Saturday, June 20, 2015

CHAPTER 24: GOING HOME (PART 4) MELBOURNE

As I begin to write this chapter, I realize that it was exactly one year ago today, June 9, 2014, that I first spoke to Malcolm Campbell.  When I think of the journey this past year has taken me on, it feels as though I've been the star of a "Lifetime" movie.  Writing my story has been an arduous, and often confronting task.  I've struggled with the best way to present the facts- while trying to protect the feelings of those involved.  While I initially planned on "glossing over" some of the more outrageous facts, I decided that the best thing to do was to tell the whole truth and change the names of the people who may be affected by such "truths" being in a public (albeit minescule) forum.  My biggest concern was Malcolm himself- but after it became clear that he really doesn't care to learn anything about the internet, I felt a little better.  Then, Kym told me that she had been reading some of the earlier chapters to him over the phone!  Uh oh.  That was when I told Kym that it was her choice whether or not she shared future chapters with him- but that I was going to tell the absolute truth. Without needing to go in to details, she understood. I also decided to not post any recent photographs of Malcolm- so as to completely respect his privacy.  I feel at peace with that choice.

Friday, 28 November 2014 Sharyn and I made our way to visit the home of Tricia (nee) Brant.  If you recall, Tricia was the the first person to confirm that she was, indeed,  a first cousin to my elusive father, Malcolm Campbell.  Within a matter of weeks- the search was over- after more than twenty five years.  I was excited to put a face to that melodious and accessible voice from the telephone.  We arrived in Geelong by late morning.  No sooner had we greeted each other, been introduced to her husband, Robert,  and had a cup of tea,  that Tricia decided that the best time to visit her father ( my Great Uncle Stan) would be sooner than later. Uncle Stan lives in a nearby nursing home.  He is well into his diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease and it is important for Tricia to be nearby to be able to care for him daily.  When we arrived, Tricia went in first.  She had told us that he is more likely to be responsive earlier in the day, but I still didn't know what to expect from this visit.  Before long she returned and said that he was ready to meet me.
I entered the room and laid eyes on who could best be described as Santa Claus during the off-season. He had the most beautiful shock of white hair (though no facial hair- hence the "off-season" remark). He was also thinner than one would expect of Santa- but the sparkling eyes and million dollar smile were enough to enchant any child- or adult for that matter.  He seemed quite alert and was genuinely happy to have visitors.  Tricia explained to him that I was his sister's grand-daughter and had come a long way to meet him.  She asked him various questions- most of which he answered "yes" to.  I can't say how much he really understood what was happening- but I was just so delighted to get to meet him face to face.  I will never be able to thank Tricia enough for allowing me into his presence.  It was a short visit and after taking a few pictures of the three of us, we bid our farewells and left him to enjoy a restful afternoon.
When we got back in to the car to leave, Tricia told us that he has not been that alert for many months and she was honestly surprised and pleased by how engaged he had been.  That made me feel good. Both Uncle Stan and his sister, Auntie Iris, are precious humans.
Upon returning to Tricia's home we were joined by two of her brothers and one of their wives- she was actually the lady who had given me Tricia's phone number.  We sat around the dining room table and looked at family photographs.  I "made copies" of many of them with my I-phone and tried to take notes so as to identify who was who in the pictures- all the while chatting and sharing with my cousins.  Eventually, the conversation came to what my thoughts were about meeting my long lost father.  Once again, I tried to be as respectful as possible, but before long I had "let the cat out of the bag" about my father's creative way of retelling stories.  One of the brothers, I think it was Kevin, seemed genuinely surprised- even quite disappointed.  He had fond memories of Malcolm stopping by their parents home during his truck driving days.  He would always stay to shoot the breeze and offer any help he could in fixing the family cars.  I realized that though they had lost touch many years ago, Kevin had nothing but fond memories of my father.  He had barely known him- but the few good memories he did have had now been sullied by me.  I felt instant regret.  It was heart-breaking to see genuine disappointment as a result of something that you had told someone.  I began to wonder if it was necessary to offer up information to absolutely everyone if they hadn't asked a specific question.  In the end, though, I have to stick to my personal theme of "truth".  Sorry Kevin.  Or was it John? ( I now have more cousins than I can remember.)  All in all, it was a great visit.  We had some laughs, talked about a mutual love of music and generally had a great time.

