Letter to Mum

Dear Mum,

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into, Stan!”

At 58 it is hard to reconstruct what life was like as I grew up – for example I vividly remember looking at one of your books in the lounge room at 2b Parnell Road.  It was “I’m all right, you’re all right” – can’t find any reference to it.

I have I’m Ok You’re Ok, Thomas A. Harris, but we were in Canberra from 1959 to 1965 and Harris published in 1969.  I know you had that book because we talked about it, maybe not in Canberra possibly in Brisbane; you obviously did some reading about Transactional Analysis.  Did you understand it?

I am currently trying to come to grips with the notion I may have accepted my partner for the resemblance to my ‘caretaker’.  I have the exasperating task to sort out my “Old Brain” how can I become aware of its functions – turning my conscious mind into examining its own especial vulnerability.

What an introduction; and having left home at 16 (42 years ago) I wonder how those 16 years shaped me?  My first recollections are in Batman Avenue in Melbourne so if we were in Canberra in June of ’59 I left there at the ripe old age of 5½.  My recollections are of the ’56 Olympics; the starters gun at the swimming.  I think with grandpa.  The house and the Army compound.  I recall you going across to the Officers’ Mess for functions but coming back regularly to check on us and always bringing a present – a Mars Bar was one recollection.  But this is just sporadic incidents such as being slightly grazed when I ran in front of a VW outside our house.

Before this you have returned from Japan, pregnant with Anne so it is early ’52 and you and Dad are posted to Penrith and you are now 23 having been in Post War Japan since Christmas Day ’47 probably a 4 year euphoric existence basking in the glory of the conquering allied forces.

You married in February of ’51 at the age of 22 and Dad is nearly 13 years your elder aged 35, you are his second wife.  Why did you marry someone so much older than yourself?  You had been in Japan for three years did you marry for convenience so as to stay in Japan longer?  Did you ever love Dad?

Anne arrives in March ’52 and me in November ’53 so there was a physical relationship; however, I do not remember any moments of affection – no kisses or cuddles between you and Dad and finally in Brisbane around 1966/67 you are in separate bedrooms.  A martyr staying together for the kids!  I am ambivalent about that, part of me says why not piss him off and do what you want to do – were there any other relationships?  Alternatively, I am grateful for the “stable” home albeit I left it at age 16 never really to return.  It was always wonderful to come home to my own room and pristine house and your amazing cooking.  You gave me the run of the menu on all homecomings.

My main, early recollections are Canberra and the first home in Harrison Road.  We are surrounded by lots of other kids and I am constantly playing with friends and at Duntroon Public School and attending the Saturday matinee watching the Three Stoogers, Cartoons and Westerns.  Always playing out the film after the matinee.  School seems fine I remember two Principals, my teacher Mrs Davis (she married while I was in her class as I remember the name change) and quite a number of my class mates.  Yvonne Shores as my first girlfriend, Billy East, Robbie & Harry Brown, Graham Deards – life was wonderful.  I played in the school band as a drummer and played all sports.

In Canberra I played Aussie Rules, I swam and was a successful diver, played soccer.  I remember playing marbles at school, the school bus and so it goes on.  I received my first bike, a Malvern Star whilst at Parnell Road and remember learning to ride holding on along the white picket fence of Susan Seddon’s house.  Once mastered, that bike took me everywhere.

Connections with you and Dad are not vivid, I do remember him being involved with the Duntroon Atoms – our Aussie Rules team, I think he did things like goal umpire and I certainly remember him at the presentation nights with me.

I remember Dad coming home and going to work – not far to go and I do remember visiting him at the ‘Q’ Store – all lots of fun.  I remember the house at Parnell Road and Dad stoking the Rayburn with briquettes.  The kitchen is always producing wonderful things.

You play tennis – you and Dad seem to be very involved with the Golf Club, you both have a Saturday ritual at the Easters listening to the scratchings before the races and having a bet and a few drinks.  That is always fun and Mr Easter takes me fishing along the Eucumbene River and us camping at Lake Eucumbene.

