Posted in Learning, Life

Because you are my Dad

Monday 22 January 2018

Dad lies completely still apart from the rise and fall of his chest, his breathing regular though shallow: a quick breath in, a just-as-quick breath out, count to four, another breath in. On the odd occasion his body misses a breath my heart races and I watch closely for the rise and fall of his chest.

Music wafts gently around the room Dad’s called home for the past 18 months and despite the scurry of nurses outside in the corridor there’s a sense of peace and calm here in this room.

I never imagined keeping watch over my dying father, but here I am, sitting on the hospital bed the nurses brought in and placed next to his, thinking about what I know and who I am because Noel Pittaway has been my Dad.

I know the importance of spit-clean shoes – polished and buffed till they shine. People notice shoes, Sharon, he’d say as I’d present them to him for inspection. Make sure they’re clean.

I know how to spell by breaking words into pieces and sounding them out.

I know that it annoys Mum when we do that (you’re just like your father, she says in that tone she has that indicates she thinks we’re clever but a bit show-offy.)

I know to eat my vegetables first before even touching anything else on my plate.

I know it’s best to eat cauliflower and cheese sauce while it’s hot.

I know how to swim because Dad insisted I stand in the shallow end of the Nowra pool and while all the other kids got to muck around I stood there and practiced my strokes and my breathing. I was never a fast swimmer but I had a nice style (just like your father, Mum used to say in that tone she has that speaks of admiration).

I have an eclectic musical taste because Dad had an ever-expanding record collection that ranged from Rachmaninov to Ray Charles via Ravi Shankar.

I know how to be comfortable with silence; that I don’t have to fill it with words and that in the silence there’s still warmth and togetherness.

I know that reading fiction opens up worlds I would never have been able to imagine on my own. Some of those worlds were beyond the comprehension of my 11,12,13-year-old self, but I discovered that being stretched imaginatively is important and immensely beneficial to a teenager’s developing mind and spirit.

I know the thrill of the rollercoaster, big slippery dips and rides that spin and whirl and fling you upside down and inside out and the added thrill of experiencing that with your granddaughter. Again and again and again.

I know it’s wrong for a girl to swear.

I know how to snorkel. And not to be afraid of the ocean. And the delight of walking on the squeaky white sand of Jervis Bay.

I know that travel is an adventure to be indulged in whenever possible and part of that adventure is the spontaneity of a detour or an unplanned destination or heading down a one-way street the wrong way.

I know that creative expression is an important part of life, whether that expression is theatrical, literary, artistic, musical or photographic – and the importance of taking the lens cap off.

I know what love for your wife(husband) looks like because of the depth of love Dad has for Mum … and I know that romance is not dead.

I know that people are deeply complex and that an external quiet doesn’t necessarily mean an internal quiet.

I know that laugh-yourself-silly fun is contagious and being surrounded by your grandchildren and great grandchildren is joyous and delightful in ways that can’t be described in words …

and that when you’re in your 60s and you think you can still somersault off the 1 metre board at the Murbah pool and get up there only to find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, that a poolside cheer squad led by your grandchildren will push the fear down and turn you into a hero as you run along the board and somersault effortlessly into the diving pool.

I know that the rougher the sea the more you enjoy the ride. Just hang on tight and ride the swell.

And I know that while the taste of beetroot is a flavour they serve in hell, Dagwood Dogs are a tiny taste of heaven.

I know that what your dad teaches you can be hard to learn and that you can fight against it (and him) and that what you learn might not have been the intended lesson, but I also know that Dad has influenced my life enormously and I am who I am in big measure because my Dad is Noel Pittaway.

The movement of Dad’s body … the rise and fall of his chest … stops in the afternoon of Thursday 25 January … but the movement of his life and his legacy have transcended his body and spread through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren … it’s a legacy that moves invisibly yet steadily across and through the generations.

On February 14, 2016 Dad and I flew over Antarctica. It had been a life-long ambition of his. Here we are ready for our 14-hour adventure.

*Many thanks and huge appreciation to Alison Cosker for providing feedback on this post. It has been strengthened because of her input.

Posted in Life, Portraits

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I turn my attention away from flowers today to focus on my other favourite: portraits.

Alison is usually found behind the camera – you can see some of her work here – and is generally uncomfortable with being in front of the camera, especially my camera.

But yesterday Alison offered herself up for a photo shoot, and I’m thrilled that she did. I don’t often do photo shoots and so it was a real learning experience for me. Alison is funny and thoughtful and insightful and resilient and courageous. I think I have a photo that shows each of these characteristics … here are just some of them.

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Posted in Life, Writing

2016 Writing challenge: Day #3

A room for connections: My mother, my former mother-in-law and their great-grandson (my grandson) Toi
A room for connections: My mother, my former mother-in-law and their great-grandson (my grandson) Toi

Welcome to day 3 of my weekly writing challenge. The challenge today is to explore the room you’re in as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Pretend you know nothing. What do you see? Who is the person who lives there?

