Tags: children and parents, death, depression, growing up, memories, mothers and daughters, regret
Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday. Sadly, however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.
I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.
For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.
I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.
A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.
I wish you could tell me, Mum
What’s your story, Mum?
I wish you could tell me.
Dad told me his when he was still here,
when I could finally visit from far away
But you had already left us then.
We often talked about you, Mum.
He’d tell me of when you were young.
Like how beautiful you were, how popular,
and how, even before he’d met you,
there was never any other girl for him.
His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,
And how the joy of it made his heart sing.
Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,
through wet, coal-blackened streets,
and for miles over cold and windy moors.
He’d remember how you both loved to dance,
as if the two of you were one,
Still gliding and twirling when the band
And everyone else was exhausted.
Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.
The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.
He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain
whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.
He said how wonderful it was later,
to assist in the births of your three daughters,
at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.
He told me what a great home-maker you were,
always making the best out of very little.
But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?
Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate
to a country free of class and arrogance,
but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.
Did you want to go as much as he?
Or did you go simply because you loved him?
It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,
but oh, how difficult it must have been
to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,
to go to a new country; a strange land.
Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced
the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.
A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced
the solid security of your old stone terrace.
Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.
Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced
soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.
Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.
How did you adjust to the changes?
What fears and insecurities did this bring?
Oh, what did you really think, Mum?
Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:
my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.
And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,
denied even the comforting presence of your husband,
as you fought, alone, for life.
Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?
Is that when you began to think you might lose us;
had to always know where we were, so you
could feel some measure of control in your life?
Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children
and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?
Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,
And there was no money to even buy food?
I remember that awful time, Mum.
I was only thirteen and could only guess
at the fears that burdened you.
The responsibility you had to take alone.
Dad, crippled and unable to help,
your father taking away the mother
that you needed then
more than you had ever done.
What I do know is that you kept our family going.
That it was your strength, dredged from
some deep, unknown place within you,
that fed and clothed and housed us.
It took its toll on you, I know,
but I thought of you as strong, Mum
in those desperate times.
But what did you think and feel then?
Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,
to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.
You were by his side, his partner in all ways,
as he set up a steady business
– concreting, of all things!
And how did it make you feel, Mum,
When, after so many years,
he took you dancing again?
The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,
With three daughters and one son married.
I remember the light in your eyes and your smile
as you welcomed my son,
your first grandchild, with more to come.
But as time went on, I realised that something
prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.
Not just because mine were always far away,
and you didn’t like or trust their father.
What was the barrier, Mum?
Did losing your own mother close your heart
against the awful possibility of hurt?
Was there something inside you that said,
‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?
We grew apart – not only because of miles.
I saw you too seldom and we could not share
the things that mothers share with
daughters who are also mothers.
I missed that, Mum. I still do.
Dad and I nursed you at home,
night and day, until you finally left us.
Was it a relief to go; to give up
the burden that life had become?
Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.
He always loved you – there was never another.
He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,
when you asked, ‘how old are you?’
He re-lived the days of your courtship
and listened to the music you’d loved together.
I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,
twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.
But I want to know more than that, Mum,
because I think that many parts of me –
my insecurities, my fears, my depression –
have come from you.
So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.
I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.
But you’ve been gone now for many years,
and I must rely on fragments of memory,
and find you in the words of the man
who loved you.
But I wish you could tell me, Mum.
In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;
born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.
I wish I had known you better, Mum.
Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;
born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.
I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.
(c) Linda Visman, May 2007
Edited 7th May 2016
Tags: Bananagrams, beginnings of writing, crossword puzzles, wordplay
I love words. Going deeper, I love the way words are created, and how they are represented on paper or on the screen by a series of little squiggles. Then, how they are joined together to create meaning.
I wonder how the prehistoric people first gave specific meanings to the guttural sounds they uttered & how they created simple languages. Over hundreds and thousands of years these languages became more and more complex. As mankind spread farther and wider across the globe, these languages became more and more different from each other.
