This last month more than most other months in the recent past death has been everywhere, the chocolate shop in Australia, the two police officers murdered in Brooklyn, Charlie hebdo, the French police officer the kosher deli and so many more. It has got me thinking about the many who I have loved and called mate who no longer walk amongst us.
Philosophers say we are shaped by those who come in and out of our lives both good and bad, the first half of my life was pretty screwed up but I was saved from the brink by strangers who stumbled into my life with purpose.
When My father left us penniless without a pot to piss in literally (he stole all the furniture while mom his wife was having his sixth surviving child and we were all staying with grandma) We arrived home and even the sink was gone from the kitchen. Now mom and dad had met a man in the 50’s who was no relation but he was that person your parents made you call uncle even though he wasn’t one.
“Uncle George” George lowther he was 6ft 6 and 400-450 lbs. and it all wobbled when he laughed and he always laughed, he appeared when my mongrel father left and every week he would show up and say he won the meat raffle at the pub that week and didn’t need it(aussie pubs raise money for sports teams and charities by raffling butchers trays of enough meat for a family for a week each night in the bar)
At Christmas he would have miraculously won two turkeys, two legs of ham, two sheep, a side of beef and boxes of vegetables and gallons of milk . He was our savior.
He was huge all his life he never weighed less than 350lbs yet his doctor said he was fit as a bull, no blood pressure problems, no diabetes, a world without “Georgie boy” was no world at all.
When I was 12 his doctor retired, his new doctor convinced him he had to lose weight or die in two years he weighed 250lbs and dropped dead of a condition caused by his body pumping too much blood for his reduced size. He was meant to be jolly uncle George and he died, he left us and the world was empty he would never come sideways through our door again and yell ”come on young uns uncle George has Gifts in the car “
When we buried him the butcher and the grocer said he would do carpentry for them in return for our food andwe met the pub owner he never ever had won the meat raffle in 20 years, that man worked so we survived . And I write today to keep his memory alive.
ROLAND ELY “SPUD “STEVENS
Roland spud Stevens was my step grandfather but in our family if you ever used the step word we would make you apologize, shortly after world war 2 grampy a widower with kids met my grandma a widow with kids almost a dozen between them. They met ,married and had a couple more. My grandpa I have written many times before was the most honorable man I have ever had the honor to know.
He left home as a boy not yet a teen and worked driving bullock teams, which were the for runner of tractor trailers he would drive from the sea port fully laden with a dozen oxen each the size of a car up the middle of the bush dropping off to cattle stations and small towns and returning with their mail and wool for market.
He would be away a couple of years at a time, by the time he was in his twenties he was married and a man of respect in the outback know by all who mattered.
His nickname was spud because he used to joke he was bald at both ends(spud is aussie slang for a potato) he was only about 5ft 4 but twice as strong as any man 6ft or more.
My molester is 6ft 6 and over 400lbs, and one day my small grandpa in his 70’s already caught him shoving my head down onto a shard of glass because I was going to tell, and grampy floored him with two hits and put a foot on him and told him if he ever touched me again he would put him down like a rabid dog and took me to live with him.
My first marriage was April 6th 1986 and he was meant to be there, he had a stroke two days before so I videoed the service and showed him in his hospital bed, he saw it he smiled and he died that night.
Of all the giants in my family, of all my half dozen uncles most over 6ft of my brothers one who is almost seven foot my brother in law a veteran the man who saved my was my 5ft 4 70 year old grandpa.
The day he died the church was full to overflowing and the graveyard was as full as a rock concert, because if you ever met him you loved him and never forgot him.
So to you grampy ROLAND ELY”SPUD” STEVENS
When I was 8 we moved to Campbelltown, a north eastern mainly Italian neighborhood of adelaide South Australia, we were the pack of kids from the bush more at home on a horse eating BBQ living between the Esposito’s who made wine and the Versace’s who made salami.
we were given an initiation by fire, within a year I spoke Italian with an aussie accent. My first summer there I went to summer school, no I didn’t fail the school year, what my American friends call summer day camp we call summer school.
I enrolled in judo at summer school and did an hour a day with sensei schiller an tall fat German judo teacher with a beard that made him look like Santa. I, it seems was a natural, so one night after tea (dinner) the doorbell rang and mum a woman 6ft2 and ample in size opened the door to a short wiry middle aged man in a military uniform of the Australian army. The soldier introduced himself as “Alf Philips” he lived ten doors down and ran the parents committee of the st Bernard’s judo club. He told my mum he would pick me up and drop me home, I would be supervised, taught manners,basically taught judo.
Mum quickly agreed she saw it as a babysitter, I saw it as a way out. Over the next decade and a half Alf became a dad and his daughter Jane my best friend in the world, he introduced me to sensei Neil Ballard who took me under his wing and made me into a person who honored the sport almost as a religion and yes I was a natural.
when I grew up and started my career and married, I lost contact but every time I went to the old neighborhood I visited, there was always a meal at their table and a home brew beer out the back. One day Jane called me crying, dad had gone to the off track betting to pick up a winning and he never came home. The police came to the door evidently he never made it, he had a massive heart attack and died in the street.
I still do judo, I am a black belt several times over, and it is more than sport to me it is part of me and the joy it did bring me and still brings me the joy of calling Jane friend would never have happened if that short soldier hadn’t showed up on my dark doorstep all those years ago.
