How do I begin to tell you about Keith?
Handsome, clever, rugged, romantic and yet practical. Athletic and yet not a team player. Gregarious and yet an outsider. Supremely confident and yet deeply defensive. Loving and accepting and yet unswervingly set in his beliefs. An eldest son and a country boy from a Silesian immigrant family, in Australia they turned their hands to orchards and made a good fist of it. Keith's talent and ambition however, far outstripped that worthy, but pedestrian, endeavour.
At a tender age, in a milk bar in Adelaide, Keith saw the girl who would turn his life upside down and keep it that way for over seventy years.
Daughter of a well to do Adelaide family, his modest background and contempt for authority did not endear him to her socially conservative family. This was to be an ongoing battle.
But this pretty, creative and gregarious young woman found, in Keith, her lifeline.
Georgia was the 'non-son' of a staunchly conservative man and a deeply self centered woman. Not the boy they were hoping for, a little too much trouble to be bothered with, Georgia was dispatched to boarding school at an early age, to better allow her mother time to attend to her older, 'more talented' sister. But, irrepressible, Georgia grew and blossomed so that when Keith laid eyes on her, in that milk bar, there was no turning back. She finally had someone who not only saw 'her', but thought she was a pretty big deal, to boot.
Four years after their daughter Bestie was born, an English family moved in 'down the street'. Bestie remembers her mother entreating her to 'go and play with the little English girl'. I have no such recollection. For me, Bestie was just 'always there'.
Bestie and I were an unlikely and yet inevitable combination. Incredibly different in character to begin with; me a volatile eldest wild child with edgy looks and a tomboy attitude, she a sweet and pretty only child with a strong sense of fair play and a ridiculously open and honest relationship with her parents ("I cannot tell a lie. It was me who chopped down your cherry tree father....").
We united over a love of books, imaginative play and learning.
Intellectually we challenged each other; in character we enriched each other; in many ways we competed with each other. But we lived in each others pockets, three houses down, for 16 years (feels longer).
Bestie's parents were so different to mine. They were a little older and they seemed very exotic to me. I remember Keith getting his pilot's Wings. (Bestie's dad flew planes!!)
My own parents were Northern England; working class and really just discovering a world of culture, living 12,000 miles from the small coal mining town where they were born.
Georgia, seemed incredibly elegant to me. She was brought up with privilege, exposure to the arts and a sense of style that always left me awed. My mother was crimplene mini skirts and synthetic carpets. Georgia was flowing kaftans and axminsters. Here they are with Smoky Jo at our house in the 60s. Check out our matching chairs and curtains :-D
Georgia introduced Bestie and I to 'the musicals'. We sat for hours with the record player, listening to:
Gypsy, The Pyjama Game, Camelot,West Side Story, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha.....
What impressed me was that Keith, too, loved the romance and the nobility of these musicals.
My dad listened to Sibelius and Benjamin Britten whom, in my naivety, I saw as 'boring'. Keith and Georgia would sit and talk us through the stories of the musicals, explaining the messages, the lessons, the romantic myths.....and then they would sing along.....
I was captivated. My parents did very little together.
One of Keith's favorites was 'Man of La Mancha'. With his extraordinary deep and resonant voice he would bellow out the chorus:
"I am I, Don Quixote, The Lord of La Mancha, my destiny calls and I go...."
When we were about 12 or 13, Bestie's parents bought an enormous property in the north of the state. Keith built the ranch style house himself, by hand.
He called it 'La Mancha'.
Oh the times we spent at La Mancha. What a place it was for the city girls we were.
We rode horses, skinned rabbits, ran from enormous spiders, saw herds of cattle, met the local boys, got terribly sunburned, discovered rum......
But this post is about Keith.
Keith who smoked camels and was the definitive man's man.
Keith who engaged me in 'debate' and frustration through my teen years because he was always 'right' and whom my little sister dubbed 'HK' (Horrible Keith) because of his post war domineering manner and delight in teasing her.
The juggernaut personality who crafted jewellery out of opals in his back shed and patiently carved exquisite saddles out of leather.
What a conundrum he was.
When we visited Australia in 1999, the BA was 4 and we weren't quite sure what she would make of the tall, bluff, blustering Keith. We needn't have worried. She took to him like a duck to water.
At one point he had to ask for assistance so he could visit the gents without his 'shadow'. hahahahahaha
Keith had such an impact on my life.
He could make my Mother laugh.
He showed us what it meant to truly love another; through thick and thin, unconditionally, for the long haul.
He always said he didn't want to be the invalid in a hospital bed.
Father of The Bestie, inextricably entwined with my life, Keith made his decision, determined and deliberate as he always was, and left us on Saturday 21st October 2017. He was 85.
I am so grateful that he was such a big a part of my life.
One down Bestie. Three to go.
God we've been blessed.