Gerard’s 80th birthday stories

For my father’s 80th birthday, I asked my aunts and uncles and brothers who could not be present at his party to send me a short note remembering incidents from their lives with him.

Nursery song
(My aunt Margot remembers this as a song their mother used to sing them)

A little bird built a warm nest in a tree
And laid blue eggs in it one two three
And then very glad and delighted was she.
She spread her soft wings on them all day long
To guard them and warm them and love them so strong
While the male sat beside her and sang them a song
And after a time how long I can’t tell
The little ones crept one by one from the shell
And the mother was glad as she loved them so well.

May you always
(Marie remembers this as a song they used to sing as kids)

May you always walk in sunshine
Slumber warm when night winds blow.
May you always live with laughter
For a smile becomes you so.
May good fortune find your doorway.
May the bluebirds sing your song.
May no troubles travel your way.
May no worries stay to long

May your heartaches be forgotten.
May no tears be spilled.
May old aquatance be remembered
And your cup of kindness fill.
May you always be a dreamer
and your wildest dreams come true.
May you find someone to love,
And you have found someone to love
As much as we love you.
Marie’s story

There was a time when our mother and the four of us children temporarily stayed with our maternal grandparents. (Our father was away at the time during which the now famous photograph was taken). Gerry being the ‘baby’ of the family was a favourite with our aunts, one of whom, Aunt Rachel nicknamed him ‘Mr Crow’ as he always went around with his mouth open ready for a tid bit! This trait of his came in good stead several years later when our mother was getting ready for Christmas and was busy making the cake. She needed to add a wine glass of bees honey to the delectable mixture and thanks to Gerry who had earlier had a taste of what he thought was honey (yum!)- discovered it to be medicinal oil (ugh!). And so the Christmas cake was saved, and dear mother being the good cook that she was-it turned out to be SHEER BLISS!
Joan’s story

As a seque to Marie’s story: Not only was Gerry ‘gutso’ himself but he seemed to be attracted to girls of the same ilk! (Before you Celia). This day the dashing, mozzy et al, oh yes! HE had to have all the accoutrements befitting the officer and gentleman that he was, dates the best looking dame in Kandy- who was eyed by all his brothers. Celia, you of course was the best looking gal in Colombo, I’ll hastily add. The venue The officers club in Kandy- for dinner par excellence. He proudly walks in with this beautiful woman on his arm, every one is impressed, she’s the life and soul of the party. And then- dinner is served. Very posh, silver service, etc. etc. All sit down and wait expectantly for the five course ‘extravaganza’ (as they used to be in the good old days, I’ve been told but not given the opportunity to prove the pudding in the eating). Lots of imbibing, jokes, laughter and voila! The dazzling white garbed waiter arrives with the delicious fish course, comes round first to Gerry’s lady (she’s even attracted his eye!) – she serves herself two pieces of the grilled sear fish or whatever-horrors! the waiter hasn’t moved away, but only whispers to la` dame “only one piece each madam” and so without any argument she puts one piece back on the platter with a great deal of aplomb as only she can. Being the officer and gentleman that Gerry was, he kept this to himself BUT the gal who was my friend unashamedly recounted the whole story, no holds barred, and we laughed for days on end especially her description of Gerry’s face- “He went scarlet (?), extremely embarrassed and frightfully angry”. Was that the end of a beautiful friendship I wonder?

P.S Actually he is not a greedy guts, never was, but it makes a few good stories.
Odille’s story

I can remember waiting for him to come home on leave from the army so he could carry me up the stairs when I fell asleep at the dinning table! Also being a ‘little maid’ as they called me because I was to old to be a flower girl and to young for a bridesmaid and dad wanted me in the wedding party. It was a great thrill to be asked and also to make the trip to Colombo for the first time from Kandy for the wedding. It was one of the highlights of my childhood.
Marie’s story

I remember the sunsets-and the sea-were we mostly ‘washed my feet’-and the beach where we sat on the rocks under the coconut palms. One palm Sunday the boys went to the beach in their palm beach trousers!)-Dad started school at-Holy Family convent with A/Joanne and me. Later joined us/Algy and Malcolm at St Peters…House no.1 was two story, 2 was named ‘Bluebells’ I think, and 3 was the last one we lived in before leaving for Kandy-House 4 was when we went back to Colombo-as adults.

Anton’s Story

While the family lived in Colombo the boys (M. Desmond was to young) attended St Peters College. Early in the 1930’s our father decided to move to Kandy and we went to St Anthonys college. In 1936 St Anthonys moved to Katugaskata ( about 5 miles away from Kandy by the banks of the Mahaveli River). By this time only Algy, your dad and I were attending St Anthonys. We took the College bus each day to get to college and back.

