Something curious and heart-warming occurred today but, to be appreciated, requires a backstory. Rewind about fourteen years. I am walking along ‘our’ beach and encounter a boy, perhaps eight or nine years old. I feel a great affinity with children so, as is my wont, I greet him. ‘Are you having fun?’ I tease. Something about him immediately invites me to proceed further, and thus a conversation ensues and continues as we meander up the beach side by side, the turquoise Coral Sea lapping to our left, the established foreshore trees, dense foliage and largely obscured houses to our right.
Our feet fall on warm sand, his eager face constantly turns toward me, we make a lot of eye contact, his voice is lively and he smiles readily as we converse. He is an intelligent little boy who is clearly comfortable with adults and we are having a fat time together. His name is Josh and he tells me he is visiting his grandparents who live a few doors up from us in a large house owned by their son Jamie. Eventually we part ways as he heads back through the trees to his grandparent’s place and I continue with my beach walk, heart full. When I return home, I tell Jon of the encounter with this child who has charmed me. When next I see his grandmother, I tell her of our meeting which has given rise to such a feeling of warmth. Naturally, she glows and from time to time over the ensuing years, I ask after him. I can no longer recall quite what he looked like, nor any detail of what we spoke about, but he was immediately engaging and engaged. He had a certain quality that left me feeling he was quite special, and the encounter filled me with delight. I don’t remember seeing him again, but when I next see his grandmother, I mention my meeting Josh. Some years later, his grandparents move, their son Jamie and wife, Josh’s parents, want to use the place as a holiday home, occasional respite from the mining town out west where they run a tyre business. From time to time I pass Jamie on my morning walk and he too is now privy to my affectionate recollection of Josh.
Today, from my kitchen window overlooking the street, through the many palms growing in our front garden I glimpse two couples strolling by. They are enjoying the late afternoon sun, beer cans and wine glasses in hand, an uncommon sight. I subliminally register that one of the men may be Jamie. They linger in front of our place, pointing to plants in our garden. I am about to step out for a short late walk and as I reach the road, two of them are now pointing at the house diagonally opposite, while the other two have already disappeared through the adjacent vacant block. ‘Hello’, I say in a friendly voice as I approach them. The woman smiles, returning my greeting. ‘Something over there seems to have your attention’, I comment, curious. ‘It’s the rock wall’, she says. ‘Ah yes, he’s a good stone-mason’, I add. She now indicates that she knows we have a similar rock wall which she has obviously spotted on a previous occasion, because it is barely visible from the adjacent block, being obscured behind thick tropical foliage. She is referring to our Balinese style, open-air shower. Would you like to see it?’, I proffer. She jumps at that invitation.
The pebbles on the path running beside the house crunch beneath our feet as the three of us duck under overhanging palm fronds. Much admiring of and discussion about the wall follows- how it is constructed, the pinkish hue of our chosen rocks, the way it has been laid, that yes, it is local stone and so on. ‘That’s the sort of stone wall I would like in front of our place’, she announces. And so, inevitably I inquire as to where they live. ‘I live in Brisbane’ says the man, ‘and I live just up the road’ the woman adds, so now I presume that they are not a couple. ‘So, which is your house?’ I ask, curiosity having got the better of me. As she describes its location, I twig. ‘Oh, then you must be Jamie’s wife!’ which she affirms, ‘And Josh’s mother.’ And now I spin into a spiel about the great little kid I met all those years ago on the beach. Clearly, it’s now time to formally introduce myself. No sooner do I start, than she cuts me off saying, ’I know who you are. I know all about you. Josh still talks about you. When he met you, he came running to the house and told me excitedly about the wonderful lady he had met on the beach.’ I am delighted that he remembers me and gobsmacked that he still talks about me! I ask her what he is doing now, though I have received scraps of information from his dad on our occasional encounters.
I learn that Josh is now in is early 20’s, studying Business, majoring in accounting at QUT in Brisbane. She proudly adds, ‘He has also developed an App about dog-friendly …… Pet ..…’ . I don’t quite take in all the details. Did the App name include the word ‘Paws’ and was it pet friendly camping places? Anyway, it’s cool, he’s a dog-lover too! ‘Oh yes’, she states, and I suddenly have the urge to connect with him again. ‘Hang on a minute, I will grab my card for you to pass on to him, I would love to be in touch with him’. I run upstairs and return to hand her my now somewhat outdated Bonney Bombach Artist card with its coloured image of an artwork and my contact details, minus my recent web address. Everyone is smiling as we part ways.
Thus inspired, I begin to write this blog, knowing I will work on it over several days. As I continue, I am frustrated at not remembering the name of the App and suddenly wonder if I could find him online. I move into detective mode- after all, this approach has brought unexpected and pleasurable results in recent years, connecting me with significant people from my past. I type into my search bar ‘dog friendly campsites Qld’ and various things pop up but nothing that suggests Josh. I try again, omitting the word ‘Qld’. Again, many nation-wide doggy campsites jump to the page but still nothing that gels. Maybe I can try with just his name but what is his surname? Patrilineal, must be the same as his grandparents but I can’t remember their surname. Ah, perhaps it is still on our type-written sheet of local phone numbers, and voilà, there it is! So now I type in his full name and am amazed.
