Saturday, January 7, 2012

Uncle Peter

I've always looked upon my maternal aunt Nancy Walker (8 years older than me) as a kind of big sister. So, when she married a Sydney gentleman named Peter Smith in 1954, he too became, for me, a kind of brother-in-law, rather than an uncle. In any case, for well over half-a-century, Peter and Nancy welcomed me constantly into their family environment on countless occasions… even as a house guest at times, as if I could look upon their home as my home. Retrospectively, I believe that I tended to overplay my pseudo-sibling status at times… but Peter and Nancy never suggested overtly for a moment that they might have been a little fed up with my constant presence.

I thought of Peter as a link between two quite different worlds: the city (Sydney) and the bush (Waterview, South Grafton). Nancy and I were both country kids, who met up with the "big smoke" at the end of our adolescence. Peter, on the other hand, was characterized by the relative sophistication that came from being brought up in a prosperous North Shore context. His father owned a butchery business named Leroy. Peter, when I first met up with him, was actually an accomplished butcher… who once gave me a blue-and-white woolen butcher's apron. He had attended a prestigious Sydney Presbyterian school (Scots College). When I first met up with Nancy's future husband in Grafton, he drove around in a superb sports car.

In July 1982, in Bangkok, Emmanuelle, François and I encountered a new facet of the existence of Peter and Nancy. Peter had abandoned the butchery business and moved into marketing with a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, which had promptly sent him on a mission to Thailand. Back in Sydney in 1985, when my children and I disembarked in Australia, we were promptly welcomed by Peter and Nancy. Frontiers between our generations dissolved permanently when I found my uncle and my son, clad in plastic bags to keep themselves dry and warm, participating side-by-side in the City-to-Surf foot race on 17 August 1985.


Last week, after a startlingly rapid decline, Peter left us. And there are no longer any men of his generation in our family.

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