Your dad had his first taste of Army life at college when he was a member of the Senior Cadet Corps and member of the College Rifle Team. He left in 1938/39(?) to go to university and enlisted in the army in 1941(?).

Dad was a good marksman and if he was not displaying his ‘talent’by knocking over doves and pigeons for the table he was always on the look out for a likely target. I happened to be one of his victims. One morning I was kneeling by my bed saying my prayers when Dad loaded the air rifle with ‘moongata’ (green lentils) pointed the rifle through a window and shot me on the bum! HE got a good telling of for his trouble and was lucky to escape a caning- our mother was a firm believer in ‘spare the rod spoil the child’.

Another event that comes to my mind is – you dad was responsible for me being put on a charge in the navy-A.W.O.L. After my schooling I told Malcolm that I wanted to join the navy- this was during the war in 1942. With mums approval he gave me the train fare to Colombo. On arrival in Colombo I went to naval headquarters and enlisted. In the evening I went to the army barracks to see dad. He asked me what I was doing away from home. I told him I had joined the navy. “you are not joining the navy” he said, gave his batman, Banda, some money and told him to put me on the train to Kandy. On reaching Kandy Malcolm asked me what I was doing in Kandy and I told him that dad sent me back. So, Malcolm once again gave me the money to go back to the navy were I was promptly placed on a charge of being absent without leave. After the appropriate period of detention I called at the army camp and dad just gave in!

In 1950-51 we were both in England on training- he with the army, I with the navy and it was because of dad that I was able to see the places of interest in UK-he was better of than I being on an officers salary. I remember him taking me to the famous Berram Miles Circus and a very famous Indian Restaurant (Ramasways) in addition to other places.

By the way, after this effort on me with the air rifle he used it of the next door servant boy who was up a tree pinching our pawpaws!
Margot’s story

Your dad was a very noisy individual as I remember- he used to make such a big noise when he went up the stairs-‘chucking’ his feet into the step and hitting the sides of the banisters with anything he had in his hand-ruler, stick, etc. He and his cousin Elmo Cramer used to write epistles to each other and they used a dictionary to write! I can’t say that about Elmo, but I know your dad did.

For my own story-the first and last time ‘Santa Clause’ came to me (as I remember, Santa Clause did not come to us before- but I don’t regret this for one moment-we did have a very happy childhood, I am sure the others will agree.) I got a doll with her own name tag ‘Penelope Ann’-I didn’t even know how to pronounce her name! She had a porcelain head but a cloth body. On Christmas day daddy (yours) dropped it and of course you can imagine what happened to the head. I never got another doll because my daddy died the next year and I was to old later on to get another doll (we probably couldn’t afford it too!) But I didn’t throw a tantrum or anything. I can’t remember being promised a replacement either. Now later on-but not revengeful- I broke you dads prize bust of St Bosco- I don’t know what it was for. (Your dad was a very clever chap and still is no doubt!) This is how it broke-my shoes, with a leather sole had a nail protruding when I was dressing in my Sunday best to go to church. It was probably my best and only pair and I grabbed the bust of St Bosco and tried to hit the nail! I really did not think that it was made of plaster of Paris (as I knew later) I just thought it was made of stone! I don’t know wether St Bosco was came to my aid but I wasn’t punished (maybe I didn’t let on that I broke the bust and the servant was blamed!) Your dad didn’t get upset either. I am so sorry-it was a fairly large one – not lifelike – and it would have graced his lounge room on a pedestal. MEA CULPA!

Geoffrey’s story

It would have been early JAN 1966 and Dad was talking to me about joining the Army. The bit of advice I particularly remember had nothing to do with the Army, rather it was that smoking was not a real smart thing to do and that apart from anything else it would shorten my breath. Well it didn’t deter me from smoking, we all did it, and maybe I did not do the “drawback”‘ with the smoke. But running and general fitness was always something I was very good at. Despite that I reckon it was still a good bit of advice and yes Dad, I will give it up one day.

Dad must have known that soldiers swore, I mean the saying “to swear like a trooper” most definitely referred to us foul mouthed diggers, but 1 reckon he did not account for the fact that when I kept having trouble starting and using the brand new motor on the brand new boat on our fishing trip down the Houghton River, my normally placid nature disappeared further and further with each pull of the starter cord. He did not say so at the time but I have it on good authority that he was heard to comment “I didn’t know Geoffrey could swear like that”.

While I reigned as President of the Moorebank Area Sgt.’s Mess my project for area beautification was to develop a beer garden/play area at the back of the Mess. I left to come to T/ville before the finishing touches were applied and was unaware that the Mess had named it The van Reyk – Noonan Beer Garden until Dad rang me and told me of a visit he had to the Mess and when queried on the naming had informed the CO that it had been named after his son who had been instrumental in its conception. Dad I hope you felt as proud of that achievement and me as I did when you told me about it.

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© Paul van Reyk 2019.