We spent a couple of days at Aireys Inlet, catching up with Linda, exploring my old stomping grounds of Torquay, and, of course, shopping.

My reservation for the Windsor Hotel was for Monday- but we decided to head in to Melbourne on Saturday.  I found a budget priced hotel in the St Kilda area.  When I say budget- I really mean fleabag- but hey, it had an "in unit" washer and dryer- so we dealt with some bare bones surroundings- and loud neighbors.  The good thing about being in St Kilda was that we could walk to lots of local landmarks and haunts, like Luna Park (my childhood version of Disneyland), the recently restored Palais theatre and the Esplenade Hotel.  One of my favorite memories had been ice-skating at St Moritz Ice Rink and I was disappointed to find that it had been demolished several years ago.
After dragging our bags up two flights of stairs (note to self- always ask if there's an elevator)we headed over to Luna Park.  Though it's been spruced up a little, it still has the same "flavor" I remember.  The entrance is an enormous- and frankly terrifying clown-like face with a giant mouth....well...here's a picture of the entrance- and one of our classic middle-aged woman selfies...
 So, yeah, it's pretty "old school board walk"- and that's what's so great about it.  We went in and walked around a bit.  I was disappointed to see that my favorite "Rotor" was no longer there.  Sharyn thought that the "Ghost Train" had been taken out years ago- but I walked right where I remember it being- and there it still was. I'm a "random memory ninja".  As we started to leave the park we stopped to peruse a wall that displayed historical photos of Luna Park through the years. All of a sudden, Sharyn exclaimed, "Look at this!!"  She was pointing to a photograph that looked weirdly familiar.  It was a black and white photo of a family assembled on some stairs in front of a back-drop very similar to the photo I had of my parents.          


I had sent Lynn a copy of the "Malcolm and her" picture earlier and her response had been, "That's a blast from the past."  I assumed she meant that she remembered it, so when I asked her where it was taken she said "probably Essendon Airport."
It made much more sense that they would have been on a date in Luna Park- especially as they both lived in the area at that time.  The memory is a strange thing.  The more I research genealogy, the more I realize that, as humans, we are so fallible.  Memories vary from person to person- and I would no longer take any "memory" as "absolute truth".  There are so many variables in life.  When I think about how so many people's lives hang in the balance and their fate can be decided simply by the arbitrary nature of another human's recollection, it scares me.  Science is important.

Our couple of days in St Kilda were fun- but by Monday morning we were ready to move to our digs where it was easy to control the temperature and neighbors didn't come home singing hits from the eighties. After checking in to the historic Windsor Hotel in Melbourne's CBD, we returned the car as, in Melbourne, the public transportation is great.  By the way, much of my time in Melbourne, which is my home town, was spent visiting and reconnecting with friends and relatives that I grew up with- but, in the interest of the subject at hand, I'll just talk about Campbell family adventures.

Before Sharyn left to go home to celebrate her parents anniversary, we took a day trip out to the Cemetery where my father's paternal grandparents are interred, along with some other relatives.  We took a train out to Fawkner.  There was a station at the actual cemetery.  We made our way to the office where they printed out a list of relatives and a map of where we could find them.  Ok, so, the place is HUGE and it's not as easy to find as one would think- but we eventually found our section- again thanks to "eagle eye" Sharyn. We were told that there were five total "plots" - what we found were two plots that were marked as Charles T Campbell and his wife Doreen.  Next to those was an empty plot that had been paid for- and beside that was Great Grandfather Clarence.  It had a concrete surround- but no headstone or marker.  The only way we knew that it was his was because of the print out given to us at the main office.  To the left of that was Malcolm's Great Grandparents, William and Elizabeth, as well as their oldest son, William.  Not only was this grave unmarked- one would never know that there were bodies buried here- three of them- one on top of the other.  It was sad that there were no markers.  Sharyn and I improvised one on the edge of Clarence's grave out of pebbles and wild daisies.
William, Elizabeth and son are buried together closest to the camera (unmarked ground), Clarence is the unmarked grave with the yellow flowers.  Beyond him is the empty plot that was purchased and never used, and furthest are Charles and Doreen.  So sad that no-one ever came up with a couple of modest head stones.
After that sad little pilgrimage we decided to walk back to Orvieto Street in Coburg.  This was the address that Clarence and Ethel shared as early as 1930.  Clarence was listed as living there in the Electoral Rolls in 1954, but various members of the family had been in and out of the address throughout the years.  Nobody that I have spoken to knows the circumstances of Clary's death.  It has been said that he and Ethel were estranged for most of their marriage, and I think Ethel was the one who was favored by his family.  Orvieto street was easy to find.  It started (or ended) right at the Merlynston railway station.  Remember that Malcolm had an aunt named Merle?  Her legal name was Merlyn- and she likely grew up in that house.  Malcolm, of course, told me that Merlynston (the station?) was named after Merle.  Now.  Merle was born in 1924.  An easy internet search says that The Coburg North station was renamed Merlynston in 1914.  Methinks Auntie Merle was perhaps named after the station.  As if that wasn't proof enough- at the top of the street we found this sign.
Just to drive the point home.  Case closed.

