We left for Bright very early on the Saturday morning before Christmas, our little camper van was packed with secretly squirreled bikes for the kids and other Christmas goodies.
I am not sure if this was the Christmas we left Jassy behind, it probably makes sense if it was. She was an eight-year-old Princess and far too haughty to think we would not have expected her to have gone back to bed.
“It was dark and you slept when it was dark” would have been her ever practical rationale for getting out of the car and heading back to the comforting presence of her bed.
It didn’t matter greatly, we were just a few hundred metres from home, when a very drowsy Annie innocently asked; “where is Jassy?” The question was not asked in any panic, it was like Annie assumed this was planned and somehow Jassy would be coming later.
So much had changed in the past 12 months.
We had left our comfortable life and business in Wagga to resettle in Sydney, Dad had died suddenly, I was settling into a totally new role, Jassy and Annie had nestled into their new school on the escarpment overlooking the Georges River, we had finally found a babysitter for Kayla to take the place of our beloved Kathy in Wagga and you had started work a few days a week with John and Brian, just across the river from where we were living.
We had been camping at Bright every Christmas for the past 3 years and we were determined this was to be the one constant in our lives. We had made good friends with many of the people who had been coming here for years and the kids were looking forward to seeing their “summer friends”
The seven hour drive was to be broken as we detoured into Queanbeyan for a few days to have a pre-Christmas Sunday lunch with Ossie and Esme and Noreen and her family. The kids were looking forward to being spoiled by Nan and Pop and to seeing their cousins.
Ossie and Esme had finally been convinced to brave the Sydney Traffic and had been up to see us at least once in the past six months. They had travelled down to Henty for Dad’s funeral and as always, their comforting presence was a very welcome sight. Additionally, we had spent a few weekends with them in Queanbeyan over this time.
Ossie and Esme were another constant in our lives, the kids love for their Nan and Pop was palpable. there were times when I would see big, lanky Pop walking hand in hand with one or more of the girls and I would almost grieve for what I had missed, when I was their age.
Our many Christmases at Bright have blurred into one big happy memory over the years but this one was special, we were sort of coming home!
Christmas fell on a Wednesday this year, we arrived in Bright on the Monday and after unpacking and setting up the campsite we spent the next two nights catching up with old friends and wandering down to the swimming hole on the Ovens River.
The squawks of the kids, both ours and from nearby campsites; woke us early on Christmas day as they unwrapped and unearthed their presents.
We had not made any plans for the day, and mid-morning we set off for a drive to the High Country, hoping to find a little Country Pub somewhere on the way where we could have a small family Christmas lunch.
In the end, we had roast chicken and chips at the park in Mt Beauty, you and I lay in the sun watching our little family run around, the world was good.
We spoke about my Dad and rang Mum to see how she was faring. Mum and Dad had previously been a fixture on this holiday, they would often drive down for the day and sometimes hire a motel room for night or two, all felt their absence.
The ever present demons in our marriage were put on hold for this special time with the kids, it was possible to forget them in the joy of family and friends.
Affy had come home from South Asia for Christmas and to spend a week or so with his mum in Wagga.
He had been wandering through India and Pakistan, we managed to persuade him to drive down and join us for lunch us on the coming weekend.
We rang Tony and Di in Albury, as luck would have it they were not away for Christmas and would also join us when Affy was down.
Affy made a spectacular entry to the campsite, dressed in the flowing robes and sporting the lush beard he had adopted for his stay in Pakistan.
Tony told him he looked like an Afghan camel trader from the outback and the man, formerly known as Ian was gifted the moniker which Tony and I have known him by, ever since.
I realise as I write this letter I have referred to him as Affy many times previous to now, but this was definitely the genesis of the nickname. The sight of this bearded Bedouin wandering through a camping ground in the middle of the Victorian Alps is not something easily forgotten. I doubt the kids remember him as anything but Affy.
Sas, this was another happy chapter in a marriage facing headwinds. Fortunately , it was also a marriage based on a very deep and dear friendship.
It is hard to write about these times and not shed a tear.