No bush fires here

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My morning has been derailed by the news that one of my
daughters has decided to travel with her boyfriend to Merimbula on the
coast.  Just for the hell of
it.  It’s a six hour drive.  
They wanted to go somewhere further
away, my daughter said.  And they hoped
they might find more warmth.
I start to panic. 
Will their car hold out? 
Will they be safe?  What
might they encounter?  Then I
remind myself when my husband and I were young we travelled often from
Melbourne to Canberra, and Sydney sometimes.  Each trip took a day and we thought little of it except for
the tedium of all that driving.
 
My mother never worried about my travels then, or if she
did, she did not let on.  I worry
more than my mother ever worried, perhaps to make up for her.  But my daughter is an adult now.  She is responsible and will take
care.  I have to let go.
I spent last weekend in Bowral with my husband and various
of my sisters and brothers and their partners on a family reunion of sorts, the
third since our first effort to get together in 2010.
 
We had planned to go to the Blue Mountains but the bush
fires were hard on the doorstep of Closeburn, the house at Mount Victoria where
we had arranged to stay and the proprietor and powers that be there suggested
we should avoid the area. 
My younger sister who was organizing the trip chose Bowral
at the last minute as a place outside of Sydney that might appeal.  No bushfires there.  None of us had wanted to stay in Sydney
proper – too much city. 
We try to compromise in distances for these reunions given
that one of us lives in Mildura, another in Dubbo, one in Gippsland, still
another outside Canberra and another further north in Brisbane.  The rest of us live in Melbourne,
though one Melbournian is away at the moment in America for several months. 
Not everyone made it to this reunion, only six of the nine
siblings, and it felt different to me as a consequence.  Some of us came with our partners,
which also diluted that family-of-origin feel. 
Still we all managed to fall into role: the girls making
tea for the boys; the boys sitting around talking; my oldest brother taking
charge, in spite of himself perhaps; my older sister being her usual bossy
self.
 
We joked about these things but on the Saturday night
after dinner as we sat around in the dining room of our rented house, spread
around on unmatched couches and floral fabric armchairs – the usual motley
furniture of holiday houses –  and
drank the last of the red wine, I sensed that old wish to subvert
proceedings.
 
The wish rose in my throat.  There was a quality of playing happy families, and I railed
against it.
 
When I consider how much I like to keep the peace in my
present family compared to my wish to shake things up in my family of origin, I
wonder about the contradiction. 
The front picture of today’s Age newspaper includes a beautiful young woman in a broad
open weave hat, tilted on one side of her head.  She is wearing a slim two piece white suit, the sort of
outfit women show off at the races. 
It’s the spring carnival season here in Melbourne, the
time for people to dress up in anticipation of the great race on Cup Day.
Beyond the young woman’s beauty I was struck by the fact
she was not your average white Anglo-Saxon.  She was of Asian descent.  This is not the usual fare we see on the front pages of our
newspapers here in Melbourne, not the so-called main stream.
Are times changing? 
Can we now recognize and accept the diversity of nationalities within
our culture.
 
The article attached describes how this young woman had
organized her outfit on a budget. 
Her suit made in Vietnam, her shoes online from the US, everything from
elsewhere, inexpensive and yet glamorous. 
It seemed to me there were subtexts here, hidden
hints. 
Why the emphasis on frugality?  Is it to encourage ordinary folk to participate in what they
describe as fashions on the field.
 
I do not trust it anymore than I trusted myself at the
family reunion. 
I have a photograph in front of me on my desk.  In the class photo of 1968 I smile at
the camera along with thirty two other girls in my third last year at
school.  All of us in our mushroom pink
linen dresses, with white Peter Pan collars.
The photo is taken at a significant time in the
history of the western world – massive changes everywhere, the Prague spring – but in it I smile feebly, my medal of Mary Immaculate around my neck.
 
There are others who also wear the medal in this
photo.  It marks us as future
prefects, good girls who will soon become leaders at our school.  My hair is in pigtails, my collar
crinkled.  My school dress is too
tight and it bunches around my waist. 
These are the days when I see myself as ugly and
compensate for my appearance by being cheerful, helpful and ingratiating myself
to all and sundry.
 
It seems an effective way to get through my final years at
school.  The nuns admire me for
it.  My fellow students tolerate
me.  A couple of my close friends
even like me and one or two others despise me.  One girl in particular, Rosanna, considers me a fraud and
treats me accordingly.  She sees
through my façade.  Under all the
sugary niceness I am as flawed as the rest. 
The good girl of my school years contrasts with the
troublesome one I have become. 
There is only so long you can hold onto excess piety.
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8 Comments on No bush fires here

  1. Andrew
    November 2, 2013 at 11:11 am (4 years ago)

    You bring back my own childhood, especially teenage, memories. I don't like what I recall, but then nor would I like to be a teen now, even though they know as much as I now do.

    I suppose my parents were concerned about what I was up to at the age of 15, but I don't recall any angst about my absences from home at night.

    Of course your daughter will be fine. Let her be an adult, albeit a still learning one.

