Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Things I Learnt, Laughed about and Loved, and What I've Lost: Dad's Legacy

This is the reflection/eulogy I delivered at Dad's funeral.

Dad's Legacy
The things I learnt, the things I laughed about, the things I loved and the things I've lost.

Dad taught me to be generous. Not in a formal way but by example. At various times a cheque would arrive in the mail with no strings attached, just Dad sharing what he had. When we went out for meals, Pop always paid, even if I offered but I'm proud to say that in recent years I've paid the dinner bill a few times, and, following his example, when we take the kids out, we pay. When I came to my senses about buying a house Pop was 100% behind us and gave us a gift that helped us towards a deposit. I rang him to thank him in tears and he said it wasn't necessary, he was just  happy to help.

Pop taught me that you have to work hard to be married. We talked a lot over the years, about all sorts of subjects and when it came to marriage he bore the scars of two failed marriages and the regrets he had, especially about the way he and Julie split up. He regretted not fighting for it, not working harder, not changing, being stubborn and pig-headed. He encouraged me in my marriage and taught me the value of working at it, and 31 years in we're in the best place we've ever been. And I don't mean that I'm here and Carolyn is in Scotland!

Pop taught me the value of family, of close relationships with the people you love. He had an interest in genealogy and kept a detailed family tree. He knew who all his cousins and ancestors were on both sides. He especially loved his sister Merle, visiting as often as he could. He loved his nephew John, considering him to be his 4th son in many ways. He loved his parents and of course, he loved us four kids, although it did take him quite a few years to be comfortable verbalising it. Over the last few years Dad was prone to strong emotions and tears. He said he wasn't bothered about crying, it was the way it rendered him unable to talk or regain control that he hated. The thing that was sure to trigger tears was anything to do with his family, kids, grandkids, even ex-wives. Seeing and knowing that he was loved in return was a great comfort to him.

Pop taught me the value of friendship. He considered a person fortunate if they had 3-4 really good friends. He cherished his many friends and maintained contact with them regularly. He accepted that his mates weren't perfect, Keith, but loved them anyway, just as they accepted him. Allan Davies, Keith Grimshaw, Neil McQuinn, Allan Banfield and Warren Green, your names  are written in the Holty Hall of Fame of Mates.
I have sought to follow his example and work hard to build strong friendships with my mates. I am especially proud that one of my best mates Gary is the son of one of his best mates, Allan Davies.

Pop taught me how to care for him as he was dying. All four of us kids spent time with him in Queensland as his own father was dying and the tenderness and care with which he treated his Pop always moved and inspired me. I can still see him stroking Pa's forehead, cooling him down with a damp cloth and attending to his needs.
Late one night in the hospital with Dad as I was talking with him and trying to care for him he paid me a great compliment when he said "You're pretty good at this". 
I had the dual privileges of being there with him when Pa died, and of conducting his funeral service. Therefore it was incredibly special for me that my son Paul arrived at the hospital just half an hour before his Grampa died and that I was holding Dad's hand telling him "I love you Dad" as he took his final breath.

I have lost the long late night talks as we discussed life, love and the state of the world. We didn't agree on everything but we had great respect for one another and loved one another's company.

I have lost the road trips we shared to places like Benalla to see Danny Delaney, to Bendigo to see his great love, the other woman in his life, Marilyn Monroe and her exhibition. The trip across the Nullabor through kangaroos in plague proportions and surfing Wave Rock. The trips to Carnarvon Gorge with Bruce and Peter King as we tried to get past Dad, the Mack truck on the track. Dad loved driving and thought nothing of heading west across the Nullabor, especially when Vicki and family were still in Wudinna.

I've lost the wise man on the other end of the phone who I would ring for advice. He always said he hated telephones but I had plenty of great conversations with him on the phone, sometimes at inconvenient times, like when I was living in London and would forget they were 8 hours behind!. I rang Pop whenever I had a big decision to make or something I needed to discuss and work through and his advice was always wise and thoughtful and with my best interests foremost in mind. And I always knew when Pop was calling me because I had assigned him a personal ringtone.

