Sliding backwards

Not long after she was handed her driving license my
mother took out her new second hand car, a pea soup green Farina that was
shaped like a woman, all curves and narrow fenders.

On the Saturdays on which my
mother was rostered to work as a child care officer at Allambie, she drove to
and from her workplace with her four youngest children in tow.   I was ten and the oldest of the

My mother took the car key with her into work and warned
us not to lock the car should we decide to go for a walk or leave for any other
reason.  Otherwise we would not be
able to get back inside the car until her return at five o’clock.  We were not to interrupt her at
Those days were long.  My mother parked her car on Elgar Road not far from the
Wattle Park.  We killed time by
walking to the park and mucking around on the no longer functional tram that
had been installed as part of the children’s play equipment.  

Back inside the car in the middle of
the day we ate the jam sandwiches we had brought from home.  We doled them out slowly so as to have
something to do and also to keep our hunger at bay.  We spent the late afternoon dozing and reading books in the
fuggy warmth of my mother’s car. 
Nine to five, so many hours to fill for four small children alone in a
green Farina.

On the way home I sat in the front seat.  I helped my mother to drive by
anticipating her need to turn corners. 
It must have annoyed her when I insisted on clicking on and off the
indicator light whenever she turned to right or left, but she did not
My mother was a nervous driver and often stalled at
lights. Worse still, her green Farina had sloppy brakes. We sat at the
top of the hill at the intersection of Mont Albert and Balwyn Roads and waited for the car’s inevitable slow
slide back, even with the hand brake raised.  I hoped the lights might change soon before the car hit anyone
behind us.  

In the nick of time my
mother re-engaged the gears and we shot ahead spared the humiliation of a

My mother had a serious accident within a year of getting
her license, serious as far as her Farina was concerned.  She gave up driving then, too terrified
to get back behind a steering wheel. 
With no one to encourage her, my mother lost her opportunity.
She told us years later that she had wanted to learn to
drive again but by then my father was against it.  He was dependent on her company.  ‘If she gets her license,’ he said,  ‘she’ll never stay at home.’  He preferred to act as her driver
instead and so my mother became a kept woman once more.

We’re slipping back into the past in this country with a
conservative government at the helm. 
There’s only one woman in the ministry among all those men, all dressed
in dark suits, including the one woman. 
We have a new title for our Immigration Department that includes the
words ‘border protection’ – it seems once again we need to protect our
borders.  And now we have no
ministry for science, or for aging, disability or mental health, all those
areas in which vulnerable people need assistance. 

We have slipped back into the one dimensional world of white Anglo Saxon, homophobic times and
it terrifies me.  My only hope is
this is cyclical and the slide backwards will not continue. 
I wrote a letter to a friend but did not send it.  I did not send it because I did not
want to revive a situation that is now over.  I did not send it in part because I cannot revive a
friendship that is over.

And so my
letter sits in its envelope unopened, sealed forevermore, so many words
unread, so many thoughts unshared. 

My letter will go where all the other letters-not-sent go.

There must be many such letters written by people in the
heat of a moment, written with the intention of communicating to another, but
lost through a change of heart.  

9 thoughts on “Sliding backwards”

  1. I've written about wives driving up to the point of their husband's retirement and then their husband does all the driving and she is de-skilled and then when he dies, she no longer has the skill or confidence to start again. It is well worth remembering by both parties.

    My email draft folder is full of emails written on the spur of the moment and often in anger and outrage. I felt better after writing them and there was no need to send them. It did take me time to learn to save them for review and not click send.

  2. My mother never learned to drive. She started to but as my dad was her teacher the outcome was inevitable. My father did not suffer fools gladly. Puzzles the hell out of me why he married one. My mother was not quick on the uptake. She could learn but it had to be at her pace. It was not my dad’s pace. He bought her a sewing machine but ended up using it himself because Mum couldn’t cope with his method of instruction but wasn’t bright—or motivated—enough to sit down when he wasn’t there and try to figure it out herself. So Dad did all the driving and Dad did all the sewing. In some respects he was a good husband—my mum never got a broken pay packet (he would ask her when he needed money)—but he was a bully, albeit a well-meaning bully. My mother used to say that her sister was the dux of the school whilst she was the dunce; Dad was the school bully, literally, although I’m not sure it was the same school.

