Phoning Mother

This morning, just before waking, I dreamt of my mother. It was just a fleeting connection and very mundane.  I was at the kitchen sink doing the washing up and she brought me some more dirty cutlery to add to the pile needing to be washed.  Moments later, I woke up and felt both astonished at her appearance and bereft.

Ironic that it was today, Mother’s Day that she chose to appear.  She died with breast cancer twelve years ago, and of course I miss her – even though she often exasperated me or we disagreed on things.  I realise with hindsight though that although I was aware in a general sense that she did so much for me, I took a lot for granted and never really thanked her properly.  This morning’s episode reminded me of a story I wrote in the months following her death.

 

 Answer the phone Mother – answer the phone!  

     “This call is being diverted to another number.  Please hold.”

     Not again!

            “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

     My mother’s disembodied voice.  I listen intently, absorbing the tonal nuances and waiting for what else she might say.  You never know, this time it might be something different.  The two names are spoken distinctly, as though there is no association between them.  Nancy – pause – Shorne.  Two separate words, not Nancy Shorne, with the words running into each other with a combined inflective melody.  I listen to the message, hesitating.  Should I speak?  What should I say?    I dither and the silence extends into an embarrassment.  I hang up, feeling stupid and bereft.  Unfinished business is so unsettling.

       After a few moments I collect my thoughts and pick up the phone again. 

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

            “Ummm, it’s me Mum.  Just calling to see how you are.” 

     This time I’m prepared and hang up the phone quickly.  No pause.  I feel a little flushed and unsteady though. 

     It’s strange – it’s not as if I am a kid any more, but there are times when you still want your Mum.  I was surprised when it first hit me.  I was always quite independent and confident.  I had unexpected surgery a few years ago.  When I awoke, I was overcome by post-operative melancholy, to say nothing of pain, and all I could think was ‘I want my mum!’  That was bad luck, because we were in different parts of the country.  I wept miserably, saved only by a nurse of mature years who recognised my distress and isolation and sat with me for a while. 

     I would have phoned Mother then, but only local calls were permitted from my bedside phone, and I couldn’t walk down the hall to the pay phone.  I had to wait for her to call me, just like I am waiting now.  I wonder if she knows what time it is?  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t rung.

     Phones have become such a way of life.  They are more than just communication devices.   They are statements of personality, fashion accessories, reminders, companions, and cameras..  I have a theory that in the not too distant future, our phones will be the means of Big Brother keeping track of us all, and we will use them for everything.  They will hold all our identity information and through our personal phone number it will be possible to access our tax file number, credit card info, social security number, etc.  It will happen gradually and we will all be seduced by the gadgetry before we realise what is happening – a sort of pocket sized Trojan Horse.

     Mother’s phone is just of the basic variety.  It took a while to coach her on how to leave the message.  All she wants is to be able to make and receive calls.  It does have other features, but she never uses them and she seems to have lost the instruction book now anyway.

 Once, we used to solve our problems for ourselves, and now when we are unsure what to do, we automatically reach for the phone.  Our children are loosing survival skills, and are really dependent on their phones.  I know it, but I still reach for the phone for the simplest thing.

          “Nancy … Shorne.”

     “Mum, do you know where your address book is?  I need to do the Christmas cards and I don’t know where anyone lives.  I could send email cards instead, but it is nice at least once a year to actually post something.  I suppose all I really need to do is wait until other people send their cards and then just note the addresses from the back of the envelopes.  I’ll write some notes in the cards as well.  Is there anyone you particularly want me to write to?”

       While I wait for her to call back, I could have a look through her desk.  It seems a bit intrusive though – like looking in someone’s handbag.  They are such personal spaces.  If anyone looks in either my bag or goes through my desk it feels like a real invasion of privacy but how else can I find anything?  I’m very careful and try to put everything back just as I found it.  Hopefully she won’t even realise what I’ve been doing.

       Actually, I have been looking through her recipes too, but she never seems to file anything in a logical order.  A lot of stuff she just keeps in her head and never actually writes it down.  When you do read the recipes that she has written, she leaves out the crucial bits, like in which order ingredients should be added, or how long to cook things and at what temperature.  I have to sort of guess, or else give her a quick call at some crucial moment when I’m getting a bit panicky.

           “Nancy … Shorne.”

  “Mum, how long do you cook quince paste?  How do you know when it’s ready?  This stuff that I’ve got on the stove now looks more like jam.  It’s taken so long to peel and cook and sieve and cook, and it just doesn’t look like yours at all.  What do I do now?”

       I wait for a while, just in case she has just picked up the phone and has heard my message and is going to reply.  I know that’s silly, because although you can pick up the phone and interrupt a call to a land line that is connected to an answer phone machine, calls to mobile phones go to virtual mailboxes instead and you can’t interrupt those.  I still wait for a bit, but there is only silence, so I hang up.  With some answer phones, a silence is interpreted as a completed call anyway, and the device actually hangs up on you, the caller.  Bit rude.

