Saturday, March 26, 2016

Air

The air is what I remember the most. It is always the air. The feel of it streaming through my hair, buffeting my open mouth or slapping my cheeks out of shape. We would stand behind the cab of the ute, my sister and I, while Dad took the straight stretches as fast as he could because on the bends he would slow, taking peeks in the rear vision mirror to be sure that his girls were safe.

It was eleven miles to the school each morning and that means it was eleven home again. I suppose there were times we were driven in the car, but it is the ute that I remember the best.


My father had the ute modified. Instead of a standard issue Toyota tray back, he had a timber tray with sides and tailgate that could be removed, and and tilt tray mechanism that would lift the tray at the front, so loads like firewood or gravel could simply slide off when the pulley was lifted. This meant we had a tall mast behind the ute cab, so we could stand full height, toes gripping the fixed front tray end, and our frozen fingers hanging on to the cold metal pulley frame for dear life.

If we wanted to speak to each other we would yell into the wind, but our words were ripped away and rarely heard. I imagined the letters that formed them trailing behind us like confetti, finally falling lost and forgotten on the loose dirt road.

We would come around those last few bends, past the rusty drum letterbox of one neighbour and the clean white painted one of another. Then Dad would slow carefully and pull up in front of the one room school building. We'd jump down before the dust settled, bare feet searching for a sandy landing on the dry dusty verge.

I'd watch wistfully then, as he pulled away and his dust trail shrunk down the road. It would be six long and boring hours until that air would blast my face again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Old writings and more old writings

Being alone

Sometimes I miss it so badly it is a knife in there under my ribs, jab, jab, jab. It seems crazy that in the end I only really lived out on the property for 10 years before the name tagging of the clothes and the regimentation and the rules. Before the shared showers, public undressing and horrid realisaton that privacy was something that didn't exist in my world. Boarding school.

I saw the pride in my mother's eyes when she delivered me that day, up the wide red stairs and into my allocated room. Orange chenille bedspread and black iron framed bed, squeaky enough to wake me when I moved in my sleep. I wanted to scream and hold her and never let her go but she seemed so excited for me, so happy to be giving me something she had missed out on. So I kept my face still and brave and we said our goodbyes, a cool peck on the cheek because hugging wasn't something that our family knew how to do. I stood there after she left, I opened my new cupboard to admire my shoes. Plastic fake cork platforms with red green and yellow straps, I had pastel striped bobby socks to match, I straightened them and retied the buckes on my shoes, my head inside my cupboard so the other girls would not see and then I licked my fingertips to place over my eyes and cool them. No-one would know about my tears. I was ten.

I found a place eventually, sitting on the top shelf of the change room at the pool where I could almost be alone. I used to climb up there and hide my tuckshop money before I went swimming, I lost a 2cent piece there once, I went back so often but even with all the poking and prodding, all I ever did was push that 2 cent piece further and further along the top of the concrete blocks until finally it fell down the hollow core of the wall. I lay there and imagined what other children had found that spot and what other treasures might be hiding in that hollow echoing core.

Being alone. I never really knew what it was until I didn't have it anymore.

Monday, March 25, 2013

26

He didn't wake up, on this morning, 26 years ago.

26 years ago! That's more than half of my lifetime now, but on a beautiful morning like this, when I can almost hear his voice saying everyday things as I visualise him here in my house, it could have been yesterday. I have always imagined what it would have been like to have him come here to visit. In my heart this has always been his house. Though if he had not left us, I would never have been able to build it, so, somehow, it is as if he is this house. It is built on his blood, sweat and tears, on his dreams and aspirations, and on his hope and love for us children. I know my father loved me dearly because he told me so. Not everyday or in casual conversation but one night when he'd had too much to drink, and on those nights when I was twelve years old and terrified of the dark, when he came and slept in my room on the dreadfully uncomfortable trundle bed. I will never forget that he did that for me, it meant the world.

So, Dad, I just want you to know that I still miss you dreadfully, I still wish you could come fishing with us, play euchre (WD has just learned and loves it), sit on the deck having a cool ale in the afternoon, all of the things that we used to do, but here, in this beautiful house that 'you built'.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Missing the telephone.

