Landing in Australia is rough, high winds blowing in from the east, heavy turbulence, and a wet runway. I bless myself when the plane teeters to a stop on the coarse landing strip, we are late, and of course our gate is now occupied. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say the universe is conspiring against me, but that would be silly. I blame New Zealand Air, everyone in first-class, and the guy trying to charge his mobile phone using the shaving socket in the laboratory. They apologize for the delay, but I know Tony is somewhere on this continent, so I endure the endless delays. I was pulled from a warm bed at four in the morning, taxi, airport, customs, lines, papers, and passports will not deter me from my mission. In a few short hours I will be hugging my boy. I promise myself not to blubber, to adopt a stoic attitude, and act appropriately. My intentions are solid. I’m good to go.
I always do a private little jig when my luggage arrives in the baggage claim, not Larry’s, just mine. This means I will be able to brush my teeth with my own worn out brush, slip into my soft nightie, and access my stash of Lucy sweats. It’s what I hang on to when traveling, because I like the familiar, and the things I associate with home. We grab a cab at the airport because we’re pressed for time, Tony has a rugby game at one, and we still have to leave our bags at the hotel. Checking into the Watson Bay Boutique Hotel, all white, cottage style, charming as shit, right across from the Sydney Harbor, the air suddenly shifts in the room. I feel his presence before I see him and I am sure he appreciates the overtly sentimental greeting. I am not stoic, I blubber profusely, and there remains a permanent lump in my throat. It is sweet of him not to pry my arms from around him. I hang on way past appropriate, embarrassing, and borderline institutional. And for the record, I don’t give a damn. He feels good in my arms.
We end up at the beautiful Waverley Rugby Club. In Australia there is both union and league rugby. Tony plays union. In his club there are five divisions. He plays seconds (one from the top). That’s my boy. This is a country that works hard, plays hard, and enjoys a strong community (beer might be involved). We met up with the famous O’Connor’s at the game. Lynelle and Mick O’Connor were my daughter Julie’s Aussie parents while she played water polo here five years ago. When Tony decided to give Australia a go, I contacted Lynelle, and begged her to take on another one of my kids. She graciously agreed. The O’Connor’s are solid people, charming, and ever so hospitable. They are family. I am enormously grateful, and bonus, they are off the charts fun to hang with.
For the next several hours we sip beer, watch rugby, cheer on the team, catch up with the O’Connor’s. The club is celebrating Christmas in July so there is Christmas music playing in the background, with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and no decorations. It’s disorienting. All three Waverley teams won, I’m convinced it was the brilliant plays of #5, and a strong team effort. Whoot! Hoot! After the games the teams come together to celebrate, they sing, barbecue, and challenge each other to drinking games. The coach makes a big announcement. Tony’s team is moving to the number one division next year! The team goes wild, more celebrating, if that is even possible? After grabbing a bit to eat with Tony and the O’Connor’s, Larry and I head back to Watson Bay, for some much needed sleep. Larry and I are starting to realize the strong appeal of community, membership, and camaraderie. Tony heads back to the club to celebrate with his team.
The alarm is set for 4:30 am. I’m determined to get a shower in this morning. It’s been a couple of days and I think my companions will appreciate the gesture. Today we are headed to Hunter Valley for an all day wine tasting tour. We are to meet the carriage downtown at 6:30 sharp, they do not wait for stragglers, and there are no refunds if you are late. Problem number one, there is no receptionist at our adorable boutique hotel in the early morning, problem two, we can’t find a cab and uber is not working, problem three, Tony has not answered one of my eight calls. Larry is in a full on panic. I’ll just wait outside. Tony remains unresponsive to my increasingly dramatic text messages. I don’t know how Larry did it, I think he called the prime minister, but a taxi miraculously appears, and we race to Tony’s apartment with only minutes to spare. On the way, I receive a two word text, “I’m up.” He looks a little vacant as he steps into the cab, celebrate much? I don’t care. We have him for the whole day, hungover or not. We pick up coffee and pastries while waiting for the bus. I’ll pray for him. I’m so happy.
The tour to Hunter Valley wine region is beautiful, as you would expect, it must be a requirement, the people, the landscape, and the homes. What the hell? There are endless Eucalyptus forests, spectacular lakes, and small farms. Tony sleeps most of the way, but once we land at our first winery, he is totally present. I’m sure this is painful but he covers well. We sip wines from Hope Estate, McGuigan, and Hunter Valley Resort, enjoy an amazing lunch at the Epicure Cafe, a little shopping, and exit the bus at the Sydney Harbor. The wines are slightly sweeter in Australia, all screw top, and because I lack the proper terminology I’ll say they are light, soft on the palate, with less complexity than the ones back home.
Larry wants to buy Tony a nice steak dinner, I can see he’s feeling better, and I praise God for her efforts. We are seated at the I’m Angus Steakhouse, on the wharf, overlooking the lighted harbor. The wharf is dotted with restaurants, outdoor dining, even a ferris wheel. It is the middle of winter but every restaurant is full to capacity. It feels a little like the Last Supper but I resisted blessing every glass of wine. We talk of hometown, family, and the future. He says, “I miss this time with my grandparents and Audrey the most.” Time is relative, it moves faster for the young, and the old. It is possibly one of our most precious gifts. I say soldier on…
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mick picks us up at 6:00 pm and takes us to their home in Coogee Bay. The evening is filled with laughter, sipping champagne, excellent food, and good conversation. I’m all too aware that this is our last night with Tony. On our taxi ride back to the apartment the lump in my throat won’t calm down, I’m lost in a swirl of emotion, and my eyes won’t stop dripping. I love this boy, who has become a remarkable man, and I’m ever so proud. Leaving Australia is rough…