Happiness, tragedy, loss, people, water, fire can transform, change, remodel one’s life.
Not only did Ray teach me how to transform a lump of mud into a beautiful pot, he taught me to speak his beloved English properly. Ray loved words. I called him a “Word-Smith”. Ray loved the English language. He made me look up words in the Dictionary to find out where they came from; then made me go to the Thesaurus to experience the many words with the same meaning. A new world of words opened up in front of me, I came across this one:
In my case the change came through loss. A friend helped me partially to overcome the black sadness of loosing Ray. Through his encouragement I was transformed from deep despair to fulfilling creativity.
Combining my skills in photography, ceramics and writing soon filled my days. There was no time to be sad. There was no time to be wasted.
In this part of my Blog I am combining words with ceramic and photography, the three tools I like to use for my creativity during this time in my life.
I would like to dedicate this part of my blog to Ray
Also to my photographic teacher Prof. Ernst Hartmann,
To the person who helped me to get on with my creative life,
To Nancy who patiently corrected and edited my writing.
With a cup of coffee in her hand she sat on the bench outside her house in the bush.
Slowly she sipped her very strong coffee; something she ritually shared with her husband before he passed away. Looking at her 2 companions, Bella and Kendal; a poodle and a mostly Queensland healer-bitser, she started:
“You know, “she said,” soon it will be 50 years since I left everything behind in Vienna to come to Australia, to follow a dream.”
The geese and goslings joined the dogs and settled in front of her. There was no noise, just a constant silent cheep, cheep and the wind in the Eucalypts.
“I was going on an adventure to the other side of the world. It was to be a two-year adventure. Well kids, as you can see the adventure has lasted a life time.”
Bella put her head on top of her foot. She always liked to be close to her mistress. Patting her woolly head the reminiscing continued:
“My mother was quite upset about my decision, the last one leaving the nest. Her only comfort was, that my eldest brother had settled and married in Melbourne and would surely keep an eye on me.
When you migrate you don’t get a set departure date. So, I had my bags packed. Ready for the call from the Emigration Department. Also a trunk with my photographic equipment and other bits I was fond of was waiting for the long journey.
I had sold my beloved Lambretta-Scooter to pay for the ticket. The two of us experienced many trips. I drove her through Europe laden with tent, sleeping bag, pots and pans.
Then came the phone call, asking me if I would be ready to fly out on the 14th of this month. There was a place on a QANTAS flight to Sydney. They would purchase a ticket to get me to Melbourne, which was my desired destination. It was December, just before Christmas.”
She smiled at her animals, drained her coffee cup, looked wistfully at her family of geese, now fast asleep and kept on talking to them.
“Well kids, Christmas means nothing when you are young and full of life and looking for an adventure, also you don’t think how a mother feels when the last child flies the nest. I understand that now, my children being independent and living with their young families.
But I have got you lot. Not much talking back, conversations pretty poor. Well, that might be a good thing.”
She gave a little laugh and continued her story.
“Anyway, the day came. My mother had a smart little woollen suite made for me. I can still see the outfit, sort of checkered blue. A lovely skirt and a slip over-top with short sleeves. My godmother insisted that her chauffeur drove me to the Emigration Department. Kids, you have no idea how I felt! There were all these poor migrants from the Eastern countries clutching their bundles, and I came along in my brand new tailored outfit in a chauffeur-driven black Mercedes. And on top of that, when we got out, the chauffeur followed my mother and me into the building carrying my suitcase. Oh dear, was I embarrassed!”
The coffee was finished, the geese were getting restless. It was soon feeding time. The dogs also lifted their heads expectantly. The sun was getting low; the day came to its end.
The next day, after she had finished all her chores, she made herself a cup of coffee, went to her favourite place on the bench under the veranda and let her mind go back to her travel to Australia. ‘It has been a long two years,’ She thought to herself.
The dogs lay down beside her and soon the geese, also settled close to her.
“I have an audience, thanks for joining me, kids. Well, now we come to the exciting part. As I mentioned yesterday, it soon will be fifty years since that day I left Vienna for a two-year adventure. Migrating to Australia meant staying and working for two years. That way I could get a cheap ticket. two years seemed to be a good time span for an adventure.
From the Emigration Department we were bussed to the airport. There was only one couple from Vienna. The rest came from Russia, Poland, and Hungary. I was terrible nervous. They took my suitcase and we were marched off through all sorts of departments. There were forms to be filled in and lots more bureaucratic stuff.