Afterwards, I felt the raw emotion come out of my chest like a howl. This time I couldn't gloss it over and just pretend that this is how she always was. That this was her being her eccentric self, or her trying to play up her age for attention. I have done that before... This time all that came back at me and slapped me quite fairly in the heart. I feel almost as if I should report her missing. My mother wasn't at the other end of the telephone this morning. Someone else with her voice was there. Someone who didn't know who I was and who repeated sentences to me again and again. Oh we have had all the warnings. I have been told that it is inevitable now that dementia will steal her away, yet I can't accept it and I can't stop that choking lump in the back of my throat, that terrifying fear that this time my mother won't be okay again tomorrow and this time, she will forget me forever.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Mourning the Matriarch

Before she died in 1999, I thought of my family as a unit, a large umbrella spreading out around dear Grandma who was the central peak. It isn’t like that anymore. In the 10 years since she left us, we have gradually fragmented and strolled our paths to destruction. If I ask myself why this is so, the first theory I arrive at is one based on respect. We respected that woman; we all adored her and clambered for her approval and attention. I always thought that I had gained hers, she always made me feel that I was special; it never occurred to me for a moment that she had the ability to make others feel that way too.

After she was gone my Aunt told me how angry Grandma had been at me at one point in my life; my second sister told me how she considered herself Grandma’s favourite, and my brother related stories she’d told that she had never shared with me. I simply couldn’t believe it. I had always, and still secretly believe, that Grandma loved me the best. I was the one who she told stories; I was the one who she understood the best. I was her favourite!

There is no doubt she had a profound effect on all of our lives. Her paranoia over what the neighbours would think was fed to us before solids, her pride and snobbery have been a ‘log’ on my shoulder for as long as I remember. She is with me every time I hear someone say ‘youse’ or ‘somethink’. She dots my ‘i’s’ and crosses my ‘t’s’, and I stifle a giggle when I realise that three of her closest Granddaughters ended up marrying Catholics, I comfort myself imagining her stifling a wee giggle too.

She left behind her a large and mostly successful family. This family is not without its tragedies, and scandals, but it is without its matriarch. Like all teams, we flounder without our captain. We all play our own game and forget that we can’t win without the support of our co-players. When my eldest sister deleted me on facebook, Grandma was not here to tell us both to mind our P’s and Q’s and pull our heads in. She wasn’t here to stop and listen to why we were upset with each other, and unfortunately, she didn’t tell us how to fix it. So the standoff remains, and I know that it shouldn’t.

Is it possible that the real problem since her passing has not been her absence alone, but the lack of leadership itself? The internal jostling for dominance continues and ideally a new matriarch should take position. Alas, after ten long years of testing, we are too raw and bruised from poor on field behaviour to consider an election. It seems that working together has become less of a possibility. We continue to lose respect for each other as each player’s true colours are revealed. And that’s just it, rather than reforming the old team, it is perhaps more realistic that we should move to take on our own colours, and concentrate more on our own teams…our own families.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Belle and the Bell

Belle Breden stole the bell in 1979. I was in year nine and Belle was my nemesis. She delighted in making my life a misery and I simply didn’t understand it. The concept of getting a thrill out of causing discomfort to another has always been beyond me. I just cannot see the point. I suppose, now, Belle would have been described as the classic ADHD child. Mischievous, cheeky, energetic and the most annoying person I have ever known. I saw her a few years ago at a mutual friends wedding. She is ‘horsey’, has a brood of young boys and a husband twice her age. She was warm and friendly towards me. I was coolly polite. I still, on picturing her in my mind, feel the sharp niggle of annoyance deep under my ribs. Honestly said, I still hate her, and I felt some form of glee in seeing her lack of elegance and discomfort in the formal surrounds of a wedding. I would like to think I am ‘big’ enough to be able to forgive her for those years of cruelty to me, but I am not.

The bell woke us every morning. Deaconess Nelsen with her bowl haircut and her flat hard face would thump up the stairs next to our dorm first. Her bowed legs supporting her rounded turtle like body she would ring the bell beside each of our pillows in turn, a smirk of glee in her cold brown eyes. If we pulled the covers over our heads, as we invariably did in a vain attempt to soften the harsh clanging, she would move closer and maliciously give the bell an extra loud ‘dong’ next to our tortured ears. It wasn’t a nice way to wake up.

The dorm I was in that year, when I was fourteen, was in the oldest building. It must have been purpose built back when the school was in its early years. It was a huge rectangular Queenslander style structure. In the centre was a smaller rectangle cut up into about 16 ‘cubes’ filled with built-in wardrobes and chests of drawers. Three or four girls shared each ‘cube’ and inside the wardrobe doors sixty years of names were carved into the timber, painted over and carved fresh by the next generation. Windows ran around the building. Timber framed dormer windows, grand and beautiful I suppose in their heritage style. Our beds ran right around the dorm in a ring, our heads under those windows so that the cold air seemed to forget the glass was there and bite our faces in the night. The school was perched on top of the range so that in winter the winds howled up those valleys and every pane of glass seemed to rattle and whine in protest.