     Having got this far with the quinces and seen how difficult it is, I think I will just buy some from the providores in future – there are some good stalls at the Central Market – but it seems such a waste to just throw out this batch.  I’ve invested so much time in it.  Perhaps I will just keep it as jam.  Pity I never eat it.  By the time she calls me back, it might well be Quince Toffee – a new culinary delight.

       Sometimes when I phone her I don’t wait.  I dial her number and that impersonal mechanical voice starts with This call is being diverted to …” and I just hang up.  I get a bit irritated.  I don’t want to hear that strange woman’s voice.  At least it’s not an American voice, like those you hear in lifts telling you what floor the lift is travelling to.  The phone companies seem to have developed some sensitivity to the local markets.  I haven’t thought about it before but perhaps this is a new job for current times.  Qualification – well modulated voice, slow delivery, absence of regional accent.  A bit strange – there would be exposure around the country, all day every day, but totally anonymous. 

     Even one of my printers talks to me, and tells me when it has a paper jam, or if it has finished printing.  Voices everywhere.  I wonder if there is an association for recorded voices, or whatever they might be called.  There is bound to be some very important sounding technological name.  What would happen if they all went on strike one day?  What would we do with the silence?

     Speaking of silences, I wish she would call me back.  It’s a bit of a one-way street, leaving messages and not getting a call in return.  I have my mobile with me most of the time, so I am always contactable.  I miss some calls when the phone is in the bottom of my bag and no matter how frantically I scrabble around, I can’t find it in time and it stops ringing just as I locate it.  She doesn’t have a silent number, so I would know if she had called.  Her number would be displayed as a missed call.

     Dad has the phone now.  He inherited it by default, but he is even more technologically illiterate than mother was, so he often forgets to take it with him, or even to switch it on.  As for changing the recording or even reading the messages, forget it.  He has no idea.  It means that any time I want to talk to Mother, she’s there, her voice permanently preserved in virtual reality.  It’s comforting in a bizarre sort of way. 

     “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy …  Shorne”

     “Hi Mum.”

                   24 June 2004

 

Shortly after this story was written, my father erased the recording, as he pressed random buttons on the phone, trying to figure out how things worked.  My trojan horse comment was more prophetic than I realised at the time.

 

Children born through IVF have no souls

An acquaintance reported recently that another guest at a BBQ was loudly critical of people who used IVF services and declared that children born via IVF ‘have no souls’.  As my friend (unknown to the gathering) was mid-cycle with her latest IVF attempt in conceiving a child, thins was highly distressing to her.  As the mother of a child conceived via IVF, the comment was insulting to my son and I was understandably indignant .  You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at dim-witted comments like that.

Young Donald is now 21 so I have had plenty of time to observe the soul-less creature.  He was a fairly conventional kid really.  Baulked at eating vegetables, had too much screen time, thought that I nagged him too much and protested at being made to walk or ride his bike when surely it would be much quicker for me to just drive him.

Admittedly he didn’t have much of a religious upbringing – well none really.  I had to attend a church service in an official capacity when he was about four and took him with me.  We sat up the front with the dignitaries.  During one of the hymns, all in attendance standing of course, I looked up from my hymn book to realise that he was standing on the pew along side of me, conducting the rest of the congregation.  I don’t think that we have attended a religious ceremony since then, except for a recent wedding in Japan in a Buddhist temple. I guess there wasn’t the need for someone without a soul.

When small Young Donald loved cuddle time (and still gives me beaut hugs), is always ready to give his mates a hand, and is very generous – especially for a soul-less person.  He has morphed from at times being a morose and moody juvenile to being a socially adept young man who charms one and all with his conversation.  It gives me a frisson of pleasure when people seek me out to tell me what a personable young man he is and how much they have enjoyed their conversation with him.  What a pity he doesn’t have a soul.

I am reminded of a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when Daisy was very much a feature in young Donald’s life.  He took her out to dinner, selecting a cuisine the he knew she would enjoy.  When he brought her home, he had set up my massage table in his bedroom and scattered the whole room with red rose petals.  When they arrived home, she was greeted with soft lighting and massage oil.  Whatever else she was greeted with, I as his mother don’t really want to know, but think what he could have done if he actually had a soul.

I started to wonder just what might have been intended with the reference to ‘soul’ and resorted to online sources for interpretation and definition.  There were many, all much of a muchness and Wikipedia captured the essence with this explanation.

    “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and in many conceptions immortal essence of a living thing.”