Then a bus took us across the tarmac to the plane. Clutching my winter coat and small rucksack, a scarf and who knows what else my mother insisted I had to take with me on the plane, I started sweating, I was so nervous. I felt I was dripping. I must have been as red as a beetroot. No wonder, this was my first time on a plane! Mother also gave me a book with which to practice my English. It was ‘Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck.”
She laughed and looked at Bella.
“You know, Bella, Charley was a Poodle. Just like you, only he was white. They traveled together in a van all over America. May be one day you and I will go travelling?
Where was I? Oh yes, on the plane to Australia.
And you know, kids, I had no idea how hot it was going to be in Sydney! We arrived in a heat wave!
Anyway, we flew from Vienna to Athens, where we picked up half-a plane-load of Greek girls. We could hear them cry for a long time and then there was nothing but chatter and laughter. Little did I know, that soon I would be working in a photographic studio taking pictures of Greek boys? The photos were sent ‘back home’, so that the bride in the ‘home country’ could see what her husband was going to look like. These girls were all brides-to-be.”
She sipped her now cold coffee and shook her head.
“Quite amazing this was the 20th century Europe. Girl brides going to an unknown future, an unknown husband!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the plane. After having been fed roast lamb with mashed potatoes, peas and some mashed yellow vegetable, which I later found out was pumpkin; we arrived in Sydney. My school English helped me a bit with the authorities. I just had a terrible time understanding the Australian English. I was better off than the rest of my companions. There was no one who could communicate with the Poles, Russians and Hungarians. They had brought with them all sorts of foodstuff and also Christmas trees. Custom officers confiscated it all. There was no communication! I felt really sorry for them. It was a bit of home for them. May be all they had.
The Greek girls were in a separate sort of cage. Did I mention, we were put into cage-like enclosures? Almost like a dog kennel.”
She looked at Bella:
“You know what I mean, Bella. I did put you in a kennel once. Sorry about that.
But back to my story.
The Greek girls where all supplied with a number. On the other side of the enclosures were a lot of families, but at the time I never found out what was going on. Later I was told, that they were their new families, the husbands of the girls. This was a strange, new world for me.
I heard my name called and before I knew it I was on a plane to Melbourne. Now at last I was just a person, not a migrant.”
Folding her arms she looked with triumph at her audience.
“You see, that was the moment my life started in Australia.”
She stood up and looked about her. At her house, her property, the bush, the birds, her beloved animals.
“Not bad, thinking I only arrived with a suit case and a trunk full of photographs and trinkets. But then my friends, I met my love, my mate, and my partner in everything. He came from England, also as a migrant. Together we created magic. Now he is in a small box in my bedroom. Oh, I miss him.”
With a little sniff she waved her arm.
“Now bugger-off, I need to be alone.”
They did not bugger-off. Just stayed where they were. Close to their mistress, faithful as ever.
She looked at her now empty mug, put it on the bench beside her, wiped her eyes and continued:
“Hi kids, would you like to hear some more?”
Kendall, deaf as a post and already curled at her feet, had no need to budge. The alert Bella came, licked her hand and settled down beside her.
“It was exciting to see my brother. I had no idea what he looked like. I was 10 years old when he left Vienna. My mother had given me a picture of him to take with me, but I did not know where I had put it. I was absolutely sure that we would be automatically drawn to each other.
Well kids, it was not like that. We humans have lost that kind of instinct. We don’t use our noses like you.
We did of course find each other. He had a picture of me in his hand. I remembered him tall, blonde and handsome.
‘My, you have grown!’ he said and gave me a big hug. In his embrace I became again his little sister.
It was the 15th of December 1964, I was 22 years and 6 months old.”
She looked out into the distance, at the Australian landscape she had learned to love so much. Putting her cup on the bench she proceeded to walk into her bush garden. Putting her arms high up in the air, she looked at her animals and continued:
“From then on life was just like a roller coaster. I met Ray, the children came, and we started the pottery. The biggest adventure was leaving Melbourne to move to Maldon.”
She dropped her arms to her side, as if talking to herself. She continued the conversation:
“Then Ray left.”
Looking at her friends, she let go of a little, sad laugh:
“Well, now it’s just you and me. Together we will find out where we will be going from now on; what’s ahead, may be a new adventure?”
Picking up her mug she walked back into the house. Bella following her. The geese went back eating grass; old deaf Kendall stayed enjoying the warmth of the sun.
© Ellen 2015
“The Fifty Year Pot” It tells the story of my 50 years in Australia 1964-2014.