Eventually, someone, or some groups, worked out a way of representing speech through pictures – probably beginning with the ancient cave paintings we now marvel over. Starting with these pictures, which represented their world – the animals, the weapons, the spirits, they eventually created symbols that would represent either sounds or words. And so writing was born.
For most of history, writing was under the control of religion, then of the rich and powerful. If the lower classes could read and write, they would be a real threat to the ruling classes.
It is hard to believe that it was only relatively recently that writing and reading have become fairly common throughout the world. Spoken words are all around us of course and now, so are written words. First we had books and magazines and newspapers; now, we also have written electronic communications. Nowadays, we have more writings and thus more things to read than we can possibly cope with.
We can also play with words. There are even many games that draw upon one’s knowledge of words – their spelling, meaning, matching them, or simply putting letters together to create existing words within a pattern.
I love unusual words, or words that may be difficult to say or words that have a rhythm & that are pleasing to the ear. Words like exculpation, elegiac, dendrochronology, propinquity. I love crossword puzzles too – the straight ones and the cryptic ones, with their clever use of language and meaning.
My latest word game, given to me a couple of years ago by my son and daughter-in-law (who know my love of word games) is one that I have become almost addicted to. BananagramsR is a tile game similar to Scrabble, but without the board.
They are called Bananagrams because the tiles come in a cloth bag shaped like a banana! There are lots of letter tiles and the aim is to create your own crossword with them. It is made to be played with others, because I have nobody who wants to play with me, I play alone.
I find the game to be very absorbing but, at the same time, very relaxing. Whenever I am stressed, I get out the ivory-coloured tiles and lose myself in a world of word creation.
It’s not just making words either. As I also like the order of patterns and the symmetry of crosswords, I try to make my own puzzles as tight as possible. Within the limits of the rules and the number of tiles allowed to be picked up at a time, there is also a randomness to the game, to the words I can create, every time I play.
Do you play with words? What is your favourite word game?
© Linda Visman
Tags: creativity, gratitude, Lake Macquarie NSW, Morisset Show, nature
I have been occupied with other things than this blog lately. However, I would like to share a poem with you that I wrote a few years ago. It is about the beautiful Lake Macquarie where I live, and how I saw it one day as I walked along the shore.
The poem was recently commended in the Morisset Show Poetry Competition.
Wangi Bay stretches before me,
a coarse wind-ruffled
patches of dirty brown
tacked onto it here and there
tossed onto the watery quilt
tumble and sparkle among
the grey jetty stripes and squares
and the multi-coloured
that have been tacked on
with contrasting whitecap stitches.
Here and there,
in out-of-the-way places
an occasional dot
of white embroidery –
a bobbing seagull or pelican.
A narrow, irregular strip
of breaking waves
marks the inner border
separating the nautical pattern
from its dark green edging
of eucalypt and casuarina
and spiky Lomandra longifolia
Today, the lake is a patch-work quilt
that I would like to take home with me.
© Linda Visman
11th October, 2010
Tags: challenge, depression, historical fiction, re-writing, teen fiction, Young Adult fiction
For the last month or more, I have been re-writing my second novel, (its working title is Thursday’s Child, although that will probably change). It isn’t complete – I had written about 62,000 words but, about four-fifths of the way through it, I had hardly written anything on it in the year until this January.
I was stuck. I couldn’t get motivated. I had no enthusiasm to get the story finished. I also had a year in which depression played too big a part. I wondered if my book would ever get written.
Then, after reading a few teen/Young Adult novels at the end of last year that worked really well, I decided to change my story from past tense and third person to present tense and first person. So now, my main character is telling her own story instead of someone else telling it for her. It works so much better!
With my new-found enthusiasm and will, I have so far re-written and edited my manuscript to over 60,000 words. I have another 5,000 words to go until I get to the place where I almost gave up a year ago.