I’m not going to debate the presence or otherwise of a soul, whether from the religious, philosophical or mythological perspective.  In my son however, I can see and hear the essence of many who have gone before – my parents and probably their parents and it is possible that his essence will be reflected in those who are to come.  I see mannerisms, I hear laughter, I see reasoning, I see a sense of social justice, I see an observant young man – and I see an individual.  This individual has a resonance that impacts not only on myself, but also on his mates and those he holds near and dear.  Does not that impact render one immortal and if so, is that the influence of a soul, that incorporeal essence of being?

Whether or not my son has a soul is irrelevant really.   What that man was insinuating was that my child, and others who were conceived via assisted reproductive services, is somehow deficient and not a complete human being.  It’s that sort of bigotry that has fuelled the justification of those who would impose segregation on others, and worse.  I just hope for his sake that when the time comes that he wants to reproduce, that his swimmers are up to the task. How would he cope with fathering soul-less children of his own?  That would be karma.

Scientific Justification for a Wandering Mind

I’ve always thought that I had a major problem with concentration – or lack of it.  It started in school which I would zone out during history or science, and lose myself in daydreams about endless what-if options, or whichever fantasy was top of my list that day.

Woe betide me of course if the teacher noted my blank expression and asked me a question.  How to be shown up and humiliated before a class full of peers.  I soon had a reputation and it wasn’t for my brilliance.

Then of course there are those team meetings at work.  Over an hour or so, the team discusses goal definition, project progress, moments of brilliance and safety issues.  It’s scintillating stuff. Where is my mind?  Not on the meeting, that’s for sure.

I’m doing a Walter Mitty with my head in the clouds, or dreaming of the next lotto win that will take me away from all this – or would if only I had bought a ticket.  I then have to ad-lib quickly when I’m called upon to contribute to the discussion.  It’s not easy to sound as if you know what you are talking about when you don’t, and I suspect that not many are fooled.

According to Malia Mason of the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, daydreaming is a form of mental multi-tasking, when the brain solves problems, contemplates and future and engages in cerebral brain-storming. It seems that the brain is engaged in a lot of hard and potentially productive work.

Dream-PictureSo, to those who have previously thought that I was half asleep, not engaged, or simply away with the fairies, I was in fact not just involved in serious contemplation; I had embarked on a meditative journey of complex resolution.

Sold the Family Home

It ended up being a brief process that was easier than I expected.  I handled the sale on behalf of the family and we elected not to bother with an agent but to make it a sale by vendor.

Front-2

This is the house that Dad built

My first preference was to auction the property, as the land size was highly desirable and the house itself was unusual.  There were not many comparable sales around so establishing a value was not easy.  Auctioneers who I approached to act on our behalf declined to do so, saying that they had to work for licensed agents for insurance reasons.  That being the case, I decided to call for expressions of interest instead, with offers over $550k to be received in writing on the designated form by a specified date.  We had already received a valuation at that price shortly after our father’s death and so that was our base price, allowing for some capital growth since that time.

Before commencing the advertising program, I engaged a conveyancer to prepare the forms that needed to be provided to a purchaser, and a blank contract as well so that I could seal the deal as soon as agreement was reached.  I designed a sign board and commissioned that, organised paper advertising (Mainstream and the local Chinese Property News) and advertised on line as well.  That just left the open inspections.

The interest invoked by the property was good and within a day we had an offer of $600k.  There was a little negotiating with different parties but 8 days after our initial open inspection, on behalf of the family I shortened the sale period and accepted an offer of $612k.  I felt that it was a very good offer and that the purchasers were so intent on buying something – if not our property then something else – that I should take it and not risk losing them.

It sounds easy but there was sadness too.  I grew up in that house.  Here were people pacing around the back yard and working out how many smaller homes they could fit on the block (they could fit three) and asking if there were any problems in chopping down the trees.  In the middle of the yard is a huge olive tree.  It has kept the family supplied with olive oil for years.  It was our playground as kids as we climbed its branches and acted out various games.  That was the first tree that everyone wanted to remove.

I made a conscious effort to dissociate myself from the emotional ties and to treat it all as an arm’s length transaction.  We still told our stories though at the open inspections – about how our father designed and built the house; why he came up with such an innovative and unusual design, the environmental features and what we remembered growing up in what was once an outer suburb.  People enjoyed the stories and appreciated being able to ask us detailed questions that perhaps an agent would not have been able to answer.

There is still another month until settlement day.  I’ll be relieved with it is all over, but there will still be a little part of me that is left in that house and up the olive tree, the ghost of childhood past.  It’s the end of an era.

Fabulous Friday

With the beginning of this financial year (July 2014) I have dropped back from five to four days in my paid job.  Friday was my day of choice to spend at home, but if there is something crucial that comes up at work, I have indicated that I am prepared to vary the day off.

