I remember *Aunty Annie and *Uncle Pat’s ticking pendulum clock. It had small whirls of wood on its corners and sat on my Grandmother’s piano.
I always found the sound of that clock soothing and reassuring, like a sort of meditation. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. Listen. Its just the clock I hear, ticking calmly, steadily away the long summer afternoon hours in an old rundown farm house that exists because it was; because I still remember; because I still am.
When the few of us who remember it die, it will exist no longer. That clock observed the life around that piano, and then later on came into our mother’s house and observed some more.
When Aunty Annie showed me quickly how to learn chords of music saying, “Just listen and you’ll know what a chord is – it goes together.” And the simple ones I needed to use did go together. “Its easy to sound out the tunes, they go up or down.” And they did. Soon I was able to sound out simple tunes by ear, knowing instinctively from an uncluttered child’s mind and hearing clearly the harmony and tunes.
Wandering about dreaming away the afternoons as Aunty and Uncle slept after noon dinner before going back to work, I would hear the tunes in my head and dream of being able to play properly. Something I never achieved, being more of a sort of ‘Jack of all trades but master of none’. I guess I just wanted to try to learn about everything, to be able to understand everything and maybe that’s not so good in that I may have just drifted across the surfaces of things. But those summers awoke in me such a love of music, such feelings of peace, that maybe that’s what the gift or lesson was and who is to say what is more important?
I would stoke those old yellowed keys and wonder about what it was like to touch the keys my mother had as a child; that her mother had as a child and young woman; that my old Aunt had and also their mother, my great grandmother. I can recall a feeling of slipping backwards and forwards in time when I touched those keys. Sometimes it is a physical link with the past which serves as the vehicle to connect us to it. Such as a photo or music, or piano keys.
That piano with its sconces for candles and its wooden decorations on the front, was given away after Aunty died. Given to someone who helped mum when she needed it. Mum already had another piano, and Aunty’s piano was terribly out of tune and in need of a lot of work, which mum could not afford. I hope that it has been restored and is still giving someone pleasure.
But there it is really…its just an object…a thing. The clock, the piano are just objects, wistful thoughts, triggers – not important at all only remembered because of the people they recall. It’s the people who are important to me. The lives they lived. The dreams they held and yes, the music that they all loved so much.
For some reason thinking about the old clock and piano reminded me of when I used to sit in our lounge room in Aberdeen, as a small child. It was then another one of those sacred spaces. This was long before the television invaded its quiet precinct.
I haven’t seen a ray of dust motes for years, but in the corner of that room when the early morning sunlight would send a ray of light into the lounge room, you could sit near that ray and play with the dust motes. The longer you watched them the more they seemed to sparkle. You could let them all settle down and then just breathe into the ray and all the little motes would dance about…perhaps they really were faeries.
The old lounge chair looked out onto the New England Highway. It’s a busy highway in the 1950’s and 60’s as the Pacific Highway is not the preferred route to drive between Sydney and Brisbane. I was blissfully unaware of anywhere much other than where I had been, as a child. Trucks rumble by, but mostly at night. But most goods seemed to go by train in those days. At least four passenger trains a day and frequent goods trains will add to the noise as they either stop at the railway station across the highway from our place, or just toot a lot as they slow down to travel past. The goods trains were so long, then and we got so that we didn’t notice any of them much unless we were doing a family dash, kids, babies and mum for the train to go shopping in Muswellbrook.
Maybe I am standing outside the small lounge room window looking down at my small curious face looking back at me from amongst the sun’s single ray. Sometimes I can recall every detail of the room. Solid brown patterned lounge chairs. A large floor radio which stood on the floor near the door and was as tall as me when I was about five
I know or I am told because I don’t remember doing this…When I was a toddler, I am supposed to have sat on Mum and Dad’s Silver Teapot which was a wedding present, and used it for a pottie, wet in it and closed the lid, to leave an unpleasant surprise for someone later on.
I am told that but maybe I just got bad press from older sisters who can ever really know?
We sometimes played ‘Kiriki’ in that room at night, with all the lights turned out. Everyone would hide behind chairs, doors, anywhere and one person was to come out of the light and into the dark to look for them. The aim was to be able to sneak out past the person looking, before they realised, and shout ‘Kiriki’, once out in the light. It was more scary for the person looking because their eyes took time to adjust to the dark and the hiders had the element of surprise.
One night June came in armed with some sort of stick, she was so scared. She used it to poke out into the darkness and made the mistake of whacking it down on a lounge chair which held a framed picture of Uncle Alf when he was young and handsome. Mum was very upset about this, as it was a keepsake.
From this little window people’s legs go by as the street is elevated above the level of the house. On Friday nights exasperated wives will harry foolish drunken husbands home from the top hotel hoping to save just enough of the weekly pay to feed kids who will go quietly hungry otherwise. This seems to happen in other houses. No matter wha,t we always have enough to eat.
There was a fireplace in this room which backed onto the kitchen stove out in the other room. A low table, called a coffee table these days was in the middle of the room. Nobody drank coffee that we knew in those days, so it must have had a more relevant name. This table was reserved for formal visitors, nuns or priests of distant relatives. People who appeared to me to sit and perch and inspect.
The real visitors sat out in the comfort of the kitchen.
I wonder at that small face peering out at me through that window, through the haze of dust motes and street dust, “poor little bugger, so much to go through to get from there to here. So much done on impulse, so much planned which never came about. For the better to learn the lessons I suppose”. I know that many times it seemed to be just luck and nothing else which ensured her survival, and turned her this way and that, which all turned out to be all the right twists and turns anyway.
