Skeleton in the Closet

Since many of you in the Northern hemisphere are celebrating Halloween this week, I thought I’d break from the norm and offer up a ghost story.

Sadly, I wasn’t born with a sixth sense, so I can’t really say I know what its like to see ghosts.  However, what I lack in psychic abilities I seem to make up for in my freaky dreams.  If they’re anything to go by, I’m rather glad I missed out on that sixth…

Dad and I arrive at a place a long way from nowhere – bare paddocks of dry grass and thistles.  And as Dad proceeds to share his vision, I feel a rising sense of unease.

It’s not bad…it’s got a good outlook.
The ground’ll need a bit of work, but – bit o’ lime an’ blood an’ bone – away you go!
A market garden here, an’ some fruit trees over there.  Maybe a bramble bush or two…
The house is not too bad, either – a bit of patching up, that’s all.  Good as new…

By now we’re standing among the ramshackle remains of an old farmhouse.  And by that I mean, ruins.

There are remnants of an old stone chimney, and nearby, half a house where the roof, in parts, has fallen in.

“Are you sure you want to go to all that work?” I ask.

It had potential, maybe.  Once.  A century or so ago.

We wander through the house as Dad dreams the Great Australian Renovator’s Dream.

There’s a dark dining room, and a servery window to the kitchen – a place for Mum to serve the meals, it seems.

“Where will you live in the meantime?”  I ask.

Absentmindedly, I pull out a long drawer from under the servery window.

“…elp me, help me…” come the pathetic cries of a sinewy body, dressed in a white bonnet and frock, that lies in the trundle shaped drawer.  Boney fingers claw at my face, too weak to lift her frame, “Help me!”

I shriek, jumping back from her reach.  She slumps and rolls her sunken eyes at me, fingers weakly grasping at the air.   “Help m-.”

I slam the drawer shut, unable to breathe.  We have to get out of here.

I rush through a gaping doorway to what once might have been an open, thriving kitchen.

Half of the room adjoining an outhouse is now a weed infested courtyard.

The other half – the corner with the servery window – still has a roof.

Dad stands there.  He talks as if nothing is wrong.

It’s quite alright.  A roof over our heads, that’s all you need…

But in the corner, below the servery window, where a benchtop should have been, is the sinewy body of a woman lying in an exposed drawer, dressed in a bonnet and frock, clawing at the air and crying, “Help me!  Please, help me!”

“Dad, you can’t buy this place,” I say.

Only, in his own trance, he was deaf to the tune that invaded my waking nightmare.

I realised then what happens when we find ourselves trapped in someone else’s dream…

Work your fingers to the bone, whadda ya get?

Boney fingers…
Boney fingers…

-Hoyt Axton, 1974 

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Do you see ghosts?

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Images under public domain by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy wikipaintings.org, appearing as follows:

Barn with moss covered roof (1881)
Kettle over a fire and a cottage by night (1885)
Head of an old peasant woman with white cap (1884)
Skeleton (1886)

A Pasta Meditation

I once knew a delightful and eclectic man who had lived a colourful youth in the sixties and seventies – a time when Melbourne grunge earned its reputation.

Living in a hovel with barely two cents to his name, he told me of the days there was nothing to eat but the herbs in his wild, overgrown garden.

From this had evolved a rich pasta sauce made entirely of wine, fresh herbs and garlic.  He had turned it into a Friday night tradition, to which I was now being treated.

Prior to this, I had only thought of herbs as a garnish or a flavour enhancement – never as a main dish.  But I was so enamoured with the sensory explosion, I had to try it for myself.

If you struggle, as I do, to keep your own herb garden alive, this can be a costly affair.  However, the rewards far outweigh the cost.

Now it has become one of my own favourite Friday night rituals, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Fresh Herb and Red Wine Sauce

The dish is less a recipe than a meditation, and as I’m no Masterchef, it probably doesn’t follow ‘correct’ procedures or exact quantities.  But that’s the point.

The beauty of it is allowing yourself to disconnect from phones, emails and blog stats (!), to focus on the task at hand, and see where the flavours will take you.  So view this as a guide rather than a formula, and feel free to get creative and vary the ingredients.

1 cup of red wine
1/2 cup olive oil

1 chopped onion (in this case, Spanish onion)

Large serve fresh (or frozen) basil leaves
1 star anise
1 small strand of cinnamon
1 strip of lemon rind
2 garlic cloves

2 strands Rosemary
6 strands Thyme
20 leaves Oregano
5-10 leaves Sage
Generous handful Coriander
Generous handful Dill
Touch of Tarragon

Heat the oil and wine in the pan.  Add onions, and simmer gently.

