We picked up my sister-in-law and her son and drove down to old haunts on the Mornington Peninsula, with a single empty space in the car.
"Every story, every great novel, in between its introduction and conclusion has an unforgettable plot. John Cetnar’s life is a fine example of this.
John was a hardworking man. He would spend hours at the factory finishing off his work because he was so devoted to getting the job done for his customers. And when he was too ill to attend work, he would still put his job before his recovery. Doctors couldn't medicate him properly, because, before they knew it, he was out the door and rushing back to the factory. He would sacrifice his weekends to make up for lost time. He was a fearless man, someone who never really believed in the full extent of his illnesses. He was too brave to give in. He never let his bad health deter him from taking part in his hobbies and fashions."
The cherry season had started the week before at the Farnsworth orchard (26 Paringa Road, Red Hill South) and there was plenty of hubbub in the shed as pickers and buyers went about their business.
We bought a few kilos of the old fashioned Burgdorf and a newer variety, Burlat. The Burlats are on the right of the picture and as you can see, are almost twice the size of Burgdorfs. Whilst they are bigger and seemingly juicier, it was the old fashioned, smaller cherry that had all the flavour.
"Four of those that stood out were cars, boxing, fishing and the AFL. He was a long suffering Richmond supporter, I guess that’s why he preferred boxing. It would always be, “Mark, check the TV guide for the boxing!” “Hah, too easy,” off the top of my head I knew that Friday Night Fights were on at 7.30pm.
Then there were his cars. Whether it was TV shows, magazines or brochures, he would always be looking into something. And it was the weekend drives, the journeys in the 4wd that brought him most joy."
Flinders was a favourite lunchtime spot, usually fish and chips on rough hewn wooden tables with seagulls for spectators, braver ones snaffling a chip or two when backs were turned. Unspoken words needed to tumble out, so we settled for the more upmarket Flinders Hotel (cnr Cook & Wood Streets, Flinders).
A Stonier's sparkling wine was a pleasant surprise with its fine bead and well balanced acidity, an excellent drop, as we settled into the upmarket dining room. The menu had clear maritime influences, even though netting is no longer allowed in the adjacent Western Port.
If ever there was a designer fish, it would have to be a garfish with its long, elegant beak and sleek, torpedo like body; two large ones had been left head on, roughly filleted and arched across the plate, surfing the buttery sauce, cooked until just done and still moist.
The women chafed me over my choice of bouillabaisse, noting that the cutlery setting made me look like a dentist at work. Indeed it did, with a knife, fork, spoon, claw meat extractor and claw cracker in a neat serried row.
The soup was a virtual Neptune's treasure chest of piscatorial goodies, with on-the-bone pieces of fish, a Western Australian scampi, prawns, mussels, scallops, clams and some very spiky crab legs, swimming in the very rich fish and tomato broth, accompanied by some overly hard oven baked croutons and rouille. Not a dish for the faint hearted or for those who don't like to get down and dirty, the finger bowl an absolute necessity.
In an earlier time, there might have been another chair and two orders for lamb cooked two ways, which enticed with its careful arangement and was said to be excellent. The food could hardly be faulted, though the puzzle was, why was there a 45 minute gap between all the mains being served? Only the two plates of garfish arrived together, which came some 30 minutes after a bowl of spaghetti bolognese, and they had long been eaten by the time the lamb arrived. Curious.
"But perhaps the hobby that fascinated him most was fishing. He was glued to the TV when there was a fishing show on. He loved being able to organise a fishing trip, to stay up the night before and prepare all the gear, bait and rods and getting the boat ready for the next day’s adventure with family and friends. And he got so excited when he could bring home a nice big snapper just in time for Christmas Eve supper, for all to share."
The sun was out as we headed to the beach for an impromptu dessert of the now warm cherries and imagining all the spots where a boat might anchor in hope of landing that big one. We walked and talked some more before piling back into the car, which then found its way to a plant nursery, to see carefully tended abundant new life growing in pots.
"Just like in a novel, along with the highs, come the lows. John’s life wasn’t easy. It was a battle. Constant confrontations with personal issues and bad habits took their toll on him. But he never gave up, and with the help of close family, friends and also doctors and nurses, he had hope and belief. He knew he had that circle of support to help him and comfort him. I’m sure he’d be ever grateful for those who were prepared to give a helping hand."
We never leave the peninsula without calling in for some cheese and I recommend you do too. Red Hill Cheese has both cow and goat's milk cheeses in a number of styles and it was fortunate that any survived for the photo.
By this time, we are close to Arthurs Seat and the spectacular views of Port Phillip where John did most of his fishing. There was no other way to go home.
"Whilst he was stern, he was generous and caring. When it came to holidays, everybody decided where to go. When it came to shopping, nobody left empty handed. When it came to dinner, everybody had their say, and he always had extra food if any unexpected visitors came by. It was never just about him. He was a loving man. He loved his family and friends, he loved me, he loved my mum, he loved Nicole, he loved Jack. His face would light up every time they came over, because he was so interested to hear how they were going since their last visit.
So he wasn’t my biological father. But to me, he was my dad. For 14 of my 16 years on this Earth, he was there for me. I witnessed the highlights, lowlights, satisfactions and disappointments.
Just like every great novel is still talked about and celebrated long after the turn of the final page, so too will the life of John Cetnar."
by Mark Gojszyk