My family came from India when I was three, and settled in Niddrie in Melbourne, where we were the first Asians on our street. But we were soon welcomed by our neighbour, Max, and his wife, Pat. Max loved to talk to Dad over the fence. Apparently, he thought it was funny that we were always rugged up against the Australian ‘cold weather’, while he got around in his blue singlet and stubby shorts. And he chuckled about our mistakes with Aussie slang. For example, one day he called out to my brother, “Hey, mate, how’re you goin’?” and Clinton called back, “I’m catching the bus, uncle!”

Over the years, we grew close. Whenever they went away on trips, they’d always bring us back something. And when he heard my aunt and uncle were coming to visit from India, he immediately said, ‘Let’s go away for the weekend and show them some of Australia!’ He was just that sort of guy.

I have a younger brother, Dale, who has special needs, and since Mum passed 4 years ago, I have become Dale’s carer in the house where I grew up. Luckily, Max is still our neighbour. He’s been a constant all my life.

He has such a beautiful spirit. Although he’s got 2 kids of his own, I could honestly ask this guy for anything. For example, he still insists on doing my mowing for me even though he’s now 90 years old! Or when I’ve been running late from work and won’t be able to meet Dale’s bus, I’ve picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, could you…’ and straight away, he says, ‘Course I can!’ Even though Dale is nonverbal, we both have this beautiful relationship with this man who has taken us in and made us feel like he’s ours.

Over the last year, he’s had a few health concerns. Unfortunately, the last time he ended up in hospital was when he was tackling the weeds in my backyard. But Max is Max and he just says, ‘Please don’t make a fuss and I’ll be right. I’ll be out of here before you know it and we’ll check those plants as soon as we can.’

Everyone needs a Max in their life. He’s one in a million. I am extremely proud of the unique relationship we share, and I realise it’s not one I should take for granted.

He’s always saying, ‘You know, Debra, I think I’m ready to go, but He doesn’t want me yet. So for now you’re stuck with me!’ It’s hard for me to accept that one day he’s not going to be around anymore, but you know what?

I’m going to enjoy him for as long as I’ve got him!

Debra
India
Arrived 1972

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