Posted in Life, Melbourne, Photography, Portraits

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I spot her as we walk through Myer on our way to Melbourne Central, and quickly say to Tim, “I’m going to follow her”.

But I couldn’t, not without offering to help carry her (very) heavy bag. She talked to me of her son, who had died recently, a (very) heavy burden for her to bear, and of her stroke which had caused her to forget things. We walked a few steps, stopped to talk, and walked on.

She used to work in Myer, many years ago – her first job after arriving in Australia from Malta in 1958. Her father had a Humber and would park out the front of Myer, go to the markets and then pick her up when she finished work at lunchtime.

I heard many stories, always returning to the death of her son four years before at the age of 39. She showed me photos, of him as an adult and as a child. She laughed fondly, before her eyes filled again with sadness.

I asked if I could take her photo, and she took my hand to signify her version of yeah sure.

This is Josette.

Josette

Posted in Life

Ordinary stories

The road twists and turns around gently wooded slopes that rise up to form part of the caldera. We travel through farmland where lumpy cattle graze between old-fashioned fences, and then through bushland with shards of red and a thousand different greens. Tufts of grass draw a seam down the centre of the narrow potholed road whose edges are battered by heat and too many vehicles. An occasional house, a school, a rash of letterboxes: signs of human occupation, but you’d be excused for thinking that you’d travelled to a different time. It’s hard to believe that the shiny brashness of the Gold Coast is less than an hour away.

We turn left at Chillingham towards Tyalgum and I ask if Nan and Pop had ever lived here. No, they lived at Limpinwood, 15 minutes away (although possibly longer then), in a hut on the farm where Pop worked. And Nan worked there too: she cleaned ‘the house’. The hut Nan and Pop lived in had a dirt floor and my Dad, a baby at the time, slept in a box. Or so he tells us. The owner of the farm was ‘mean’ – but my mother isn’t sure what Nan meant by that.

I realise that while I have my own memories of Nan and Pop, I don’t know their stories. I am fascinated by my grandmother’s life because it’s so removed from my own. But I won’t ever know much of that life because the stories of ordinary life and ordinary lives get locked away; they remain untold. Not deliberately untold, but they seem not worth telling, unremarkable, just ‘how life was’. We lived here, we worked there, we drank tea, cooked meals, danced, laughed, cried. Ordinary things done by ordinary people.

And still I’m fascinated. And not just by Nan’s story but of other stories I hadn’t considered before.

I hadn’t ever thought to ask before how my sister came to be born in Murwillumbah when my parents lived in Sydney. It turns out that it was something Dad wanted. My mother, living alone while Dad was at sea in the Navy, lived in Sydney – the same city in which her parents, brother and sister lived. My father’s parents lived in Murwillumbah, with Dad’s two younger sisters and his (much) younger brother.

As Mum answered my questions, I started to think about how each family member’s story was different and unknown – at least to me. How did Nan react when Dad told her that her daughter-in-law would be moving in so that the baby could be born in Murwillumbah?

How did my mother react when she was told that she’d be having her first baby a thousand miles from home?

How did Dad’s teenage sisters and 7-year-old brother Robert react to the reality of a new ‘big sister’ living with them for an indefinite amount of time?

How did Mum’s mother react knowing that her first grandchild was going to be born in a little country town so far away?

How did either Pop react?

I have a thousand other questions. What drove the decision to move from a dirt-floored hut in Limpinwood to a room in a cottage in Byangum Rd Murwillumbah in 1938? Who was the decision-maker? What conversations went on between my grandparents to initiate the move? Who was the decisive one? Was ambition a part of the decision? Did my grandmother insist, or was my grandfather the decision-maker, as my father had been in the decision about where his eldest child would be born?

***

Dad and I went to the Tweed River Regional Museum in Murwillumbah through the week and read stories of the prominent people of the area: pioneers, entrepreneurs, business leaders. Mostly men, but stories of women too; people who nurtured the town into existence.

I sit at the kitchen table that has been part of my life since I was a teenager and think about all the generations who have come before me, nurturing the families of which I’m a part into existence.

In the centre of the table is a fruit bowl that is part of a set that was given to my great-aunt as a wedding present in 1934.

There are many such things tucked away in this house. Bowls that Dad brought back from an overseas trip in 1959 not long after he joined the Navy, the wooden tongs hanging in the laundry that Mum used when she washed clothes in the copper in the early 60s, the drawers that used to be in the bedroom I shared with my sister in the 70s.

Ordinary things that have stories wrapped around them. Things that have been, and will be again, passed down to those in the next generation – or the one after that.

What stories there are in the midst of the ordinariness of family life.

Which ones will be passed on?

Which ones will stay locked away?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma.”

My sister, as part of her blogging, often responds to the Daily Post’s writing prompt. I read her most recent post this morning and am taken back to that time, although not to the same place Deb was, as I didn’t study French and so wasn’t on the trip. I do remember our own trip though – Dad driving like a maniac to Sydney to pick Deb up after it happened. I didn’t know that Deb bought her wedding dress that day though, so you really do learn things through reading others’ blogs.

I don’t have any bravery awards to write about, but I do do something that you possibly don’t know about.

I walk to work (and catch two trains in between the walking).

No, let me finish, that isn’t it.

I walk to work and I know it’s almost time for me to start blogging again when I start narrating my walk.

Not out loud you understand, but inside, in the private space of my mind.

It started again one day last week when I came across a tree full of buds … and one leaf that lingered on the branch. Clinging on for dear life, not wanting to give in the inevitability of winter.

It was at that point my narration started. I started composing (not a story – just a narration) of the leaf. I played alliteratively with language, and then my attention was caught by other things: two crows on the lid of a wheelie bin, their beaks tearing into the plastic bag poking out from the top, the old lady bent almost double struggling with her gate “here, let me get that for you”, the L-plater on his motorbike wobbling to a stop, the young bloke in the furniture van being told off for going into the wrong gate, the baby’s feet sticking out from under the blanket that’s covering the rest of her in the pram, the number of coffee drinkers waiting edgily outside Egyptian Al’s coffee place.

As my eyes take in the world around me, my mind narrates snatches of story, descriptions, dialogue, explanations, silences, musings …

I walk to work and narrate my world.

And then some days later I consider writing a blog post.

I most often don’t make it that far though.

 


This post is written in response to the Daily Prompt from May 28.

Daily prompt post: A mystery wrapped in an enigma

Posted in 100 Strangers, Life

100 Strangers Project

I thought it might be timely to add a reminder about my 100 Strangers Project here.

Click here … 100 Strangers

It is going slowly, much more slowly than I intended it to, but I’ve just added a few more strangers, and there are still some more to come … so don’t forget to bookmark the site and check it out, or you can go there and follow me so that you get a notification about updates whenever I add more strangers.

Here are some other strangers that I can’t add to the project, but I thought worth sharing anyway!

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