Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Memories... Angus Brown

Its two weeks to my 60th Birthday so I am indulging in some memories of those 60 years. One of the biggest influences in my life has been my dad, Angus Brown. My dad was a plumber. He was a very involved church member and an able lay preacher when called upon. He had been a Regimental Sargent Major in the army during the war. He was a fine man. Of course he used to lose his cool. He battled bad health at various times in his life. The firm he was involved in became bankrupt and he lost his van and his tools. There were five kids and we were never very affluent so life involved a lot of stress. Sometimes he would hit us, but not often. We hid his army web belt under the bath because he used that to strap us with. Three memories of dad.
Sunday afternoon drives. During my childhood he had three vehicles, and two of them were "Bradford" vans. It was our job Saturday evening or Sunday morning to empty the van of plumbing gear and Dad would use it to pick up Sunday School children, and other church members on Sunday morning. But Sunday afternoon drives were a legend. We kids were all perched in the back of this wee two cylinder van as it vibrated its way down the road. There were no seats, we sat on the wheel arches or the floor. Every other car would be going faster than the Bradford and often passing cars would yell "Get a horse!" or some other comment. Dad would putter along and he often would start singing old army marching songs. "I've got sixpence, jolly jolly sixpence....", and we would all be expected to join in.
"Wait till your Father gets home!" This was what mum often said if we had misbehaved after school, and we would be banished to our room, sometimes with a splat from her spatchelor. My poor dad would come home tired from work and he would be told all the naughty things David said or did. He would wearily come into the bedroom, sit on the bed and simply say, "What's up Mick?" (He always called me "Mick", from Mickey Mouse- I have big ears.) He would then question me to understand what's going on in my life. Finally he ended up giving me a brief hug or rub across my shoulders and take me down stairs to apologise to mum, and perhaps set the table with him, chop some wood, or help him light the fire.
"Why are you a plumber?" I was so fortunate in that I often got to go with Dad when he went to work. It was so great seeing him do his thing, or relate to a heap of different people and to get to know this man at a different level. Once while helping him "wipe a joint" on a lead pipe under a floor in a house I asked him, "Why are you a plumber?" Wiping a joint in a lead pipe was difficult any where. It involved melting a metal solder and moulding it with a moleskin pad around a pipe. In the cramped space under a floor it was tough going and it seemed an appropriate question. He finished the job, turned off the gas torch and we sat there. He told me how during the depression it was expected he would go out to help earn a living and he started a plumbing apprenticeship. He said he did plumbing to earn a living but that that was not his "calling". He was called, he said, to be a man of God. That involved being the best plumber he could be, but also being active in church and ready and willing to help people and relate in a helpful way with everyone. He said he would have loved to have done something else other than plumbing, but the depression and the war interrupted and anyway I will learn that you don't always get what you want in life. But God and his ways were the primary focus of life for him. It was a special moment, lying on the clay under a house, a conversation that has kept me on track. I recall too when my mum would dream of what she wanted her sons to be, he would balance her ambitious dreams by saying, "I don't care if they turn out to be dustmen, but I hope they will be the best dustman they can be, the most honest dustmen, and give a fair days work for a fair days pay."

I see my dad in my brothers. My older brother has his gift of being able to speak in public. Murray my younger brother has his placid, caring nature and warm smile. Stephen my youngest brother has his ability to mix and share freely with all sorts of people. Dad died when I was around 14 years old. I recall after his death mum was going through his papers and came into my room in tears, handed me a torn yellow paper with blotchy blue typing on it, and said, "Your father used to recite this. It is so like him." I still have that paper with the poem on it... here it is, it does describe much about my dad, Gus Brown. It is called "If"

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim:
If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can hear the truth you've spoken
twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you,
except the will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man, my son.

Rudyard Kipling.

Dad died in 1964. Here it is 44 years later and I still get a lump in my throat when I write about him. He is still very much a part of my life.

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