Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a very tidy wombat hole with this mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One night after dinner it was Benson’s turn to wash the dishes, but he had something in his room he was in the middle of doing, with sticks and glue and jacaranda seed pods, so he washed the dishes as fast as he could and hurried off to his room. He had just got the glue out when his mother called, “Benson!”
He went back out to the kitchen. “Benson, did you wash these dishes? There’s still milk in the bottom of this glass, and there is custard on this bowl, and on this one, and pieces of carrot on the plates. These dishes are not clean!”
Benson sighed very loudly. “Okay, I’ll do them again.” He felt very frustrated. He wanted to get all the dishes and put them in the bin, carrot and custard and all.
Aunt Moss said, “I’ll come and help, Benson. You wash and I’ll dry.”
Benson filled the sink up with hot water again, and squirted some detergent in, thinking about his sticks and seed pods and thinking that Aunt Moss was only going to make washing up slower.
“Let’s start with the glasses,” Aunt Moss said. Benson took the first glass and washed it carefully, getting all the milk out this time. Aunt Moss said, “I remember when Lillibet and I were little girls, all our glasses were Vegemite glasses.”
“What’s a Vegemite glass?” Benson asked.
“Vegemite used to come in a little glass with a metal lid on top, and when we’d eaten all the Vegemite, you washed the container and you had a new glass. When your mother was a little girl, it was the same with jam. Jam came in glass containers, and once you’d eaten all the jam, you had a nice new glass. I don’t know why they stopped doing that. Of course, when we were girls, there were no plastic cups or glasses. I remember when my mother bought us metal cups for a special treat, all different colours. Lillibet and I both wanted the gold cup, but our little brother Lionel got it. That was okay because he was the youngest, just a baby really.”
“Metal cups? Why didn’t you have plastic cups?” Benson asked. All the glasses were done, and he was up to the cups now.
“There wasn’t any plastic,” Aunt Moss said, “or maybe not just any the right kind. I remember my cup was the pink one, and Lillibet had the green one…oh, be careful with that plate, Benson! I remember once when Lillibet and I were doing the dishes – she always washed, and I dried – and we broke a plate. We were having a big fight-”
“Did you and Aunt Lillibet fight?” Benson couldn’t believe it.
“Oh, yes, we used to fight all the time, terrible fights. We’d fight about who had to tidy the bedroom up, and whose turn it was to bath little Lionel, and sometimes she’d wash the dishes so slowly that I wanted to scream at her, because she knew that I had to stand there and wait until she’d finished.. Oh, she was mean sometimes!”
Benson tried to imagine the two of them, old, old wombats that they were, as girls. Impossible.
“And one time,” Aunt Moss said, “we broke a plate – Lillibet said it was my fault for dropping it, but I thought it was her fault because it was slippery and it slipped out of her hand when she passed it to me, and it dropped on the floor and smashed, and we were standing there arguing about it and our mother came in and she cried! It happened to be the very last plate of a set that her mother had been given when she got married. It was just an old yellow plate with faded purple flowers on it and a chip on one of the edges, and we had no idea.” Aunt Moss stared into space, thinking about it. Benson tried to imagine a plate being older than he was, even older than Aunt Moss was. Impossible.
Aunt Moss smiled. “We had one plate, I remember, that had little rabbits on it, and a picture in the middle, of rabbits having a picnic. It was Lillibet’s plate when she was a baby, and then it was mine, and then it was Lionel’s when he was born. We used to tell him stories about the bunnies to get him to eat up his veges.”
“What sort of stories?” Benson asked.
“Oh, you know, what the bunnies were eating, who was the oldest, what games they were going to play when they finished the picnic. There was one story about a giant – oh, we’ve finished,” she said.
Benson looked at the sink. All the dirty dishes were gone, all clean and shining now. Aunt Moss put down her tea-towel.
“But what about the story?” Benson said.
“I’ll finish it next time,” Aunt Moss smiled, “if I remember.”