I have been busy over the last few months writing a series of letters for my son’s, to tell them of all the wonderful memories I have of my childhood. A number of my most treasured memories revolve around my beloved brother Douglas Norman Di Salvia who was born 28 Jul 1943, and very sadly passed away on 16 Jan 2008. As I sat there late one night tapping lightly at the keyboard, drafting a memory letter to Lucas and Brett, all the happiness and laughter that Doug and I shared over the years flooded back, filling me with a warmth and joy that is very hard to describe in words. Suffice to say that these memories are immensely important to me, so I decided that I would share these memories with everyone as a tribute to a wonderful brother who would have celebrated his 71st birthday this month.
Doug was a bear of a man, even when he was young – say in his late teens and early 20’s. His hands were huge and roughened from hard work, and he was as strong as an ox, and I loved him to the moon and back (as the old song goes). I guess though if I remember the truth of it, he was quite short and a little bit overweight, but to me he was just a teddy bear. Doug could be gruff and sometimes “point blank” but he lived his life on his own terms and made no apologies for that. He was an honest and loving man and when all is said and done, what more can you ask of anyone in their lifetime, what greater legacy could he have ever left behind?
I don’t remember Dougy living at home with us. Doug was born in 1943 so he was about 13 ½ years older than me, and nearly 15 years old when I joined the family. Apparently, when I first went to live at Bogalara Road with the Di Salvia clan I would have nothing to do with him, or Dad either for that matter. But mum, Gwen and Nonny always told me that Dougy slowly worked his way into my heart by feeding me my bottle. If I wanted my bottle I had no choice but to take it from Dougy – clever, don’t you think!
The earliest memories I have of Doug are of him coming home for a visit from Dubbo, where he and Gwen lived in about 1962 – 63. At that time he worked for Bonny’s Pest Control. I would always be snuggled up in bed by the time he arrived as he would drive from Dubbo to Sydney after finishing work on a Friday night. The first thing he would do after saying hello to mum was walk into the bedroom I shared with Kim and Kel, put his massive hands either side of me on the mattress and then bounce it with all his considerable strength. I was wide awake in an instant, seemingly flying through the dark night air and squealing with delight. Then, when he was sure I was awake he would scoop me up and take me out to the kitchen to join in with the family. After seating me on the kitchen chair he would go back and start the process again, and I would listen to the joy in the laughter of one twin, and then the other, as Dougy delivered each of them into the kitchen. Of course, the twins would hear the ruckus when Dougy woke me, but they would lay quietly and stock still pretending to be asleep, so that Dougy would “just have” to wake them too!
Such a silly thing to remember, but what a joy it was over the years. When we moved to Tamworth Doug’s routine changed just a little bit. He would pick us up out of bed and instead of sitting us in the kitchen, he would throw us into the pool, pyjama’s and all! The first time he threw us into the pool was a bit of a shock to the system, but once again the memory is filled with the shear joy of having his attention.
The other thing I loved about my brother was his “bear hugs”. Often when Dougy said goodbye to head back to Dubbo he would give me a bear hug that crushed the breath from my lungs. Did he know his own strength? Of course he did, he just loved to see the twins and I squirm this way and that as we called out, laughing and pleading for him to stop. He would give me a kiss on the cheek and head off in his car, and I would wait for his return so that I could fly through the air, laugh with childish abandon, and have the very life nearly crushed from my lungs, all in the name of love.
- He loved to drive fast cars
- One day he left me stranded on the aviary roof by stealing the ladder, even though he knew I was terrified of heights if I was on my own
- He loved the country – wide open spaces and the red and brown colours of the outback
- He loved shooting
- He doubled me on his bike one day and I accidently got my foot stuck in the wheel spokes, wrenching my ankle – he felt very bad about that!
- He adored his wife and children
- He worked for a time in New Guinea
- He was a builder by trade, but also worked in the pest control industry
- He brought us home a baby Joey for a pet. He had hit the mother Roo with his car on the way home, but gently saved the Joey
- He had a very bad car accident near Albury around 1970, in which he broke some ribs, hurt his right arm and cut his face
- He liked camping, cooking on a campfire and staring at the night sky
Of course the time came when he would arrive home to visit us from Dubbo, and the twins and I would be sitting up waiting for him. We simply grew too big for him to just “throw around”, but I never think of my brother without recalling those wonderful times spent laughing with him.
For a short time after he married Barb they lived on a small property on the outskirts of Tamworth – at Daruka, but then he got a job with Agrospray and spent 12 months at North Star. After North Star Doug, Barb and the children – Glen, Tammy, Troy and Mandy, moved back to Narromine and for about 3 months they lived on a property by the name of Cabundi, before buying their lovely period home in Merilba Street. Doug and Barb put a lot of time and effort into renovating the old home and I remember they added a beautiful large kitchen and dining room to the back of the house, whilst Doug continued to work at crop dusting.
Barb told us that she first noticed a change in Doug when he was about 55 years old. He was changing a tyre on the truck, and simply couldn’t remember how to do it. They went into Dubbo where Doug’s memory was tested and he initially did really well, but only months later he couldn’t remember how to draw a circle for a clock face, and he was ultimately diagnosed with Alzheimers. By 2003 Doug and Barb felt it would be better if they moved to Cessnock, where Barb could be closer to their adult children. Progressively, Doug’s Alzheimer’s got worse. He lost the ability to do practical work, but he could still have a great conversation most of the time.
One day, a friend of Doug’s took him to work with him, but at the end of the day he told Barb that he was feeling “awful”. He was taken to hospital where he was found to have blood poisoning. He was treated with antibiotics and, after a month, was allowed to go home.
Only a month before his death Doug went in to a nursing home, but the blood infection came back and made him very ill. Sadly my brother Doug passed away when he was just 64 years old, from blood poisoning on 16 January 2008. He was too young by far to leave this life, and I miss him every day. Doug is buried in a beautiful quaint church cemetery at Brunkerville, where he will always be able to look over his beloved “bush” and the gentle rolling hills of the area.