With all the excitement of planning of first trip away from Australia - if it is at all possible to leave this harsh sunshine and deep shaded rain forests of home - the annual pilgrimage to the NSW north coast and the Gibbens ancestral home of Yamba had almost become something of a backdrop to life. I took little more than finding swimmers cowering in their forgotten hiding place under fleecy undershirts and thoughts of clear days and the hazy lust of red wine and abandonment for the focus to return and those little spitballs of excitement to begin bouncing about in the pit of the stomach, disturbing the butterflies in due course.
Yamba has been our two week winter refuge for so long that three children grew up here and if pressed, before the nestling of the past four or five years in Tamworth, would probably have recognised this as more of a home than the places where we plied our trade as teachers.
Sue was an interesting case study. For eighteen years I have watched her simmer and then bubble over with anticipation as the last month of work slowly passed before the early July, Saturday drive to the north coast. The seven days before she would talk and talk and talk of what she would do during her two weeks "back home". In the process she would plan several months worth of activities to work magically into a much shorter time frame, like a teenager's whirling gyrations of the axis's of a Rubic Cube. It was always the impossible she aimed for and always the impossible she achieved.
This year was different, overlaid as it was with the dream-come-true planning for France and the British Isles and the various steps and hops of her self-created checklist which she had placed in the way of that dream. We were going long before she ticked every box, as I've never depended on details to make decisions. As she imagined all the things which would stop her and then allowed herself a bigger piece of the remain pie with each acknowledgement, Yamba was not, for the first time, not on the menu.
Come Saturday morning, with the car packed and the road ahead, she quickly caught up.
It was a slow start for all the usual reasons - all of them last minute and all of them unavoidable. The days of stressing over delays are long gone for me. We would get there eventually.
Broken into thirds, so that four hundred kilometres didn't make Sue's back inhospitable to family for a few days after arrival, the first stop was at Guyra. The Caltex Roadhouse offers good road tucker and a $2 mug of tea which never empties ... my dear old Mum would have loved it! Guyra in July has often been the coldest place I have experienced. There are days when freezing point seems like a hot day in Guyra, especially when the wind takes the lazy path, straight through you. We have sat for ten minutes in the car, layering ourselves and the kids against the elements, all for the twenty metres dash to the sliding glass doors which provide a haven inside the restaurant. Today was nothing like that. I even managed shirt sleeves.
We short hopped to Glen Innes - about 65kms away - because having denied Sue for most of the years we have passed the Super Strawberry a few kms to the south of Glen but for the last few years I have no excuses not to stop and frankly, there is only kudos and a throbbing in her heart when I do concede. It struck me today, as we messed about like the young lovers we once were, how much I had denied myself in such silly adherences to plans and deadlines. We each tried on hand knitted woollen hats shaped as animals and cartoon characters, laughed, hugged and kissed those sweet, momentary touches on moist lips which tingle there for no other reason than they were dubbed there with unconditional love. I have been so lucky to have been subjected to such freely offered love by my parents, my children and the best of my friends but blessed to have this woman, who insists on never losing her girl, still loving me with such a delightful combination of tenderness and cheek all these very long years from when we both collided.
Sue slept to Boundary Falls, her strawberry jam safely tucked into the neck of one of my walking boots in a packing crevice that the larger objects make when two weeks are condensed into boxes and bags in the back of a station wagon.
The Falls had a good measure of water flowing over into their pool, owing to nearly 150mls of rain falling in the past week. We washed down salad rolls with water, me managing iPhone snaps whilst Sue walked the perimeter of the picnic area in order to get some oxygen back into the discs of her lower spine. Its a routine well practised and accepted and keeps her from much of the pain the L4/L5 segment gives her on most days. It manageable but it comes with concessions, all of which you are prepared to make to reduce the pain. The slowness of our morning was catching up with us, as this was lunch, taken as the air was cooling because at 4pm, the sun is disappearing behind tall trees.
The final leg of the drive to Yamba, the iPod was my only company. Sue slept through the telling of the usual stories of Susie Island, ice creams at Ulmarra and pony camps at Maclean Showground.
We crossed the "new" bridge were sister-in-law Mandy once combined holiday with work, "advancing" the then NSW Premier Bob Carr through it's opening and were all but home. Had it not been for a mistake in booking, which cost us three quarters of an hour, we might have been having the traditional first night fish and chips earlier. As it was, we grabbed a feed and went to brother-in-law Lance's flat for first night drinks, chat and catch up.