I was only a little boy, in the early 50's when I first saw rats doing laps on the tip of the drum that housed a fire that was cooking a whole pig. They were madly chasing the smell and I wondered how hot it must have been for them underfoot, they didn't have a hope if they jumped on the animal, the flames of the fire would have engulfed them whole and added to the flavour, I guess.
All this was out the back of Nan and Pop's deli in North Richmond. Pop, surviving and arriving home after epic battles in World War 1, worked in a small chain of grocery stores as a way to upskill in business acumen and customer service. He nailed both those attributes when he opened his own deli. I don't know who taught him to cook meat but when Christmas rolled around he would have a line out the door, customers doling out cash for top shelf cuts and whole animals that he prepared for them in entirety. Rabbits were also big in those days and he would cook stews for take home meals, ahead of his time really.
Nan and Pop worked their bums off, although he always took Saturday off to take me to watch Fitzroy play. That was quality time for us, I remember it like it was yesterday. They had 5 kids over 20 years, Janice the youngest was a happy accident and she is more like my older sister than my Auntie. My Uncle Jack was a troublemaker and didn't like the army yet Pop insisted on his terms of service. He used to escape the Victorian barracks and run home and Pop would call the police to come and take him back. Uncle Jack was in Darwin when the Japanese army bombed the city in 1942, so I guess he did his time eventually.
When Nan and Pop were nearing retirement they bought a worker's cottage in Collingwood but after a few years the RSL, which had a very tight knit relationship with Pop made them an offer they couldn't refuse, a nice unit in a retirement village in Cheltenham, a thanks for years of service. They were geographically close to my work place and I really loved spending time with them both so I would visit for lunch as often as I could, my own parents lived down the coast, over an hour away so this was my closest family connection. Nan unexpectedly died soon after from a heart attack and Pop never really recovered from his loss of companionship and comradeship. The RSL moved him to Frankston as the residence at Cheltenham was for couples only! It was much harder to visit him there and his own children were scattered nationally. I think he died partly from loneliness.
- Will's story, as told to Nat Power
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