John Alexis Dobbs Coker birth certificate.
John Alexis Dobbs Coker's birth certificate. He was raised by his mother's sister, Elizabeth, and her husband Charles Dobbs.

Thank you, Pop Dobbs, for having patience with me

By Warren Nunn

In reflecting on growing-up years, it's worth remembering those who influenced you and what they did and said that had a long-lasting effect.

My Pop was the grandparent who touched my life in a real, tangible way. He was patient with a wilful, impetuous, bad-tempered young boy.

My Pop, Alex Dobbs

My Pop, Alex Dobbs.

There are few people who are so forgiving and understanding.

That's not to discount the influence of all four grandparents. My paternal grandfather, George Nunn, was a quiet man who didn't connect with me.  He probably didn't have much to say because my grandmother, Winnie, usually dominated the conversation anyway.

Winnie was great fun to be around, always had a joke to tell and, when I grew older, I had more opportunity to spend time with her.

George and Winnie lived in Rockhampton and I frequently visited them, particularly during summer on the way home from cricket practise.

Farm life was so different

But spending time with my mum's parents was a completely different world. Alex and Bella Dobbs had a farm at Boolburra about 60 miles from Rockhampton on the banks of the Dawson River not far from where it joins the MacKenzie River and becomes known as the Fitzroy River.

Some of the Nunn children would spend school holidays at Boolburra and it was just the place I needed to be.

I loved it and it's only 50-plus years later that I can dissect the "why" of that.

Just being with my Pop, whether it was joining him on the weekly mail run or playing cribbage for hours on end, was to me a wondrous experience. 

I didn't like having to go home and back to school. I would rather stay on the farm with Pop. That  also included being around Grandma, and, of course, Uncle Jim.

I guess it was part of a care-free existence we embrace as kids. We are attracted to such a life because it's so natural. At least, that's how I saw the world.

Discipline: Pop's style 

My Pop probably saw the worst of me and he would, on occasions, suggest I should have some discipline administered and he was happy to do it.

However, he never did and he chastised me in such a gentle way that I was never threatened by what he said. Rather, it had a constructive effect and it made me love him more and want to spend more time with him.

In my case, perhaps Pop should have effected some of the corrective actions he suggested.

I was always a slow learner, particularly on what is the best way to treat people.

There are many within my family (and outside) who could give accounts of my actions and they would not be exaggerating.

And neither could I deny what I did and said.

Pop Dobbs at Boolburra telephone exchange


Pop Dobbs operating the switchboard 
of the Boolburra telephone exchange.
The equipment was in a room at the
front of the house.

Patience, patience and more patience

In the almost 43 years that Pop was in my life, I am profoundly grateful for his patience.

He could have been much more forceful in correcting me, but it was his gracious acceptance of me and willingness to overlook my wild ways that arguably stopped me from going even further off course.

Pop was not raised by his parents, but rather his mother's sister Elizabeth and her husband Charles Dobbs adopted him. He did not have an easy upbringing and it seems that Charles Dobbs wasn't exactly a model father.

But he told me he was grateful for the family life he did have.

It seems that my Pop, John Alexis Dobbs Coker, was blessed with an outlook on life that transcended his circumstances.

To me he always seemed to enjoy life and sometimes Grandma would let him know he had overstepped the mark, so to speak.

In later years, we continued to play cribbage and added in smoking cigars as well. Sometimes a beer or rum too, even though he wasn't supposed to drink because of his diabetes.

And the ash tumbled down

Pop would sit with a smouldering cigarette between his lips while he worked on telephone exchange paperwork or something.

The cigarette burnt, but Pop rarely inhaled the smoke. The ash remained intact for a time but gravity of course took over. 

The ashes fell on to his papers mostly via his shirt which either left a stain or even burnt a hole.

His paperwork was messy enough and the cigarette ashes added another layer to Pop's organised chaos.

On other occasions he would beat out a rhythm on the table, flipping one hand over and back.

All these memories make up a picture of my Pop. He left us in 1987 and it only seems like yesterday that I last played cards with him. 

So yes, Pop Dobbs, thank you for your patience.

Did you know?

For those of you who didn't know, Pop grew a moustache to cover a considerable scar on his lip.

He told me it was caused when a rooster attacked him. I never did question whether it was true.

Or was he just pulling my leg as he was prone to do?