I realise now, that the section of dorm that Belle, four others and I were allotted was, due to its proximity to the matron’s office together with its position next to the main traffic areas the least comfortable, homely and private section of dorm in the entire school. Every boarding student in the school would file past and rumble up and down the timber stairs adjacent. We were the last to sleep at night and the first to wake in the mornings. It is clear to me now why the six of us were given this dubious honour. We were the ‘troublemakers’. The bad girls that had to be watched, accused, and suspected of every misdemeanour that occurred.

In retrospect it probably was a reputation well deserved though the treatment we received only served to encourage us. We were either hardened from too many years living away from our parents, as in the case of Jade, Jessie, Sally and I who had all been in boarding school since our primary years, ADHD like Belle or just plain rebellious like Kim. The six of us were the scapegoats. 

I still feel somehow miscast in this role. I suppose that I never felt I belonged and my discomfort with my position only led the others to ridicule me. They didn’t see me as ‘one of them’ either. I did whatever I could to try and fit in, to try and be happy have fun and keep out of trouble. Unfortunately I wasn’t very good at it.

Boarding school for me was an unhappy experience. Having come from an isolated area I suppose I wasn’t used to having people around me. Perhaps that was why I was always searching for some solitude? That in itself was a crime as any girl who could not be easily seen by the matrons at all times, clearly had to be up to no good. Aside from field hockey every Saturday which was the only thing that kept me sane in that godforsaken place, there was pretty well nothing at all to do. The weekends I spent lying on the grass around the oval, by the swimming pool if it were open, which wasn’t very often, or there were two televisions that we could watch if we wanted. I spent most Saturday afternoons in the Rec room lying about on the synthetic carpeted floor, half watching old Marilyn, Elvis or Jerry Lewis movies.

One afternoon, as I dozed, one of the only two little boys in the school sat behind me. I don’t remember his name only that he was dark skinned, Papua New Guinean I think, with freckles across his nose and tight sun bleached curly hair. I woke to feel him touching my hair, so very different from his own; my straight, silky black hair must have been strangely exotic to him. I managed to stay semi-conscious long enough to appreciate this so seldom felt sensation. The touch of another human being.  Perhaps I flinched when I realised that this child I barely knew was touching my head, overstepping that invisible barrier that we all had built around ourselves. He drew back and I felt guilty, as if I had rejected him in some way. I told him, it was fine that he could play with my hair if he wished but he drew back into himself, sitting against the wall and refusing to meet my gaze. I made a point of trying to always be nice to him after that, smiling when we passed in the hallway or in the dining room, but he would avert his gaze so in the end I don’t think we ever spoke.


My position as school rebel only became more set in stone that year. I had been suspended the year before which was the topic of an earlier essay that I have now lost. In short I was one of a group of girls (Sally, Kim, Fiona, who never came back for year nine, and myself) who had started rebelling in year eight. Three of us had already been in boarding school for more than two years and I believe that is the main reason we were so independent and jaded in our ability to respect the endless rules and regulations that shaped our lives. Kim was just plain naughty. We had started smoking sometime in year eight; hanging out with other older long-term ‘inmates’ and this placed us in a class of our own. The good girls didn’t really mix with us. I suppose the action of sneaking down to ‘smoker’s gully’ below the primary school on weekend for a cigarette filled us with an adrenalin rush that we all became addicted to. So we began to look for something a little more exciting. Kim was something of a ringleader I suppose. She was quite ‘mature’ for her age and having an older brother at the closest boy’s boarding school meant that she knew a lot of the boys. We started sneaking out sometimes to see our ‘boyfriends’. Of course, one night we got caught. Just Sally and I actually, and we were used as an example and suspended for two weeks. That’s a sure-fire way to get a black mark next to your name. It turned out to be written in indelible ink. Some things just never come clean no matter how hard you scrub.

It was Mrs Turner who was ringing the bell the morning that Belle stole it. She came up the stairs doggedly stomping and clanging before she noticed a window slightly ajar and set the bell down for a moment while she attended to the window. I wonder now if Belle had orchestrated the whole thing? Did she open that window? Had she planned with another of the girls to distract the matron while she spirited that bell away? I don’t know if I never knew this or if I just can’t remember, either way, Belle hid the bell and Mrs Turner was flummoxed, she couldn’t find it in our cupboards or under our beds and with her responsibility to wake the students and get them to the dining room on time, she didn’t have much chance to search for it. We held our faces straight and feigned ignorance. Mrs Turner then proceeded to shout the girls’ awake, panic on the edge of her voice. She was so lost without the power bestowed upon her by that metal noisemaker. Belle was then given time to hide it more securely. We were all most impressed. What followed were about two days of bliss as poor old Mrs Turner was left shouting us awake until Deaconess Nelson dug into the coffers and purchased a new one. It was worth it though; even two days of laughs were valuable beyond measure to us.


