Before I fell for opportunity shops and hard rubbish, there was Dimmey’s. Before it was acceptable to rifle through other people’s cast offs in search of something useful: clothes, glass ware, shoes or toys, there was Dimmey’s. 

When I was sixteen, in bursts between spells at boarding school, a day scholar again, and free to travel home by train, even as I could not afford a ticket, or too much else besides, there was Dimmey’s. 

The store sat majestically on Swan Street near the train overpass with its turquoise globe elevated above, and row upon row of merchandise, unpredictable offers strewn over tables.

One week you might find night wear for a song, reasonable quality, motley colours, and sizes, but if you were lucky, one might fit. 

Best of all, after an intake of shoes cast off from some shoe manufacturer unable to sell, again, you might be lucky and find your exact size. A pair of shoes that would otherwise cost a fortune for less than five dollars. Unimaginable leather shoes. 

Shopping at Dimmey’s was like trawling through an Aldi store today.  Supermarkets hosted from Germany with foreign food packaged almost identically to the local variety.

In the middle aisle, rows of inexpensive items, bric a brac, kids clothes, sportswear, toys, camping equipment, kitchen utensils, cleaning aids, stationary.

An endless array of useful items if you happen upon them at your precise moment of need. Seductive stuff even without need because they’re cheap. The aisle of shame.

My mother’s impulse, and I have inherited her tendency. To buy things whether I need it or not, because it’s inexpensive.

A bargain, she’d say coming home with five new hair brushes or a dozen tea towels, none of which we needed at that moment, but useful for later, if her overfull cupboards could hold them.

There they stayed stuck in the back of the cupboard where they were forgotten until she died. 

I have not inherited my mother’s impulse to be on the lookout for bargains in gift ships, random bits and bobs she imagined might be a suitable gift for this grandchild or other, even for this adult child or other. 

I despised my mother’s gifts at adult birthdays. They spoke of her stashed collection of unwanted junk bought on the cheap and held in a cupboard to help appease her guilt over what she could give.

My mother liked to give. I too have inherited this impulse. To give.  But I cannot abide giving people junk. I cannot abide giving people stuff they might consider tokenistic.

Soap-on-a rope type presents. Even bunches of flowers make me cringe. Mindless acquisitions. I could not come empty handed, so I bought you a box of Cadbury Roses, or a pack of biscuits. 

For my sixtieth birthday, which I celebrated in style, you wouldn’t believe the number of scarves I received. When I rarely if ever wear scarves.

Scarves might be a delight to other people but to me they’re potential stranglers. 

The scarves were useless I have them still. Some elegant and in silk, boxed away to be removed when I die if I don’t give them to the opportunity shop first.

Then there were the multiple bottles of sparkling burgundy. A more meaningful gift. It’s my favourite tipple and some people recognised this. But they did not realise – a creature of habit – I prefer the same variety, Andrew Garratt. 

Finally there were the books, many books, weird books on things like a history of cooking, or of roses, or some random novel with names I can’t recall though the word ‘mother’ in the tile might have been chosen for this reason and no other.

Presents like the ones my mother chose.

In my fortieth year she gave me a copy of Rape in Australia. I was a social worker by then and she figured it might have been of interest. A scholarly research book whose title sent shudders through me.

Dimmey’s was a store where you could find such books. On a remaindered table, choc a block full of someone else’s efforts to put words to the page.

They left me in awe then. They still do. Rather like the shops that sell books, not by their titles or content, but by volume. As if a person can buy several kilos worth of books to complete their bookshelves as a decorative feature with no intention whatsoever of reading them.

I never read the book on rape in Australia, but I kept it buried within a random bookshelf. I am a book hoarder and cannot bear to pass them on though lately I’ve been trying to offload some into street libraries dotted throughout the suburbs. 

I love the concept of a street library as much as I love opportunity shops. Places like Dimmey’s where opportunities wait if you’re lucky and for the rest, you can be unlucky. 

There’s an excitement to the find. Keep your head to the ground, on the lookout for a glint of silver or gold. A bright flash of colour signifying someone’s lost treasure which might soon become yours.

