Their cab pulled into the driveway and drove through the Farm’s big old-fashioned gates. A colourful sign simply read ‘The Farm’. They rattled over the cattle grid that kept hoofed animals off the roads and within the not-too-confining confines of the Farm. The driveway wound its way over a few bushy hills, across a narrow bridge and past a dam. The plentiful summer rains had kept everything lush and green this year.
‘Oh, there’s Jazzie and Belle!’ exclaimed Leila. The cab made a warning noise and stopped right away when Leila ripped on the handle to jump out and say hello to the dogs. Jasper, the big, very vocal German shepherd squeaked, wagged and barked in greeting while Belle the Jack Russell jumped up and down in excitement. Then Jasper decided to say hello to Rocco and leaped in the cab to lick his face. A second later Belle followed. Rocco laughed and cursed at the same time while Leila was in stitches watching the scene in the cab. To save her Dad she called the dogs and started jogging up the hill. The dogs followed promptly and Rocco trailed slowly in the cab, wiping his face.
The farm buildings came into view; the guest house to the left and the main house to the right of the large yard, surrounded by gardens, a shed, paddocks, fields and native trees. Her Oma O was already standing in front of the house waving. O’s real name was Ottilia, but she had been called O for as long as anyone could remember. They hugged tightly, then O looked her granddaughter up and down.
‘You are looking well, Dear! And you have grown since I’ve seen you last!’
‘Yes, I have!’ Leila nodded proudly and O laughed, patting Leila’s shoulders and hair. The cab stopped a few metres from them and Rocco jumped out.
The dogs were still very excited and Leila found a stick to throw for them while Rocco and O hugged. Rocco noticed O’s sniffling.
‘Mum, it’s only been a few weeks!’
She pulled a hankie from her pocket.
‘Ach, what’s new! You know I am built close to water! It is so good to see you both!’
She wiped her nose when another woman came hurrying over from the kitchen veranda.
‘Hello, Auntie Jade!’
‘Hey Leils!’ replied Jade and they shared a hug.
Jade and her husband Kalolo were like an additional set of grandparents for Leila and Blu. Once they had all exchanged their greetings Leila blurted out, ‘We are staying here all week!’
O and Jade looked from her to Rocco who nodded and said, ‘Yes, Leila has the best ideas! I really need a break from work.’
‘But that’s wonderful!’ O’s smile was radiant and Rocco felt happy to be home.
‘Are Opa and Uncle Kalo in the shed?’
‘You got it!’ Jade said with a big grin on her face.
O gave her a nod, ‘Off you go, girl!’
‘I’ll be there in just a sec!’ said Rocco as Leila took off, closely followed by the dogs. The three of them watched her with much affection, then Rocco unloaded the cab and they made their way inside to get ready for afternoon tea.
The first thing Leila always noticed when she opened the door to the shed was the smell of oil and wood, of rust, metal and dust. It was familiar and warm. This was one building that was not auto-cleaned every few days and it had a distinct air of something rustic and old-fashioned. Leila loved it.
At the moment it was also very noisy though, as her Opa was grinding a piece of metal in one corner of the workshop. The tinker shed was a dream for many older men from the DIY generation. It was now the age of 3D printers and near-perfect designs for everything from phones to beds, which meant a very low rate of breakage, increased mechanisation and almost infinite update-ability. If something broke, your phone assessed whether it was fixable and then it was either repaired by a mobile ‘fix-bot’ or 3D-printed entirely new with the old piece sent to recycling.
On a farm however, things broke all the time and Juan and Kalo liked to repair and make things themselves. They did appreciate and use the fix-bots, just not every time.
Kalolo saw her first and put down what he was working on.
He was over 190cm tall but as strong, smart and gentle as an elephant. He originally came from Samoa, a tiny Pacific island near Fiji. Him and Jade had met during the transition and been married for almost 40 years.
‘Hey, Kalo!’ she went over to give him a hug. A moment later, Opa Juan noticed her as well and stopped the grinder to let Leila plant a big smooch on his cheek, followed by a bearish hug. Juan was not tall, but a wiry old fellow, his thick, dark hair in a ponytail and still looking much younger than his actual age. Him and Kalo were an uneven match physically, but their temperaments had them stay friends since high school. The three of them exchanged first news, then Leila’s attention was drawn to what was standing uncovered and freshly polished in the garage: a Chrysler Charger from the year 1971, Juan’s greatest treasure.
