Monthly Archives: April 2013

Childhood icons – How do you remember them?

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Photo found on Flickr by Colesworth

There were many iconic symbols of my childhood. I noticed them mostly through the eyes of my mother and the way she wished to conceal them. It wasn’t anything she said but I knew as a child, for her, leaving England was hard. I knew this when she painted the outside dunny can (toilet) blue, having read somewhere that spiders are repelled by blue, and placed it inside the shower. We were English and so we took baths, not showers. Most of the events of my childhood were recorded in my journal. I still have those journals even though I am well into my 40s now. Recording stories has always been my favourite thing to do.

As a child, I was always entranced by relationships. I loved to watch the way people interacted with one another, how they responded, how they survived. I can remember recording the details of my observations in an exercise book that I kept with my pen in a plastic bag in the fork of the enormous jacaranda tree in our backyard. My mum who is an English lady, in every sense of the word, preferred to think of the back yard as a garden but apart from her trellis of sweet peas, her rockery and the jacaranda, it was really a yard and in its centre, under the spotlight of the Australian sun was the ‘eyesore,’ the bane of her existence, an iconic Australian – the Hills Hoist. This metal structure dominated the yard.

We lived in a rectory on the main intersection of two highways, directly across the road was a night club. On Saturday nights our house vibrated to the beat of the music. I learned to sleep through the drumming, the farewell conversations and the car lights. My parents never did. My father made his way to the pulpit bleary-eyed every Sunday morning as my mum collected broken glass from our driveway. I recorded these details as if I were Harriet the Spy. Mum’s complaints were inaudible, muttered under her breath, impossible to catch. I watched and though I was only 8 years old, I knew this wasn’t the life she’d hoped for.

Our house was surrounded by car yards and industry. The neighbour over the back had wild parties, the one a few doors down, behind the church hall, had a pet ferret. Mum feared that the ferret would attack our ducks which she kept in an enclosure around the Hills Hoist. I’ll never really know why mum kept ducks? I think she was attempting to rebuild her memories from childhood holidays in the Lakes District. My sister, the practical helpful sibling, would dance as she hung out laundry trying to avoiding the pecking ducks as they nipped at her heels with their rubbery beaks. I recorded this too.

While mum tended her plants and the ever growing menagerie in the backyard, I wrote the facts and turned them into stories. Sometimes, I created imaginary places of my own. Places far from the chaos of home, away from the drunks that arrived on our doorstep, away from the telephone where the man from Rookwood rattled off names for Monday’s funerals. Late in the evening, I watched the shadows form; as the sun began to set the Hills Hoist grew. It stretched its towering arms across our yard. It was no longer a rotary clothes line but a terrifying monster mocking my mother’s dreams. She had not traveled to Australia to live in suburbia with a ‘fibro’ house and a concrete path that led to a clothes line. She had dreamed for more than this.

Over time she adapted to the expectations of what it was to be Australian. She baked cakes from the Women’s Weekly Birthday Book and before long she added a Hills Swing Set and a Clark Rubber pool to our collection. In that awful rectory my mum showed me how to pick myself up when life got hard. It wasn’t what she said but what she did. Like the way she made cucumber sandwiches for the drunken men who came begging for change.

Sometimes life is ugly. For mum, the dream she had of living abroad was not quite what she thought it would be. Yet in spite of it all she  learnt to plant a garden. Even the ugly Hills Hoist with its metal frame proved to be brilliant for drying clothes. Between the piles of washing she picked us up and taught us how to grasp the metal bars and then spin us around. Mum always remembered to enjoy the moments, to do what was in front of her and to see the opportunities that abounded.

If you enjoy reading girl on a swing and have not already done so I invite you to vote for me in Best Australian Blogs here or with the button on the sidebar

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Why does your story matter?

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Photograph courtesy of Tracey Berry. Find more photographs like these here and follow her on Instragram @traceaberry

Lately I’ve been wondering, why does my story matter? While pondering this thought I received an invitation to attend the Memoir Club for Readers and Writers at Randwick Literary Institute. It was from my writing teacher Beth Yahp who ran the master course I took a few years ago. I was eager to attend.

I expected a modern day library filled with books and a meeting room. Yet apart from a vintage collection of books locked in a cabinet and some ancient literary memorabilia I discovered that this was not a library at all. It was a place where people came to discuss words, their value and why stories should be told.

As I listened to the speakers my arguments against myself as a writer rolled in my head. My chest pounded as I hung on the literary prowess of every person in the room. The conversations were delectable and though I am usually a girl of many words, I was silent. The sea around me rose and I hung on to my iPad like a lifebuoy. I delighted in their stories and the finesse with which they quoted other authors. I watched them nod in acquiescence as if everyone knew Joan Didion, Vivian Gornick and Toni Morrison. On my way home I got lost. “Why does my story matter?” I asked myself out loud. I didn’t care that it was now late or which way my car was going. I just wanted to know if my story mattered and why?