When my molestation finally ended because I had become too good at judo, and grown to over 6ft over one summer I was angry, angry and confused. My brother had a business, a way to use his combination of street smarts, taekwondo and military training, he provided muscle for rock tours, night clubs and bars from bouncers to bodyguards so I joined and made it a family business.
By the time I was 20 I was running my own crew and ran security for every major club and pub in Adelaide’s entertainment district at one time or another and bodyguarded the biggest names in the business. One particularly bad night I was at the orient hotel Norwood’s front bar, I was on my own throwing out a ruby team.
I had two on the floor six thrown out one under each arm in a headlock and as I almost made it to the door whensomething crashed over my head, and I fell to the floor and the boots started in. Suddenly they fell away like flies swatted, and a Aussie voice straight out of a jack Thompson/Clancy of the overflow moment said “you need a hand mate?” and pulled me to my feet. We cleared the bar and licked out wounds and closed. We became instant friends, he was a man of mystery he replaced the brothers who hurt me and became the closest thing I had to a brother .It was January 1986 and we had been mates for four years, and he was part of everything I did and we worked as a team. He was the only person I trusted, so I asked him to be part of my wedding. Come April he was driving back from country Victoria to Adelaide through bendigo in his muscle car, a 1972 ford xb coupe two door with a fully balanced ,blown and blue printed 351 cubic inch motor running on 10 inch mickey Thompson mags on the back 8 inch on the front. The tires were brand new he had them put on the day before, he had been driving for 10 hours so at the gas station he swapped with his fiancé Kerry. They were almost to the state line with south Australia when a defective tire at 80 miles an hour on a hairpin bend exploded, the car became airborne heading into a grove of ghost gums he saw a branch heading for Kerry it would impale her. He put his feet to her back and as he catapulted her out the car on the driver’s side, he said “I love you kid live for me” and when she came too he was impaled on the branch meant to her.
I never found out for a month he was an orphan and Kerry was in intensive care. I went to the pub and they were drinking to his portrait with a black ribbon in it. On that day Kerry lost the love of her life, I lost a brother and the world lost a gentleman.
GEORGE SNAKE SCARVELLIS
At the same time I started judo I was at aussie rules football practice at newton primary school one day and I was benched for calling a kid a wanker, so I went for a walk and around the corner there were kids wearing helmets and gloves and shoulder pads and elbow pads and they had sticks and it looked intelligent like a game of chess.
The coach Roy Masson called it lacrosse and asked me if I was interested? I said hell yeah so he took my address.
Well my mom must have wondered if it was Alf Philips again, when the following week the doorbell rang late at night but no it was a large man with a mop if red curls talking about a sport she had never heard of but hey it was Tuesday night Thursday night Saturday all night and Sunday morning she had me gone so she said yes.
So the next Saturday Roy picked me up and took me to a club called East Torrens Payenham Lacrosse club, and Roy introduced me to a tall skinny Greek guy with a big nose a blue panel van and a half a dozen grey hounds called George scarvellil. The first words out of his mouth was” G’day call me snake” snake became as much a sensei in lacrosse as Neil and Alf were in judo. He was our den mother our coach our big brother our dads, the team was a motley crue. There were kids on day release from juvenile hall, rich kids, poor kids, aboriginals, Greeks, French, Italian, Arabic,and Aussies. We became tight, and as we aged we went up in the teams together by under 16 we were state champions and we made up a large percentage of the state and even national teams.
One day snake pulled me aside and said” I know something is wrong, I know something at home is bad, whether it’s now or the future just know I am here I will listen I will make you safe”
As I grew and became an adult he became a friend, and we would see him out socially but as my career took off when I was in my mid-twenties I stopped playing. Well a few years back I ran into a team mate and he told me snake died from a sudden cancer, it had happened the previous year but it was a part of me and it felt like it was ripped away.
I am friends with his kids now, they’re adults and have kids. Snake would be a grandpa and what a cool one he would be.
There have been so many, so many more, Rick Dupree swapped shifts with me on the oilrigs and was killed doing my job.
Sensei Neil Ballard taught me to be who I am, and he died having dedicated his entire life to judo and special needs kids. He is in himself another whole story for another time.
NIKI DUVALL found a homeless gay girl in a park and gave her a roof over her head, and taught me to be street smart and survive the monsters and was always there to keep the homophobes from the door. We had a deal we would always be there at the end of the phone for each other. She was always there for me and I for her, until two years ago.
She found out her man was unfaithful with her best friend, so she went home, bathed put on a night gown opened a bottle of wine and a bottle of pills and she didn’t call me she just slept and never woke up.
My beautiful sister who taught me to survive the letdowns couldn’t survive being betrayed by the one she loved the most.
ROZYLA “RITA” VAYNER Ella’s momma who became mine, the woman who told me it was ok to trust again. She escaped the Russians her family just barely survived the Nazi’s and she came to this country and built the American dream.
Just when she should have retired and enjoyed her golden years non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma took her from us. My first mother didn’t want me and the one who did I couldn’t keep. You gave me your daughter, your love, your family, your name, your language and your food and if I could have you back for just one day that day would be perfect.
I know this is long, I know the names are many, but I had to keep them alive in the universe, I needed to remember their voices I needed the holes they left in my soul to be filled again even if for only a minute.
We all move on, we all trip off the mortal coil and we go where ever you believe we go or we simply cease to be.From the moment we take our first breath to the moment we take our last, whether we know it or not we touch people along the way.
A philosopher once said ”so live your life it demands a question” who have you touched?, what question does your life demand how will you be remembered or will you be remembered at all? It’s up to you.