noticed the little pile of wood shavings under the bench was never disturbed.
In the vestibule, Nana would finally bring out her hard and sweet home-made ice cream and cut big squares of it from the aluminium tray. We would bite the chunks, putting our teeth on edge, while Mum and Nana drank cups of tea and Granddad would drink the bottle of beer that Dad had brought him and tell him it made a nice change from the cooking wine.