I wanted to tell you about my dad, how much I loved him and what he was like, but I didn’t know where to start, so this is what happened.
“You can tell a lot about a man by how he treats his car,” Mum said once. By my reckoning they were together long enough for mum to discover how Dad treated his car. Reckless, some said. Like his own body, the Kombi was merely a vehicle to get him around. Dropping gears for cornering was superfluous and slowed you down.
The Kombi never had a radio, so we sang Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’ and Eurythmics’ ‘Thorn in my side’. The last was my choice, I thought it was a great soundtrack for Dad’s stunt driving, particularly for his ‘wheelies’. He would drive the car up on the kerb and get the angle just right so the car would tilt towards the driver’s side and we would career down the street on two wheels. Our singing peaked in laughter and my squeals. It was the ministry of silly driving.
Dad was excellent at mimicking Monty Python’s ministry of silly walks. His gangly limbs were perfect for the task. He never did fill out. The eternal teenager, some said. One of his business shirts ripped across the back, not because he had filled out. The shirt had finally given up, it was worn out. There were holes in quite a few of his shirts. He always wore a jacket when visiting the bank manager for an extension on the overdraft.
There were holes in the floor of the car too. Rust.
“One day, we’ll be like the Flintstones and have to run along the road to propel the car,” I used to say. The truth is we kind of did anyway – there were problems with the starter motor.
“Not long now and I’ll be able to hill start off a twig on the road,” he said one time over the sound of the engine spluttering to life. He had once again managed to roll start on a little dip in the road near home. We called the dip Last Chance Saloon.
Towards the end, the Kombi ran on two of its four cylinders.
“Any more is a waste,” he’d say with a laugh. The problem was Dad started to lose his puff too. “See what this new office job is doing to me. About time I bought a bicycle and got fit.” He never did buy that bike. Even after they came and took his car away. Impounded. It was something about a car he had hired with some work mates on a job in Broome. They had taken the ‘Waverunner’ four-wheel drive up onto a beach to see if it would live up to its name.
“I should sue them for false advertising. They were only little waves,” he said. The whole underside of the hire car had rusted. Insurance wouldn’t cover wave jumping with four-wheel drives and Dad’s name was the only one on the lease. When it came time to cough up, all the guys disappeared into the woodwork. No more Kombi.
Dad didn’t last much longer after that. Mesothelioma. Asbestos in the lungs from when he did his naval architecture apprenticeship at Cockatoo Island. Towards the end he was running on one lung.
He knew all along. He could’ve had it checked, gone in for a service. It might have occurred to him at least after the other ten guys he did his apprenticeship with died. He never told me that at forty-four he was the last man standing. Found out at the wake. I guess he just wanted to live and save the worrying till later.
A part of me thinks I should have buried his ashes under a Kombi hub cap, but maybe he has a car that runs on four cylinders now.
Do you think Mum’s right? Can you tell a lot about a man by the car he drives?
Mesothelioma is a nasty cancer, but I’m glad to hear some success stories in treating it now, like my dear friend, Ben’s mum. These guys have launched a great site and alliance to help sufferers and their loved ones.