Bill Nietzsche was sitting back in a favourite recliner – one he’d bought over from the old place when he and Dora had downsized – there was no way he was going to be parted with it. Downsized – another new word he had picked up from the younger people about town – many who’d done exactly that to move to this idyll in the Hills. Of course, with Bill being well into his eighties now, most he encountered on his daily perambulation were indeed younger than he. There were other expressions he had only come across in recent times – ‘having a tree change’ or ‘going down the Fleurieu for a sea-change’. He thought how curious it was that language changed with each new generation. Even some of his oldest mates had said those last words as they packed up to be closer to the briny. That’s not for him. He reckoned the summers were too hot down there and he was too ancient to be immersing himself in salty water – even if he was an old sea salt. When they’d ‘downsized’ it’d been to only around the corner. Their old abode had been down in the gully by the river – now they were in some units, right in town. They had help come in at regular intervals to support them, especially now as Dora was largely confined to a wheel chair. He still managed her okay, but he could see it wouldn’t be too long before she was beyond him. That didn’t bear pondering on too heavily. He preferred to be positive – upbeat.
He did enjoy his decades by the river though – something so soothing are his memories about that. It was really only a creek, the Onkaparinga, with a few big water holes at various spots. When he was a lad it was where all the kids dashed to after school on summer afternoons. It was where, later, he courted his Thelma. She was a striking looking young filly back then. He went on to love her dearly till her death some dozen or so years past. They had a passionate romance before he decided he needed to see the world. That was simple to do back then. He just went down to Port Adelaide and found a job on a freighter. In the end he didn’t see that much more than the galleys of a number of ships, but it was a good life. Thelma swore she’d be still waiting for him once he got the wanderlust out of his system. She was true to her word. He’d had a few adventures in several ports around the world with the womenfolk, but Thelma’s constant letters soon enough reminded him that he could do no better than the lass who was waiting back home. A Lutheran wedding followed. He had sown his wild seeds – his married life had been bliss. But going to sea gave him the nickname he’s lived with all these years. Most wouldn’t know his birth name at all. To all in the town he was Cookie.
He hooked up with Dora soon after Thelma passed away. It seemed sensible. He’d known her for yonks. Her hubby and he had been good mates, but he’d died back in the nineties. He and Dora had never been intimate. Too old for hanky-panky, they’d agreed. He thought it would sully his memory of Thelma, so he was happy with that. Dora was a kindly, mothering soul. He’d had a few comfortable years with her before her health had deteriorated and they realised maintaining the old place was beyond them. Now she can’t leave the unit under her own steam, but she seems happy enough. She still has her books – loves to read in their little court-yard when it’s not too warm, or too chilly. Occasionally he wheels her out, down to the main drag, but that takes it out of him these days.
He likes the evenings here. His chair has its back to the television. He reckons it isn’t worth watching these days with all those ads. Dora has a stack of favourite shows. He likes the ABC but wouldn’t get a look in in any case. No, he was content to look down John’s Lane from his window perch. He thinks, snoozes and remembers. He partakes of a few ales in doing so and figures life is, all in all, still worth the effort
The help had been in earlier – showered Dora and tidied up a bit. She’d sprayed some stuff around the place that smelt of pine needles. It took him back to his time in Scandinavia and a blonde he’d come to know there – the only one that in any way could have been a match for Thelma. Still, it turns out she’d been quite easy with a few other sailors too when they’d come into port, so he’d thought better of it at the time. He’d wondered what life would have been like had he’d taken the plunge with her. He liked Stockholm – cool, friendly, good beer and that blonde. She spoke English hardly at all, but they figured it out well enough. Thinking about her makes Cookie ache just a little for the love-making he had with her, but more so in spades with Thelma. When she wrapped herself around Bill ‘Cookie’ Nietzsche, all was right with the world.
