Final Words

Aside

Working tonight on the text for a funeral ceremony that I will deliver on Friday.  Just a small family group, perhaps about eight people, unless some old army mates manage to come.  It is always a challenge to sum up a life in a few pages and to capture the essence of a person such that the mourners feel that you have done justice to their friend or relative.  Makes you consider also the measure of a life – is it what one has achieved, what one has amassed, or who one leaves behind?

Makes me wonder what I will be remembered for.  Sometimes, putting the wording together is like pulling hens’ teeth although it always works out in the end.  I will probably get up early in the morning to edit what I have written and to put the finishing touches.  I am a morning person and so write with more clarity and purpose at that time.  He was an Elvis fan, so I will finish off with ‘Return to Sender’.

Barcelona and the Art of Blogging

What do you know about Barcelona?  If you are anything like me, not much more than where it is on the map.  In that case, you might like to see what Cutesuite has written about Barcelona in this blog. http://cutesuite.wordpress.com/.  Interesting art work, but I love street art anyway, and am always on the lookout for new examples.

Scrolling the blogs around me or that have similar tags, I have come across a host of fascinating information.  There are lots of cooking sites and obviously food, preparing it, photographing it, discussing it and presumably eating it are consuming passions for many.  I was surprised (naively so) at the amount of porn out there as well.  I get a lot of spam comments (all deleted) that presumably are porn Trojans.  I am so sorry for the people whose blogs are hijacked in this way.  Then there are the political blogs or those that document travels, with heaps of photographs.

Social commentary blogs can be very clever, with scintillating repartee and biting wit – often at the expense of themselves or their nearest and dearest.  The Bloggess is one who springs to mind, and she is great to read when looking for diversions whilst at work. Looking at her links, she connects to lot of like-minded blogs as well.  This is a world with networks within networks, with overlapping links that can take you both to sites full of verbal diarrhea and others with tantalising titbits.

Reading other blogs (looking for some connection really) makes me feel very unfocused in that I am not trying to be witty and I don’t have a specific theme to what I write about.  I’m more into day-to-day stuff and what is happening in the world around me, how that affects me and as a consequence how I might connect to others.  Blogging is a contradiction – a solitary exercise using social media.  You put your observations out there and perhaps you get some comments and interaction, and perhaps your words are whisper quiet, observed as the reader pauses for a while and silently moves on.

Take what you will from the words on these pages – it matters not really whether you comment or not.  If you have paused long enough to read, then that is fine.

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Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you too, can become great.”  Mark Twain.

Sailing Down the Murray

Resulting from an impulse Cudo Voucher purchase, this morning I took Father for a breakfast cruise in a paddle boat on the River Murray.  The breakfast was a bit average, but it’s the experience that one pays for rather than the food.  We received a glass of local sparking wine at the start of our meal (pleasant but sweet), but were told that coffee is not included and must be paid for at $5.00 a mug.

Just as we were about to board the boat, the sole partially detached itself from my right shoe and I flapped my way up the gangplank.  These shoes, a beautifully comfortable pair of Rockport walkers, belonged to my mother.  After her death in 2003, they found their way into my wardrobe and for the first time since leaving school I found myself wearing black lace-ups.  I have derived an enormous amount of comfort from those shoes, both physical and emotional   I think that I even wrote a poem in the early days titled ‘Walking in my Mother’s Shoes’.

Ever a sandal wearer in both winter and summer, it was a hesitant transition to these shoes but now I love them.  I was adamant therefore that when the soles wore out, they had to be replaced.  Re-soling is a tricky exercise and in my sad experience often not a success.  Slicing off the old sole is tricky and bonding a new sole in its place likewise problematic.  It frequently separates from the shoe again as the bonding does not hold under the stresses of walking.  Frustrating when the upper is still in such good condition.  Perhaps the shoes should be discarded but they are one of my last tangible links to my mother.

The river is relishing the break of the drought, but still flows gently.  As the Captain told us several times, it is the slowest flowing river in the driest continent.  The banks are lined with Willows, planted by early river boat captains, who used them as delineators of the river bank.  In times of flood, when the river spread sideways for huge distances, the trees marked the deep river channel so that boats which had ventured into new waterways could find their way back to the river and the deep water.

The boat was smaller than I expected.  Somehow, the mention of paddle boat brought to mind an image of a massive paddle steamer, playing the Murray tourist trade with faded genteel luxury.  The boat on which we found ourselves was much smaller – intimate even and built in the late 1970s.  It operates seven days a week servicing the tourist and corporate trade, with the Captain and his wife making their home on the lower deck.

