Street Kids and 'The Old People'

Twenty years ago, when I was wee small thing, I lived on a different street. I have these memories of back then: Summers of running around the neighbourhood barefoot, visiting the dairy on the corner and eating fruju's with sticky goodness over fingers and faces. Wheedling adults to take us to the park to play, climbing over fences into backyards not ours . . . there were many adventures with the neighbourhood kids. The Dilly girls, at number 8, Alex and Vic from around the corner, and at number 12, Viv and Malcolm's kids, Peta and Gabriel. Fighting and racing and dancing. Chalk on driveways. Sega games. Fort building. Making cakes in mugs. Tree climbing. Arguments about crossing at the corner, or further down. Figuring out whose mother was mostly likely to bake next. Whose parents were out, so we could play with the hose. When we ran out of adventuring we'd go visit 'the old people'. Mr Martin (number 10) was good for marshmallows and stories. He wrote poetry, he did. Nothing we ever understood, but once he wrote a poem about me. He compared me to a Spring Zephyr, which he explained, was a fancy way to say 'refreshing wind'. He said it was something to do with the way I moved, in and out of his home and garden. I didn't understand at the time, but I used the word 'Zephyr' everyday that summer.

There was the grumpy man from number 1, who would always tell you off if he caught you away from home, out of the watchful gaze of your parents. There were the people at number 4, who owned a puppy that growled. Gabby, who lived up the long driveway, and liked to talk about boys.

Jim and Bob (brothers from across the road) were good for chocolate chip cookies, but only if you listened to their stories. Their garden and lawn were wonderfully well kept, but the lawn was full of prickles so you had to walk carefully, stick to the paving stones. I climbed up their lemon trees, picked mandarins and helped them garden (this was mostly me pointing at something and letting them know they had 'missed' it). Their lounge smelt like old people, but they had some wonderful stuff hidden in glass cabinets. If you were polite, they'd sometimes let you play with them.

There were lots of people, really. Eventually most of them moved away. I did. The Dilly girls from number 8 grew up and moved on. Vic and Malcolm, Peta and Gabriel moved three streets down, which might as well have been a different country for all we saw them, after that. Gabby went to boarding school, the McCurrans had a falling out with the rest of us. Generally, the world moved on.

Mr Martin, I know is still there. The grumpy man from number one is too. Bob, I think, still might be.

Jim, well, Jim died last week.

And it is so odd to think of Bob without Jim. To think of this street without Jim walking up the dairy. Without his cheery wave as you drive past.

At his funeral I spoke, because not very many people did, and I wanted to say that he was important. That he was important to us kids that lived in that street. With a shaky voice, trying hard not to let tears fall, I told a room full of strangers about the kids that used to live in Jims neighbourhood. About how the fabric of our lives, our memories include people we barely know, that aren't family, or friends, but are important to us just the same.

That our street, back then, was filled with some amazing people. People that showed some young kids kindness. Taught them the difference between a ripe lemon, and one that should be left. That were happy to let children run rampant in and out of their homes. Indulge them with cookies, and listen to their meaningless prattlings. We didn't appreciate their worth at the time. They were the old people that lived where we did . But they were important. Jim, and Bob and Mr Martin and the angry man at number one, they were important, and helped shape us kids into the people we are.

And I wanted to tell this room full of strangers, who loved this man who was their family, that for me, a person who wasn't, a person that they didn't know, that Jim had been present in my life, and I appreciated him, and I would miss him.

It was met with mostly blank looks. But the lady who owns the dairy gave me a look so fulled with compassion, and touched my hand as I passed, I cried. I was glad that I spoke.

I met Mr Martin after the funeral, while we were awkwardly standing around eating cake. I told him I still had his poem, and asked him if he still wrote. He does, he said. He's going to give me a book of his poetry. When I said I'd be glad to read his work he looked the sun had come out. I wanted him to know I appreciated him, and told him so.

None of the other street kids from that time had come. But I was glad that I had. The world might have moved on, but I wanted the people of that time to know that they were important. That they hadn't been forgotten. Because that's all anyone really wants, right? To know that they are appreciated, were loved and will be remembered.

Rest in Peace, Jim. You were loved, and you will be missed.