In the foot stamping cold of a winters night, we blew on our hands in desperation. The gloss of the Rockhampton Show’s was beginning to fade as we waited for our father to take us home. Mum was furious, her eyes narrowing with each question answered through gritted teeth.
No I don’t know where the car keys are.
I have no idea when we will go home.
No, I still don’t know where your father is, but he’d better hurry up!
Various whines came from my brothers and sisters. We needed to go to the toilet. We were hungry. We were bored, and tired. Mum sat in silence, barely able to speak. I believe she was crying softly. And then we heard him, muffled at first through the hard black interior of the old Dodge car, then louder as he stumbled towards us.
Darlings! Sweetheart! Look what I won!
His leering face loomed at the windows, fogging the glass. He grinned and winked lopsidedly at me. Resisting all instinct to throw my arms around him, I pulled back into the car seat and the darkness.
Mum’s voice exploded over the city like fireworks. Where have you been? How DARE you keep us all waiting, John!
She seethed and bucked like a scorpion riding a bronco. A wild animal of a woman, keep waiting with five restless, cold children. Our tummies rumbled in sympathy.
Dad held up something in the darkness to me. Something pink and glittery. My eyes adjusted slowly to this new scene. A shepard’s crook, more glitter and sparkles, hot pink tulle. It was a Cupie doll, and the most stunning object of beauty I could ever imagine. Dad grinned sheepishly to us all, and we shyly twinkled our frozen fingers back at him.
Having settled into the new life of a priest in Rockhampton, the lure of the XXXX Show bar became too much for our dad. Encouraged by the jovial slaps of his new parishioners, he happily drank to his new flock, and basked in the fuzzy glow of new friendships. On his way out, a showman, sensing an easy target, took dad’s hand and placed three fat grubby baseballs in to it.
Here Father, have a go, every child wins a prize! Dads white dog collar stiffened with ambition mixed with pride and he closed one eye and took his best shot. To everyone’s surprise, it was a convincing win, and he had the choice of any prize on the top shelf. He swaggered momentarily, and then pointed with an unsteady finger, to the pretty doll with the gold hair and a stiff circle of skirt.
Now, as dad held himself up on the car door, from under his jacket he also produced bags of fairy floss and small stuffed toys. The Showman had felt sorry for his priestly charge, and had endowed him with small prizes, which dad gave to my brothers and sisters. Mum drove home in silence, as we children explored the beauty and mysterious wonder of the Rocky Show.