A week in my life from twelve years ago (Part One)

I found the following pages that I wrote around twelve years ago. This was long before I became a mother; long before my child was in the school system and long before she was found to be dyslexic. I was around ladies who had been wounded in childhood, and through their own tenacity, had survived. I was around women over eighty whom I wanted to emulate in older years. Apparently, I never did like party plans! Reading through my summary of this particular week has me convinced that there are signposts along the way, indicating where we shall find ourselves, and who we are destined to become.

‘I gave Irma some photos, and she adored the images of her three friends, but at 83 years of age, was terribly critical of herself. “My neck is so wrinkled!” she cried. This distressed me, as I admire her in her deep-blue suit, straw hat atop her soft white hair.

We picked up Helen at the hostel. She is a strawberry-blonde with an impish face. She was excited on her 60th birthday; the giddy enthusiasm of a lady who has rarely had a birthday celebrated. We took her to see Murta in the nursing home. Helen leant over, and gave the grand lady a kiss. “I am praying to be taken home to heaven,” 99 year old Murta advised. “I just don’t understand why he has left me here!” “We cant bear to let you go yet,” I whispered. “When a nurse, the tea or cleaning lady enters your room , you greet them so warmly. You make them feel important and loved. You listen to them; you are doing important work.” Her eyes rimmed with tears as she talked about her dear friend Rex, who had recently died. “I had known him since he was a boy; long before he married Gwen…I have a card here to send to her, and I just don’t know what to say! I shall miss Rex forever. How can we go on without him?”

I took her hand, “write what you just said. Rex was one of your dearest friends; tell Gwen about the times you recall; the qualities that summed him up.” Murta clapped her hands. “What a wonderful idea! Yes, I shall!” She praised my woollen jacket, and I remarked that I had recently bought it. “Arent you a bloated capitalist?” she teased, then nodded approvingly when I said that it had only cost a few dollars at the opportunity shop. She looked wistful as we farewelled her. “Yes, I am here for a while longer… I must be patient.”

Murta at seventeen in the '20's
Murta at seventeen in the ’20’s

I took Helen to dinner. She talked of the health difficulties which made her walk with a cane, and of future surgery needed for cancer. No fuss, just the facts. She would have brushed away sympathy. A lady who had lived in scores of orphanages would never have it in her mind that those who love her want to care for her and are actually interested in the goings-on in her life. She devoured her dinner as though it were her last meal, and I carefully inquired as to where she had lived. “All over; Queensland, Melbourne and Sydney. I lived in  fifty homes…” Her voice grew soft. “Sometimes, I got warm flannelette sheets. They would hit me if I was naughty;didn’t make my bed properly or forgot to scrub my face. But, they gave me flannelette sheets sometimes.” It were as though her mind was torn between the memory of the beatings and the comfort of the sheets. Why can’t the nightmare people be bastards all the time? Why must they confuse with gifts and smiles before bearing down with fists?

Helen’s parents had given her away, and kept her younger sister. She holds no bitterness, for she is a sixty year old child. She shall never be old and embittered, a hard crust forming around her heart. Her eyes focused on a spot on the wall, as though she were being pulled into the past. To bring her back, I started a roaring rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’ A fellow at the next table sang along, and I smiled in appreciation. The more folks made a fuss of Helen, the better. A lady volunteered to take our picture, and Helen had a smile as wide as the Harbour Bridge.

I was invited in when I dropped Helen back at the hostel. Dolls were seated at the dining table and across her bed. She introduced them all by name. Some had name tags pinned on their dresses so she wouldn’t forget. There was an enormous board over the telephone with important details of bank accounts and numbers written in big letters by her social worker. She brought out her little budgie, and excitedly showed us what she had bought herself for her birthday. Snow White and the seven dwarfs stood inside a box, waiting for Helen to find them a place.

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Postscript: Helen and Murta have been gone for a long while now, but left a gold-embossed stamp on my heart. I am so glad that Helen got to meet my daughter. Murta passed when I was going through IVF.

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