We are the biological and cultural blend of our ancestors and we somehow think that we know what that means. I knew my grandparents extremely well and adored them all. On my father’s side, most of us had Finch eyes. Some of us talked and laughed like Grandma, who was a Belson. Some of my cousins had her short legs. “Duck’s disease” she called it ruefully, eyeing her stumpy legs and solid bottom with distaste. Others had the long lanky Finch legs – spindly legs like the birds we were named after.
My Grandfather, Charlie Finch, always wore an old weather-and-time-abused brown felt hat. Damp with sweat, its top would flap open as if a tin opener had taken to it. His black boots were absolutely forbidden for use by grand-children because he always said that the only healthy thing about him was his feet. In my memory, Pop Finch (my father’s father) is still striding off to the shed, even though it was blown to pieces by a direct lightning strike in 1969.
Jeepie is still waiting there. The WWII American army jeep he bought at Coolmoon Creek, in the lush rainforest of North Queensland, during a timber cutting contract, needed careful coaxing to start and nerves of steel to stop, being purchased at a time when no-one minded much about luxuries like brakes. Pop is still striding through waves of mist that wash in on the promise of sunshine, heralding a break from the perpetual rain. These are magical memories of my paternal grandfather.
Grandma, with her peaches and cream complexion pleated into rows of wrinkles and her fine strawberry-blonde hair subdued with dozens of long, black, hairpins and a spidery hair net, was always in khaki twill Bib-and-Braces overalls. They moulded her short, plump body into a perfect figure of eight. She tripped lightly through the dewy clover lawn, past her fragrant riot of a garden, opening the gate and sidestepping the axe still embedded in the stump at the wood heap where she and Pop split hardwood timber for kindling. Smoke rose into a white sky behind her, forming a dancing spectre that wafted above a corrugated-iron-clad shed. It was their home, devoid of electricity or hot water for showers or laundry. Grandma, smelling of Johnson’s talcum powder, always had an exuberant welcome ready for her guests.
We were so lucky to have them but it wasn’t until my grandfather died that I realized I had never heard him talk about his family. I knew nothing about them. I made it my personal challenge last year to track them down, without the benefit of any family stories, just using research on ancestry.com and get some background on the Finches.