Monday, 24 November 2014

Life Is Not A Rehearsal

For my Dad, who passed away 14 years ago this Wednesday.

This week I officially started my Graduate Certificate in Industrial Relations through CSU, Charles Sturt University. I'm sorely missing my English Teacher Mum who proofread everything for me when I did my Bachelor Degree and generally kicked me in the arse when I whinged about how hard it all was. That was more than a decade ago. Mum had pestered me for years to go back to uni and I had planned to start this course in November of 2013. When we found out mum was sick I delayed the course 12 months. In that martyring, self-sacrificing way that all mothers have Mum really didn't want me to put it off, she wanted everything to go on as normal. But of course it couldn't, and it didn't, and I'm glad I waited. 

When I enrolled in my original Bachelor degree in 2000 my father was still alive. He had the pleasure of knowing I was enrolled to study but sadly didn't live to see me commence, or graduate. I took a small photo of Dad on stage with me at my graduation ceremony in 2004, tucked deep inside my robes. You can be sure my Mum will come with me also to the next ceremony in 2016.
October 2004
When we were going through my mother's personal effects after her death we found many, many items she had kept after Dad's passing, everything from the bill for his funeral to his driver's license. Among these items was a copy of a short story I wrote for a university assignment about the day of Dad's death and the first Father's Day afterwards. I'd like to share this story with you, illustrated by photos of icons from Dad's life.

Life Is Not A Rehearsal

November 2000

I touch my father lying dead in our kitchen, but he will not wake. Not that I expect him to but his death is a conundrum I did and did not prepare for. So here is my Dad, in his tan pajamas, seeming so fast asleep but as cold as the lino embracing him.

A few days ago we spent simple time together in his shed, and he changed the oil in my car. I tried to pay attention to patient instructions as he passed me bits of oily metal but the rhetoric was mostly wasted which I think he knew. My father showed me it is always in the now that our performance matters; life is a one-act, no intermission play for one show only. I am the star player and the whole world is my audience and my critic; how I interpret the script is up to me, I am writing it. I have to give the show of my life - there won't be another performance.

Always with me he acts as if to leave his signature on my life and seal me forever against this critical world. It is unspoken, as is much between us, taking form more in the ping of spanners on sump plugs and hammers on gates. Intensely private, this way he loves me; to speak it in crass syllables would be diminishing, the mere words in no way signifying true meaning. This love is my father preparing me for the moment in which he will leave me, the moment when he no longer has rule over his very dignified and controlled existence.

This moment is now, as I sit with him in our kitchen. I must exercise his dignity and control when I really want to scratch out the eyes of these strangers in our house, his house, these vanilla strangers waiting impatiently to take him from us. It is not their fault. Theirs will be death's first simple ritual. They retreat and leave me alone with my father. Alone with what he once was anyway.

Should I talk to you Dad? There is rarely the need for the spell of words between us. I cannot speak, words flip from thought to mouth then flap there like landed goldfish, gasping for air. I hear the drip drip brr of the fridge and the dirge of the storm birds offering up the day and stroke the gentle prickle of morning stubble on your chin. I comb your hair with my fingers and smell the oil that clings to them: Californian Poppy.

I get up off my knees and one stranger returns, offering me a cliche that I brush unwanted to the floor where it lingers embarrassed at having been uttered. Now my mother comes, a snick of sandals on the polished hardwood floor and a bouquet of tears. She is small and fragile, her grief tangible and isolating. When I turn again what was once my father is gone, our kitchen is just a kitchen again and I will soon be forced to explore the platitudes of death.

September 2001

Now it is Father's Day, this was once your day. My mother opens the polished rosewood box and, breathless, lifts out what once was you, your final iconic remnants. It is just dust! We let you drift on the breeze and cling to us, you travel up our arms and through our hair and sting our eyes and blacken the tear-tracks on our faces. We return you dust to dust under the wisteria vine that blossomed, finally, on the morning of your death. And we remember how you lived: honestly, humbly and with certainty, a solid in our predictable sea.

My Dad used to say, 'life is not a rehearsal!'. His show is over.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Chariots of Fire

