The Great Communitarian

A Legacy Now Remembered

Little present, by geofana, with Creative Commons licenceThings have a way of coming round again. It’s my youngest son’s first birthday tomorrow. Of course that’s special in itself, but it carries the potential for discord – my wife and I also have a two year old daughter. We jokingly think of her as our mini-boss, in training at least. She’s got that type of personality. So giving presents to her brother alone, something she’s never experienced, was looming as a problem. Then I thought of my great-grandmother, and everything has fallen into place.

Sometimes good ideas linger in the background, ignored far too long. My great-grandfather migrated to Australia from England before the First World War, survived the debacle in Turkey, married and eventually settled in a small tourist town on the south coast near Melbourne. Poppa Potts had lied about his age to join the army, and when he made it to the coastal strip he near built the local pub by himself. He was that sort of guy – happy to tell the tall tale, eager to build. After he retired from carpentry he built model chairs, boats and the like out of wooden pegs. Very clever.

give way, by slimmer jimmer, with Creative Commons licenceAnd Nana Potts was at the centre of her small community, when it really was a small community before Melbourne’s suburbs began to spread out into it. When I was a very small child we moved north, so I didn’t get to see much of them, but twice a year Nana would do something that should have stuck more firmly in my memory, though it’s only properly surfaced now, over three decades later. For my brother’s birthday she’d send a package with one present for him and something small for me. On my birthday it was the opposite.

There’s something to be said for communitarianism like that, for understanding how relationships work and trying to smooth them over. It’s not about greed or commercialism, and it surely isn’t about being communistic, as people so often declare with misplaced vitriol these days. It’s about sharing, and learning to do it as an adult, to help other people out.

Community orchestra, by carf, with Creative Commons licenceSo we’ll be doing the same for our younger kids, because we want them to remember that for every special moment in their lives someone else might feel a twinge of sadness. That’s my great-grandmother’s legacy. But for all the world I’m still puzzled that it skipped two generations, and nearly a third.

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