The first thing that pops up is ‘Josh Fritz, Director PatchPets’ on LinkedIn. I learn that his studies include Business Strategy, Business Planning, Negotiation and Management Consulting. This entry is followed by ‘21 yo from country Qld makes mad app for pooches’ repeated in several rural newspapers and then Onyapreneur: Josh Fritz, Founder of PatchPets App tells me: ‘Match-making app is going to the dogs. PatchPets, one of top three business start-ups to watch Congrats, QUT student entrepreneur..…with his dog Quincy who inspired Josh to build a social app for pets, to help all pet-lovers find parks, doggy play-date mates, services and more. It’s going global’. There are many images of an open-faced young man with short-cropped dark hair, grinning, arms slung around his dog Quincy, some with his two dogs. I totally lack entrepreneurial skills but am impressed with this young man’s creativity and get up and go. More to the point, I am struck by trajectory from my one-off memory of Josh as a child to where he has come, to see so clearly that the intelligence, confidence, warmth and outgoing spirit exuded as an eight or nine year-old, has led him to where he is today.
Putting aside those boy children with whom I have had longer or ongoing relationships, there have been a couple of other such brief encounters, the memory of which has endured. Step back twenty-six years. Jon and I are visiting his family in Michigan and spend a day with niece Sandy. We are walking along a rural track amidst greenery. Jon walks beside Sandy, a strikingly attractive young woman with thick black hair and coal dark eyes. They are enjoying each other’s company, laughing, and talking intensely. I am walking behind them with her son Nicolas, a beautiful seven-year old with olive complexion, dark hair and dark eyes like his grandfather, Jon’s oldest late brother, Roger. He is sensitive, alert and, it quickly becomes apparent, a nature-lover. We are holding what feels like a very adult conversation, though again, I can’t recall exact details. I think we spoke of nature and wildlife and perhaps things a little philosophical. I am smitten.
This branch of the family are not willing correspondents, so our contact has been intermittent. We hear snippets periodically. I remember that he studied Anthropology which somehow feels consistent with my impression of him as a child. However, now that Nic unexpectedly enters this blog, I need to update a little, so I write to Sandy. She tells me that after our visit in 1995, I sent him a book (I would guess about Australian flora &/or fauna), and that he and I corresponded for a while. I have forgotten all of this. I’m interested to know that he has been with his partner for 14 years and is the Director of a County Economic Alliance in a poor area with fading family farming and antiquated manufacturing. Ah, a guy with social commitment, that tallies. He now has a 10-month-old baby boy, Henry. Sandy tells me that he has always been fascinated by my artwork and writing and used to do both himself, before getting tied up ‘with a lot of other stuff’. As per Josh, I am touched that he remembers me, that there is still some connection. She also sends a few recent family photographs. I need to gain both her Nic’s permission to quote from her letter and to include the photograph. She replies that ‘Nic would be pleased to be included’, and that he asks for my contact details so I flick him a quick email, include my web address and next day see that he has chosen to Follow the site.
And so, to one last brief encounter still further back in time. In 1989 Jon and I set off on a four-month adventure in Mexico and Central America. We are particularly interested in seeing the ancient Mayan sites in both the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and in Guatemala, reclaimed from under dense jungle in relatively recent years. In anticipation of this trip, mulling over what work I might make while travelling, something in my practice changes. The Mayan culture suggests earthy colours to me, and so my colour palette will shift from the rich tertiary colours I have been using, to a reduced colour palette of earth tones. I select a few watercolours, a black and white oil stick, and some pre-cut squares of absorptive, oriental paper to work with.
One of the great sites in Guatemala is Tikal, who’s iconic, thousand-year-old ruins of temples and palaces include the giant ceremonial Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. A national park was created around the extensive site, thus, we seek accommodation as close as possible to it. We find a small, low key set-up, surrounded by jungle, a short walk from the park entrance. It is run by a rather beautiful and clearly well- educated English woman and her Guatemalan husband. They have one child, a boy about eight years old with his father’s dark colouring rather than that of his very fair mother. Naturally, he speaks both English and Spanish. He prances up to us soon after we arrive, and brightly asks if we would like him to take us on his ‘magic jungle walk’. He is charming and apparently quite a little entrepreneur. He offers us his ‘tour’ for $5, not an insubstantial amount for a little kid in 1989 but clearly an invitation into his world. His enthusiasm is delightful, the offer irresistible. Sometime later, the three of us set off, following narrow earthen tracks which meander through thick humid rain forest. He is alert, intense in his concentration, quite the little bush boy. ‘Look, jaguar tracks’, he says, pointing to tracks on the ground, ‘and here, baby’, he adds pointing to smaller footprints. He is confident and we have no reason to doubt him, knowing Jaguars prevail in the jungles of this part of Guatemala. ‘Have you ever seen one?’, I innocently ask, ‘Oh yes, quite often, mother and baby’, he replies as casual as anything. And so, we make our way on a small circuit with him pointing out the details of the magnificent environment in which he lives, trusting we won’t be devoured by such an animal.
Regardless of their brevity, the encounters with these three wonderful little boys have left their mark, mutually it seems (at least with Nic and Josh) and perhaps pour contact is not yet over. In any case, given the openness and warmth of all three of these children, I imagine they are or will become great partners in their relationships and, if they have children, will be loving fathers. Well nurtured boys grow into wonderful men. May there be many more of them!