I've lost the chance to make more memories so it is very important that I hold onto the ones I have and take the time to remember Dad. On the first night he was at McKellar I stayed with him and around 4.00 in the morning he stirred and was awake and restless. I sat with him and we talked for about an hour. I thanked him for being my Dad and told him he was my hero, that I had always admired him and looked up to him.
"That was a mistake" he replied.
I apologised to him for being a little shit when I was a kid.
"You weren't a little shit" he said, "you were a big shit"!
I asked his forgiveness.
He responded, "Easiest job I've ever had".
He asked if I remembered when Pa died, about the struggle to take his "final breath" and I asked him if that's how he was feeling now? "Yes". I didn't think he would make it through the night but he held on long enough for the boys to make it from WA and Greenie from Qld.
Pop didn't like the taste of water and preferred to drink lemon squash but had given it up on doctor's advice. Finally at about 5.00am he said, "F&%# my guts, let's drink the can of Solo" which was in the fridge. I cracked it open and held it up to his mouth. After he had taken a couple of sips he turned the straw towards me and invited me to share his drink. It was a gesture and moment of intimacy that I will treasure forever.

I have lost the laughter, the fun and jokes we shared. Pop was quick witted and funny. He and Greenie could never be serious for more than two minutes. He had a twinkle in his eye and a wisecrack at the ready. When the Dr suggested that the job of looking after him at home was too hard for the team of family carers and asked if he knew what that meant Dad shot back, "Yeah, I need a new team".

I'll miss his idiosyncrasies, the strange quirks and funny habits.
Dad's favourite shop was Aldi and on countless occasions he would emerge with some strange new purchase that he hadn't planned on buying.
I'll miss his over-reaction to selling his beloved tent for $40 at the garage sale despite the fact he hadn't used it in 20 years and never would again.
His other favourite excursion was to Bunnings on a Saturday morning for a  sausage sizzle.
Talking of food, Friday night meant just one thing to Pop, fish and chips!

When we were kids Dad liked Frank Sinatra which was bad enough but it got worse in the second half of his life because he became devoted to country music and as you've seen and heard, his all-time favourite artist was Slim Dusty. The standing joke amongst the family is that I have inherited all Dad's Slim Dusty albums! In a moment of weakness I made a promise to Dad that I would play Slim every year on his birthday. You are welcome to join me in this annual ritual on "Slim Dusty Day" May 28.

Many years ago I introduced Pop to Blogging on the internet and he became a dedicated blogger on "HoltiesHouse" which in turn led to him becoming friends with dozens of other bloggers around Australia and around the world, especially in America. These friendships continued when he got on to Facebook and I tried for years to get Dad to go on a trip to the States but it never happened. I'll get him there by hook or by crook though, after he's cremated I'm taking some of his ashes with me on my next trip to America and will sprinkle them in the Grand Canyon.

Pop loved collecting movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, there are literally hundreds of them filling racks at home, and his favourite stars were Marilyn Monroe and The Duke, John Wayne. We counted up 55 pictures of Marilyn around the house, and found a file on the computer entitled "1000 pictures of Marilyn Monroe". Duke statue.

I dropped in to see Pop on the way home from work one night and put some ice cream in his freezer to stop it melting. He said it might not fit but it did. Next time I called in I couldn't believe my eyes, there in his tiny kitchen was a massive new two door fridge freezer. "What did you buy that for?" I asked. "So you'll have plenty of room to fit your ice cream in now" he replied!! The fridge was so big he could only just open the door without hitting the dishwasher. This led to an innocent suggestion that he needed a bigger kitchen. Lo and behold, next time I called in he had started drawing plans and working out how to knock down a couple of walls and double the size of the kitchen. Thankfully it never got beyond the drawing board. Fast forward a few months, Dad is at our place for tea and he asks" Could you use a new fridge? Mine's a bit big!!"

One night while having dinner with friends in Gympie, Diane commented in a slightly disapproving tone, "Marcus calls you Pop, not Dad" as if it was an irreverent term.
He replied "I called my Dad Pop".

Finally, I've lost the love that Pop shared with me and my brothers and sister. His love for his family remains perhaps my strongest impression of him.
He was proud of each of us, supported and encouraged us and wanted the best for us. He was saddened by the things that hurt us and rejoiced in the good things, our marriages, our children, our achievements.
He wouldn't have a word spoken against us.

