Domino Effect – Part 2

On 17 September, after a nine month struggle with brain cancer, my mother’s twin sister slipped away from us. In many ways, she was like a second mother to my siblings and me. It’s been difficult to put into words the profound and unexpected impact of her loss, considering a year ago we were celebrating the twins 70th, unaware of what would come.


17 November 2014

Dear Aunty Barb,

It’s been two months since you left us. A week since I’ve been trying to write you my farewell.

There was so much I never had the chance to say to you.

You’re with me, in my kitchen, everyday.

The gifts you gave are more than they appear.

GlassYou’re the twist of lemonade in an ordinary drinking glass (you never did like plain old H2O).

You’re the kick of chilli in the curry powder tin (and I can hear your wicked cackle, now).

But it’s right that this is where your memory dwells.

You spent your life nourishing the family, and that extended out, to the community beyond.

You did it with a flair and an originality that was all your own – a fairy garden here, a hand crafted zombie pop-up there.

You always took such joy in the little details of our lives. Like my dream to write.

It was a doing kind of love you had. And I wish you knew how much that meant to us. To me.

But even as I say it, I know you knew, very well, the value of the things you did.

It was me who was slow to cotton on.

Cottonon

I was supposed to help you write down your memoirs. My deepest regret is never making time for that – I never did stay over like you hoped I would. The reasons why seem trivial, at best, now that you’re gone.

You left too soon.

You had your first sip of alcohol only after 60.

JarAge 69, you and your friends were out til 5am for New Year’s Eve, putting to shame the next generation who preferred to go to bed.

You loved spending time with us. It helped to keep you young, you said.

But your outlook always was more youthful than your age.

Which is why your departure, at 70, has come as such a shock.

In hindsight, all the signs were there. The refusal to participate. The angry depression. The impenetrable loneliness. The slips in memory.

When the tumour was discovered, your withdrawal penetrated our realities with slow motion, domino effect.

Who were we, without you?

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I always assumed my place was on the fringe. Most of what I knew of my cousins was from stories you would tell me of their lives. Somehow, as you took your leave of us, I found myself drawn in.

Nothing is the same as it was a year ago. When we gathered for the 70th reunion, I didn’t want to be there. And I left with an embittered sense of invisibility. A belief that no one understood.

But maybe it was me who didn’t understand.

Your departure has made us see things in a different light. For what we are, and for what we aren’t. To pull together in a way we’ve probably never done before.

My grief for you is that you missed out on the chance to know what else life had to offer you.

You were the centre of our family’s universe. You were a twin, a sister, a wife, a mother, a nanna, an aunt. You did what had to be done, perhaps beyond what we could rightfully expect.

You wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. And yet, you never did get the answer to your question.

Who were you, without us?

Barbara

Beyond the duties and obligations that defined you, the woman I knew was creative and curious and brave. Fun loving and spirited and shrewd.

That’s the person I will drink a toast to every year.

The one whose stories I will treasure, and whose laughter I will miss.

Whose lessons I will carry to my great unknown.

So cheers to you, Aunty Barb!

You came into the world as you left it – unexpectedly. A surprise package, as you liked to say, until the end.

Who are you thankful for, today?

 

A Tale of Two Besties

They were the best of friends, they were the worst of friends…

Last week, I introduced you to the happy never after of my old share house, where I lived with my school buddy and her Chihuahua, Chippy, his brother Pepi and Bobbin the cat (my two).

Second time round, it was the picture of domestic bliss, until we agreed that Pepi ought to have a new best friend.

Say hello to Maxi.

Maxi

Maxi

Maxi was rescued by the Save-a-Dog Scheme.

When I collected him from his foster home, he had been having fun beating up the other ten Chihuahuas the old lady was temporarily housing.

He was a mean little thing.

He wore his damage with such pride. Like a war veteran, returned.

You just knew he’d seen things that no Jack Russell-cross should ever see. But he’d survived, goddammit, by sheer force of his own iron will.

And no-one, but no-one, was gonna tell him what to do.

He scared the pants off me.