‘As for this day,’ he mused, ‘well this particular day has been pretty plurry good. Fitzy, from the Gulf Brewery around in Main Street, had called in with a couple of six packs of his brews – gratis of course. I normally just drink Coopers, but his are pretty spot on too. He calls it craft beer and reckons craft beers are all the rage now down in the flash restaurants in Adelaide. I wouldn’t know, but if they’re anything like Fitzy’s, they’re on a winner. The brewer came up from the city a few years back to tap into the tourist trade. My two lads had built his shop. When he said he wanted to know about the history of Hahndorf, well they introduced him to me. I reckon I’ve missed my vocation. I should have been one of them tourist guides. I’ve heard a couple of them spruiking about the place around at the Academy, where the tours start from. They don’t do a bad job, know their stuff, but they haven’t the passion for the place. To them it’s just a way to earn a crust. I’ve lived thorough much of what they drone on about. Yep, I’d be pretty good I reckon.
Like with that couple I was talking to today. I bumped into them out the front of the German Arms. Used to be a great pub once, but its gone all ‘Bavarian’ to cash in on the dopey mugs who wouldn’t know a real German pub if they fell over it. Anyway, these two were looking up into the rafters of the Arms’ veranda. There was a mass of pigeons up there squabbling around, making a hell of a racket. Told them what I thought of the bloody pigeons. I said I’d been on to the council for years about them. They’re just vermin. No earthly good. Anyway I got chatting to this couple, as I do. They asked about myself and how long I’d been in Hahndorf. Well, they were like lambs to the slaughter. I gave them the whole shebang. She seemed interested – he had a fancy camera around his neck and he soon wandered across to the Pioneer Gardens and started snapping away over there. To give the council their due, the Gardens do look a treat these days – but the idiots didn’t allow enough room for the buses to manoeuvre around. They come up from the old people’s homes down on the plain. The old dears have a bit of a walk to use them fancy new loos. And don’t get me started on the blessed speed bumps they seem intent on placing every few hundred yards down the main drag – and those senseless roundabouts. Dear me!
Anyway, her hubby, or partner, or whatever, seemed happy enough pointing his camera here, there and everywhere so I took the opportunity to tell her about us Nietzsches of the Hills. I told her how my people came out on the original boat bringing religious refugees fleeing persecution in East Prussia, way back in the 1830’s. The ‘Zebra’ she was. I spoke of its Captain – a fella called Hahn after who the town is named. ‘Dorf’ means town, I informed her. What a good man that bloke was. Went out of his way and arranged all this land up here for the settlers. Most would of just dumped them dockside and gone about their business. Not Captain Hahn. He is revered in these parts. Course it was a fair old hike down to the markets on the plain, but they were tough buggers back then – especially the women and kids. It was a hard life for my ancestors. As a result of it all this place is still the most German town in the country, even if many of the old families have dispersed since then – off on a sea-change. Silly fools I reckon. When I was a lad it was all timber getting and agriculture. Now, in summer, you can’t move in the place for blighters who want their fill of sausage, sauerkraut and beer. But it keeps the place viable I reckon and blood oath, I’ve had some good chats over the years as a result. One thing I do like doing is having a yak.
Cookie of Hahndorf was quite taken by the woman he was chatting to. He reckoned she was somewhere in her early fifties and she was just lovely. Reminded him of his Thelma. She had a dazzling smile and was obviously up for a chinwag as well. He could tell she was a people person – her fellow not so much. He confided in her that since he’d moved to Johns Lane these morning walks of his were the highlight of his day, especially if he met up with someone like her. That gave her a good laugh, he reflected.
‘Reckon she was a bit of all right,’ Cookie, in turn, chuckled to himself. ‘Once upon a time I would have turned her head too – but not these days. I told her of my dodgy ticker, part of the reason we had to give away our home by the river. About how I’d had a couple of ops already. The lovely lady told me she had been a theatre nurse back in Tassie and we had quite a discussion about that. I told her about my seafaring days – how once I’d finished to come back to Thelma I took up in the family business. We’d been builders for several generations and my old dad was still alive back then. He was also a Bill, – lots of other Bill Nietzsches around then too – he employed my two brothers and later myself. I reckon we would have built about half the homes around these parts, I chewed her ear. We worked all the way up the old highway, from down in Bridgewater right to Mount Barker itself. When tourism really took off we gained a nice little earner tarting up the shop-fronts on Main Street. Most of the old retailers had been long gone and their shops left empty, but now the place is thriving. I’m too old now, of course, but every so often my lads will pick up Dora and myself, take us around, showing us what they’re working on at the minute. They are proud of their commitment to standards, just as I was back in my day. Some of these cowboys that run around town doing stuff on the cheap makes you want to weep. Their work, in the end, always lets them down. There’s no substitute for quality.
