The year that my sister, brother and I had our last Christmas together with our father, was probably the same year that my father bought a jet ski and a schmick new wetsuit to affirm his mid-life experiment. In keeping with the new purchases, he also rented a holiday house at the south coast over the Christmas/New Year holiday period. It was our first ever trip to, and holiday at, the south coast. Summer holidays at the coast are a Canberra tradition that was normally beyond our means. My father also paid for my brother and sister to fly down from Queensland for the festivities, the offer to pay the airfares alone being insufficient to bribe them to make the trip south.
The purchase of a jet ski is a rite of passage for many portly, middle-aged, divorced thrill-seekers. What could possibly go wrong?
So on Christmas eve, we loaded the car with food, drink and fishing lines, hooked up the trailer to the Falcon and headed off down the mountain to the coast.
Christmas morning dawned bright and breezy, and we woke to the buzz of cicadas and raucous kookaburras in the surrounding bush. By 8am, the heat bordered on oppressive. The eucalypts crackled as they released their oils to the day. Our father wasn’t one for eating a leisurely Christmas breakfast, nor lying around reading books, before cranking up the barbie for the long awaited Christmas family lunch. Instead, the new toy was calling. So off we went to the nearest small cove with a boat ramp.
The bay was relatively quiet at that time of morning. There were a few families on the beach, building sandcastles and paddling in the chilly water. A Christmas tableau. Perfect. We pushed the jet ski trailer downhill to the boat ramp and launched the jet ski.
On his trusty beast, our dad began to roar up and down the beach not far out from the break. So much for peace and quiet, and relaxing in the sparkling blue waters of the Eurobodalla Shire. Personally, I couldn’t see the attraction of this activity. There are only so many times you can criss-cross a bay before, you know, been there, done that. The swell at the beach soon picked up. That’s when it got interesting. The jet ski met a wave side on and it flipped over. We waited anxiously for our father to surface.
Thankfully he popped up but not before scaring the bejeezus out of us. We could tell something was wrong. Dad made several attempts to right the overturned craft and get back on it, then the damn thing wouldn’t start. When it finally coughed to life, he steered it into shore. The man was in shock. I was hysterical inside, especially when I saw the blood gushing from a gash in his leg. My pleas to abandon the jet ski and get him to the hospital as quickly as possible were ignored. I believe the response was, “Bullshit. I’m taking this jet ski back to the house first.” Getting it on the trailer was tricky and it took a number of runs into shore in increasingly turbulent water to load it. All the while, our dad bled copiously into the same water in which young families were swimming.
There were no reports of Christmas Day shark attacks in the area. I checked. So all good.
At the start of this excursion, we didn’t stop to think how we were going to drag the loaded trailer uphill to the carpark. That task was made all the more harrowing by the incoming tide lapping our car which was bogged in the sand by this stage. Fortunately, a bystander towed our car and trailer out with his own 4WD. We were soon on the road again to the holiday house where we offloaded the trailer before setting off for the hospital 30 minutes away. I drove, dad moaned. “Christ, watch those bumps!” I think Christ had other plans that day.
We didn’t have to wait long for dad to see a doctor in Emergency . The gash was a nasty one. Honestly, you’ve never heard a man complain so much about needing his wetsuit cut off him to save his life.
The rest of us quickly dashed home to get him some clothes while the doctor sewed him up. When we returned, we found that he had been admitted to the hospital. We could do no more, so we left again, returning in the evening for the verdict. He would stay overnight before being discharged in the morning.
“I enjoyed dinner,” he said. “A roast and Christmas pudding with custard.”
“That sounds nice, dad.”
“Yes, it was. Bloody good.”
“We’ll see you in the morning.” But his attention was already elsewhere.
I saw my father yesterday. He turned 80 years old this year. He looked frail and unwell. I insisted he wear his face mask. Just in case.
“I don’t want to,” he whinged.
“Too bad. You might live to regret it.”