We spent many hours talking about my progress at uni and I know he believed in me and was proud of what I was doing.

After the last road trip of his life, to Adelaide for Jenna's wedding, he told me how proud he was of Bruce and the way he had looked after him.

Dad believed in us and invested in us whenever and however he could.

He loved us unconditionally.

I love you Pop.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Life and Times of Peter Holt, my Dad, who died June 29 2107

Life and Times of Peter Holt

Peter Mervyn Holt was born at Healsville on the 28th of May 1936 to Mervyn and Evelyn Holt, or as we called them, Big Pa and Nanny Falia. His sister Merle was born two years earlier and his half-brother Jack was 11 years older. Jack's father died as a result of WW1 and sadly young Jack passed away at age 15 from tuberculosis. I asked Auntie Merle once what Dad had been like as a brother when they were kids. "He was very pinchy! He was always pinching me" she told me. Happily, they were close their whole lives, especially in the latter years when Dad often visited. Dad had many happy memories of growing up with cousins Danny and Tickey Delaney, John Ranton and David Ballard.
Dad moved around a lot as he grew up, living in various places including Benalla, Fitzroy and Northcote. He attended school in Collingwood and from there became an apprentice motor mechanic. It was around this time that he connected with a group of young blokes through the Northcote football club who would become life-long friends: Allan Davies who married Jeanette, Keith Grimshaw who married Anne, Neil McQuinn who married Joan, and Frank Johnson who Dad reckoned was the best footy player of the lot. Their numbers are dwindling but it is lovely to see Keith, Jan and Frank here today. Dad met and married Jacqui Burmeister in 1956 and these young families all grew up together, their children becoming pseudo-cousins.
The Holts moved around Victoria for a few years, with my older brother Alan being born in Birchip in 1957. Vicki was born in 1959. Myself and Bruce were born at PANCH in 1961 and 63. We were living in Bundoora at the time and Dad, having quickly decided he didn't want to be a mechanic, worked in various sales jobs with companies such as Westtools Good Year before taking up the position of BP rep in Geelong in 1966. We moved to 119 Aberdeen St Newtown. Dad enjoyed working for BP and made a number of friends through the job including Keith Harwood and Geoff Ferguson but the real treasure was to be found in Barwon Heads in the shape of Allan and Lorna Banfield. This friendship has endured pranks and practical jokes and grown for over 50 years and Allan and Lorna who are both in their 90s are here today.
It was in Geelong that the family's love of football blossomed and I have fond memories of Dad taking us to play footy in the Geelong West little league on Saturday mornings. Bruce and I played for The Toughies, against the same opponents every week, The Terribles. We both moved on to play for the Terrifics while Alan played for The Capris. Last year I tracked down Eric Nicholls, the Terrifics team manager and former Cats' player and Pop and I had a reunion at Kardinia Park.
I think we four Holt kids had a happy childhood but I have no memory of Mum and Dad having a close or happy marriage and it came as no surprise when they parted in 1970. We moved to Moolap and Dad moved to Brisbane with Julie and they became the proprietors of BP Cavendish Rd in Holland Park. It was here that fate dealt dad a Royal Flush in the shape of Warren Green or Greenie as we affectionately know him. You'll hear from Greenie shortly.
I will just say this: when I rang Greenie to give him the news Dad was dying, he replied "That's the worst news I've ever heard".
We spent Christmas holidays with Dad and Julie including the famous floods of 1974 that kept us marooned in Queensland an extra week.
By this time Mum and us kids had moved to Perth but I was pretty unsettled and after a difficult year I was sent to live with Dad. I spent three years with Dad and Julie, first in Rosewood where they had the Caltex garage and then in Toowoomba where Dad drove a school bus and owned a rubber stamp shop. In 1979 they were free of me and soon after set out on a long-term dream trip around Australia. Travelling around the country he loved became one of Dad's favourite things to do and he loved nothing more than a road trip. The red centre, Uluru, far north Queensland, outback South Australia, the Kimberleys, the Tassie wilderness and the Nullabor, he loved them all and never tired of discovering special places around Australia. Settling for a time on a small property near Maryborough, Dad and Julie spent a few years taking school photographs for Pacific all over Victoria and into SA. With Vicki and Rex and