We found the house.  It had a tall white picket fence and there appeared to be nobody home.  You bet if anyone had been there I would have interviewed them.

Sharyn continued by my side for a couple more days.  We visited and had meals with old friends, shopped and laughed.  Oh how we laughed.  She went home with the expectation that she and her husband would be back for a night on the weekend.  Unfortunately it didn't work out that way- but I'm glad that I thought I was going to see her again because it made the farewell much easier.  I'm so thankful for my Sharyn.  Everyone should have a Sharyn.

Thursday morning a car arrived at the hotel to take me to visit my father's first cousin, Gloria, in Don Vale. I had offered to take public transport- but Gloria insisted.  Who am I to argue?  I had found Gloria after discovering Merlyn's obituary online.  I had contacted the funeral home and asked them to please forward my contact information to whomever had arranged the service.  In the meantime, I had done a search for her children (who's names had also been listed in the obituary).  Their surname is not too common- so they were easy to find.  I did my standard $1.03 Facebook intro and within a week I was speaking with Gloria.  She had opened a lot of doors and answered many questions about the family and I was excited to finally meet her.  You may remember that Gloria's mother was Malcolm's father's (Lionel) sister.  This was the first time I was getting to meet an actual "Campbell" family member.  As soon as I arrived I felt comfortable with Gloria.  I could tell that she was excited to get to share memories of her mother and beloved aunt.  Thelma passed away around twenty years ago and Merle, who had always been a second mother to Gloria, and never had children of her own, had passed less than a year ago.  Gloria doesn't have any cognitive memories of Lionel, but she had several photographs and letters between her mother and him.  He had retired to Queensland sometime in the seventies and, according to the letters, had lost a leg and was using a prosthetic one.  Gloria did have wonderful memories of her mother and aunt.  While Thelma was a classic lady of style, Merle was the one who taught Gloria about shaving her legs and the wonders of red nail-polish. There were pictures of Thelma in "finger waves and Dior Suits", and others of Merle posed on a front porch, proudly modeling her gorgeous long legs in white ankle strapped stilettos. There was a great photograph of a dinner party featuring Thelma and Arthur, Merle and Gordon, and cousin Doris and (husband) Archie.  Doris was the daughter of Lillian Campbell- sister of my great grandfather Clarence.  I was to attend another reunion the coming Saturday at the home of their son, Keith.
Gloria and I had a lovely, comfortable day together.
Thelma, Arthur, Merle, Archie, Doris and Gordon
We bonded quickly over family, a love of jewelry design and ultimately, shopping.  Of course, part of our day was spent at a nearby mall and I hold her personally responsible for encouraging me to "try things on"- she is the best kind of bad influence for me....  Gloria made a wonderful home-cooked meal and I had the pleasure of dining with her and her husband Austin before being swept away back to Melbourne by my private driver.  We had parted with the promise to get together in the future and meet their children and grand daughter. It was a day that I will always cherish.  Gloria and Austin are superb hosts and I thank them for what was a perfect day with my newly found cousin.

The following Sunday was the final gathering.

NOTE-STAY TUNED FOR A SPECIAL FATHERS DAY EDITION TOMORROW!!!