The quantity and combination of herbs should be balanced according to taste, and added to the pan in stages, allowing them to simmer for a couple of minutes before each new addition.  This is the order I would add the herbs:

Basil, cinnamon, star anise and lemon rind.
Rosemary and thyme (I leave stalks on and remove them later).
Oregano and tarragon.
Sage and garlic crushed together using mortar and pestle.
Dill and coriander.

Simmer until wine is reduced.

Add approx. 350 g Passata and 200g crushed tomatoes.

Simmer low until flavours are infused (15-20 mins).  Cover and leave to sit.

You know you have succeeded when the flavours are so well harmonised that it is impossible to identify the individual herbs.

Cook enough fettucine for two.  Add the herb sauce and some parmesan cheese – and your meal is ready to enjoy!

Accompaniments

Serve with a glass of red wine (or a martini!).

Add some lamp or candlelight (a real fire, if you have one), and your favourite person.

Some fine, mellow music.

Let your tired soul be nourished for another week…

What would you add to this ritual?  Or maybe you have a favourite ritual of your own you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a link if you have a post on it…

Ooroo, Grandma

The gulf left behind by Pepi’s passing has been so much greater than I expected.  It’s made me realise how lucky I am that, of the many goodbyes in my life, few have been permanent.

The only person I’ve lost that mattered to me was my Grandma, when I was eight.  She was seventy-one.  Defeated by cancer.

I remember being woken by my older brother and sister, and delivered the overnight news; their worry, and the feeling of numbness that gripped.

It was only as the coffin lowered, to the solemn recitation of “Ashes to ashes…”, that the numbness turned to grief.

After that, fragments of memory.

My other Nanna, the one I didn’t care for, making a triumphant show of comforting me.

At the wake, the older kids across the room staring at my reddened eyes as I refused to eat.

The feeling I was the only one crying.

The vow never to let them see me cry again.

I was her favourite, they always liked to say.  But that wasn’t how I saw it.  She was simply my favourite.  My most important person in the world.

Grandma was the only person I was allowed to escape to visit for a sleepover – which I did as often as I could.

She’d let me sit up with her in bed and watch A Country Practice.

Afterwards, I would kiss her goodnight and tiptoe off to my own room filled with the scary shadows of overstuffed brown wardrobes.

I’d wake to the sound of ABC wireless news, the smell of porridge and warm toast and wood smoke.

She’d talk to me as I followed her around in the garden, and take me visiting with her friends, where I’d be offered tea with Iced Vovo.

There were the precious moments of laughter and consternation that we shared.

The night she dozed off, falsies  in the glass beside her, when my light goodnight kiss provoked a startled gummy scream.

The morning she couldn’t get the potbelly burning, and smoke billowed, and the comedy of it all tickled me with unappreciated giggles.

The day, as we walked on the beach, Grandma stumbled in the sand and we were uncontrollably struck by the moment’s hilarity.

But, perhaps best of all, was Trudy – the fluffy, yappy Pomeranian.

The rest of the family hated how she doted on that dog.  How Grandma talked to her (as if she understood!).  How she hand fed her human ‘tidbits’.  And cleaned her teeth.  And gave her the run of the house (not to mention everybody else’s).

But it all seemed perfectly natural to me.  And so I found myself idolising the ground my Grandma walked on.

I dressed myself in my signature yellow-rimmed spectacles (glass removed), and marched about with a stuffed toy dog under my arm, parroting Grandma’s every word.

“Ooroo,” she would say from her back step, Trudy under arm (‘Ooroo’ is ancient Aussie for goodbye).

Much to everyone’s irritation, I also honed a perfect imitation of Trudy’s bark.

To this day, whenever I say something not to my sister’s liking, her favourite refrain is “Oh, you old Grandma.”

Perhaps, if she had lived long enough, I might have come to see her as the crotchety old bag the others always claim she was.  But, from the rose coloured perspective of an eight year old, I can imagine worse things to be called.

Once, a local Aboriginal elder explained to me how children inherit the totems and characteristics of their grandparents.  It is this relationship that shapes them, and is considered much more important than the child-parent bond.

As I look back, this seems to resonate.  My independent Grandma and her little dog.  Is this why, as a young adult, I found myself bringing home a Pepi pup?  A replay of that little girl running around with a stuffed toy dog under her arm – only this time for real?

It seems silly, but I am strangely comforted.  As though she’s with me as I say “Ooroo”.

Do you have a special Grandparent?  How have they left traces of themselves in you?