There are two couches in this room: one brown leather, the one I’m sitting on, and the other green and not leather couch. On the green, not leather couch are two camera bags, and an umbrella in its case. A tripod leans recklessly against the front of the couch, looking like it fell after a boozy night out and couldn’t be bothered shifting position. A beanie and a cap sit on the arm of the couch closest to the wall. Happily, the green couch folds out into a bed. It comes in handy when the children come to stay, particularly when those children bring their own children to visit.

Double doors open onto the room from the hallway. One door is propped open with an exclamation mark, a gift from Debbie. Behind the opened door is a small black desk with the sorts of things small black desks generally accumulate: a gas bill, a CD case, an empty envelope, some electronic gadgetry. In front of the small black desk is a big black swivel chair. A tall lamp stands guard in the corner. A black cupboard with a camera bag on it is squeezed into the space between the small black desk and the green, but not leather, couch.

A little bookshelf crammed with books, a torch, an empty water bottle and some bubble wrap is pushed against the wall between the couch and the TV. The TV was quite obviously bought with a different room in mind. To its left is a glass window and a door that leads into the back garden, the sun filtering through the leaves of liquid amber just outside the door. Today there is no warmth in the sun.

The gas heater, an obligatory adornment in Melbourne homes of a certain age, fits between the glass door with sunlight filtering through it, and the other glass door – the one on the other side that is behind the curtain because the curtain keeps some of the cold out. Or that’s the theory.

I sit on the brown leather couch and behind me is another, bigger bookshelf filled with books, the latest batch of school photos, a glass owl from English Cousin Tom, a glass ‘coaster’ from Venice I bought as a memento of my trip, the glass bird that Pervis gave me as a graduation present, and some Dr Seuss looking vases we bought in New Zealand. There’s also an old tablet we’ve turned into an electronic photo frame. I can spend hours watching the various images cycle through, wondering how Izzy will change between now and when I’ll see her again, marvelling at how much Lincoln has changed in just a few months, laughing at Ronan’s cheeky smile, remembering the way Jordy hugged me the last time he was here, shaking my head at Sakye reading her book to the puppies as they sit on the recliner watching her carefully, lingering over the photo of Dad, Ben and Toi – three generations eating ice-cream and strawberries together in quiet familiarity, laughing at Lily as she hangs upside down in Chase’s arms for a family portrait and laughing more at the look on Hunter’s face as he takes in the delight that is his little sister. I marvel at all these children and grandchildren and feel blessed that they’re in my life.

A small table, big enough for two to eat at, is pushed into a corner, placemats that Michelle and Al gave us littered across it, three or four battery chargers plugged in to a power board sending leads curling crazily across the table. A newly arrived book, The visual toolbox: 66 lessons for stronger photographs, lays in wait for Tim to dip into and then share what he’s learnt with me. The door to the kitchen is closed in an attempt to keep the warmth in this room, but it’s a vain attempt. It isn’t warm.

A big crocheted blanket Mum made for me lays across the back of the brown leather couch and as the sun gets lower and the cold deepens, I’ll spread it across my knees like grannies have done since crocheted blankets were invented. In front of the brown leather couch is a brown leather ottoman, with my feet resting comfortably on it. There is music playing from a number of speakers scattered around the room, a Spotify playlist for a chilled afternoon. It seemed fitting.

On the arm of the couch to my right is a Kindle in a red case, a list of rhyming words Sakye wrote out one morning two weeks ago when I shared her bedroom, and a book called Lost Melbourne that Tim bought home yesterday in celebration of the last even day of May. Resting on the book is a rapidly cooling cup of tea. The little wooden table on my right is piled with books with titles like Teacher identity discourses, New questions for contemporary teachers, Teaching selves, and The art of conversation. Oh, and there’s one novel at the bottom of the pile: Nell Zink’s The wallcreeper. I still don’t know if I liked it. I need to read it again, but I seriously think that I’m just too old for it. Not hip enough or something.

On the walls are photographs Tim and I have taken, some framed, some canvas prints; artworks by Lisa Roberts and Katy Woodroffe, and above the television is a reminder, a gift from Alison, to think outside the box.

Who lives here? People who read, take photos, learn, listen to music. Ordinary people with ordinary lives.

Scrolling through the photo frame and thinking about the number of items in this room that were gifts from others, you discover that these ordinary people are part of something bigger – connected to others in far-off places, people who smile and laugh and talk quietly with each other; people who are connected by long, loose lines; people who get together only intermittently but who feel a fizz of warm familiarity and connection when they do.

What do you see when you look around your room? Who lives there?

Posted in Portraits

Interlude #7

Here’s another little person with a big personality.

Seven-year old Jack has a strong mind and a strong body – made stronger by Shen Martial Arts. He’s a lovely boy to spend time with one-on-one; he’s interested in the world around him and that makes for interesting conversations.

Striking a Shen pose
Striking a Shen pose
Posted in Portraits

Interlude #1

Second on my list of favourite things to photograph, after flowers, is portraits.

I am not at all skilled in the art of portrait photography, but I am keen to learn.

Here is an early attempt at a black and white portrait (my favourite kind).

Tim is my only model at the moment (lucky he's a good one!)
Looking good in black and white

 

My husband, Tim, is my one and only model. If you’re keen to let me practice on you, sing out!