the grandkids living at Wudinna there were regular trips to the Eyre Peninsula. Sadly Dad's marriage to Julie did not survive which he always considered to be his greatest regret and for a few years he was in a wilderness of loneliness and pain. Hitting the road again he found himself in Tin Can Bay and booked into a caravan park. This proved to be highly significant because it was there that he met a group of people who not only rescued him from his heart-break but went on to become firm friends, Ken and Jackie, Margaret and Lyle and Albert. They hit it off immediately and had many laughs and good times before Albert's sudden death. Dad moved to The Palms, a property outside Gympie with Margaret and Lyle and they all lived together for a few years until Lyle also passed away. Dad's next move was to 74 Duke St Gympie, the house he lived in for over 15 years. Alan Vicki Warren Zach and I surprised him with a visit for his 70th birthday in 2006.
Dad considered himself to be a hermit, happy to keep his own company and during his long sojourn in Gympie he made very few friends, yet he was always keen to take a road trip south and visit friends and relatives every couple of years. Many times I suggested/urged him to move so he could be closer to his family but he stubbornly resisted and in fact he would still be in Gympie if it weren't for discovering he had bowel cancer in 2013. Vicki and I were on a plane the next day and what followed was a year in which at least one of us was with him the entire time as he went through surgery, chemo and radiation therapy. His favourite daughter Vicki spent months away from her brand new house in Leopold to look after him and the boys all made regular trips to share the load. Pop came through all of this with no pain and barely a symptom, no nausea, no hair loss, just one little blister on his bum at the end! Eventually though he realised that we had all sacrificed a lot to look after him and that if he got sick again it wouldn't be fair to be so far away from us, so he relented and moved back to Victoria. Alan and I had a huge garage sale, packed up his house and managed his relocation to his last Holtieshouse in Geelong.
If it weren't for the cold Victorian weather he'd have been very happy. He renovated the house, renewed regular contact with the Banfields, re-established a very close relationship with his first wife Jacqui which is a credit to both of them after divorcing 45 years earlier, and he was much closer to all of us kids, especially Vicki and I.
Regular visits and outings and occasional road trips continued and in fact Dad and I had started planning our next trip to Sydney and Brisbane, with me, then over to WA with Greenie for this very week when he got sick again. A UTI, bursitis and a very low mood combined with the one on-going legacy of the bowel cancer, frequent frustrating visits to the dunny were all signs something was wrong and after a couple of falls and mishaps he finally agreed to go to the hospital and get checked out. The bad news was the cancer had returned and spread and was inoperable. Dad elected not to have any treatment so we knew the inevitable end was coming. That was 6 weeks ago and during those last 6 weeks there was never a time when he was on his own, first at home and then at the McKellar Palliative Care unit to whom we are all deeply indebted and grateful for the wonderful care they took of Dad at the end of his life. We delivered a bucket full of chocolate bars and goodies to the hospital yesterday to thank them. There were many visitors including his cousin Danny Delaney, and for much of the time Dad was in good spirits, talking and joking and remembering old stories. I want to acknowledge all those who stayed nights at the hospital with Dad, part of the bargaining promise made when he went in!, son Alan, grandsons Zach and Cody, best mate Warren and especially my little brother Bruce who carried the lion's share of the load over the last couple of weeks which took a toll on him physically and emotionally. On behalf of Dad and all of us I want to say thankyou to Bruce for the wonderful job you did, and to all those who cared for him in his final days.

Dad's condition deteriorated significantly on the Monday and we all sensed the end was very close. Vicki Bruce Jacqui and I were there all day and in near miraculous circumstances, grandson Paul arrived half an hour before the end and cousin Susan arrived from Queensland just two minutes before Dad passed away. He was surrounded by people who loved him, he was ready to go, he had been in no or very little pain all the way through, he had seen the people on his bucket list, he had been told a multitude of times how much we loved him and he even had his eyes open as he took his final breath. The last words he heard were "I love you Dad".