It’s a Jeep thing, and it started in 2001 when my brother developed a taste for ‘4-bying’ in the Anza-Borrego Desert in California. 'Bush-bashing' to use the local vernacular. I was visiting in January 2001 and we’d been camping in a hired SUV with a bunch of friends; a Mitsubishi Montero to be exact. 
Simon and I January 2001
In Australia this vehicle was known as the Mitsubishi Pajero. On enquiring about the name difference I was informed that Pajero means 'wanker' in Spanish, and here we were in southern California almost able to see the border to Mexico, so enough said. It was SO cold; I'd come from an Australian summer into the middle of winter here. There was SNOW on the ground en-route to the camp. My eyes bugged out of my head. I slept in the car wearing every piece of clothing I brought with me and any extra blankets I could beg from anyone. I was a wuss, but I was a warm wuss.
Doug, Simon, Mary and I, January 2001
The seed of adventure was now sown and not long after this a trip to the Jeep stand at the San Diego Motor Show sealed the deal for Simon.
This first Jeep was a white 2-door Wrangler; she was really hard on the backside over bumps and harder on the fuel gauge. I tried to always catch at least one shot of her during our outings; it seemed only fitting. I felt privileged to be her passenger. I've mentioned before I don't take lightly the fact that I've had an insight into American life tourists simply don't see, including these regular forays into 4WD/SUV only country deep inside the Anza Borrego Desert.
Mary in her matching Wrangler, 2005
It seemed that every time we went out in her we found some struggler in need of rescuing. Once this involved bees and an ankle bracelet, but that's another story worthy of an entire blog post. Negotiating the desert here is genuine off-road driving requiring a rugged vehicle that can take a knock; Toorak tractors and their chauffeurs do not last long.
Unfortunately someone took a fancy to this Jeep, stealing her and driving to Mexico, leaving the stripped shell in Tijuana. And I thought that was something that only happened in movies. Good things come to those who wait and have insurance though. She was replaced with a bigger, more luxurious black version and let me tell you this sassy miss is a lot kinder on the ass, if not on the wallet.
December 2010
In the winter of 2010  I flew to San Diego to spend Christmas with Simon. Of course another trip out to nowhere in particular was in order, so we headed out past Julian and up toward Mount Laguna to take in some new scenery. The images above and directly below show part of the Sunrise Highway, I can’t tell you the elevation: somewhere between Julian’s 1288 metres and Mt. Laguna’s 1769 metres. Any way you phrase it that makes Mt Tamborine on Australia’s Gold Coast at 586 metres look like a seaside village. It was bitterly cold topped off with a bone-chilling wind. We stopped frequently to take photos and because of the sharp cold they were brief stops; usually just long enough for me to jump out and spin around once banging out a series of shots for a panorama. This is a panoramic knit of 9 images covering 360 degrees.
December 2010
The next image is a  6 frame composite shot in Pine Valley in California, elevation 1681 metres. It was bone crunchingly cold but I had to stop and take in this desolate and strangely eerie scene of 150 year old pines killed by the Cedar Fire in 2003. 
December 2010
On our US visit in 2012 Simon took us out into the desert on a scorching July day when the mercury bumped into the high 40's. Fortunately for us the humidity was down around the 10% mark. 
Negotiating a rocky pass, July 2012
Black Beauty always looked the goods, she had the walk and the talk when we went out into the desert, her smart exterior a shiny black hole in the sharp Californian sun. She was the perfect companion; smart, pretty and reliable, guaranteed to make it through the rocky bits with you. Seems it really is a Jeep thing.
The breathtaking beauty of the desert
180 degree view of a narrow wash

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Hero Lies In You

This week coming my mum should have turned 71. We should be going out somewhere in Pottsville as a family for a quiet dinner then returning home for a couple of glasses of red wine and some reminiscing about life in general. Instead, we'll be reminiscing about mum. 
Mum started school at 4 because her parents could see she was bright. She then went
to boarding school in Uki aged 7, and one year (Year 7, middle row 3rd from left)
at Mt St Patrick in Murwillumbah before gaining a bursary to St Mary's in Lismore 
At our cousin's wedding February 2014
There's brave, and then there's my mum. She faced death by staring it in the eyes and politely saying what she thought of it, and that she would damn well go when she was ready. Then she threw a gigantic party for her 70th birthday. 
at Mum's 70th birthday party 2013
I was never ready for her to go. I'm not sure she was ever ready either. To honour her on her special day I'd like to share with you some simple images from her life that are personally important to me, and the words I spoke at her funeral.
A mystery - this undated and previously unseen image was
discovered in mum's effects

'When she shall die,
Take her and cut her out in little stars,
And she will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.'
— William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)

My mum was beautiful, educated, intelligent, vivacious, witty, kind, gentle, spunky, vibrant, courageous and so full of life. There are not enough great words in the dictionary to describe her.
Jack Evan's Porpoise Pool 1970's
March 2009
Undated 1960's - Surfer's Paradise in background
I know that my mother spent a lot of time counting her blessings, which she considered she had many of. Mum spent her entire life working in a career she loved as a teacher. In that career she was a positive inspiration to many thousands of young people who remembered her – to the point that you could not take mum anywhere without someone stopping her in the street with a 'hey Mrs Ferrett!' and a tale of how their life has gone. Even a nurse in the chemotherapy ward at John Flynn and in the ER proved to be ex-students.
Woodenbong Central School Staff 1964 (2nd from right front)

