Oliver Mol presents ‘Books I’ve Lost’: a short series of memoirs on the books he has lost over the years, and the people and moments that surround them.

After we moved to Texas, Mum volunteered to become a reading mum. Being a reading mum meant you were a mum who chose a book and read to the kids during English class. One afternoon Mum began reading the opening paragraphs of The Witches, but several minutes in this kid raised his hand.

“My mom won’t let me read that book,” he said.

“Oh,” Mum said. “I’m sure it’s fine. It’s a wonderful tale of adventure and magic!”

But the kid just smiled and shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’re wrong. Momma said the devil lives in there.” Then he stood, abruptly, and left the room.

What in the goddamn? Mum thought, but didn’t say. As a joke, we’d started talking in American accents, which my dad hated.

“Trust me,” he’d say. “You don’t want to sound like that when you’re older. People will think you’re a complete moron.”

What a goddamn moron, Mum thought, but didn’t say, instead smiling, watching the kid leave before returning to the page.

A few minutes later another kid raised his hand. “This feels inappropriate,” he said. “Was this approved?”

Approved? What in the goddamn flipper hades you talking about, boy? Mum thought, but didn’t say. “I approved it,” Mum said, facing the eight-year-old. “I’m the reading mum.”

“Hmm,” the kid said, before leaving the class too.

What in the goddamn? Mum thought, but didn’t say. As a joke, we’d started talking in American accents, which my dad hated.

“They just started leaving!” Mum said that night at the dinner table. “It’s a great book! I don’t get it?”

“They sound like a bunch of morons,” Dad said. “A bunch of bozos.” Dad loved calling people bozos. In Canberra I used to hang out with Daniel. He had a shaved head and a Nike earring. He had Nike shoes. His dad owned a Nike shop and in the summer he’d wear a Nike cap and Nike shirt and in the winter he’d wear a Nike beanie and Nike jumper. Back then, I wanted to wear Nike more than anything. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool like Daniel was cool, but Dad said brands were for bozos. “Brands are for bozos,” Dad would say, matter-of-factly, whenever the topic came up. “And that Daniel is a bozo too.”

But Dad was always calling people bozos. “You stupid bozo!” Dad yelled when a convertible cut in front of us driving to Queanbeyan one morning. Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust was playing on the CD player and Dad turned to me, again, and said, “Did you see that bloody bozo? What a barge-arse!”

“Who the hell are these kids?” Dad said. “I bet you it was Jimmy.” Jimmy was a dinner table favourite in Texas in the late 90s. He was a kid in my class who lived in a mansion next to the golf course.

The first time he stayed over we stayed up late playing Zelda or Pokémon Snap on the N64, and in the morning Mum asked him what he wanted for breakfast.

“Toast or cereal, Jimmy?”

“Eggs,” Jimmy said.

“Oh,” Mum said.

“Sure… we can do eggs.”

“Good,” Jimmy said.

Eggs were a special treat in our house and when Dad came down the stairs he said, “What’s the special occasion?”

“Jimmy’s having eggs,” Mum said. So Mum put the eggs in front of Jimmy and Jimmy touched them with his fork. Then he took a bite.

“Mmm,” he said. “You don’t make them like my mommmmm makes them.” Then he got up and scraped the eggs into the bin.

“Excuse me, Jimmy,” Dad said. “My wife just cooked those eggs, and in this household we eat what has been put in front of us.”

“But I don’t wanna,” Jimmy said.

“Well, I don’t care if you want to, Jimmy. You’re going to eat those eggs whether you like it or not.”

“No thanks,” Jimmy said.

“Right,” Dad said, grabbing Jimmy by the ear and walking him to the bin. “It’s time to learn a lesson called respect.”

“So what happened?” I asked Mum. “What did the teacher say? Were you asked back?”

“No!” Mum said. “The teacher thanked me, but then she gave me a look.”

“What kind of look?”

“The Barbie look,” Mum said.

Barbie was the mother of this eight-year-old kid we called Little Bret who lived down the road. Little Bret was basically useless, mostly because his parents thought he was God’s gift to the world, and their job was to protect the Lord’s investment. On our first Texan Halloween, Little Bret showed up at our house and said, “I’m trick-or-treating with y’all.” But then ten minutes later Barbie rang the doorbell.

“Bretttttt,” she said. “We spoke abouttt thiiiiiiisssssss.”

“Oh,” Mum said. “If Bret wants to come… that’s fine with me. She’ll be right.”

“Actuallyyyyyy Viiiiiickiiiiiiiii,” Barbie said, smiling. “No. she will nottttt be right. Do you know allllllllll the people in the neighbooorhooooooood?”

“Well… no Barbie. I don’t,” Mum said.

“Mmmmmm,” Barbie said. And then she turned to Little Bret and said: “It’s timeeeee you broughttttt your fannnnny home.”

Oh my lord! we all thought, or said, because we didn’t know that fanny meant something different in America than it did back home.