My colleagues have assumed that this is the first step towards retirement as I am the oldest by far in my section and indeed one of the oldest women in the company.  Work it seems is the domain of the 40-year old.  They are right in that I am desperate to ‘retire’ from this soulless and patronising environment.  I hadn’t appreciated when I was 35-40 that this was as good as it got.  At that age I was at my peak as far as workplace relevance goes and since then the opportunities that have been open to me have decreased, with the general assumption that a younger person will be sharper, more edgy, more hungry, and more deserving.  I suspect it is a little different for men of a similar age – they have a longer use-by date but even they report after a while that they start to be sidelined as well.

This is in fact the first step towards the rest of my life, which is going to be more satisfying, more challenging and more rewarding.  I am working towards self-employment and so am doing some study, am honing my writing skills and repertoire, am using the time for lots of research and am planning future travels.  The diminished income is a bit of a fright but I have done my sums and I know that I can manage.  It also makes the week much more tolerable as well and by Thursday I am positively delighted, knowing that the next day will be all mine.

Today -yay it’s Friday – is part work and part pleasure.  To start with I am setting up a separate blog for my author identity.  I have recently published a novel under the pseudonym of Emily Hussey (more of that in another post) and have been most remiss in not establishing the relevant blog.  Looking around my office, there is a bit of filing and sorting that needs to be done as well.

Then will come the haircut in a new salon that I am trialling and late afternoon I will join a group of friends for afternoon tea that will incorporate champers and chocolate and a discussion on my novel.  This will be at the home of a 95 year old who is a wonderful woman.  She has such a questing mind and is so supportive or my writing and all endeavours really.  If you can get her talking about her life, she has had some fascinating experiences as well, and looking at the paintings and items around her home gives some indication of the journey that she has travelled.  We all appreciate the pleasures of these rare afternoons, very conscious that with Lorna’s age and declining health, there will not be so many of them.

Afternoon tea - plus a few strawberries and chocolate

Afternoon tea – plus a few strawberries and chocolate

When I think of my day, why would I be doing anything else?  What do you do with your Fridays?

Six Word Saturday

I am a little confused about the mechanics of this but have agreed to link to Cate and the 6-word Saturday task.  OK, it’s Sunday now now Saturday but I have only just found out about the link-up.  My six words are more of a reflection of what is going on in my life right this minute, rather than describing my Saturday, which was quite a different experience.

Cleaning, thinking, too many ants.  Damn!

If you want to read more about the Six Word Saturday, there is more of an explanation here.

Random Compliments

Late today, I was walking down North Tce in the city, after enduring a whole day in a team planning session;  the sort of day in which you examine team values and make pledges about future behaviour and how as a united team, you are going on to bigger and greater successes.  I loathe these events and rarely fully participate with all the group hug activities, etc.   It is a day to be endured.  Consequently, I was relieved that the tedium was over and to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine but was still mulling over the events and processes of the day.  A woman passed me, turned briefly and said,

“I like your outfit!”

before spearing off  in a different direction and crossing the street.   I was really chuffed.  I wasn’t wearing anything special; it is an outfit that I have worn to work many times, but I was delighted all the same.  I called out a ‘Thank you’ and smiled to myself.  It quite lifted my mood and the frustrations of the day.  What a nice thing she did.

Last weekend, I was at the Central Market, doing the weekly shopping – buying  500gm of turkey mince to be exact.   As he casually weighed out my order, the man behind the counter looked over and said,

“I like your hair”.

I was astonished in a nice way.  There was nothing particularly special about my hair that morning; I hadn’t just washed it or come from the hairdresser’s.  It was just my ordinary hair.  I was not expecting a compliment and it gave me a lovely emotional lift.  I smiled and thanked him, and probably had a spring in my step as I continued with my shopping.

Then there was another occasion.  Not long ago, I was walking through the city, and at a set of traffic lights, a man turned to look at me and said,

“That’s a really lovely broach that you’re wearing.”  I have to agree that it was.  Vintage and antique jewellery is one of my passions and this was a lovely American piece, probably from the thirties.  My black jacket was a great foil for the delicate colouring.  I was impressed that this man noticed it and made the comment.

Since today’s interaction, I have been turning over the issue of random and spontaneous compliments.  Are they better when they come from strangers who have no vested interest in your reaction or is it better to receive them from nearest and dearest?  Those random comments have the benefit of being totally unexpected and also convey greater sincerity.  It seems that they do anyway.

Sometimes I give random compliments as well.  I may see someone wearing something that I admire or doing something that impresses me and I will tell them so.  I have not expected to be on the receiving end however and I like it.  It is such an affirmative action, far more so than my team building session of the day.

Do you give random compliments and have you ever received unexpected  compliments yourself?  How did it happen? I would be fascinated to hear.  Did receiving a compliment make you feel like passing it on to others?