I sat and shuffled through the years, trying to match the faces of my childhood Poppy with those on the bed before me. One decade became obvious; these were the years of my visits and holiday stays before he moved so far away that seeing him became almost impossible.
After I’d spread the photos over the bed, I checked the dates on their backs, sorted them into sequence and recognised the time we’d shared as if it were only a dream away.
One photo stood out like a plea. Taken in the same chair, and in the same stance as all the others, this one seemed brighter but less focused. I remembered the last time I saw it. I was there the day it was taken and seeing it again now, my childhood peeled away like a shell.
This photo, however, wasn’t the one I had ruined.
I was fourteen and that was the last time I was to see my Poppy. I am thirty now. I never did manage to find the money for the trip to visit him in between.
Poppy had never been one to tolerate fools gladly. I’d sensed this from the earliest age and was always at pains not to disappoint him. He wasn’t a stereotypical grandparent; I have no recollection of fishing, football, or cricket hallmark moments. Ours were of the darkroom and the bright sky‐lit hills, the watery, dusk‐gloamed creeks and coppery fields in walking closeness to his cottage.
Poppy taught me about bulb setting, shutter speed, background, backlighting, and the all important balance of the shot. How you could frame the picture with branches gnarling around the edge of a pond, or the canopy of a tree uplifting the sky.
Since Grandma’s death though, he seemed to be a step out of time with the Australian landscape, and started talking about the Marsh Harriers of his English country childhood in the Norfolk Broads or borrowing the wind to sail the rivers.
“So, Nat,” he’d said that autumn morning of my arrival. “Just in time to help me with the Frog.”
The Frog was his nickname for his old wooden rowboat. Its outer coat of green was the only legacy of its name that I could see. The Frog was sluggish when you rowed. Not that Poppy ever really understood this. He’d had an outboard motor fitted when he’d bought it.