I wish you could tell me, Mum

May 23, 2016 at 5:00 am | Posted in Australia, Family, Family History, heritage, History, Love, Memoir, Polio epidemic, Reading, Reflections, Writing and Life | 29 Comments
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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.

 

Agnes Thompson 1941 front

Mum aged 21, 1941

 

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.

 

Agnes&Ern Thompson 1974

Mum & Dad dancing, 1970s.

 

 

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

 

 

An Olfactory Blast from the Past

January 11, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in Australia, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Leisure activities, Memoir, Nature, Reflections, The Senses | 11 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

 

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.

 

greatoceanroad

 

 

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.

 

Reed Park with pavilion 1950s

Reed Park in early 1950s, showing a few of the pine trees

 

 

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

 

 

Some Memories of My Yesterdays

January 4, 2016 at 2:00 am | Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Australia, Experiences, Family History, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Reflections, Ways of Living, Writing and Life | 21 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

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

 

I Remember When …

June 22, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Family, Gratitude, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 10 Comments
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monday-memoir-badge

 

I remember when…

 

The lake shore, the farms and the local streets

were all places where children could safely roam;

and we played pirates, and cowboys and Indians

and wandered ‘til dark in the bush near our home.

 

I remember…

 

The milk and bread being delivered to our door

on a cart with a horse that knew when to stop;

when it was exciting to travel on a steam train

and a penny bought four lollies at the local shop.

 

And I remember…

 

Walking three miles to church on a Sunday

with my family and wearing my best frock;

and the joy of reading a library book

or of being allowed to stay up until eight o’clock.

 

Aah, the memory of…

 

Our excitement when Christmas morning arrived

and we couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought;

when the family came together to share a meal

and we sang the old songs that we’d all been taught.

 

Do I want to remember…

 

Going outside down the path, in sunshine or rain,

to the backyard dunny with its newspaper and pan,

in daylight or dark, with the smell all around,

hoping they’d not come while you’re sitting to pick up the can?

 

I also remember…

 

The long hard hours Dad worked to get enough

for the basics of life and a deposit on some land;

And Mum, never knowing if ends would meet

or if there’d be enough money to go around.

 

And the polio that changed our whole way of life

when it struck down my brother and sister – and Dad;

How Mum coped with all the worry and stress;

Her fears we’d never keep even the little we had.

 

But the things I remember best are these…

 

the love that our family had for each other

and the strength this gave us in bad times and good;

the joy we took in life’s simple things;

the hard work that was something we all understood;

the respect that we knew was earned and not bought;

and the strong moral lessons that our parents had taught.

 

Maybe rose-coloured glasses have changed my perspective,

but I believe that our past is always subjective.

What we do with our memories shows who we’ve become –

so let’s use them to help us in times that will come.

 

 

(c) Linda Visman

This poem was first published in “I Remember When” an anthology compiled and edited by Julie Athanasiou, Legacy Books, November 2006.

A to Z Challenge – D is for Dirty Fingerprints

April 4, 2015 at 12:01 am | Posted in A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015, Poetry | 15 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE [2015] - Life is Good

 

 

 

 

I wrote this poem just after having my first grandchild visit from interstate.

 

 

Exactly a year ago they came to visit;

Their first interstate foray since his birth.

He was almost two years old,

Bright, active and adventurous,

Yet somehow shy and tentative

In this unfamiliar place.

We walked by the lake and he laughed

As the wind took his breath away.

He loved the boats on the water,

And saw where a generator spun in the wind.

“Umm!” he demanded. “More ummm!”

But there were no others to find.

He played happily with borrowed toys,

And slept peacefully in a borrowed cot,

Getting to know us a little more –

His Grandma and Opa.

A joy and a pleasure to have him –

However long or short the time.

It was only after they’d gone that we saw them.

Four or five, on the big glass door,

Where he’d leaned as he looked outside.

Handprints, tiny and perfectly formed,

Brought Aidan back to us in memory –

Our beautiful, bright-eyed grandson.

It was a long time before that glass door

Saw a cleaning cloth!

(c)  Linda Visman

I Remember When …

August 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, Society, Ways of Living | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prop clothesline

I remember when…

The lake shore, the farms and the local streets
were all places where children could safely roam;
And we played pirates, and cowboys and Indians
and wandered ‘til dark in the bush near our home.

I remember…

The milk and bread being delivered to our door
on a cart with a horse that knew when to stop;
When it was exciting to travel on a steam train
and a penny bought four lollies at the local shop.

milk cart

And I remember…

Walking three miles to church on a Sunday
With my family and wearing my best frock;
And the joy of reading a library book
or of being allowed to stay up until eight o’clock.

Aah, the memory of…

Our excitement when Christmas morning arrived
and we couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought;
When the family came together to share a meal
and we sang the old songs that we’d all been taught.

Do I want to remember…

Going outside down the path, in sunshine or rain,
to the backyard dunny with its newspaper and pan,
in daylight or dark, with the smell all around,
hoping they’d not come when you’re sitting to pick up the can?

