This will always be a story about Family I guess – but maybe not always about mine.
I have always been a Leiper.
I grew up knowing that Dad had three brothers who had all “been in the War” and a little sister. Although his parents had died before Mum and Dad met, I knew that there was quite a lot of Leipers around in our family and that we had come from Scotland. I thought of myself as of Scottish descent – a fact only reinforced by the fact that I didn’t actually mind the bagpipe music that Dad used to play on the little tape recorder we had in the kitchen. Like most Leipers I guess, I got a froggy nickname at one point – mine due to the time was Kermit.
My Grandma, had always been old.
Grandma had in fact been young and beautiful once with a beautiful name – Lilian – but had been orphaned at four. She married Peter Strickfuss in 1928 and loved him dearly for 45 years. She had been old since Grandpa Strickfuss had died when I was five in 1973. I dimly remember a tall white haired man who swore a bit and taught his cockatoo to do the same. “Bloody” was probably the extent of that – but quite enough to be scandalous to a five year old from Biloela.
She grieved terribly for Grandpa Pete and would talk about him as if he was still there. She did that for the twenty years she waited to join him. We would visit her every Christmas in Warwick and I would have a great time. There were sheep in the old sawmill grounds next door to keep the grass down and I would have have fed them by hand all day if I had been allowed. Grandma always would cry at the gate when we left and I would look out the back of the Kingswood stationwagon down Wattle Avenue as the little figure with the white handkerchief waved us into the distance. Grandma always seemed so sad.
Mum’s younger sister, Nancy lived in Brisbane and had Mum’s little bit of feisty turned up several notches. She ‘had a friend’ – but lived alone her whole life and was ‘very independent’. The only other Strickfuss I knew about was Pete’s sister Gladys – who wore slacks! She had been a spinster who married a childhood sweetheart when she was about 60. He was a widower and died himself a few years later. The few times I met Aunt Gladys, she seemed old like Grandma, but in a different way. Being alone I guess for most of your life will do that to you.
Gladys died in 1986. Grandma died in 1993 and Nancy two years later.
By the time I moved to Brisbane in late 2009, my world had collapsed and I was searching for identity and family. And then I found the Strickfusses. Strickfuss is an uncommon name – not even really the name that it was supposed to be. That had been Streckfuss, or indeed Streckfuß. It’s uncommon enough for a limited set of names to come up in a white pages search or a Trove search in old newspapers.
That’s what led me to a hero in the family. That’s what led me to Narella Street.