Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Armfuls of roses

There were many things my stubborn and self-righteous old grandfather did wrong. There's no doubt about that; even he admitted to and apologised for many of them. But I'd like to remember what he did very well indeed: he made a marriage last for 64 years; he saw himself as his wife's husband even when she was almost completely silenced by Alzheimer's; and he was faithful to the end.

There were many things this child never saw or understood, but these are the things that remain: he was surprised and delighted every time she brought out the violet crumbles, rubbing his hands together in anticipation before tucking in. He thanked his wife every night when he sat down to dinner, and always remarked on how delicious the food was. He patted her arm and called her 'pet', and meant it with great affection.

A person could do worse than to be grateful: for his sweet but vague wife, for the meals that appeared with clockwork regularity, for every shiny foil wrapped sweetie. A person could do worse than to plant a garden so his wife could have armfuls of roses whenever she did the church flowers.

A person could do a lot worse than to cherish someone for decades. As they aged, my grandfather seemed to became more affectionate towards my grandmother. He had always been thankful for her to some degree, but in later years, after a lifetime of gratitude, he expressed it in small ways every day. As she became more and more forgetful, I watched him wrestle with his frustration and choose to be protective, instead.

The choice ran deep, so that for the last couple of years, my grandfather sat with his wife at a nursing facility hour after hour, day after day, as she gradually lost all her faculties. He refused other options, seeing it as his duty to stay by her side, keeping his familiar face in sight, and acting as her protector and advocate. As her memory faded, her speech disappeared and her reflexes returned to those of an infant, still he sat, her husband to the end.

The man who had been angry and judgmental, even violent at times, the man who my parents' friends from student days, now grandparents themselves, still refer to as 'Father Abraham' in slightly awed tones, learned late in life to curb his temper and his tongue. At some stage he opted for patience and gentleness; and with regular practice, he mastered them.

A person could do an awful lot worse than to soften as they age. He gives me something to aim for.

Photo shows my grandmother: what a woman!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Keith Milne

A few words for a beloved family friend, Keith, who recently passed away.


Seventy years could not hide
Eyes and grin like a little boy
Who stole a plum from the neighbour’s tree
And twinkles still with remembered joy.

His gnarled hands, one nail snapped short,
turned an eggcup from huon pine
so fine it seems too good to use.
On tapering leg
it holds my egg
and memories of those hands,
that grin, the van the yellow of soft boiled yolk,
sparkling eyes that loved a joke,
a little boy in old man’s skin,
a loyal friend, one of those men
who loved and served and lived life well.
Finished now, like my eggshell.

What I will miss most
Is how he always turned his head,
Cupped his hand behind his ear,
And leaned near me
As if everything I said,
And you said and she said,
As if everything we all said
Was worth hearing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More than enough

As I stride along in my big red boots, an early spring breeze ruffles my hair. I swing the bag holding pink and purple wellies, a birthday present for my youngest daughter, and I can't help but laugh aloud. It's Thursday night, and I'm out and about with a bit of money in my pocket, heading to my favourite bar. There I'll chat with the barmaid about her new hat, then order a glass of wine and a toasted sandwich and call it dinner. Warm and fed, recharged by an hour or two alone at the back, I'll wander off to choir and sing.

How delightful it is to have a few dollars in my pocket! How lucky I am to have an hour or two out! How glorious it is to meet up with friends! How fortunate I am to have money, time, companionship, love!

Rockefeller was rich as Croesus; yet when asked 'How much is enough?' he replied, 'a little more, always a little more' or words to that effect. But a good pair of boots and a thick blue jacket; a glass of wine and a bit of toasted cheese; the joy of three daughters; the company of friends; and a husband warming my bed at night – what more could I possibly want?

Whatever was Rockefeller thinking?! So much more than enough, this is life in abundance. In the late afternoon, as the sun dips low and sets the sky alight, even the shabby streets of Brunswick are paved with gold.

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