When I introduced him to Pepi, Pepi was all up in his business, totally naïve of Maxi’s bristling fur.

He wouldn’t warn you if he was going to bite. He’d just bite.

And bite he did.

There was no wound, except to Pepi’s pride, and so Pepi resorted to the only form of retaliation he felt sure about. He barked.

And barked. And BARKED.

He scolded Maxi from the safety of the couch, and Maxi, you could just tell, enjoyed sitting there, the untouchable focus of Pepi’s consternation.

It was love at first bite.

VetThere was just one problem, and that was Chippy.

Up until then, Chippy had been Pepi’s shadow, glued to his butt like an annoying younger sibling.

But Maxi, with his eye on pole position, was having none of that.

The day he drew blood from Chippy’s eyebrow, it was Game of Thrones Chihuahua style – and they matched the humans move for move.

Save-a-Dog Scheme didn’t want to take him back.

I was about to resort to begging when Maxi suddenly developed a mysterious back pain that required him to be crated for a week.

Round 3 goes to Maxi.

Once hypochondria dog asserted his right to stay, the lines of fracture in an already troubled kingdom began to split the house apart.

Which was obviously a good time to get Chippy a wife.

Enter Salsa, and before Bobbin could hiss, we had a house full of untrained yappy dogs.

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Bobbin with Salsa

Strangely, Bobbin refused to come home, and instead took his frustrations out on the next door neighbour’s cat.

Meanwhile, Maxi discovered the never-before-found holes in the fence, and our merry little gang escaped to terrorise the neighbour’s kids.

Overnight, our home had gone from peace-loving hippies to neighbourhood thugs. Tiny, ankle sized thugs. But still.

We both gave up on grandiose ideas of study and took full time jobs, which we needed just to pay the vet bills.

Every day we came home, Maxi had done a new Houdini underneath the potato vine, and they’d taken their reign of terror to the streets.

It was only a matter of time before council issued a warning.

And we locked the dogs inside.

And someone kicked a hole in our back door. The same someone, we presume, who left the nasty note inside our letterbox.

And my best friend announced she couldn’t stand to live with me there any more.

And our happy days in the house of dysfunction came to a close.

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The key to that place sits now atop a pile of other unmarked keys, unlocking memories that are nothing if not bittersweet.

Maybe if we hadn’t been so preoccupied with all that petty human crap of who did what to whom and when, we might have seen what Maxi saw, and what took me years to finally recognise.

Pepi had the secret to another way.

Stranger than Fiction

Join me next week to celebrate Pepi’s alternate reality! Yayyyy, already…. :)

There’ll be freebies and giveaways and general bribery.

And just to get you in the mood, here’s one from Pepi’s playlist…

What’s your worst ever share house experience?

Random Access Memory

I’ve been wondering why I’m chasing my tail around the various tasks I need to do.

Everywhere I look, there’s a pile of ‘stuff’ that doesn’t have a home. And it’s not much better when I look at my computer, either.

I’m a paper hoarder, and in the digital age, that translates to RAM.

On my last tally, there were no less than nine functional hard drives cluttering my office, and that’s not counting other digital devices.

Multiple copies of multiple versions, back-ups of back-ups that eventually wind up on a CD stuffed somewhere in a drawer.

But it’s not just documents I hoard.

I collect keys like memories.

They sit in my top drawer, a pile of tiny clues, physical bits of evidence pointing to the fact that I was there, once.

Key1There’s the key to the dearly departed Mazda 121 representing more than just a car.

Key2Power. Control. A room of one’s own.

Keys to locked drawers and secret hideaways.

Key3To past houses that I’ve tenanted.

Of course, you’re supposed to hand the keys back. But since the real estate agent didn’t know about the extra set we had to cut…

It became my guilty secret. A link to an illicit imaginary self.

Just in case she felt the urge to stage a break-in.

Just in case she ever needed to revisit the tiny pieces of me that were left behind.

In that house.

It was a blue, double-fronted weatherboard that had seen better days.

But it had a veranda, and stained glass windows, and an open fireplace in every room.

An entrance hall, high ceilings, even a servery window between the kitchen and the lounge!