It was misting with rain on the river, the day a mixture of greys and murky greens.  The brighter colour of the Willows provided contrast and relief.  Father gave me a potted analysis of the geological history of the cliffs as we passed, analysisng the sandwiched stratas.  Also the history of the river going back pillions of years when perhaps it followed a different path.  In those days, Australia was still connected to Antarctica.

We passed an old house on the cliff top, two straggly looking palm trees framing the view from the river.  We were told that at the time of Federation, the government gave two palm trees to the houses that lived along the river at that time, to be planted in commemoration of the great event.

I excitedly pointed out the high voltage transmission lines that straddled the river as we glided underneath.  Not many people get excited about these giant-like metallic towers that dominate  the landscape in stark silhouette.  In my day job, I acquire land for substations and easements for transmission lines like this and I have learnt to appreciate the geometry and strength of those towers.

I have seen Scandinavian designs of towers in the form of a line of giant men, striding over the landscape and holding the wires aloft with their arms.  Brilliant.  Each tower depicts a different phase of the stride.  I hope they get built some day.  There can still be art form in utility structures.

We watched the river birds, their take-offs and landings and discussed the merits of various river-front houses and houseboats.  We passed houseboats with clotheslines and dog kennels, Australian flags, solar panels and mini wind turbines.  Some were obviously occupied by permanent residents rather than holiday renters.

I nearly cancelled this trip, thinking that father would not be well enough.  He has perked up significantly after his recent hospitalisation with Serum Sickness and the severe allergic reaction is abating.  The Asbestosis is apparent in the breathy response to any exertion,  but he is stoic about that.  Stoic is one of the terms that I used to describe him in my Memorial Reflection blog.  I’m glad that I didn’t cancel and that we got to do the trip together.

Father’s Day 2011

There have been fifty eight Father’s Day celebrations for me.  They have slid past in recent years with little more fanfare than a box of chocolates.  With the intensity of the self-absorbed, it is easy to overlook the significance beyond the day itself.  I spent last Sunday on Eyre Peninsula on a work trip.  Sitting in the sun in Kimba, away from city distractions gave me the space and licence for reflection.

It is said that you only truly appreciate what you have when it’s gone.  Well father is not gone yet, but he is 95, and he has also just been diagnosed with asbestosis.  Both of these factors make it smart to review what I have now rather than later.

My father’s life has spanned truly remarkable social, cultural and technological changes.  He was born during World War I, and was a conscientious objector in World War 2.  (He subsequently accepted the call-up with the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.)  He was born to a single mother, a situation that brought shame and disgrace to her and her family.  Years later, I gave birth through choice to a child on my own, with that grandchild being welcomed by my father with great pride and joy.

Although my father did not have the opportunity to finish primary school, all of his daughters attained a post-graduate tertiary education.   He remembers seeing the first aircraft fly over the country town in which he was living.  Now I have a pilot’s licence and his family treats international jet travel as akin to catching a bus.    He is not very tech-savvy, but he does have an email account and a mobile phone.

Those things that I have described are the trappings of his external environment.  Other changes have come from within.  He grew up in an era when sons were everything, and he assumed that he would have a family of sons too, instead of the four daughters that he sired.  He has never totally overcome the bitterness of this disappointment but has learnt to embrace his daughters and their accomplishments.  He still voices his disappointment in only having three grandchildren – hardly the dynasty he dreamed of.

Dad grew up in an environment that although within Australia’s egalitarian society, was still class-driven.  His mother was firmly of the view that you could not step outside your station in life.  This was no doubt reinforced by her time working as a domestic servant in Adelaide as she struggled to support herself and her child.

Perhaps some of those early experiences stimulated his political awakening, for as a young man he joined the Eureka Youth League and later the Communist Party.  He developed a strong sense of justice and fair play.  For example, he opposed funding for private schools on the basis that this money should be directed towards state-based education.  Having missed out on the education that he had craved, he was adamant that the state should provide the best education possible to the general public, and of course without fees.

My early memories are of a dad who was tall, who was clever, who had black hair and clear blue eyes and a charm that he plied with the ladies.  Osteoporosis and age have taken their toll on the height, the hair and they eyes, but he still likes to turn on the charm.  He was never a man’s man, and he had more male acquaintances than mates.  Neither a drinker, a smoker or a sporting man, he was not comfortable in blokey masculine company that was driven by those interests.

He loved exploring ideas however or scientific concepts.  His information was gleaned from extensive reading and listening to the ABC radio.  It was a self-education that was broader than the formal education that many of his cohorts received.