Dunny can

I also remember…

The long hard hours Dad worked to get enough
for the basics of life and a deposit on some land;
And Mum, never knowing if ends would meet
or if there’d be enough money to go around.

And the polio that changed our whole way of life
when it struck down my brother and sister – and Dad;
How Mum coped with all the worry and stress;
Her fears we’d never keep even the little we had.

But the things I remember best are these…

the love that our family had for each other
and the strength this gave us in bad times and good;
the joy we took in life’s simple things;
the hard work that was something we all understood;
the respect that we knew was earned and not bought;
and the strong moral lessons that our parents taught.

Maybe rose-coloured glasses have changed my perspective,
But I believe that our past is always subjective.
What we do with our memories shows who we’ve become –
So let’s use them to help us in times that will come.

(c) Linda Visman

First published in “I Remember When” an anthology compiled and edited by Julie Athanasiou, Legacy Books, Melbourne, Victoria, November 2006.

Singing with someone special

June 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, War and Conflict | 4 Comments
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I shared a special two hours with Dad today. I went to pick him up and take him out for lunch. He doesn’t get out of the house much, being blind, deaf and not very strong. After all, he will be 91 in nine days.

My Dad, May 2012

As I drove down the freeway to Kiama, I faintly heard Dad singing. I listened, picked up the song – an oldie from his young days – and joined him singing it.

From that song, we went on to sing other oldies, all of which I knew too. We sang all the way to Kiama, and then, softly, we continued to sing together as we waited for our lunch to arrive. During one of those songs, tears came to Dad’s eyes and his voice broke. It was “I’m singing a song for the old folk”. Dad was remembering his dearly loved parents, who died when I was very young, and I was remembering my mother

After lunch, we drove home through beautiful green dairy country instead of on the freeway. As I drove fairly slowly along the back roads (virtually no traffic), we sang again. Dad sang the same songs over and over. He has Alzheimers and his short-term memory is exceedingly poor, so he couldn’t remember he’d already sung them. But he was happy and, to me, it mattered not at all. I sang along with him every time as if it were a new song.

He seems to remember these times when we share the past more than he does the everyday present moments, and they mean a lot to him. It was a very special time for me too. I felt privileged that I could share it with him.

Mum & Dad about 1944

When we arrived back at Dad’s home (he lives at home alone, as my mother died eighteen years ago this week), we chatted about singing, and how it raises the spirits and unites people in a special way. He said how wonderful it was as a boy and young man to hear his father’s lovely tenor singing his favourite songs from the music hall shows and the radio.

Dad has always loved singing and, in the sergeants’ mess, when he served in the Royal Air Force in WWII, he would sometimes start up a song. Others would join in and soon, thirty or more men would be singing together – popular and humorous war songs, even love songs. Dad said it was a very moving and unifying experience.

When they’d sung themselves out, one of Dad’s mates would say, “Thommo, you can’t sing to save your life, but you really get us all going”.

I remember when I was a child that we would sing together when our extended family got together, both in England and in Australia. We would sing for ages, and this is why I know so many songs from the 1930s and 40s. When we went driving in the Australian countryside in our old car, we often sang too.

Mum often had the local radio on when we were kids, so we also picked up a variety of songs from the 1950s. And even though the songs from the 60s were those of MY generation, she loved many of them too.

Later in my life, there were times when I hardly ever sang. They were the down times, when life wasn’t easy, for various reasons. Then I met my second husband. He loves to hear me sing, even though I do not have a good voice. (None of my paternal father’s offspring and descendants have inherited his lovely singing voice).

Now, I love to sing again and, when I do, I am uplifted and strengthened.

But singing with Dad is something special, remembering parents, grandparents and mates, and good times once shared, all now gone except in our memory.

 

© Linda Visman

Small Stones 21-24

January 27, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Gardens, Nature, Philosophy, Writing | 1 Comment
Tags: , , ,

Here are four more of my small stones, written as part of the writing our way home challenge.

 

21. Magpies

I wake up to nature’s summer music;-

the magpies carol with enthusiasm,

encouraging those who hear

to join them in celebrating the day.

 

Well, that’s what it seems like –

even if they are just saying,

‘Keep out; this is my territory!’

 

22. Broken Promise

A tiny grey speckled bird’s egg lies in the garden bed.

But for a small hole at one end, the shell is whole.

When I pick up the delicate casing, a single ant emerges.

 

The empty shell is heavier than it should be, so I check.

A dessicated embryo is stuck to the inside wall,

And it weights the egg at its little end.

The egg’s promise of life is only fulfilled for the ants.

 

23. Nectarine

Red and yellow skin and soft white flesh.

A nectarine, ripened to perfection.

Succulent; delicious.

I hold the taste in my mouth for as long as I can.

 

24. Mist

Misty cloud descends on the rainforest;

its cool, ghost-like tendrils spread among the trees and ferns.

They settle on branches, leaves and fronds

and gradually coalesce to drops

that fall to water the earth.

© Linda Visman January 2012

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