Big, little, medium size!
My family is big and gets bigger all the time.
It wasn’t always like that. We got married, had children, our children married and had their children and before you know it we have a dynasty.
That’s what it felt like today at a family picnic at a favourite place. A place we had been many times before. It was beautiful to see four generations of two families at a picnic to farewell Ella and her little one Joni. There were great grandparents, grandparents, parents and little children. The little ones, five little girls enveloped in love from aunties, uncles, cousins, mums, dads and the grey generation.
It was cold, so very cold. Six degrees. The air we breathed came out as smoke. We played the dragon game blowing out air that quickly turned to smoke like mist.
We shared, tasted each others treats, put marshmallows on sticks to roast over the open fire, spoke about the other times we had enjoyed here at this special place. Made even more special because years earlier we had scattered our dad’s ashes into the creek.
The sound of the water running over the rocks, rushing between the banks of the creek followed us as we walked along the path through the trees.
You could smell the trees, their fresh clean scent trapped in their leaves. Breathing in deeply we filled our lungs with their purity. As we got closer we heard the crashing noise of the waterfall smashing down over the rocks. The little ones were excited. “This is the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen” said one. It was the only one she had seen but that didn’t matter as she watched the water glistening in the short burst of sunshine. A rainbow appeared from nowhere as we stood quietly watching the force of nature tumble down the cliff face.
For Ella who we said goodbye to, this will have been a special day surrounded by her family. When she returns with an older Joni she will be able to take her to the water fall and tell her this is where you had your first family picnic.
The mountains sit to one side and the ocean to the other. The contrast between the two is stark, the lush green foliage of eucalyptus trees, native cabbage trees, turpentines, the bright red of the Illawarra Flame tree and the huge figs all compete with each other on the mountain range. Looking at the range you see a scar that falls down the mountainside where some time ago in the not so distant past a rock fall occurred taking with it the trees that couldn’t survive the stampede of rocks. Walking up into rainforest you can smell the eucalypts, the turpentine and a wealth of other aromas all associated with nature and her beauty.
In the summer it is a popular place for locals and tourists who come from faraway places to enjoy the sun and the sand. They park their cars in no parking places, on footpaths or long distances away to satisfy a need to experience the beach.
The blue azure of the water on a calm sunny, summer day and the white heat of the sand is something that is part of me. The smell of the salt, the seaweed, the suntan lotion all make up my idea of summer. In the late afternoons after a really hot day, we wait for the southerly buster to come through and cool us all down. When that happens beach umbrellas go flying, sand is tossed into little children’s eyes and people scurry off the beach to find sanctuary in their cars.
This poem is timeless. It encapsulates all that is happening in the world today, especially in the country Australia where I live. Replace the Jewish people searching for refuge in the 1930s and 1940s with those searching for refuge from countries like the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan or Sri Lanka today.
I study this poem with my senior students and it is always such a worthwhile experience to see them appreciate and understand what Auden was writing in the past and how it is still happening in the 21st century.
Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?
Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.
I would like more sisters, that the taking out of one, might not leave such stillness. ~Emily Dickinson
I had four! Now I have three.
I consider myself lucky to have three sisters even though they have driven me crazy at times, have made me love them too much, have made me wish I had only brothers or even better been an only child.
You see they are all younger than me. I am their older sister, their role model (according to my mother). I am the one who they often came to with their problems, their fears, their arguments with each other, their anger and just their need at times for someone to talk to.
Am I closer to one more than the other? Well, it depends on what is happening in the world of my family. At one time or another each one played a special part in my life.
Marie, my sister who was only 360 days younger than me, who grew up with me, who came to a new country and world was my direct opposite. She was dark, fiery, an athlete, a tomboy, willing to fight anyone at any time…I was blonde, shy and a bookworm. She was often found in a tree, in a cowboy suit with a gun, or playing rough and tumble games outside. I was to be found in the bedroom with book, sitting and getting lost in places I as reading about. Still, while we may not have shared our looks or our behavior and personality we did share the love and adoration of our parents and younger siblings and grew up in ordinary, German/Australian household.
Growing up, we shared a bedroom, we shared our clothes, although there were often arguments about who owned the stockings, the make up, the hair spray, we shared the love of our parents and knew we individually held a special place in the family. As teenagers we argued over boyfriends, over personal space over everything and anything. That changed as we both grew up, married, had children and became women.
I thought we would always have each other to occasionally confide in, to ask advice of, to spend time with and to gossip about our younger siblings and our parents but cancer took her away from all of me. So very quickly, I didn’t really have the time to say the things I wanted to say, to acknowledge the love and companionship we had with each other. It is only now that I realize and appreciate what she gave to me and what I gave back in return.
Even when she was told she only had six months to live, she continued to be so strong, so courageous and bold, she told us all the cancer would not kill her. It did! It didn’t take six months it took less time than that, even so the week before she died she was still organizing a barbeque at her place for the family.
Her courage and endurance was an inspiration to all of us, but most especially to me.
Mum this week I became aware of your mortality.
Your second visit to Casualty by ambulance. The second phone message from Susi. The second time I rushed from work to see you lying in a hospital bed being looked after by nurses and doctors.
This time you looked frail and old. I saw you lying in the bed, a hospital gown on, a needle in both arms for the drips they were about to hook up. You looked around with scared doe like eyes at the hospital staff doing their job. The noises of an ER – phones ringing, equipment buzzing, people talking some quietly while others more loudly.
I watched as the doctor told you there were signs of another UTI, decrease in potassium and AF. They proceeded to give you the things you needed to get better. You didn’t question you lay there at their mercy trusting in the care they were giving you.
Later, when they told us you would be admitted overnight I began to be more concerned. I didn’t want to leave you. What if something happened and I wasn’t there?
But nothing happened. You came home and we sat with you for a few hours in be sunshine talking about everything and nothing. You were a little confused and your thoughts jumped around from one topic to another.
Realising this might be the beginning of your movement into another stage of your life, I am confronted by my own mortality. I was born when you were 18 and now we are both in the autumn of our years, me at the beginning and you at the end.
Ron asked did I think you would live forever? HonestIy I never thought of you dying. I have never imagined a life of you not being here in my life.