It was sadness that welled up rather than disappointment or anger. Having spent the day before at the march, it was obvious that he had locked himself out of life whereas others had chosen differently. So many marchers were his age and either being pushed in a wheel chair or hobbling along on a stick and looking for a ledge every 20 metres. Ida cackled: "Tell him to swalla his bloody pride, and git himself down 'ere". He was simply convinced it was beyond him. So, early on the Sunday morning, I packed our folding chairs, made a steaming thermos of coffee, ensured the boules were in the boot, and added the secret ingredient: his case.
We sat with the sun beating against the small of our back in a secluded nook of Centennial Park, a Tai Chi class to our rear and the kerfuffle of swans and water hens to our left. I plonked the tattered case on his lap; he started to ruffle through. He upended the phial, and although tumbling out of the plastic medicine bottle the small objects were drowned in badges from lawn bowling clubs around the state, his joy when he spied them was unbounded: "Pa's connies! I thought they were long gone."
Can a family heirloom be this simple? If they were Pa's marbles, they loomed large in my own childhood. Marbles is a typical working class game - along with jacks, elastics and hopscotch: simple, inexpensive and within reach of most. Gathering beneath the peppercorn tree during "little lunch", a stick traced a wonky circle in the gravel as a heel gouged a pit in the centre and players took their possie around the circumference. Keepsies was the variation of choice - with the implicit understanding that connie aggies were exempt. They bestowed status: they were more than a mere acquisitive tool.
As he caressed them gently in the palm of his hand, his thumb instinctively herded a marble toward the slingshot formed with the index finger. The box of goodies weaved its magic: the connies had come home.