Peter, the baby, was a darling little boy with curly blond hair, blue eyes and cheeks that the old ladies passing the end of our driveway could never resist stopping to pinch. Being 4 years younger than me, Pete was too young for a lot of the games we played, but luckily for him we had wonderful neighbours with a son his age. The back, side fence was generally scaled more than once a day, as the boys moved from house to house in their schoolboy quests. I’m certain there was talk of building a tunnel at some stage but probably a gate would have sufficed.
That is not to say that we didn’t all enjoy spending time with him. I remember playing hide and seek with him at our old house in Mont Albert. There were so many rooms with nooks and crannies particular to that style of home. At the age of four, he hadn’t quite worked out the concept of this game and would tend to hide in a corner with his eyes covered by his hands believing that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. The little giggles anticipating being found were always a bit of a give-away too.
It was probably only a year later that his hiding skills increased exponentially. One day we were playing hide the slipper (like a treasure hunt but with Mum’s red, fluffy slipper). It was his turn to hide “the prize” and he soon returned, proudly announcing that he was ready for us to start searching.
We explored the entire house; the sooty old fire places, the musty cupboard under the stairs, under creaky beds, inside cupboards and even opened the tiny doors leading into our possum and spider filled roof spaces. I’m sure that Mum was happy with the amount of time we were occupied with this funny little game, but I’m also certain she was bemused by the mystery of her missing slipper when night fell and one foot was doomed to remain cold.
We gave up in the end. At first we just thought Pete was playing the game very literally and wasn’t prepared to divulge the spot marked by an X. However, by the third day we realised that he had simply forgotten.
The slipper remained a mystery, but I hate not being able to find something. Every now and then, I would think of a likely place we had missed. What about amongst the polished shoes in Dad’s old sandalwood-smelling cupboard, or behind Mum’s fairytale wedding dress that hung inside the spooky, dark cupboard built into the roof? No luck. My little search actually went on for years as I couldn’t believe that a bright, red slipper would just disappear like that. Mum bought some new ones.
Thirty years later, my parents sold that lovely old home. In helping to move, I lifted an old wooden TV stand and there to my delight was “the slipper”. Strangely, we had moved the TV to different rooms many times, but had dragged the stand rather than lifting it. That red slipper had slid and rolled in its cave like a fish in a trawling net. It’s funny how the least important things in life can bring so much pleasure, but I also felt inexplicably sad for that 30 year stowaway; protected from the dust and sun, with barely any signs of wear. Now, it was without a partner and was destined for the rubbish. Surely it had earned a lifelong position nestled amongst new friends in the back of Mum’s cupboard?
Peter was a wistful and sensitive little boy. With a bolshy, tactless and intolerant teacher in his early years of school, it wasn’t an easy start for him. However, as the teachers improved so did he.
When he went into High School, his writing was pretty disorganised and messy. I remember Mum and Dad asking me to tutor him in Maths in year 8 or 9. I really enjoyed this intimate time with my little brother as he was so willing and respectful of the help I had to offer. When I saw the much improved results in his report, I felt so proud of him.
Pete came into his own in year 11 and 12, where he had the freedom to chose his subjects and focus on the Sciences. He did well enough to secure a place at Melbourne University and specialised in Genetically Modified Foods. However, like his brothers, Peter had an urge to sample from the platter of experiences the world had on offer. Never being one to follow the crowd, his year of deferral involved something more unique than the usual choices. Having always been concerned with the environment and the often selfish choices made by humanity, he headed for Borneo. Here, he volunteered at a Wildlife Rescue Centre for Orangutans and was able to apply his support to the conservation efforts that protect these critically endangered and intelligent species.
On his way home, in the course of a starlit New Years Eve, he met the beautiful English woman who was to ultimately become his wife. On his return to Australia, Peter worked hard at his studies. He is now well recognised in his field and holds the position of Senior Policy Analyst at The department of Primary Industries.