I had just arrived at Tullamarine Airport from Bangkok, the contrast of warmth was almost like a dip in an iced river. I had not organised my trip from the Airport to my home. There are lots of Regional Buses one of which dropped me almost at the end of my street. Bought a ticket and waited for the bus which I had caught a few times.
There was only myself and a rather stylish woman not much older than me. It was her accent that drew me back, cultured with a tincture of pomposity. We began talking and found out we were going to the same dropp off point in our suburb where she had lived in the same house for close to 80 years……We decide to sit with one another as there appeared a comfortable measure of comfort ….indeed it was indeed that. The journey is around 50 minutes so we both spewed forth…
She had been interstate to spend time with then man whom she has been his mistress for around 50 years. Her husband lives in a another state, none of this is known to him but they have had a great relationship. Her great love was of Theatre which she attributes to the plum in her mouth…she became a Primary Teacher as I had done some 12 years before. The commonality was thickening. She has and is still writing books, she is up to her 21st one as I type at 80.
She rises at 8.00am and begins writing at 9.00pm. I was overcome with edification .
What amazed me most was her father was a communist in Melbourne in the 50’s and insisted she get an education, introduced her to the Russian writers and poets and has continued throughout her life..A mother, bereaved of a son who took his own life, but three other happy children.
How so many wonderful things when you sit with someone you have never met and it all unfolds in the discourse. We plan to meet soon. How could one not…
The Woman on The Bus…
I was 16 years old. Uncle Bert was the brother of my paternal grandmother. In later years I was to find out that they had a strong bond, he was a gentle man and she a gentle woman.
I was aware of him as a little boy. He always wore a suit, ill fitting and a hat. He had some kind of job with the company called Stamina, it was Melbourne in the 1950’s. I always felt comfortable with him and of course to me he seemed very, very old….
His wife had died by the time I knew him..He was a protestant and she a catholic, something which never rested well with his sister, Daisy, my grandmother..there was a palpable divide in Australia at the time, Protestant and Catholic. Strangely enough my father was to marry a Catholic, a mixed marriage was the term in the 50’s.
As Uncle Bert became aged and ill he was put in a home in Northcote run by The Little Sisters Of The Poor…He slept in a large dormitory with other old and sick men.
Through the family grape vine he had heard I was going into a Monastery, a Junior Seminary in Galong, NSW…The Nursing Home had strict visiting hours. The family adhered to these rules. However one day there was a phone call that Uncle Bert wanted to see me. My parents were to take me to the Nursing Home on a day when visitors were not permitted. We arrived at lunch time and sat with him. There was a treat after his meal, a glass of cold beer, which I still recall him drinking with gusto in his mid 70’s.
The reason he had asked me to visit was that he had a gift for me. It was a small leather wallet which had religious medals sewn into it. He wanted me to have it as I was leaving home to enter a religious order.
Not long after finishing his glass of beer he began to cough and convulse as my parents sat with me at his bed side. He was dying. Most likely already dead. My mother and I quickly pulled the rope in the dormitory which was attached to a large bell. We then left the dormitory to seek help. We walked the wide corridors of the Convent and ran into a Nun who was walking our way. I said ” I think Mr Phillips is dying’ And with that equanimity of soul that nurses have she replied ” I will attend to it”
My mother and I went to the Chapel and knelt for a short time then returned to the bedside of my dead Great Uncle.
It was an amazing experience. The first dead body I had seen, the exchange of the gift, which sadly, I no longer have, the privilege of being with Uncle Bert for his last breath..
This will be be my resting place, the ashes, resting in the earth…The Rose Garden, St Kilda Gardens…I have written it in my Will…I have requested that a a few handfuls be kept for Sammy, my partner, to take to Thailand….where he chooses to scatter me is of no concern, will be happy enough to return to the earth again, albeit far from my first home..
I remember when my father and brother buried my mother at Springvale Cemetery, when he said to me : ‘There is room for three” So I guess he was offering me some mortal shelter along with he and my Mother….I don’t think so Bob, but a nice gesture all the same…I was to return to the same graveside some 16 years later to bury my father..Springvale is very much a Blakeley affair as both my parents and my paternal grandparents are interred there..
Following her wishes, my Mother had a Catholic Burial, my father, and Anglican one..In 1945 it was deemed a mixed marriage, sounding rather quaint in 2016…I have never returned to the graveside…I may want to one day.
As the journey gets longer, so too does a certain weariness, a slowness, a caution, and hearing and reading of one’s peers passing on, the sense of impermanence seems to have so much greater impact….When the giddying round ceases the calmness is able to arrive, stillness is a great comfort, like a dear friend who is happy to sit and talk despite the many inanities that one may spew forth…
Where the sea meets the land, has always been an attraction for me…the music of the lapping, gentle and at times thunderous..those long stretches of coast that are silent and brilliant…giddying the head with the joys of sun and vastness..
Solitary walks along beaches, filled with the richness of marine and flora…alone walking with the sand between ones toes, a dreamtime, an earth connection in any country..
Living on an island with thousands of years of culture and assault, a sadness so often..
I pay respect to the Elders who own this land….Wherever I am, I am an outsider..
For the first ten years of my life I lived alone with my mother and my father, Marie and Bob…..Life began in a bungalow in the large back yard of my paternal grandparents, Daisy and Harold….beyond the back yard in Glen Iris there was another block of land which belonged to my grandparents. There were chooks and a pony. In 1950 it was an exciting time for a little boy, the centre of attention of an entire family.
I grew up in a suburban brick house in Murrumbeena….the three of us lived there for 10 years before my younger brother was born. When I think back my life was filled with silence. I had hours each day when I was alone. There were no other voices. It was an interior life in many ways. We ate together as a family at a wooden table which had a linoleum top…and after 10 years there was the High Chair for my baby brother.
My life was spent between home, school and church. More than often the church was the silent space in my life. The Dramatic Domestica flowed with the days, the months, the years. A crying baby in the house changed the silence I had enjoyed for 10 years, yet was never intrusive, the joy of a younger brother was a gift. And 60 years later it is still a gift.
Monasticism was magnetic for this 14 year old suburban boy. Thoughts of days of silence, meditation, silent prayer, this was a banquet that I was so keen to feast upon. Community, chanting, praying and working together had a Utopian bend to it for this suburban boy.
I left home at 16 to engage in what I had dreamt about for the last two years of my life. Holiness was so attractive, that grace, that equanimity….the silence of corridors, of monastic cells…entrancing for this suburban boy..to be in the world but not of the world, to be all things to all men…words etched in the synapses of a septuagenerian man..
I enjoyed the 5 year chapter of my life…the friendships, the learning, the decency, the wanting to do good things, to make life better for others…Idealism that I make no apologies for at any time in my long and wonderful life…
I have been privileged to have had a rich life, to have always been surrounded by loving friends to whom I thank…and those of you who have passed you are never forgotten, Lloyd is part of many things that you gave me and I am still honoured by dear friends, albeit at times, web directed, still as important….Silence soothes..
The long stretch of sand, as far as one can see…silent, alone…a land far from one’s birth. It is 6 am on a normal Hua Hin morning. The only other people to be seen were the saffron robed monks on their alms round, the sand between their toes…To see the horizon, the shades of blue and the foam upon the waves were comfortable companions for me…It was the time of the day when there was distance, from people, from thoughts, from giddyness..the sun was gentle at this time, later to be savage for my fair skin, now wrinkled with lines of age and years of exposure to the Tropics…I am a strange wherever I go..