WE holidayed in caravans. And by caravans, I mean tiny round rejects that dad gutted and rebuilt. While conveying these ramshackle carcasses behind our pristine sedan, dad thoroughly enjoyed the dubious stares of others.
When dad brought the first one home even mum, who usually knew better than to doubt his prowess said, "What the heck is that, Max?"
"Are you casting aspersions on your future holiday residence, Elsie?"
Mum wiped her hands on her apron and went inside.
"Good grief, dad. It looks like a whale skeleton," I said.
"You've got an imagination there Bub, I'll give you that."
Work on the derelict frame began in earnest. Plywood sheets arrived. Extension cords criss-crossed the yard. My 16-year-old brother Peter was eager to help. Dad planed the curved surfaces after they were in place.
"How's the surface going, son?"
Peter ran a practised hand over the timber. "Feels pretty smooth, dad."
There was a load of washing to put on the line, but as usual dad's projects held greater appeal for me than any form of domesticity. "Can I. . .?"
"You'd be a help if you tied Snoopy somewhere else, Sis," said Peter.
"Aw, leave off! He's too strong for me. He runs round in circles, winds the chain around my legs and pulls me over." I eyed Snoopy with reluctance, and received his usual tongue-lolling grin. "Anyway, where'll I put him? There's only the clothes line and I have to hang the washing out."
Peter rolled his eyes. Dad looked up and pointed to the back step where mum stood, hands on hips.
"Washing won't hang itself, Linda. You'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on. Leave the men alone."
Mum smiled at "the men" with pride. Not for her the nagging of weary wifedom over half-completed projects strewn across backyards for years. Dad finished what he started. If mum ever complained he was taking too long we kids started an uproar: "Fair go, mum. You've gotta be kidding!"
I don't know how dad managed it, but these rejects from the junk yard became palaces. Everything in them was tailored for space and function. Cupboards were added overhead, in corners and under beds. With the speed of a conjurer dad transformed the layout at night, making beds appear where the dining table had once been pride of place.
"What a marvel," mum said, when it was finally complete with fridge and gas cooker.
Then it was her turn. Curtains and trimmings were added. If any of us thought dad had overdone things, mum took caravanning to a whole new level. With skill that defied reason, "holiday" food was no different to that at home. Baked treats were daily fare. Domesticity prevailed in my mother's world. She recreated "home".
To a child, it was magic. I think it was one way mum could take the familiarity of her life with her. However, there was also time for recreation. Mum and I did jigsaw puzzles together. Crouched solemnly over the laminate table we each worked on one side of the map of Australia, her favourite. There was none of the hilarity and thigh slapping that accompanied the games of strategy like draughts and Chinese checkers that dad and I played. We once made a single game of draughts last for two hours.
We holidayed around Lake Macquarie, often spending weekends at Shingle Splitters, a point that juts into the saltwater lake dividing it into a calm haven on one side and a windswept, reedy curve on the other. Sometimes the wind turned, its mercurial gusts rampaging both sides. Cobalt-green water crimped in midday breezes as it lapped the creamy sand with metronomic rythm. Tall pines extended to the end of the point. A hilly area where eucalypts, pines and scrub gathered indifferently allowed children a secret domain, where playful shrieks echoed across the water.
Then it all changed. The speedboats arrived with their growling engines, gleaming fibreglass perfection, water-thumping speeds, mile-wide wakes and spitting spray. They heralded a new kind of weekender - water skiers. Our peace was ruined, our favourite place had gone to the dogs. Even mum ceased her crossword in the shade of a tree to squint at the newcomers and mutter, "Hmmph".
Dad got an inscrutable glint in his eye. He and Peter took off on trips to the marina at Toronto.
"Crikey, Max," said mum. "You're not looking at those fancy expensive boats are you? In our dreams!"
But, come summer, we were the proud owners of a sleek speed boat with a gutsy roar, and dashing blue stripe dad had meticulously painted. It spewed smoke with the best of them. We learnt to ski. My brother Peter morphed into James Bond, while I survived as long as the boat went in straight lines, which didn't happen often. Off I went, careening at a perfect tangent to the trajectory of the boat, where I sank in ignominy and had to be pulled aboard spluttering, my life jacket choking me.
After a day on the water we happily returned to our caravan, where there was balm for our stinging skin, rest for our aching muscles, and food, glorious food.
Free from the endless chores of home, I never wanted the holidays to end.
"Mum," I said one evening. "We have everything we need, don't we?"
"Well . . . we haven't really missed anything from home . . . so . . ."
"What are you getting at, Linda?"
"Maybe we could throw a whole heap of stuff out when we get home and there'd be less to do?" I gave her my most ingratiating smile. It was a hard sell.
"Honestly," she said, "sometimes I don't know where you came from."
Entrants were asked to write a short story inspired by one of four photos. Short-listed stories will be published every day in the Newcastle Herald until Friday, January 23.