I didn’t start writing to get attention. I wanted to drive attention away. I wanted to silence the phone long enough to work out how my daughter could suddenly be dying of a life threatening illness. I wanted to silence my own thoughts long enough to make sense of why they were taking her siblings’ blood and sending it off to a laboratory to see if their DNA was a match. I wanted to stop the world from talking and my fear from swallowing me up. I wrote to tell my family, my friends and anyone that cared the little bits I knew. It seemed to me I knew nothing anymore and so somehow my own sense of understanding was pounded out on the pages of my morning journal. Slowly the stories formed, were reworked and made more palatable and posted on my blog in such a way that I hoped no one would think I’d lost my mind completely, but true enough to know that their support, their prayers, their practical help was desperately needed.

Help came. It came in more ways than I could ever dream it would. People gathered. They fed us, they prayed, they washed our car, they walked our dog, they even rebuilt Sam’s room. Through it all I wrote. I made new discoveries. Terrible discoveries! I watched people die. I held my daughter firm when every six weeks they wound that corkscrew deep in her vertebra to aspire enough bone marrow through the syringe. I told her to breathe, that it would be okay, that she was nearly through it, that answers would come. I had no idea really if she would be okay of if answers would come.

I didn’t know that her only hope of survival was finding a donor on the world wide registry. I didn’t know that matches are rare. I didn’t know that it was easy for people to donate stem cells and slowly the understanding grew that most people shared the same fear of joining the registry. Perhaps like me too many people have seen “Seven Pounds” and Hollywood has frightened the entire global population against donating bone marrow to save people’s lives.

After months of treatment, high risk protocols and a loss of hope, a match was finally found. We were the fortunate ones who got good news. The dates were booked and the transplant took place. She pulled through.

Maybe our story doesn’t matter anymore? Life goes on and slowly our daughter recovers from the plethora of side effects that follow a bone marrow transplant. Does it matter anymore that I write about this? Is it easier just to get on with your life, to celebrate each day?

Last weekend Sam turned 25 years old. It is more than four years since that horrendous day of diagnosis. For her birthday we bought her a bike. She was elated and ready to jump on in thongs. “Please change into your sandshoes,” I begged, looking at her purple toes and her thin papery skin. She obliged me and put on her helmet as well. She wobbled at first when she mounted. My heart skipped a beat. I wanted to hold on to the seat and not let go. I watched in trepidation, terrified she would tumble off and fall.

Instantly I was back in the grassy park with the never ending hill and she was five. Strangely at five she seemed so much stronger than today. I heard her voice in my memory, “Promise you won’t let go until I’m ready?” she asked. “I promise.” I said. So it began, “you pedal and I will run behind you, when you get your balance, I’ll let go.” I remember that day like yesterday. The wind trailing through her blonde locks as I tried to keep up until she was confident to make it the rest of the way on her own.

That’s all that really matters to parents, isn’t it? That we can hold them close until they can make it alone? Today Sam makes it alone. She finished her degree, she is married, she dreams of a future without pain and for a full recovery. For us life goes on but we are completely changed.

Why does our story matter? I think it matters because you, the reader may be the only match for someone like my daughter. They may be waiting like we were, praying every day that a donor might be found. You might be the one who donates a tablespoon of blood that goes to the laboratory that matches a patient somewhere across the globe. It may inconvenience you to donate bone marrow but it’s easier than you think and someone else’s life may depend on it.

If you think our story matters, please vote for my blog by clicking the button in the sidebar or click here to go straight to the survey. Maybe if people knew, more lives would be saved.

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Today I am “reblogging” a post I wrote in May, 2011. This post has been nominated for The People’s Choice Award in the Best Australian Blogs 2013 competition in the category for Outstanding Advocacy.Best Australian Blogs is an initiative of the Australian Writers’ Centre and is sponsored by Random House. Please vote for my blog by clicking on the “Vote for me” button in the side bar or by clicking on this survey. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BAB2013 you can follow the competition on Twitter via #bestblogs13

Girl on a swing

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Photograph courtesy of Tracey Berry. More like this on Instagram. Follow @traceaberry

Plot exists along a continuum. The story has a finite beginning and an end. In this time frame the writer must decide what he wants his reader to see.

 

I’m trying to encapsulate all the things I am learning in my writing class. For five hours once a fortnight I trek from north to east to sit at a table and immerse myself in the craft. I’m an inchoate writer with much to learn, so I embrace the opportunity to ponder words over tea with a great linguist, a journalist, a musician, a film director and our teacher.

We want to write our stories and this is the thread that weaves us together. We dangle like charms, five different stories, experiences and lives. It was awkward at first. Yet as the weeks have unfolded, the boundary…

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