And, of course, an outside loo.

That was the worst part. No light, but plenty of spider webs since we were too scared to go in there and wipe them out.

I shared the house with my best friend from school. Along with Pepi and his brother, Chippy. And Bobbin, the cat.

HappyHouse

It was our second attempt at sharing each other’s living space – a truce struck by a mutual need to reduce costs and earn something that passed for a degree.

This time will be different, we said, and for a while, everything was bliss.

We cooked meals and hosted dinner parties, rolled our own cigarettes and debated the intellectual merits of Xena and Friends.

She grew pot plants and I planted a garden.

The neighbours thanked us for being good tenants.

But it all started to go horribly wrong about the time we decided to find a friend for Pepi.

Just in case it didn’t last.

Just in case Pepi and Chippy had to go their separate ways.

How we went from being model tenants to having this shoved in our letterbox…

Just another piece of paper kept for future reference.

Just another piece of paper I’ve been hoarding.

…is a story for another post.

(Shut up, just shut up shut up!)

To be continued next week!

What random things do you collect? Do you have trouble Emptying the Trash?

Mother’s Touch

Mother’s Day. Each year it rolls around, and each year I fail to find words.

I left home too young for my Mother’s liking. Living apart in more ways than geography, we can probably count on one hand the number of Mother’s Days we’ve spent together since then.

But as I look back, there are countless moments in between we’ve shared. Working, side-by-side, for the good of one or all the family.

My favourite memories are those with our hands in the dough, when as a child she taught me the almost lost art of baking bread.

A ritual she no doubt shared with her own mother, and so on, back through generations past…MothersTouchGen

 

We’re born looking up to you -
To Her.
We grow up
Somehow
We out grow.
And as the kink in our gaze
Shifts gear
We see crossways and
Sideways and
Every other which way
Except the one
Where we see
Eye to eye. 

And yet we know
That underneath the
Not looking and the
Not seeing
Is the part where we join hands.
Her hands. 

There’s a story etched there
Silent as the years that pass
Deep as the affection flows.
A job worth doing is
Worth doing over and over
Like a well worked dough
Kneaded and needed
Less for what it is than
For what it represents.

Love is a doing word.
Passed through
Not down
One generation to the next.
Where would we be
Without our Mother’s touch?

Wishing all the mums out there a special day of pampering!

Do you have a favourite childhood memory of your mother’s hands?

Happytown

UnknownWhen my nephew turned three, I gave him a book called The Chimpanzees of Happytown, by one of my favourite children’s authors, Giles Andreae.

It is a magical, rhyming tale of a Chimpanzee who moves to Drabsville, plants a forbidden seed and eventually transforms the entire city into a colourful, carefree Happytown.

I never knew what an apt story it was for this happy little chap, until last weekend, when he visited Melbourne town for his 10th birthday.

It was his first interstate trip as an unaccompanied minor, for two nights and an unspecified outing with his Aunt.

Melbourne being known for its gloom, we were expecting another week of rain. But by the time J got off the plane, the sun was out and the forecast had been changed.

“You brought the sun with you!” we said, not knowing how true that would turn out to be.

It was a perfect Sunday.

After a bike ride to the local skate park, where I was instructed to record every jump until he got it right…

…we took a one hour ferry ride to the city.

His exuberance at the sights was unexpected.

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“Has Dad seen this?!” J wanted to know.

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Before long, he had wrestled the camera from my hands.

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I think he hoped to do a direct transfer from his brain to Dad’s.

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We pulled up outside the Arts Centre just as my camera battery died…

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…and then we were off to see the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, a theatrical production by kids aged 8 to 18, about a girl with a circus hidden under her bed.

Following the show, filled with wonder and ice-cream, J was ready to dance all the way home to Happytown.

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Aunty Larns, have you seen the movie Dumb Ways to Die? (click the pic to see it)

Debriefing on the way to the airport the next morning, I was surprised by the vision he had of my city.

If you had asked me, I would have told you it is dark and gloomy, and everyone wears black.

That Melbourne has forgotten its roots in a drive for glamour and opulence. And other less flattering things.