‘Oh, Granddad, can we go for a drive this weekend?’ Leila asked.
‘Sure can!’ Juan answered, ‘On Sunday, maybe?’
Leila remembered their plan to stay longer. ‘Dad and I are staying all week now, so we can go any day!’
‘Oh, Leils! That’s wonderful! What brought this on? Anything in particular?’
Leila thought for a moment before she answered.
‘Dad has been pretty stressed out and his work is annoying him. He said that he needed a break and so I suggested that we stay here for longer.’
Juan patted her shoulder and said, ‘A good plan, I think. Good on you for telling him to take some time out, little angel! He does seem quite lost at the moment.’
He looked thoughtful but then said in a happier tone, ‘Well, I’m glad we’ll get to spend lots of time with you both!’ He slapped Leila on the shoulder one last time and added, ‘Might even let you drive the Charger if your feet can reach the pedals!’
‘Oooh, that would be blast!’ Leila’s eyes had got big and she dashed over to the car to check if she was tall enough. She really had grown quite a bit lately.
‘And, can you reach?’
‘Yes, just!’ she answered with pride in her voice, ‘When I pull the seat all the way forward!’
At that moment the dogs jumped up and bolted over to the shed door, which opened as Rocco walked in.
‘Hey Dad! Hey Kalo!’
The three men hugged, slapped shoulders and exchanged niceties. While Rocco knelt down to give the dogs another good pat he said, ‘It’s nearly cake time!’
Leila stopped pretending to drive and jumped out of the car.
‘I’ll just go say hello to the other animals!’ She sprinted out of the shed, again closely followed by the dogs who just made it through the door behind her.
‘She’s got so much energy!’ said Rocco, getting up and brushing dog hair off his clothes. Juan decided not to ask his son about his work woes now; there would be a better, quieter time for that after dinner or on the next day.
‘Dirt biking in the morning?’ Kalolo said with a boyish glint in his eyes, reading Juan’s mind as usual. They packed up and got ready to go inside while discussing trails, bikes and bike set-ups.
Meanwhile, Leila jogged across the farmyard to the paddocks. She stopped to pick up a couple of sticks and throw them for the dogs. The Farm was home to six horses, a herd of a dozen cows and one calf, a dozen sheep, the dogs and a couple of cats and chickens. On top of that many native animals such as emus, koalas, wallabies, and a large variety of birds and reptiles could be spotted around the farm and in the nearby forest.
At the horse paddock Leila leaned on the fence for a moment to enjoy the vista. Tall eucalyptus trees shone silvery in the afternoon sun and a light breeze was combing the landscape. Leila took a few deep breaths of the fresh country air and looked around the Farm. To her right were the herb garden and main building, to her left a large vegie patch, orchard, the dam and more paddocks. Further out were some fields where hemp and other crops grew. The harvesting work was shared by the entire district as well as robots, machines and a host of friends and helpers who came for their community work blocks or farm retreats. Behind Leila and across the courtyard stood the guest house with the pool, then Jade and Dave’s small roundhouse set in their magnificent flower garden, then the stables and shed. Beyond all that, the forest ruled. Leila took after another deep breath.
‘Hey horse friends! Hey Bonita!’ she called out and climbed through the fence. The horses came trotting over to meet her. Leila loved horses despite what had happened to her mother. She knew it hadn’t been the horses’ fault. She gave them each a pat, spending extra time with her favourite Bonita, a gentle black Appaloosa mare with a white patch and spots on her rump. She thought of the trail ride to Samasta the next morning. How exciting! She still had a hundred questions to ask her Oma. Leila heard some laughter and saw the men walking across the farmyard. She left the horses and climbed a few fences to pay the cows a quick visit. The dogs ran off to see what was going on at the main house. Coming to the Farm was like coming home for Leila, and greeting the animals like her extended family was a big part of that. While patting the friendliest cows she also tried to get a glimpse of Hopper, the calf that she had helped to deliver late last year. He kept hiding behind his mother, Daisy, but eventually curiosity got the better of him and he sniffed and licked her hand before retreating again.
The she saw Dad waving from the kitchen veranda. Cake time! Leila bounded past the sheep shouting a loud, ‘Meeeeh!’ then she ran towards the house.