“It’s no wonder all these kids are punces,” Dad said. “Everyone’s parents are complete morons. Have you noticed how Barbie and her husband are always smiling at you? I hate that. What is that? No thank you.”

“That’d be the Jesus in them,” my brother said with a strong Texan accent.

“Harrison,” Dad said, visibly tensing.

“But I caaaan’t help it if I movedddd to Texasss and found me some Lord almighty!”

Dad stood and began packing the dishwasher. Dad took great pleasure in packing the dishwasher. “It’s not rocket science,” Dad would say, repacking the cups and plates that had been packed incorrectly.

Sometimes, though, if the pack was especially severe, Dad would say: “There’s a science to it! You don’t just throw everything in willy-nilly!”

“Look at everything just thrown in willy-nilly!” Dad said. “It’s like no one cares at all!”

Sometimes we played a game called Touch the Top of Dad’s Head. It was a good game because we were short and Dad was tall and agile and the target was always moving.

“Hey Dad,” Harry said.

“What!” Dad said.

“Errrrrything’s bigger in Texas!” he yelled, running, jumping and touching the top of Dad’s head.

“Right!” Dad said, leading him by the ear to the broom. “Sweep! And stop being such a bozo!”

“And I’ll tell you another thing,” Dad said, bent over the dishwasher, mid-pack.

“To hell with the parent-teacher conference! If they don’t like The Witches then I don’t like them! I’d rather spend the evening with my beautiful wife than with a bunch of boneheads, a bunch of squeezers!”

For a while, Dad liked the term squeezer. “Is he a squeezer, Dad?” I asked when I was four years old. This guy had parked across two parking spaces and was asleep in his car, which meant we had nowhere to park.

“Yeah, he’s a squeezer alright,” Dad said, tapping the window. “Hey bozo! Move your car!”

“Speaking of squeezers,” my sister said. “I heard you made a new friend.”

“What?” Dad said. “I don’t want friends! I don’t need friends! I have my family.”

“What about John,” my sister said.

“John who?”

“John across the road.”

“Oh, that bozo!”

John, another kid on our street, couldn’t leave the house without his mobile phone or walkie-talkie and, Dad assured us, had never worked a day in his life. His parents were always buying him new shit and if there was one thing Dad hated it was a kid whose parents always bought them new shit.

One afternoon Dad was working in the garage when John struggled up our driveway in a pair of brand new Roces skates, brand new Roces kneepads, brand new Roces elbow pads, brand new Roces wrist guards and a brand new Roces helmet.

“Look at all the new stuff my dad bought me,” John said, sweating.

Dad took one look at him and said: “Piss off, John. I’m busy.”

His parents were always buying him new shit and if there was one thing Dad hated it was a kid whose parents always bought them new shit.

And then Mum told us about the first time they met. She was at the water park with a few friends and he was at the water park with a few friends and they met at the top of a slide and Dad asked Mum if she wanted to double.

“Wanna double?” Dad asked.

“No!” Mum said.

“What are ya? A wimp!” Dad said, and then he got on his mat and flung himself down the slide.

But then a few weeks later in Brisbane they met on Mum’s balcony at her sharehouse. Dad was with his sister who was seeing Mum’s housemate and Mum had just returned home from night shift at the hospital.

“Hello,” Mum said.

“I’m going to dinner with my auntie and uncle,” Dad said. “Wanna come?”

“Oh,” Mum said. “To meet your auntie and uncle? Umm. Sure. Okay.”

“You have ten minutes to get ready,” Dad said.

And then Mum went into her room and thought: Ten minutes! I will take my time thank you very much! That night at dinner Dad talked about Telstra and Mum thought: This man is really smart. This man has a nice voice. This man has nice hands.

Then Dad held out his hands and said, “I do have nice hands!”

On their second date, Dad took Mum to the bank to refinance her car loan.

Eventually, Mum brought Dad home to meet her family. She was nervous all through dinner because she had sort of been seeing Stuart for the past few years and didn’t know what to do.

“What do I do?” Mum asked her mum, Hazo, after dinner one night.

“Forget Stuart!” Hazo said. “Look what you’ve got here!”

After dinner, after Dad finished packing the dishwasher and after Mum finished telling her story, Chris De Burg’s Lady in Red came on the stereo and Mum turned up the volume and began dancing around the kitchen. “Come on, Dave,” she said. “We’re dancing!”

Sometimes when Dad was dancing with Mum he would point his chin at the ceiling and purse his lips and close his eyes and smile and pretend they were the only people in the room. “Excuse us!” he’d say, knocking into chairs and tables as if they weren’t there. “Coming through!”

And these are the stories I like, I think now, when I remember that adults can become children again.

Oliver Mol is a Sydney based writer. He has published over 60 works internationally and overseas, and is the author of Lion Attack! Rolling Stone called him “king of a new jungle”. He is working on his second book.

Image by John Toohey via flickr.