But my nephew saw a city full of colour and art, nice historical buildings mixed in with interesting new ones, factories, ships and lots of different things to see and do.

He left me with a smile on my face, and a resolve to get out more and find the colour in my world.

Have a Happy Easter, everyone!

What colourful things do you have planned these holidays?

Different kind of Buzz

Two weeks after the event, the only person left who’s interested in what I did for New Year’s Eve is my hairdresser.

Why on earth would I choose to spend a sober New Year with my nephews, niece and their father? She wants to know.

Fair question. I wondered the same thing when we got to the family fireworks only to discover there WERE NO RIDES. Followed by sulks and ungracious moans of boredom.

Unfazed, even, by the upturned hearts that kissed the sky.

“I’m going to send the little shits home after breakfast,” I complain to Ms over coffee the next morning.

She gently tells me how I CAN’T DO THAT on New Year’s Day. More sulks.

Instead, the offer is to take them to Scienceworks. As long as they eat all their breakfast. Which, luckily for them, they do.

But when it comes to getting dressed, anyone would think this is a new concept.

“I don’t want to brush my hair,” says one.

“I want to wear my onesie,” echo two.

“You can’t wear your onesie to Scienceworks, and we won’t be going anywhere without your hair brushed,” proclaims Almighty Aunt.

Long pause.

HeadonPlatter

Hey look! Is that Dad’s head on a platter?

The middle one pipes up.

“But why? Sometimes, it’s nice just to be messy,” he says, one leg aimlessly kicking the air from the length of couch he’s claimed.

No denying he’s my nephew, I think, as Ms embarks on a long explanation about how, when we’re at home with people who know and love us, it’s okay to be messy. But out there, where people don’t know us, all they have to go on is how we look. And if you’re messy and smelly, they might not like you.

They might even be mean to you.

Silence.

“I’m going to go get dressed,” he says. And they all shuffle off to find the hairbrush.

And therein lies the answer. Make the most of them while they still want to be socialised (plenty of time for drinking after that…).

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done on New Year’s Eve?

Reunion

It’s been a month of important dates – birthdays and anniversaries, culminating in a family reunion. With my mother and her twin turning 70, and my brother turning 40, our families got together for the first time in a decade. In ten years, we lost one and gained nine, bringing our number up to 25.

After two nights eating, sleeping, cooking, laughing, crying and reminiscing under one roof, we all dispersed back to our busy lives. Months of planning and, suddenly, there’s nothing left but a sensory impression of what was…

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There is something non-linear about reunion.

Once removed

As if all the parts, once removed, don’t reassemble how they were.

Your place

You’re home and yet, you don’t quite know your place.

Bending reality

There’s a bending of reality.

Girl pointing

A girl pointing the finger.

Start

Where do we start?

Many a slip

There’s many a slip in our perception

What once was

Of What Once Was versus What Is.

Site shift

Site shift.

Family

Family.

Memories

Memories playing tricks.

Horizon 1

What we thought was locked in the museum

Museum

Reappears.

Passage secret

Is there a passage secret to

Diminish and ascend

The way that we diminish and ascend?

Fetch

We fetch the ghosts of our past

Washed up

But find ourselves washed up

East of the mulberry tree

East of the mulberry tree.

Plastic world

Plastic people, in a plastic world.

Shared weight

We laugh and, under a shared weight, ask

Horizon

For more information about the images, click here.

Sketching Memories

Since my loyal blogging buddy passed away, I have to confess to inspiration having been in short supply.

Left to my own devices, I’d have put the fictional Pepi aside for a future never-never date, and wallowed quietly alone.

Instead, I found myself mid-way through illustrations for Book 2, with an artist waiting to be paid, and a crazy goose unleashed upon the world.

The show must go on!

At first, I felt guilty and disturbed.  But as the lines between fiction and reality blurred, there came a peace.

It’s as though he is still here with me, in the fullness of his youth – and I am comforted.

The process of illustrating Pepi has had its challenges.  No matter how many times you rearrange words on a page, all you have in the end is an approximation of the picture you might like to draw.