    I don’t take much to do with politics as you know but even I can see that Australia’s in for problems over the next few years. It puzzles the hell out of me how some people get elected. The idea of a vote for all is a good one in principle IF everyone who voted knew what they were doing. As Dad said to me, “Jimmy, no one votes governments in, only out,” and it’s true. There’s a UK comedian—don’t know if he’s known in Australia—called Al Murray and, like Warren Mitchell before him, he’s best known for a persona—in Mitchell’s case it was Alf Garnett, in Murray’s case it’s the Pub Landlord (they’re very similar characters)—and in a recent show Murray tells the history of British politics in reverse. It’s a wonderfully astute analysis because it proves my dad’s point. Some kind person’s uploaded it to YouTube here. Governing’s like parenting: no one’s prepared for the job beforehand no matter how much they read up on the subject and everyone makes mistakes; by the time they’re getting the hang of it they’ve usually run out of time to do any good and younger men and women have taken over and are too busy making their own mistakes to listen.

    On the subject of unsent letters, I do have one although I can’t lay my hands on it. I’ve probably deleted it or it’s on some other computer. About a year ago I learned of the death of the first girl I loved (I’m sure I talked about it at the time but I’ve no idea to whom now); I wrote a poem and then felt a desperate need to check up on other schoolmates to see if the ones who mattered to me were still alive. The important one was my onetime best friend, Tom. Since he and his wife were directors of a company and (surprisingly) still living at the same address they were not hard to track down and I found their Facebook pages as well as the pages of their kids where there were some nice photos of their parents which I downloaded and I do know where those are. Tom and I didn’t fall out or anything. We simply drifted apart. We hung onto the friendship for almost twenty years after leaving school and then one day it was either his turn to phone or mine and we never did and the other never called to see what was up and that was it, as simple as that. I’ve not spoken to him in over twenty years but I always felt bad that I didn’t try harder to keep our friendship alive and so I wrote him a letter, a letter I had no intention of ever sending because I’m wise enough to know when something’s time’s past, but I wrote it anyway, said what I had to say and now, as you can see, I don’t even know what I’ve done with the damn thing.

    I’m a bridge-burner. I don’t look back much but I do suffer from occasional bouts of nostalgia. I don’t always realise when something’s come to an end but once the point has penetrated my thick skull I cope fine. I grieve in my way and then get on with things. Few endings are neat. That’s the one good thing about death. You know the date and even the time things ended. I used to be able to tell you the date and time my first wife left me. Now I couldn’t even tell you the year.

  3. A bit off topic…I received your review but my ( brand new) computer died over the weekend..and it seems that the other computer I am using has not downloaded your email. Could you resend please… ( Needless to say with all this mucking around with computers I have not had a moment to sit down and write ny review. Cheers Christine

  4. Searching for old friends is something I've done a few times and now, after finding some of them, I wrote to them all, and posted the letters.

    I met my first 'love' in mid-1951 and wrote a 'goodbye' letter in 1952, because I'd lied to her about my age: I was 16 but said I was a year older. She was 22.

    When I finally tracked her down, some 12 or more years ago, I was so elated and excited that I just wrote immediately to her, following up with a visit a couple of months later. She has since died, having been hit with Lewy Body dementia. Death was a blessing.

    I have other similar tales of this 'lost and found' nature but none quite the same as the first.

    Never look back, so many will advise. I don't agree. The past, to me, is much better than the present and certainly superior to the future.

  5. "We have slipped back into the one dimensional world of white Anglo Saxon, homophobic times and it terrifies me. My only hope is this is cyclical and the slide backwards will not continue."

    I could have said the same thing about the U.S. ten years ago. Now we have a black president and more and more states are making it legal for gays to wed.

    Still, racism and homophobia remain very real things in this country. Attacks on gays have gone up in New York City of all places, and people on Twitter are complaining the new dark-skinned Miss America is a potential terrorist. Hopefully, it won't slide any further back than that.

  6. You live in a non-coloured-person area. I live in a very-coloured-person area. It's okay for you.

    Two black men bashed a white Canadian to death outside a faux Irish pub, right across the street from all those trendy cafes, boutiques etc in recently gentrified Yarraville. (Quite upsetting for the tastefully decorated.) Seems to me no matter to what extent rough suburbs become lovely old gestures break out occasionally, and that amuses me. Anyway they were virtually excused for it; sentenced to around four years. Maybe they shouldn't have been jailed at all?

    Prior to that, in the middle of the street outside the Newport pub I saw two Maoris gripping a white man (face covered in blood) by each arm and taking turns to knee him in the gut. I was driving a ute at the time and thought of running them down. But that would have been racist.

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