Almanac Family and Footy: My dear Uncle’s Jacket

On my second last trip home to Bright, just recently, my dad invited me in, to see his wardrobe. “I have something for you”, he proclaimed.

 

I had noticed this time around that dad was very slow, he was just coming off from a bout of the flu and his steps were small and controlled.  He eased slowly forward with his customary shuffle, swopping still close to the ground but it was taking far longer now to move forward.

 

This proclamation to visit his wardrobe, had resulted from our conversation earlier, under the apple tree (where all great family conversations start for our family). The topic had ended on coats and jackets. “Come with me”, he urged, as we ascended onto his wardrobe.  After fiddling with the key, he opened his trusty old wardrobe,  then his old hands reached for a jacket. “Put this on!”, he demanded.  I knew the jacket, it was my dear Uncles, and I reckon it had not been taken out of his wardrobe for close to 40 years.

 

The Jacket was a leather spectacular. It was pristine, with not a scratch and it glowed in the room. It fitted me perfect. As it clung perfect to my frame I could feel the arms of my dear Uncle Bill, (Armour Tohar) wrap around me. Armour died when I was young, but I remembered him well, particularly his smile. He was a gifted chef, and came out with dad from the Lebanon many years ago. Dad and his two brothers worked at Mt. Buffalo Chalet for many years when the Victorian Railways owned and operated that large wondrous guesthouse. We spent many happy family times up there in the snow, or paddling around Dad’s feet watching him converse with his Chalet mates and guests. We loved that Chalet.

 

Armour Tohar was a kind happy man, who used to play sport with my brothers in Bright in the backyard. He would bowl a mean spinner to us.  I remember the stews he would whip up out of nothing, him barking orders to my mother in her kitchen to get this spice and that as he would prepare some meals. Sadly, he died well before his time, quite suddenly and he left my cousins and dear Auntie Selma in grief. I remember Dad’s mourning, we all cried many tears. Sadly, Dad was to lose his other brother many years later. He had cancer of the pancreas. He passed away when I was at college. I was extremely close to Uncle Allan (Musbah). I remember the note my college lecturer gave me before I went to his lecture about Musbah’s passing. Evidently, he was a topline soccer prospect in Lebanon.  Again, it shook our family to the core. Dad kept on, and I knew he missed his brothers dearly, but today in every step he takes, he is looking every one of his 91 years. It is worrying to me and all of us now.

 

As he watched me walk around in his brother’s coat I see him smile and his face brighten up. For me I feel as if I am king, I feel I could walk down Brunswick street and have people look at me in awe. Certainly, there is a bit of the Fonz in me a la, Happy Days. My brother David is under the apple tree with mother taking this all in. I don’t mind a crowd sometimes and strut around the backyard, dodging the old clothes line, putting on a bit of show….and now ladies and gentlemen…I am a model walking the catwalk….

 

I loved that backyard, it was always alive with us playing sport. I announce that I am going to wear this jacket to the footy on the weekend to see my beloved Tigers. I am saying to Dad that this jacket will give us luck.  He wanders over to his beloved garden like driftwood in a mountain stream, he is there one minute then gone, off to tend to his broad beans. His body is slow but his mind sharp. He tends to his flock, his garden beds as we sip our tea.

 

I zip back to Melbourne that Friday with Uncle’s coat in the back of the car. On the day of the grand final I pull out the jacket.  My eldest son Sasha says its cool. We get ready early. I text my cousins and show them their dad’s jacket…. love hearts in their replies. The coat is heavy on my shoulders, thick with history, rich with memories over time. The day is surreal as the Tigers simply get better and better as we engulf Adelaide with a passion that breaks their spirit and stuns the football world. I sing the song with eldest son, Sasha,  wife Lynda, brother David and one of my best mates Mike. The jacket is never far from us as we lap up the joy.

 

The following weekend, something drives me home again to Bright. Truth be known I am worried about Dad so I wanted to check in with him. The sun is shining as I pull into the old driveway.  He sits up alert as he checks his tattslotto tickets in the morning sunshine.

 

I ask him about the jacket…. my question is “Was it brought in Lebanon or Australia’? He thinks it may have been brought in Lebanon. He is well again and the country air has made him strong. He starts paddling around in the garden with mother, who is helping him with the broad beans. He puts a good two hours in the garden, sweating, until we plead with him to come in. I take him to his scheduled doctor visit and Dr. Paul says, “Albert your heart is strong and your breathing is fine” …I am going away soon so see you in about six weeks”.

 

The next day I jump back into the car and drive to Melbourne. As I enter the driver’s seat I catch a glimpse again at Uncle’s jacket in the back. Reversing out of the driveway I wave to my parents who have given me a 1001 instruction about life, yet again. The long road back to Melbourne beckons, my parent’s little figures in the distance, not far from the apple tree. Wiping away tears I sweep down Cobden Street, meander around country roads and onto the long roads to Melbourne.

 

About Haje Halabi

Born in Bright Victoria and went overseas for 2 years and stayed 18, back home now, keen observer of life and obsessed with sport. Tiger tragic, father of 2 boys who are growing too fast into young men.

Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says:

    This is a lovely read and a terrific story. Well done with the jacket, the loving family, Richmond glory and life.

    Yvette

  2. Haje Halabi says:

    Thanks Yvette, time marches on, doesnt it? I also remember what I wore to our last premiership…and the hair style!

  3. Don Paproth says:

    Written with soul Haj.
    Great stuff.

  4. Beautiful, poignant piece Haje. I could hear the ache and the joy. Love that your family has preserved it’s links to the Lebanon. Stayed in the Albaicin district of Granada a week ago, and there are still echoes of the Moorish past in the steep narrow cobbled streets. Had a simple tagine dinner in a family “tea house” restaurant. Dad front of house and mum cooking. Trying to supervise their primary school sons confined to a corner table. Women in beautiful scarves. Elegant not oppressed.
    One of the joys of old cities is that the small shop footprints keeps local entrepreneurs alive. Shopkeepers and cafe owners long since killed off in the Anglo world by Colesworths and Big Mucks.
    Can I borrow the “magic jacket” for the Eagles next year, or have you rubbed all the good fortune from it’s leather?

  5. Joe De Petro says:

    Beautiful, Haje. Absolutely beautiful.

  6. Haje Halabi says:

    Thanks Don, Joe and Big Pete. As I get older I am more curious about my past than ever. I hear you Peter about the alley ways of lovely Old Towns. Re the Jacket I am not sure about lending it out, lets keep the Jeannie in the bottle so to speak.

  7. Rocket Singers says:

    Excellent piece Haje.

    Football and an old jacket bring a lot of joy to people.

  8. Nice one Haje. Was glad the Tigers got up for you. Well deserved all round.

    Coached Simon’s team to grand final win this year, so all smiles this end too.

  9. Rocket Singers says:

    Good work Gus.

    Makes up for you being knocked out in the first quarter of the Middle East AFL GF and not remembering the Abu Dhabi Falcons win!!!?

  10. A wonderful read, Haje.
    Thanks for letting us have a peak in to your family history.

  11. Sweet read Haje, love it

    sean

  12. Lindsay Collison says:

    As the son of a vital but aging father with wardrobes full of memories I loved your story, reckon I played footy with your brother Ab at North Bendigo in the early/mid 80s, ripping little player, tough and fast.

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