With very few photos to reference, the question remains how to convey the pictures that exist inside your head?

To this end, I’ve been fortunate to work with a very talented illustrator, who is not insulted by my lame attempts at storyboarding.

Instead, with a little magic, she has transformed the vision of a shy, dorky everygirl and some squiggles on a page…

…into Mona, an unpretentious city girl…

…a peppy little puppy…

…and precious fragments of shared memory.

Anyone who knew Pepi, and cared to see past the exuberance of a little yappy dog, saw in him an undeniable spirit of love and positivity.

It was his sixteen year long gift to me.

Was it unconditional?  Hell no!  Like any feeling creature, he had his pet grievances and gripes.  It’s just that he refused to be quelled.  (And I can tell you, he would not have wanted to be kept inside a drawer…)

So, in honour of his unquellable spirit, I’ve decided to set a date for the launch of Hello Pepi.

Fingers crossed, ready or not, Books 1 to 3 will be out on 16 November.

There will be plenty of opportunities to grab a free copy, for more than anything, I want to share his joie de vivre with you.

If you could sketch a memory of the joy of life, what would it be?

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?

My Hard Yakka Dad

Some of you may not realise (I know I didn’t until yesterday!) that Father’s Day in Australia happens on the first Sunday of September.  Which means in two days time!

It’s a bummer, really, because I had this Father’s Day all worked out since Susie Lindau’s post My Father the Madman back in June.  (If you haven’t joined her blog yet, it’s more than worth the ride… :) )

The problem is, the mail usually takes longer to get to Tasmania than it does to the other side of the world.  And Dad doesn’t have a computer.  So now it looks like you’re going to get this before he does…I won’t tell if you don’t?

In my comment on Susie Lindau’s post, I made the mistake of saying my Dad was a ‘bit of’ an amateur inventor.  I didn’t expect her to be interested, but she was, so now I have to confess it was a ‘bit of’ a white lie.

My Dad is not so much an amateur inventor as an all-round fix-it man.  He is a builder by trade, and what that means is – even if he has not an ounce of engineering knowledge – he can figure out how stuff works.

Back when I was still young enough to be admiring, my Dad built a tractor-powered saw mill from second hand chunks of metal (that’s my technical term for it).  He welded it together, sharpened the saws by hand and it all worked like a dream.

I LOVED working on that saw mill.  I just wanted to be one of the boys, and Dad – desperate for all the help he could get – would let me play along.

I’d hang about on building sites and wood chops…

…even in the veggie patch…(actually, that’s not me, it’s a scarecrow :) )

..and all the while Dad (and Mum, of course) were hard at work.

Maybe he could have been an inventor.  But there were never enough hours in the day for my Hard Yakka Dad.  (Hard Yakka is Aussie for ‘hard work’.  It’s also a brand of tough guy workwear.  Check out the video).

Even when we went camping, it was work, work, work for Dad…

And when eventually he got to stop?  Well.  No words necessary.

Over the years, we’ve had our share of differences. But the great thing about growing up is that you get to see your parents as people.  With stories, and a history of their own.

Dad, the eldest of seven kids, left school early to help his parents on the farm.

Later, he relinquished a Pacific Island dream at their request, and came home to build their house.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“What’s done is done,” he says. “No use dwelling on the past.”

But history is important.  It’s what makes us who we are.

Somehow, in its knowledge, anger dissolves.  It reveals a child’s disappointment in discovering the humanity of those we love.

Today, when I go home, Dad likes to take me on a tour of the homes he’s built.

He’s a stalwart of the industry.  One of the few remaining all-rounders.  Worth his weight in gold – they say.

Except Dad, out of some old-school sense of modesty, continues to charge less than half the going rate.

But at least he’s starting to enjoy himself.

Maybe one day soon, he’ll accept that retirement means ‘stop work’.

In the meantime, I’ll just love him for the Dad he is.

Wishing Happy Father’s Day to all the Hard Yakka Dad’s out there.

Maybe you know of one yourself?  Or maybe you, too, had a moment of discovery, when you finally saw the man?  Please share….