Monday, March 25, 2013

For Molly: Where I Come From

I come from the steam train huffing and panting at the station, while  the chute swings over and gushes water into its innards.  The grimy men wink at the  kids and bellow the whistle and shovel coal into the firebox., sweating. My father and I wave my mother and sisters off, and I can sense the spring in his step as we leave, and he buys me a threepenny ice cream. Lavish. A penny one is a treat. Bully Howe, the doctor's  labrador, is no threat at all with my hand in my father's large hard hand.
Since those days, when children in calipers were commonplace, and tragic young were negated implacably and forever with port wine stains across their face, everything has only got better.
Five houses. At the first, I overheard my parents saying that "she" had left for Melbourne. I knew that my sisters belonged to my parents but that I belonged to "her". Resignedly, I set off after her. Some workmen driving home come across my toddles and bring me back, My sister taunts me because, while doing so, I had forgotten to put on any clothes. I am about 2.
Songs. "Lili Marlene" on the radio, and others. "I threw a kiss to the ocean, I threw a kiss to the sea, And from the  - a - came ' Twas my bluejacket answering me." My parents sing in this house, 2, and so do we: solos, duets, rounds, "Oh how lovely is the everning, is the everning.."  "Gentle maiden, welcome here, You in all the world most dear." We break the ice on the dog's bowl in the mornings.
 Swagmen call in at house 2, shabby, worn  and supplicating.  My mother gladly feeds them, ladlling  roast lamb and veg  into a tin dish.Richer houses, behind hedges, have enameled signs on the gate: "No Hawkers or Canvassers". As then, as now. There are flag lilies along the path: untidy looking flowers to me.
When my mother is talking to her friend, the catholic priest butts in and asks why she missed mass on Sunday.  She never enters a catholic church again.
We are offered a drive to -. and my sister and I sit, embarrassed, in the dicky seat.
D comes here, rosy cheeked and fair haired, tiny pale freckle spots above her smile. I think that she is gorgeous. On a holiday to the city, a van crushes her father, Later we visit her in an institution which is praised for its modern replication of a home. It is obviously a cruel place.
Times are kinder now. I no longer see young people stigmated by purple birthmarks blotched across their faces.  I no longer see tattered and ill clad - old or young.
On the overnight  to Brisbane as the train hurtles through the wild McPherson Ranges, ihe isolated kids' cries of "paaa -" makes us throw any comics and papers through the windows, because that is their only contact with the 20th century.  How lordly and privileged we feel tossing out this largesse.
 Queeensland, with its stilted houses, its technicolour,  lime grass on red earth, scent vying against scent to overpowering  sweetness, wins my heart. My mother and Gran argue about whether petunias are weeds or not, but Gran determinedly tosses them away. French doors are open to the verandahs at night,   Looped mosquito nets, polished floors, sugar bananas. Oh, and cane toads.
Not long after this, everything changed. Or, maybe I just grew up.


11 comments:

Molly said...

Frances! I'm so glad you did this. Busy all weekend, I just now found it. My youngest daughter went on an adventure similar to yours at the age of two or three, also scantily clad! The neighbours retrieved her and brought her home. This hints at so many other stories you could tell! It left me intrigued. It almost seems to me there might be more to follow---like you were interrupted in the middle of that last sentence? If there's more I'll be eager to read it!

Elephant's Child said...

This is beautiful. Some of it is so familiar (the one penny ice-creams were rare treats) and others less so. There were no trains anywhere near us. And I love your recognition that in some ways (many ways?) we now live in kinder times.

Frances said...

Hello Molly: Spot on: that is where Firefox crashed.

Frances said...

It's easy to forget the commonplace harshnesses of the past, EC. Yes, quite a lot is kinder. Still a way to go, though.

Vagabonde said...

I come for a visit through Molly’s blog. I like your post – you write well. English is not my native tongue so I still don’t feel 100% familiar with it. I like to read recollections – everyone is so different. When I was 2 years old I lived with my grandparents in Provence because my father was in hospital from a bad injury in the war and my mother was working in Montpellier and, I found out later, was also active in the French Resistance. I’ll come back to read more of your posts.

Sannah said...

Beautiful, wistful, lovely.
Looking forward to the rest of it when technology resumes :)
xo S.

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