So what sort of Dad was he?  Unconventional – definitely unconventional.  After my birth, my mother was told she would not have any more children (not correct).  The second of what were then two girls, I was not the boy he desperately wanted.  So he made do with me instead.  He took me to work with him from when I was a pre-schooler onwards, and later my younger sisters as well.  He was determined to teach us the handyman skills that he deemed necessary.

Working with him, we were also the gophers, the fetch and carry people.  He was a contractor in those days and was paid by output rather than by the hour.  I didn’t realise it at the time but we did make his task a bit easier by attending to the set-up and breakdown tasks.  I didn’t enjoy the instruction however, as his style was to lecture, while we were required to stand and watch his demonstrations obediently and attentively.  Not fun at all.

Working with him was also the main avenue of spending any time with him as he worked most days and had little time for ‘playing’.  He never attended our school or sporting events, and of course never followed sporting activities himself.  He didn’t go fishing or cook family BBQs.  All that was quite foreign to him.  Of course he didn’t have any example of such parenting styles from his own childhood either.  A step father came on the scene when Dad was around six, but these were the Depression years, and from what I understand, family times were fairly depressed as well.  He did enjoy camping, with a more Spartan style than commonly favoured today.  Camping would have been a regular event if he could have managed it and he was disappointed that as my sisters and I grew older, we were less and less interested.  He was sure that this would not have been the case if we had been boys instead of girls.

He did play Chinese Checkers though, using a board made by interns when he was sent by the army to a camp based at Loveday in South Australia during the latter years of World War 2.  He painted Quondong seeds to use as counters.  We played many games with that set.  We also made things with Meccano, played Pick-Up Sticks and listened to the radio.  No TV in our house during our school years.  We also read lots – books or papers.  Avid readers, all of us.  Dad soaked up information and education from these sources and would discuss it with anyone who would sit still long enough to listen.  It has to be said though that his form of discussion leant more towards lecturing than a mutual exchange of ideas.

Resulting from his years of political activism, he also has an ASIO file.  I ordered a copy of it a few years ago under Freedom of Information legislation, getting the details also that applied to my mother.  By coincidence, my parents were visiting when the papers arrived in the post.   We all read, astonished over our cups of tea.  The insignificant detail that had been deemed suitable for recording and filing was almost laughable, except that it indicated that people in our neighbourhood or community had been interviewed at some stage to collate the personal and inane information.

For instance, my mother had attended a cake decorating class, organised by women within their political circle.  That was funny but another example was a little sad.  A neighbour, a refugee from a war-torn eastern block country, had approached my parents to act as referees on his application for Australian Citizenship.  I believe they also helped him with filling in the forms.  This association was seen as suspicious and was thoroughly investigated for sinister connections.  I wonder how it affected the poor man’s application?

Although Dad was born into and brought up in impoverished circumstances, and lived for many of his formative years in rural areas, he is a very well-spoken man.  He has often been thought to be English, but on his mother’s side at least, is an Australian of several generations.

His opinions in early life though were typical of that era.  Women were the home-makers and he expected that his daughters would be also.  A man needed sons of course with whom to achieve the important things in life and to preserve the family integrity and name.  He was very unsophisticated and unschooled in the niceties of social engagement.  He needed little in life in the way of material possessions, and had little understanding of those who did.

His sense of home decorating was Spartan and make-do.  This was to give my mother a lot of grief, as she yearned for more creature comforts and despaired of father’s habit of dumping furniture and bits and pieces that he could see no further use for on the back verandah or in one of his many sheds, where they gradually deteriorated through exposure and neglect.  In exasperation and frustration at the backyard clutter and detritus, mother referred to him as an old Steptoe.  The concept of a neat and tidy back yard that could be used for socializing and family entertainment was quite foreign to him and still is.

He has never been a drinker, a smoker or a gambler, though I believe he did smoke the occasional pipe in his twenties.  When Dad first started working, he automatically gave all his pay to his mother.  Later, when he was married, he handed over his pay to my mother, who was the financial controller of the household.  It never occurred to him to be either mean or precious in relation to his earnings.  Not one to spend money flippantly, if ever I were in need of financial assistance, he would do what he could to help and has often offered.

It has only been during this last year that Dad has stopped trying to do household maintenance tasks for me, as he has always felt that he should look after his daughters.  With both knees replaced and both hips too, thanks to arthritis, he would still try to get up on my roof to inspect the gutters or whatever.  I learnt to keep quiet about chores that needed doing.  It was easier not to let him know than to try to stop him from ‘assisting’.  I guess that there are different ways that people say ‘I love you.’  Dad’s not a vocal man in that sense, but can belt it out with a hammer and nails.