This was my childhood pleasure. I often found money. My favourite dreams consist of finding a hidden five dollar note tucked under a rock. I go to haul it out and there are more underneath. And still more underneath that. I find so much money in my dreams and it bot thrills and terrifies me. 

What if someone comes looking for it? 

Is it theft? 

Can I have it? 

Does ‘finders keepers’ apply? 

Should I take it to the police? 

Will it burn a hole in my pocket? 

Where did it come from? 

 Does it matter? 

What shall I do with it?

Mrs Milanova once said, money is only as good as what you do with it. Where it came from also matters. How it’s earned.

All these noble sentiments that clash with my childhood desire to have something for myself when so little was forthcoming. Where I was the proud possessor of multiple hand me downs but sometimes longed for something shop-bought even if it only came from Dimmey’s. At least it was new and untarnished. A great find. A cheap treasure and all of it mine, if my mother could part with the money.

The joys of ownership. The joys of a trip after school to Dimmey’s. 

One Autumn

It began with that first leaf falling. No one saw it happen, but you felt it in the morning the moment you woke, a chill as though someone had left the door open in an otherwise heated room. Tendrils of cold crawled over your skin. And then before you knew it, goose bumps erupted on the surface of your skin. 

When I woke that morning, my sister could not get out of bed. Her eyes were glazed, and she groaned. No school that day so no one was fussed she did not dress as usual and over the course of the morning when my mother came to check, the first spark ignited. Something was wrong.

 I bolted. Down the road to friends. My sister did not join me. An unusual move. Typically, she and I went everywhere together but this day she turned to face the wall when I said, ‘Let’s go play with Janice and Lesley.’ Two kids who lived round the corner and down the hill in a red brick half house opposite the park. The perfect location for fun. More so because both their parents, who were from Scotland and spoke with the strangest accents, were away at work. Even on a weekend. 

Janice, the elder of the two, even older than me, and at ten, I was old, was put in charge of her younger sister. And although they were allowed to entertain visitors in the form of me and my sister they were not to mess the lounge, go into their parent’s bedroom, or leave any dirty dishes unwashed and stacked away. 

Their mother returned every lunch time to check on them and otherwise they were free. By the time I left my sister languishing in her bed it was mid-morning and more leaves had fallen.

Later in the day when the ambulance came to take my sister away, and Janice and Lesley had decamped to my house, I overheard my mother mutter the word ‘polio’, and although I did not know what it meant, I knew it was serious. As serious as the girl at my school who had to leave in the middle of the day one day, not because she was ill, but because someone else in her family was.

With TB and it was contagious. You caught it off one another and. So, it was best for people with TB to be taken away to sanitoriums where they could get better, if they were lucky. And every member of their family had to stay at home and be tested to see whether they had the disease too. Something that caught in your lungs and made you cough and cough till blood came up. 

My sister was just red in the face, and drowsy. Not coughing.

‘A fever,’ my mother said and hoped she’d be okay. We should pray for her.

You prayed for sinners. You prayed for the dead to keep them out of hell or get them out of purgatory and into heaven. You prayed for people already in heaven that they

have a good time there and you’d meet them one day after you died. You prayed for the sick and dying in the same way so they too might reach that perfect place. Where anything you wanted you could have. 

There were times I longed to get to heaven and other times I was terrified at my prospects of ever getting inside, given all the stealing I had done over my ten years. All the lies told, all the times I’d harboured impure thoughts. 

My sister was different. If she did things wrong it was only at my prompting. She was young. God could not blame her for any bad behaviour if she were to die. But I did not want to think about this.

Her bed empty at night and the days and nights of her absence stretched into months and a whole school term passed before I went one day with my mother and the two youngest ones on the yellow bus though Ivanhoe to the infectious diseases’ hospital in Fairfield. There was my sister in a bed in a room filled with people, grown up women, and looking for all the world like a queen.

To this day I have wondered why my sister was taken away. Why she was the one whose body was invaded.

How it is that illnesses decide to attack one person and not the next? Why some are born strong and others with weakened constitutions that do not allow them to live long. While others can reach over one hundred years. 

Th lottery of life. And one I cannot fathom. But like all lotteries it is one of chance. Hence cruel and unfair. As unpredictable as which leaves fall from the tree first, and which ones fall last.