Meet the Lucas Family

By Sharon Brewer

Meet Penny and Charlie and their three adorable girls, Poppy, Bea and Ruby. Meet Rupert their rather large, but friendly chocolate Labrador. And finally, meet the fourth Lucas baby, growing steadily and due for arrival mid January.

Over the coming year you will get to know more about the Lucas family, as Penny puts pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) to write for My Family, My Faith.   So see this article as a little background reading on the Lucas family to whet your appetite for the heart-warming stories that will be coming your way from Harden in rural New South Wales.

I first met Penny about 9 years ago when she was the REC at Holy Family School in Gowrie. She was young to be a REC and I wondered how she would go in the role. She thrived! She brought a great energy and each week families would look forward to reading her regular column in the school newsletter. Penny was able to pour humour and warmth into stories on the most mundane daily activities. And there was often a thought provoking statement weaved into the writing to help you reflect on your life and faith journey. With the birth of Poppy, Penny moved into the next stage of her life and our paths crossed less frequently until this year.

Of course, Penny’s story started well before her teaching days in the Tuggeranong Valley.   Growing up in Tottenham, in the central west of New South Wales (population around 300), Penny and her siblings were sent to boarding school for their high school years. Penny recalls with great fondness her days at Kincoppal, Rose Bay. She speaks of her many friends, the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and still holds her Head Boarding Mistress with the greatest esteem. Her career choice was teaching, and her first position was back in rural NSW at Moree teaching a behaviour class within a Special Education Unit at the local public school.

In her fourth week there she was asked to enter the “Showgirl Showdown”! Now if you met Penny you would soon realise that she is not the frilly dress, makeup, flash hair type of girl. However, she is a very obliging sort of person so she agreed to enter. But what should she do about a male partner for the evening? Enter Charlie Lucas, a country guy who was working locally in the cotton industry. As they say the rest is history and they were soon walking down the aisle at St Francis Xavier’s Church, Moree.

But, there was just one complication. Penny was Catholic, Charlie wasn’t. So they fronted up to the presbytery and met with the local priest to see what needed to be done.   They attended a marriage preparation course, sorted out the practicalities of the wedding and to a certain extent dealt with the ‘mixed-marriage’ dilemma.   There were a few concerns about what family members might think, but in the end their church ceremony reflected in a respectful way the wishes of the bride and groom.

From Moree the two came to live in Canberra so that Charlie could undertake studies in environmental science. Penny jokes about how she financially supported him during those years, but I’m not sure if Charlie thought it was that funny! With the degree completed and babies starting to arrive, Penny and Charlie were contemplating whether or not they should remain in the city. Like Penny, Charlie was also from the country having grown up in Goondiwindi. The answer came quickly when he was successful in gaining a position with the NSW state government in the Harden area. The family moved when Bea was eight months old.

It’s now November, 2015, some seven years since I worked with Penny and I’m sitting at their kitchen table enjoying her culinary delights, Charlie’s expert BBQ skills and a glass of red (one day Penny will tell you how she forgot to pick up the lamb, how she had no qualms about ringing her butcher mate to make sure that it had been put in the fridge, and how she whipped out some pork from the freezer without even a hint of concern or embarrassment). The girls have gone to bed, and the next two – maybe it was three – hours are filled with stories of family and community life. This is a family that lives and breathes hospitality, and it would seem that it is well reciprocated in this small town. Family friends pick up each other’s kids on a regular basis. Meals and cakes are baked for new arrivals and sick friends. Out-of-town friends know where the key to the house is, just in case they need to use the loo or have a quick cuppa before their drive back home. The kids at the local Catholic school are quite unaware of the relaxed nature of their school days compared with children attending larger schools in the city. There is also what I would call a Mary Mackillop attitude in this family, and in the town. That is, never see a need without doing something about it.

For example, when Penny and one of her friend’s thought the kids could do with some organised sport they decided to run an informal netball comp on Friday afternoons. The day I was there, they had 150 local children merrily playing netball with a bunch of volunteers making sure they were skilled up and looked after. Families who are new in town are made welcome, and Penny ensures that a home cooked meal is promptly delivered.

Towards the end of the night, and maybe it wasn’t the best subject to discuss after a long day, but the topic of religion comes up.   How does a married couple cope when one partner practices her religion and is acting as the REC at the local Catholic school and the other professes to have no religion? It’s a tricky question. The response is not neat and tidy; in fact, it’s sort of messy! Yet, it’s very real and it’s an issue that many couples deal with. Now that the children are getting older, they are starting to ask questions. When Charlie goes along to Mass, the kids wonder why he doesn’t kneel or go to Communion. They wonder why he doesn’t come to Mass every week. By this stage I’m feeling sort of tense, trying to work out if I’ve touched on a raw nerve and have asked too many questions. I decide to not say anything too much and let them talk. They are facing each other and trying to work out what they will say when the girls challenge Charlie as to why he comes to Mass, but won’t do the ‘Catholic’ stuff. Or, why he sometimes doesn’t go, but they do. I sense that Charlie is the sort of guy that is not overly gushy or comfortable with public statements of affection. I tentatively put forward to him the idea that he does it out of a deep respect and love for Penny. “Yeah! That’s probably why”, he says, with a warm grin on his face. “Yeah! I think you’re right……”.

To be continued…..