The lady then told me about her old place by the Derwent in Hobart – how much she and – well I think she said Steve – love it, how much she’d done to it over the years. She seemed just so interested in all I had to say. I was enjoying myself. A woman like her – well I could have stayed on that corner and yarned the morning away – but her fellow seemed anxious to move on. I said my farewells and started to head off. But he stopped me, reached out his hand and shook mine. I gave him points for that. And judging by the affection he showed in taking her hand in his as they walked off, I also reckon he knows full well how lucky he is to have someone in his life like her. Oh dear, she reminded me so much of Thelma. Gawd, if I am not careful I’ll get a little maudlin here. But she did make my day.’
Old Cookie of Hahndorf took another sip of Fitzy’s fancy beer and closed his eyes. The tele was humming away softly in the background when he woke with a start. He looked around and could see Dora was contentedly dozing. He started thinking of his plans for the new day tomorrow. He’d saunter off to the news-agency, as he usually did, around nine-ish, to pick up his papers. It was a bit of a struggle for him these days, but knew he had to exercise and he never knew who he might meet en route that’d be up for a chat. He thought of the warmth of the day just past – how summer was on the way. Then sometimes there would be days just too hot for him away from the unit. He reckoned if he could make it and felt okay in himself the next day he might wander up to the ice-creamery and have a kransky for brekkie. They did the best sausages in town by a long shot, did Gio and his daughter. They ran the little eatery. Italians cooking German tucker – what next? Plus, if he wasn’t busy, Gio would give him all the gossip going on around the place. Kept his ear to the ground, did Gio – and his daughter was a sweetheart. Why she hadn’t been picked up by some fellow by now was a mystery to him. If he wasn’t quite up for the longer walk he’d head to Herbees, as was his usual practice. He couldn’t make it up the front steps any more so he’d go to the back door and in through the living quarters. It was run by a lovely Vietnamese family these days. Again, if it was quiet the mum or one of the daughters would sit down with him for a coffee. On these days he usually had it on the house. He loved the eggs and salmon they dished up. It was his regular order. They were lovely, those women – reminded him of a girl, once upon a time, who was especially good to him when he docked in a certain spot up the Mekong years and years ago. One thing, he’d had a few adventures, a few trysts that kept him warm at night thinking about them. Cookie likes learning of the life in Vietnam before the war from the mother, as well as hearing what the girls were up to. Both have boyfriends down in the city and were never in the cafe at the weekends, so he didn’t bother going in then when the place was usually full to the gunnels. Of a week it wasn’t so all hands on deck. These foreigners are all good for the place, Cookie reckons – makes his blood boil what Abbott and his mates are doing to the poor beggars who try to get here these days. The country seems to have lost its heart.
‘Yep,’ thought Cookie, ‘the place is full of people from all over the world who now call the town and its surrounds home. Some of the original families, like himself, still remain, but these blow-ins make life just so much more interesting. And meeting that Tassie lass, having Fitzy deliver around those ales, hearing the parrots in the trees, having my boys bring the grandkids around – well you wouldn’t be dead for quids. Now there’s a couple of pretty new sheilas working in the Menz choccy shop, so I am told on reliable authority. Might just wander up there on the morrow too. Reckon Dora could do with a treat.’
The Gulf Brewery = http://www.gulfbrewery.com.au/
Menz Chocolates = http://robernmenz.com.au/about_us/store_details
Herbees Garden Cafe = https://www.facebook.com/pages/HERBEES-CAFE/250343621673705
Ye Olde Ice-creamery (for Kranskies) = http://www.yelp.com.au/biz/ye-olde-icecreamery-hahndorf