    Reply
  2. Jim Murdoch
    November 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm (4 years ago)

    All this talk about families wears me out. I don’t expect to see any member of my immediate or extended family ever again and I can’t help but get a little irritated by all this talk about familial bonding. One of the shows we watch regularly is Parenthood and I find it such an odd programme—it’s not, I’m the odd one—but I look at all these siblings and cousins and nephews and grandparents (and, of course, in-laws) and they might as well be aliens. I have cousins—I’ve even met two or three of them once many years ago—but I’ve no idea who they are. They turned up one day out of the blue—all my experiences with extended family members fall into that category—and then they were gone; back to Oldham, I suppose. The idea of a big family get-together is something I don’t get. My brother has three kids but I can only remember the names of one of them. The eldest will be ages with my own daughter now—so over thirty—and the other two, by his second marriage, will be both teenagers. I wonder how much they know about me. Black sheep don’t tend to get talked about much.

    Carrie’s back in the States again. She moved her visit forward a month because her mother ended up in hospital which was not a good thing but at least the whole Alzheimer’s thing is now out in the open. How can a woman get to stage six and her husband not realise—or at least acknowledge—she has dementia? Now it’s only a matter of time and not a long time. Probably. Hopefully. Death’s bad enough but dying’s worse. Dying’s a black hole that pulls everyone within its gravitational field toward it. Death’s a release. For everyone. I, of course, ever the writer, stand at a distance and watch. She’s my mother-in-law but not my first. I was these when the last one died. It’s what my poem ‘Losers and Winners’ (page 93 if you have the book to hand) is all about. She’ll be back in a week and then off in January again I expect. Hopefully not sooner.

    I ran across some school photos yesterday actually. Some kind person uploaded them to Friends Reunited and, when I discovered them about a year ago, I downloaded the lot. It makes me sad to look at them but it’s not the worst sadness in the world. I grew up with these people and they were as much my family as any blood relatives. I can relate to them even if I’m not related to them. Or at least I could then. Now I don’t know where most of them are or what they’re doing. I tried searching for some back then following the death of my first girlfriend (which is what prompted the visit to the site in the first place) but I found only a handful and not the ones I really wanted to find. If I heard there was to be a class reunion I wouldn’t go. I did once. They had one maybe five years after we left and I didn’t enjoy it but at least I had a girlfriend to take along or we might’ve been married by then. Who knows?

    Carrie’ll be phoning in a few minutes so I’ll wind this up. Not really feeling that talkative today (says he after writing five hundred words).

    Reply
  3. Christine
    November 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm (4 years ago)

    Merimbula? It's such a pretty place and I even have friends there… the long term next door neighbours of childhood. And do we all not have the rebel within who aches for the truth to be told? Why is it, do you think, that too much of it is so hard to bear – as T S Eliot one noted, albeit with much more elegance.

    Reply
  4. River
    November 3, 2013 at 2:58 am (4 years ago)

    Like Jim, I'm not a "family" person. I have family of course, but we're individuals who just happened to grow up, well, I was going to say together, but that isn't true….I've recently reconnected with my brother, but we're not as close as most families are. I'm planning on visiting my sister next month, I haven't seen her in 30 years and it will be a very short, awkward visit, but I feel the need to make the effort. I never even think about the step siblings.

    Reply
  5. oosterman
    November 4, 2013 at 6:50 am (4 years ago)

    Family and the shelter they can give is often the one item that gives us the continuance. I don't understand not living within a family context even if we don't see each other often. Australia is a big country and most live nomadic lives by moving every seven years on average, losing contact.
    I go back to Holland and everybody still lives in the same place, the same house, the same shop is still on the corner.

    Reply
  6. aguja
    November 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm (4 years ago)

    It's not always a delight to look into the past at what we were – at least that is how i now view it … and would cringe at a family reunion as I possibly become more of a persona non grata as I age and less likely to 'do' the ingratiating.

    I do like the thinking quality of your posts. You have an ability to stir up what many of us perhaps feel, or have felt.

    I hope that you appreciate and enjoy the person who you are becoming.

    And, keep posting!

    Reply
  7. oosterman
    November 5, 2013 at 2:45 am (4 years ago)

    I wrote yesterday but can't see it here yet. I'll try again.
    I like family connections but in Australia with our nomadic ways of moving about over large distances, it is often problematic. According to statistics the average family moves once every seven years.
    I remember going back to Holland and after 40 years people and shops were still where they were before.
    Family is often the only shelter we still have, even if they are often less than perfect.

    Reply
  8. pviljoen
    December 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm (4 years ago)

    My mother was a great worrier. She suffered terribly under my grandmother who beat her up so badly she nearly broke her skull. She had a very low sense of self, as I do now. We suffered severed beatings from her. She thought it was good parenting. I remember, at 18, going back to college with bruises all the way from my neck to the back of my knees. My roommate was shocked speechless. Things do carry forward from what one has suffered sometimes. I avoided the pattern by never getting married, having no children. Still, that lethargy, grief-induced paralysis hasn't let off. And then of course there was the negative male influence as well as mentioned before. Tending the wound as we speak. Knots incurred only today beginning to loosen a bit from weeks ago.

    Reply

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