“Its okay” I would like to say to re assure her/me. “Keep smilin’ hon. Be as in their closed up faces as you need to be.” But she will do that anyway and she did and who could or would stop her fulfilling her very own destiny, a destiny which began before time and will never end.
I have to laugh inside recalling our verandah on our old home. Mum told the story of how Dad was re varnishing the well used wooden cot, yet again, for me I think and something went horribly wrong. Who knows what it was, maybe spilt the varnish, or someone touched it or something but I can easily understand his reaction having inherited his quick temper. Mum said that all of a sudden there Dad went from calmly painting the cot to an explosion of “bloodys” and “buggers”and in a pure fury, kicked the whole cot from one end of the verandah, right around to the front. The anger all spent, he sort of sagged, no doubt realising he not only had to finish painting it but also had to mend it as well.
Mum almost couldn’t talk for laughing when se told me this, so much so that I feel as if I actually saw it also, such was her description. Mum could always tell a good yarn.
That verandah was used for so much, apart from mending cots for a very fertile wife.
At one time the front verandah held a couple of comfortable cane chairs and I remember Uncle Frank, Grandfather’s brother and others sitting out there talking.
In the dreadful heat of summer the verandah protected the walls of the house a bit but also protected the inner life of the householders. The verandahs were a free fall area for us kids and we could run and jump and make noise there. We could set up games and leave them for a while and it was okay. Fast sprints around the front verandah, down the side verandah, around the back and then up through the hall were only possible till Dad filled in a part of the back verandah for a room for his mother. Veronica was to have this as her bedroom later on. This gradual filling in of the verandah space, allowed for the comfortable growth of families, and we also lost the side verandah to become June’s and my bedroom after Joan and Jackie were born.
Our verandah had louvres all round at one time. Our Christmas tree and gatherings were held on the back verandah and this small section seem to stretch to comfortable fit us all in at present opening time.
My husband once said that if I had my way I’d put a verandah around the outside toilet. Not such a bad idea Don, many are the time I got rained on whilst waiting for someone to come out of the toilet.
As I said before, objects, like pianos, clocks and houses are just that, objects. All the life and colour they contain belongs to the lives of the people who are connected to them and lives in our memories. But it is what we take away from those memories which is important, and not the objects themselves really.
Even the old white house we just moved from last year, I could not imagine going back to now, although there are some wonderful memories of some very happy times there. Yet once I sat at the table in the late light of autumn and declared to myself that I never wanted to leave it, it was all so lovely at that time.
Sometimes I feel that in a house there is a light filled time and the house rocks along with the people. There have been times in my life when I feel the house darkening in on me, and for me it seems that if it’s a constant and not just connected with the darkness of winter, or the darkness in your own heart, maybe its then time if possible to move on, or do something to bring the light back in. But knowing the difference, now that’s the trick.
There needs to be light in our houses, in our memories in the significance of objects we hold dear, and let me be able to face that little devil who was me looking out that window and face her honestly, knowing we are still one and the same, just separated by time and by lessons learnt.
And as I sit here now finishing this, a lone bird calls out as it flies over. A cold brisk and very invigorating winter wind is blowing. In my reflections I lost and found many threads of many thoughts and yet heard just one thought. Just the one thought and that is that now, all my now’s are the only time I can use to change my future and what I am now for better or worse, is the result of all my yesterdays.
If I am not happy or satisfied with who I am, I can only begin to affect changes now, but there is no harm, and it is a good thing to hold any good dream we have for ourself and consciously will it to ourselves. The pitfall in this is that for too many the dream becomes more important than their reality and they cease to work towards it, so that it always remains a dream.
So many people go through their whole lives unsatisfied, wanting, but unable to take any action even mentally, towards their own dream. Many times this state of mind is a result of deep sorrow, of illness, or of depleted spiritual, mental or physical energies. But for others the whole of life is lived in a constant state of disappointment, which drains the energies of those around them, but never ever fills up the great emptiness inside them. We’ve all had a bit of that, and I would hate to have it for very long. I’m not sure why or where it comes from, but it seems to be a melancholic part of the human condition which just sits in the wings of our life, waiting to take advantage of any gaps in our script.
Sometimes all that is needed is to turn down a different street, or say hello to a different person in a shop, and events such as this can alter the whole course of your life. Hopefully for the good, but there is always risk in being alive. But if our intention is to do good, to not knowingly hurt others, to be open and have empathy for the frailty of being human, something is unfolding for us which may not make sense to us but is a necessary part of the whole picture of all our lives.
I feel I am able finally to be able to live most of the time in the now as I did all the time as a child. I understand that it is only in the present moment where there is any surety; all else, in time - two days ago, twenty years ago or a million years ago is unaffected by anything I might do say think or feel or imagine. Understanding that allows me to drift easily into the past with nostalgia, but not to waste my time by allowing it to be too upsetting, or to long for my younger days, something that is a very real danger when we go wandering back mentally.
I don’t recall any time in my life when I wished I was older, or wished I was younger. I always appreciated having our children when I did can remember realising in my early twenties that I was where I was meant to be and that was fine enough. In between my birth and now, many wonderful funny and amazing things have happened to me. But also many very sad and tragic things have also happened, but I feel that there are more good things than bad, so I guess that’s okay. But it is the memory of the harder things which made me think when observing my child face, “Poor little bugger.” We are all poor little buggers making our way along but many of us are lucky little buggers too.
To be a child and to be perfectly happy quietly observing the sun’s rays through the dusty atmosphere and not to want or need any more than that for that bit of time, I’d say that I was and am a pretty lucky little bugger, for sure.
Therese Mackay - July 2005