I am hoping – no, expecting – that when I get there, I will be able to carry the story to its conclusion. After all, it is so much better to be telling the story as if I am the main character than telling it from an outside perspective.
My main character, Tori, has become much more real to me in the process of re-writing, and at times, I can feel her emotions as if they are mine. They are raw and real.
My first novel, Ben’s Challenge, was written in first person past tense, and that seemed to work well. But this one does better written as an unfolding story in the present. That present being Australia in 1959-1960.
I simply must finish telling Victoria’s (Tori’s) story!
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: bacon & baked beans, Blackburn Infirmary, camping, hay cutting, Oswaldtwistle, picnics, smell
Last week I wrote about the smell of pine trees and the memories they evoked fifty-five years later. There are a few other aromas that also strongly evoke memories of my childhood.
1. Bacon and baked beans
All my life I have loved the smell and taste of bacon and baked beans. Whenever I have had it, I think of being on the moors back in England when I was little. I didn’t know why this memory always came with this aroma until Dad told me (when I was in my fifties) that he and Mum used to take us for walks out on the moors of Oswaldtwistle. When we were there, Dad, a former Rover Scout, would light a fire and cook up bacon and beans for us. It was a special treat that we didn’t have very often.
When we go camping now, we have eggs and baked beans, with either bacon or sausages, at least once during the trip – my husband has always loved it too.
2. Cut grass on a warm day
Occasionally when I have been driving in the country, I have come to places where council slashers have been busy cutting the long grass along the sides of the road. Sometimes an aroma hits me, and I am taken back to my early childhood in England. I have discovered that the right smell is only there when the cut grass is long and dry, and the air is warm but not too hot. I didn’t know then why this wonderful smell affected me so much – I love it, it brings me a great feeling of happiness.
Whilst visiting Dad over Christmas in 2005, I mentioned it to Dad. He said he always loved the smell of new cut hay in the fields back in England. It was then that I realized what the odour was. Haying time was a great time for kids then. I had picked up those feelings, along with the aroma of hay being cut on a warm day in autumn before I was five years old. They have stayed with me all these years.
3. An Isolation Hospital
When I was about three years old, I had glandular fever and had to go into the isolation cottage at Blackburn Infirmary, where I spent some weeks. It would have been about 1951. I remember being in a cot and wanting Mum and Dad to come and take me home. They weren’t allowed to come in, and I could only see them, and they me, through a window.
There was a smell there that, when I come across it today, always takes me back to that memory. I’d always thought the smell was chloroform, but that wouldn’t be right. It is more likely to be the old kind of cleaning alcohol that was used when giving injections. The modern alcohol cleanser doesn’t seem to have the same smell.
Because of a later association with this odour, another memory also springs to mind. It is of walking past a mobile medical facility that used to occasionally park in the area in front of the shops at Albion Park Rail when I was probably about 10 to 13 years old. I think it was the TB testing unit.
Tags: Great Ocean Road, memories, Reed Park, scent of pine
It was December 2005, and we were traveling along the Great Ocean Road in southern Victoria in our camper van. [My husband] Dirk and I were in bed at a caravan park in Apollo Bay, when an aroma took me back to my early childhood. As the perfume wafted in through the open window, it affected me so powerfully that I couldn’t sleep until I had written about it.
This is what I wrote then, and added to after we returned home.
11.20 pm 19th December 2005, Apollo Bay Caravan Park, Victoria.
I lie in my bed in the caravan, weary yet content, and listen to the murmur of the waves, ebbing and flowing, muted by a hundred yards of distance from the seashore. Beside my head is the open window. Through it wafts a scent/smell/odour/perfume, carried on the cool night air. It is fresh and clean, and takes me immediately back to my childhood. It is at the same time comforting and exciting, familiar yet strange, bringing me thoughts and feelings from the distant past, whilst still being here in the present.