Doris & Anne visit regularly and we look after Tigger – our home has lots of comings and goings, the Cadets, sons of Army mates come for a home cooked meal regularly – Don McDonough who ends up as my ‘preferred address’ in Sydney.  The Army links are strong and even the Green Grocer who delivers fruit & veg off his truck is part of the rich fabric that is Duntroon.

We go to Moruya on the NSW Coast and stay in Ziegler’s Cabins (probably Christmas/ New Year) and I recall fondly sitting on the public oyster lease and eating oysters until we looked like them.  There were parties there so either we travelled with friends of met people there but I remember having lots of fun swimming and playing

I get into my share of trouble, starting fires, breaking street lights with my slingshot, stealing corn from next door and get the odd flogging for my misdemeanours – all well deserved.  We make our own slingshots, billycarts, bows & arrows – life is just one fabulous adventure.

Canberra is a wonderful memory of playing up and down the Molonglo which feeds the Murrumbidgee, out in the manoeuvre paddocks, up to Mt Pleasant look out, playing all through the bush around Duntroon.  On my bike cycling everywhere, repairing my own punctures – from age 5 to 12 an impressionable period but I had clear rules and the standards of behaviour were high I had to do as I was told.

Anne and I seem to get on, I am not aware of a significant or special relationship or a poor one, I am sure I am a turd of a brother at times.  She is more sensitive than me and probably far more perceptive than I with what is going on around us.

Anne starts High School in Canberra going to Campbell High she has a couple of close friends one of whom she is still close with today.  However, I remember a couple of incidents when she cut her knee in the bath on the broken glass from the shampoo bottle.  Imagine using glass shampoo bottles today!  Anne had hepatitis and was off school for some time and I remember talking to her in bed for some reason – sitting on the other bed across the room.

Mum I remember leaving Canberra well, it is the end of 1965 and Dad is getting out of the Army – we are off to Brisbane.  I remember Dad coming home after a farewell quite pissed – I remember watching him trying to take off his shoes whilst sitting on the bed.  This was most unusual so he must have had a long lunch as I was still up.  But I had never saw him that pissed before.

Things I remember are having to leave my fishing rod behind and you taking me into Civic to buy me shorts and long socks – shit I hated them.  Probably my first fashion statement (not many of them) but you assured me in Brisbane that was the rig.  But I was oblivious to the packing and any of the angst of moving going to Brisbane seemed fine to me.  I had a few mates I was going to keep in touch with and Dad had a new job.

I do remember Dad preceding us and finding a house in Oxford Park – the house was pretty average and you obviously had to do all the packing, look after two kids, albeit 12 and 14 but pack, clean, travel et al.  Interesting to know what you were feeling at this stage.  A 23 year Army career coming to an end, Dad made the rank of A/Capt never confirmed in the rank and was at that time the most senior Captain in the Army.  Obviously not promotion material.  I wonder if you had that stigma in the Officer’s Mess and with other Army wives – after all he was from the ranks!

Is the Japan era just a distant memory now?  Is that euphoria visible or indeed was that time euphoric or something completely different?

On reflection your relationship with Dad, whilst seemingly oblivious to me at the time may have been strained you regularly express exasperation – sayings of “Oh Bob!” are clear but I don’t remember any screaming matches or raised voices.  You do ridicule Dad at social occasions and all that seems like a lot of fun.  I do remember defending him quite some years later and asking you to lay off and your response was something like I didn’t understand what he had put you through.  My point was you had a choice no reason to martyr on.

But doing all the moves yourself with kids in tow sorting out schools and so forth dealing with finances – we didn’t have much but I don’t remember ever going short of anything.  You and Dad loved your grog but didn’t seem to over indulge, you both smoked and loved a bet – so with all that and we were fed and clothed well, I presumed you did Ok with the finances.  You never brought a house, Warma St was our first.

You did have a career in Canberra as a typist and I remember the court reporting stuff and those mates of yours so you have a variety of interests.  I do remember very fondly walking in the bush with you and your knowledge of orchids, collecting mushrooms and your remarkable talent for flower arranging.  You are an avid reader always with a book on the go and trying desperately to get me to read anything.

I think the first 12 years is enough – aged 12 to 16 in Brisbane I am already structured emotionally by now my “Old Brain” is programmed – now to unravel it!

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