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Remembering grandfather James “Pom Pom” Stevens

Pom Pom and sons MannwestPom Pom was a prospecting, clarinet playing, blacksmith and winder-driver at the Mt Charlotte Gold Mine. (The photo is him with his sons, and impressive moustache). In addition, he was a choir-master and used to go around the house singing “pom, pom, pom, pom”. It was his way of emulating the bass part of some musical masterpiece, so we simply knew him as “Pom Pom”. He did have a remarkable singing voice and it’s true to say that my cousin Bob and his three daughters have inherited his singing talent.

One vivid memory I have of old Pom Pom was when I was aged five. It was at the old Esperance home, where he was living with our grandmother, when I was awakened around 11pm. Old Pom Pom had just come back from the pub and was making enough noise to make me curious. The large combined kitchen-dining-lounge room dominated the three-roomed house and featured a spittoon in each corner. Pom Pom appeared to be about 7ft tall and had an impressive beard, appropriately stained from his mastery of the art of chewing tobacco. Whenever he came through one of the doors in the room, he would aim for the diagonally located spittoon.

These days, there is great admiration for sporting prowess with putting golf balls in holes or basketballs in hoops. But I tell you, Pom Pom’s spittoon skills were impressive. He never missed.

And the sausages cheered!

Anyway, this night Pom Pom came in carrying two large paper bags. At that stage I didn’t know what was in the bags, but he made a bit of noise and knocked a bit of furniture around. He went around the room and took down every picture from the walls and then methodically hung up strings of sausages from the paper bags. He surveyed his handicraft and being quite happy, went over to the mantelpiece which held his phonograph. It had a cylindrical record and a big horn coming out the front. He cranked it up, put on a Souza march and got his old clarinet out.

He then stood on a chair, stuck the clarinet down the phonograph horn and played some of the most magnificent band music imaginable. Not knowing I was hiding in the comer, he finished the first number and magnanimously bowed to the assembled multitude of sausages. He knew they appreciated his playing, so he gave them three encores. I will never forget his close attachment to that musical instrument — that is a vivid memory.

He’d want it this way

A couple of years later old Pom Pom died. That was before the days of refrigeration and in Esperance they just stretched him out on his bed for a couple of days while the funeral arrangements were sorted.

I heard the adults talking about his clarinet. They knew how much he loved it and decided to bury him with it. Even at age 7 I felt this was not the preferred plan. So I went into his bedroom. He was lying there peacefully and I thought to myself — would he be happy with that plan, knowing that there is life left in this clarinet?

“Wouldn’t you want to see someone continue to play it and get enjoyment out of it?” I thought. I think he said “Yes”.

The next day, at the funeral, the relatives gathered. “Where’s his clarinet?” They wanted to nail the coffin lid on.

There was no sign of the clarinet; nobody knew!

Years later I pulled it out from hiding, learned to play and have since managed to send many guests home early from parties. It remains one of my treasured possessions. It’s upstairs in our library, mounted and framed with one of his homemade blacksmith tongs.

Ron playing clarinet Mannwest


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