Academic Coordinator Mt St Patrick College 2002
undated maybe mid 90's
Mum completed her Bachelor of Education by distance (image by Simon)
Mum was blessed to have a beautiful home in Pottsville and to be able to live there almost her whole adult life surrounded by nature and her family. Mum was also blessed to have two children she loved unconditionally who tried not to give her too much trouble and loved her back just as much. 
Pottsville Beach, 2004. Image by Louise Devine
throw another sanga on the barbie Simon I think there's a spot up top
Sending Simon back to his second home in the US once again, March 2010
Mum's favourite spot on the back patio doing schoolwork
Christmas 2002
With my dad she gave us a textbook, perfect childhood, surrounding us with love and stability, and I wouldn't change a thing about it. If I know what love is, it is because of my parents.
My 21st
Smack in the face from a cranky kangaroo in 3..2..
Mum was blessed to be able to travel the world and see some truly incredible places, from Alaskan glaciers to ruins in Greece and the Grand Canyon in the USA. In fact the only place mum had not been with Stan that she wanted to go was Britain, and they had that trip already booked when mum found out she was ill. 
Napthlion, Greece, 2008
Grand Canyon USA, 2010
Mum loved the whole process of travelling; the planning and researching, booking trips, getting there, being there and then the photos and photo books to show to all and sundry that were made when they came home. Then the planning for the next trip would start. 
Sailing the Bay, 2001
Mum was amazed to find out that snow was actually wet. Road trip
with Simon, San Diego to Portland, 2001
If mum could give any of you here one piece of advice it would be come out of your own comfort zone and see the world. Learn that people are different and embrace that difference to change yourself. This will teach you more than any classroom can.
North.. to Alaska! 2004
Mum was blessed with many quality people she called friends, and she spent a lifetime nurturing these friendships. We set a record while she was in hospital with 16 visitors in one day; and we've had a constant stream of friends to the house bringing everything from comfort and laughter to soup and brownies. You find out who your friends are when you are sick, and I can tell you mum had many.
Betty, Noel and Di
Jan, unknown friend and mum early 60's
Jan and Mum
Mum and her favourite niece Deb
Mum was blessed to have had the love of two wonderful men in her life, both so different and yet each so perfect for her, and both who loved her so completely. Mum was married to our dad a month short of 35 years before he was taken suddenly in 2000. 
1965 - Mum and Dad with, from left, groomsmen: Dad's mate Keith and brother Jack;
bridesmaids: Mum's friend Beverly (Queen of Sealand), niece Deb and friend Jan
We were hoping for another long innings with Stan - I'm so sorry Stan that your time with mum had to be short. I know though that you've packed in a lifetime of memories together in 12 years and truly lived – not just existed. I thank you for giving our mum back the 'spark' that she lost when we lost dad, and I thank you for being so much more than a stepfather to us. You will always be my 'other father'.
2005, at home
When mum told me she was terminally ill, I said,' you can't die mum because I can't live without you!'. And she answered 'darling, if that's the case then I haven't done a very good job raising you'.
A previously unseen photo of mum and I that was discovered in a treasure trove
of unseen family photos in her effects that may have belonged to her mother
With Aunty Cath and our cousins Joanne and Megan 1973
Terrible shot of both of us but almost my all time favourite.
Taken at my father's extended family's property at Warwick
Its true to say that my mum made me feel like I went into every fight in my life with backup. She was always in my corner waiting for me to come in for a drink between rounds, stitching my gloves or wiping my wounds, or cheering my victories. Sometimes I felt like I couldn't step into the ring unless I knew she was there; ready to call a time-out for me or make me get up before the ref got to the count of 10. Now here she was telling me I'd have to face every fight alone.
November 2004
March 2009
I learnt (or tried to learn) so much from mum however I'd be hard pressed to list even a fraction of it. For me there are some things that stand out:

Know the meaning of unconditional, lifelong friendship and be the friend you want your friend to be to you. Know those people who will be beside you for life and foster those friendships.
There is nothing more important than keeping good with family; be it blood family or a spouse. Never go to bed on an argument.
Be the best YOU can be at whatever you do; give it your all.
Mum and her parents possibly late 1950's
Mum with her brother Bill and sister Eileen early 90's
My late cousin Dallas 2002
Mum and her sister Eileen
Close enough is not good enough even if it is finding the right place for a comma or pegging washing on the line. If something is worth doing it is worth doing right.
It's ok to fail. But only if you keep trying.
There is no situation that will not benefit from writing a list.
Never stop learning and seeking out new experiences, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something.
Seeing Maggie Tabberer speak 1998
Almost everyone has some small spark of goodness in them if you look hard enough, and actually want to find it.
Do the right thing, the just thing, even if it costs you, and it's hard.
Be true to yourself and who you are, because happiness is more important than money, or success, or education, or fame, or anything else you can find on this earth.
2003 on the balcony outside her school office
And you must be the hero you want to find in someone else, because ultimately the only person who can change your situation is you. You eventually have to step into the ring and throw the punch yourself.
2004, image by Louise Devine
I guess the most important thing we learnt from mum (and dad) was simply how to live. Mum taught Simon and I this not by any formal means but simply by living the best life she knew how and giving us the best possible example to model our own lives on; and by packing in as much joie de vivre, literally the joy of living, the exultation of the spirit, as she could into her 70 plus years.

'Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.

It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.' 
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451