I take in the smell with each breath and attempt to analyse it. What is there about it that makes such an impression on my both conscious and unconscious mind? I look out of the window. In the diffused glow from the park lights, and against the darkness of the sky, I see the spreading branches of the huge trees beneath which we are parked. They are ancient pine trees, what kind I don’t know, but as soon as I realize that’s what they are, I can put a name to the perfume my subconscious memory has already identified.
It is the clean scent of pine; a perfume that has been added artificially to cleaners for years to give the impression of freshness and purity. But this isn’t that artificial perfume which invades the senses and often becomes cloying. Instead it is a subtle blend of pine needles, bark and resin, damp pine-infused earth, and cool night air. It is light, almost ethereal, more a presence than an odour.
It brings to my mind cool and shady woods, feelings of peace and tranquility overlaid with the tang of adventure. I can almost believe there are elves or fairies present – that is how strong the impact is on my senses and my feelings. It stimulates me to such an extent that I can’t sleep until I have put these impressions and feelings onto paper. I wish I could capture in words the strong sense of how I am somehow transported back more than fifty years into the past and to the feelings I had as a young child.
What power has the sense of smell on the mind! I want to drink in this perfume as if it is the elixir of life, and to be conscious of every draught of it.
I am sure it was at Reed Park, where we lived in a caravan for an extended time during 1954-55 when I first encountered this aroma. We had arrived in Australia from England in March 1954, and somehow, the scent makes me think of good times, the stimulation and excitement of the new, but also of security and contentment.
I talked about this with then, and later with [my brother] Peter and Dad over Christmas. They all agree that there definitely were huge pine trees around where we camped in the caravan at Reed Park. Peter can’t remember there being pine trees anywhere else we’ve lived. So I am confident that the smell that night – which I have not thought about since I was about six or seven – was from that park. I must have been happy there, I think.
© Linda Visman
Tags: acrostic, memories
I have written just a few memories here in the form of an acrostic, using the above title. They are from my first thirteen years, and are limited by the letters I had available to me. They are also very brief, though I have already, or will in the future expand on some of them in other posts. It actually wasn’t that easy to do this self-imposed exercise!
School days at St Mary’s, St John’s, St Paul’s, St Mary’s & Dapto High
Oswaldtwistle, where I was born, and left when I was five
Making my own bows and arrows to play Indians
Entertaining ourselves with simple toys and games
Mowing the lawn at twelve
Easter rituals at Church and school
Mum’s green leather belt when we were naughty
Ordinary – that is how I saw my life; nothing special at all
Reading to find worlds of adventure
Ironing before heat controls or steam and burning my white school shirt
Earning a few pennies by opening & closing the railway gates for motorists
Singing old songs from England with my parents, uncle & Granddad
Odd one out – the middle child of five who didn’t fit anywhere else either
Finances always strained, with no money for extras
Milk – our milkman came around with a horse and cart
Yearning for I knew not what, but something more than I had
Yelling at my sisters & brother when I was angry – too often!
Eating Mum’s trifle at Xmas & New Year with Grandma, Uncle Fred & our families
Sitting at the kitchen table on stools that Dad had made
Taking Peter’s canoe onto the lake when I was forbidden to
Eating tough mutton chops & being unable to swallow the over-chewed meat
Radio serials like Superman and Tarzan that we listened to after school
Dad, David & Pauline hospitalised with polio
Accident, where I fell onto a joist when Dad was building an addition to the house
Yearly tests and trying to beat the two boys who were my main rivals
Songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s that we listened to on the radio
What memories would you write if you did this acrostic exercise?
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: 2016, blogging, friendship, New Year, wishing for peace
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
It has been gratifying to see the rise in the number of visitors and also of followers to my blog. Thank you to all who come to my page and especially to those who comment on the posts.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
I’d like to wish every one of you a Happy New Year for 2016. I hope it is a year filled with positives in every part of your lives; challenges that help you grow; joys that make you happy; friends with whom you can share; and a world that becomes less troubled by hate, intolerance and violence.
May peace and love be the mainstays of your life and spread from you to all with whom you come in contact.