It wouldn’t happen in any other section of the dorm though, would it? It had to be the ‘bad girls’ who were behind this and so our reputations were further tarnished. Mrs Turner lost any of the tiny skerrick of kindness or sympathy she may have had for us and took extra glee in all her future stomping and clanging when she was in our vicinity. She was extra vigilant in the night when she came around to confiscate our radio cassette players that we would sleep with under our pillows. I resented her the most for this, that music was a comfort like no other through those long, cold and lonely nights.

Despite loudspeaker announcements, daily dorm searches and mounting threats of detention or suspension should the bell not be returned. Belle herself, had managed to hide it so well that it was never found that term. I suspect she managed to gain access to the box room and hide it in her suitcase, then take it home with her, because it was about a year later that her mother found it and returned it with an apology. I can't remember Belle's punishment but I think the many weeks of detention she earned would have kept her away from me, and I would have been happy about that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today is a big one....

It's funny how often I post in my head on this blog and yet nothing ever makes it to the screen, the words just swim away, lost forever in the ocean of my mind.

I wonder if anyone reads this anymore? It doesn't really matter, when it all comes down to it, my blog is for me, a little diary of my random thoughts and nowadays an occasional log on the momentous occasions in my life.

Today is a big one....

Today my baby boy graduates from high school! My beautiful, sensitive, intelligent, kind hearted super son is finishing high school and leaving home.

He could barely talk when we sent him to school for year one, we thought he might have some form of dislexia or deafness. He couldn't keep up with the other kids and he barely said a word. We sent him to a speech therapist and we worried about him constantly. When we tore him out of school halfway through grade 2 and dragged him around the world to live in Scotland, due to the different starting times for the school year, he had to go straight into year 3 over there. His teacher turned out to be a saint and set about making sure our struggling son made it through every day and it is thanks to her that his speech improved, his brain woke up and he became interested and engaged in the world around him. She is also responsible for the hint of a scottish accent that even after 10 years back in Australia still has people constantly asking him where he is from.

In just over a month he will be back in Scotland and I should make the effort to find out if that teacher is still working because it'd be nice if he could visit his old school again. Not only is my "little boy" finishing school and getting ready to move to the city for university in February but he is also flying alone to Europe for 5 weeks! I am gobsmacked really. He has friends in Munich who he is staying with for the bulk of the time, but is also flying to Edinburgh to see some old friends there and Ireland as well to see some relatives, all at 17! I am proud of his bravery but given that he has barely been away from home before for more than a week at a time I am rather overwhelmed by the enormity of this trip. For christsakes he was homesick during his week in the snow in September! How will he survive without me?.... Clearly it's me who's going to be the one not surviving!

Last night after the awards ceremony at his school where he got dux of geography(hope that means he won't get lost overseas) we went to the Noodle bar for some eats. One of the school brothers approached us there and made a point of telling us how much he liked and respected our son. I wonder if he knew that he was gay? I have really appreciated the kind and understanding environment that his catholic school has given him, the support they have shown as he has remained determined to be himself. One thing about my boy, NOTHING sways him from staying true to himself. I adore him for that.

So this is a big day. Will I cry at some point? Thinking of my gorgeous little boy as I trussed him up for his first day of school in January 1996. Will I get a little teary tonight as he dons his bow tie and pointy shoes and hits the dance floor at the grad ball? My baby, all grown up...

Next year he wants to study architecture at University in Brisbane. I am not sure if he will get in, it's a really popular course so the standards have to be very high. If he misses out he will probably do a BA - Geography. The thing is I think he is more suited to the geography course, I think he is too young to make such a big decision anyway but he is determined so i will let him be and let him find his own way. That's the best thing I can do for him, I think.

Meanwhile Wonder Daughter called me last night on top of the world. She just had one of her 1st year designs paraded in the Grad year fashion parade and after the show was over was approached by a Melbourne retailer wanting to stock her "range" She doesn't have one yet but she will. She has always had such fantastic responses to her work. She has chopped and changed in so many areas of her life so much over the last 3 years but the one thing that has remained contant for her is her passion for designing. It's times like these I think she will actually make a name for herself.

I shouldn't be sitting here writing anymore. Today the new kitchen is going in, or starting to go in at least. The house has been in shambles for weeks as we paint and hammer and scrub. It's due to go on the market next weekend....We are selling our home....I think?

Will we go ahead and sell? Will Super Son get into the course he wants at Uni? Will he be all right overseas for 5 weeks without me? Will I cope without him? Will Wonder Daughter and her lovely Mick Jagger lookalike boyfriend stay as happy as they have been? Will S's parents finally stop torturing him and will he start smiling again? Will I stop stuffing around renovating everything I can get my hands on and get a real job?

These and other questions in 2009...roll on new year...