This (mem­ory-filled)

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Pat Washington

AT 86 I have so many mem­o­ries. I think of them as be­ing stored in an an­tique chest. It’s crammed full of com­part­ments, each one with hun­dreds of fold­ers. They are all there ready to pop out at the slight­est open­ing.

An early one is from about 1928. I re­mem­ber rid­ing in the side­car of Dad’s mo­tor­bike. That’s spe­cial be­cause it was the only time Dad owned a mo­tor ve­hi­cle. With that comes the mem­ory of see­ing men shel­ter­ing from the rain un­der a bridge. Dad said they were home­less and out of work.

Then I re­mem­ber men, one af­ter the other, knock­ing at our back door and ask­ing: ‘‘Mis­sus, can I cut your fire­wood or do any other odd job?’’ Mum al­ways filled their billy with tea and gave them some­thing to eat. We be­came used to see­ing men and boys on the road tramp­ing along with bun­dles on their backs look­ing for work or shel­ter.

Dad lost his tim­ber busi­ness and found a job cut­ting tall tim­ber. We had to move to a tent in the bush to be nearer to his work, which was hard and dan­ger­ous. A big truck would pick him up just as dawn broke and de­liver him back af­ter dark. Life in the tent was lonely. My brother and I would be scared along with Mum as dark­ness fell and our Dad had not ar­rived home. My poor mother was al­ways imag­in­ing strange men lurk­ing.

One night sticks in my mem­ory. The big truck had bro­ken down and Dad walked home for miles through the dark­ened bush. A nail in his boot had cut into his heel all the way home and leeches from the damp un­der­growth fas­tened to his legs as he walked. I vividly re­call the blood pour­ing out of his boot as he took it off and tipped it up. My mem­ory of the blue rings left by the leeches on his poor white an­kles stays with me still.

A lit­tle river­boat would ar­rive once a week at a jetty not far away with our few sup­plies. The gro­cer would of­ten in­clude a bag of bro­ken bis­cuits as a sur­prise. I re­mem­ber a Christ­mas tree at a small school nearby. Ev­ery child was given a tiny present, even ones like us not yet at school.

Lots of out-of-work men lived in Wind­sor. Dad got a job dig­ging pota­toes from sunrise to dark for £1 a week. It was a bless­ing be­cause he could bring home all the dam­aged ones. I re­mem­ber ev­ery­one was hard up but no one wanted to be seen lin­ing up for the dole. They did not want to ac­cept char­ity, but of­ten times it would be nec­es­sary.

I can’t re­mem­ber be­ing hun­gry. We all en­joyed bread and drip­ping or bread and syrup and I re­mem­ber lots of por­ridge.

So far I’ve re­lived only just a few of my mem­o­ries. Just those few re­mind me why I still feel guilty about be­ing waste­ful.

Mem­o­ries, I re­alise now, make us who we are. I have so many of them, to share, to re­live and to hug to my­self. If I am lucky there will be more still to cram into my chest.

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