From my arrival to Ray’s passing, over marriage, creating children, starting Stanyer’s Pottery, moving to Maldon and then onto the bush block Heimdall.
They only paid ten dollars for the table. Jack, who worked at Cassidy’s secondhand store, convinced them, that it was a good table: oak and extendable. Only the handle that would turn the mechanism to make the table larger was missing. Still, Jack said, they were getting a bargain. Extension tables usually are much more expensive. With the handle they would pay, oh, three times as much, if not more. The top was a bit shabby, but once the food and with plates on the table no one would notice. And then they can always put a cloth over it. That probably would not be so practical with the kiddies. Still they would never find any table made of oak so cheap.
She had always wanted a round table. There is something special about round tables. It will look good in the corner of their new house. Also they did need one. They only had six oak chairs and a few tea chests.
The table arrived and did look good in the corner with the 6 chairs. She ignored the crack, where the two half’s did not quite join up. Food began to gather in the faulty joint. She kept on scratching it out with a metal rod, also poking at it from underneath. She started hating the table. Neuroticism of cleanliness set in. The top was scrubbed and scrubbed until the dark stain came off and the soft grey oak colour could be seen. The other thing, which annoyed her, was the fact that the table had four legs and she always seemed to sit by one of them, not quite knowing where to place her feet.
Tony Giner moved to Maldon with his Australian wife Anita and little Sebastian. He was from Morocco with a boat building background and set up a carpentry studio in the old Penny School. No old bridge was safe from Tony. He would turn the seasoned wood into beautiful tables.
So, her mind started working very hard. Maybe she could sell, the now scrubbed table, to their friend Paul, who was an antique dealer? Paul was invited for afternoon coffee. The crack was carefully covered with an embroidered matt. She made sure to show enough of the beautifully scrubbed and waxed oak tabletop.“What a lovely table”, Paul said, as he stroked the pale wood. “Do the chairs go with it?”“Well we do need some chairs. But those ones do fit the table”
She did not like the chairs much either, they were most uncomfortable, with straight backs and hard seats.
Yes, Paul was very interested. He could fix the mechanism and get a new winding handle. He bought the ten-dollar table, for a nice sum. He also took the chairs. The family now were back eating of the boxes in which they had transported their few belongings. No one minder, they all knew, that she had a plan.
Tony, Anita and little Sebastian came and had a finger food dinner with them. While the children played, the adults talked table. She was very particular about how the new table had to be. No cracks, there should be a center leg build in a way, that one had no foot obstruction; the table had to be stable. A child had to be able to lean on it without the heavy table falling over. The surface as smooth as possible, none of that adzing business, which was so popular at that time. Tony looked at her with his kind face, yes, all that was possible. He was going to fetch some very old Oregon from a demolition site in Melbourne. It was over 10cm thick and would make a beautiful table. They agreed on measurements and price.
Proud and beautiful the table stood outside their house in Tony’s’ trailer. A few handy lads had been organised to get it off. Then it could be rolled into the house. Or could it? The passage way was so narrow, that it was impossible to turn the table to get it into the kitchen. Turn, squeeze and lots of grunts and four-letter words from the lads. Slowly they managed to easy the beautiful piece of furniture through the doors and to its place in the corner. Tony laid the table once more on its side and, with his branding iron, which had been heated up in the wood stove; he signed the table on its leg. A hiss, smoke and lots of cheers filled the kitchen.
Over many years great dinners were held sitting around the Oregon table, jolly Christmases with friends and then all those birthday parties. After a good feast there always was a story.
Memory has a thousand ways. She never quite remembered how things really where. Mostly it did not matter. Often it made a good story.
When sitting around the table with her family and friends after a good meal, she fell into a state of reminiscing. On one such an occasion she told this story:
“It happened, as far as I can remember, in about 1953. Vienna was still war-torn. Hungary was uprising against the Russians. Only some of the bombed houses in our street had been replaced by new ones.”
She moved in her chair to get more comfortable, looked at her nine-year-old granddaughter and continued:
“I think I was about your age, or was I ten or may be twelve years old. As far as I remember, I was quite too young to be asked to go and fetch our mother from her girlfriends place so late at night. She met up with her Norwegian friends once a month to chat, eat and drink. Often, some musicians would entertain them.
When I arrived at the grand Iron Gate, it was almost dark. There was a full moon showing me the way up the sweeping stone steps, through the front garden, to the house sitting large and impressive on a slight rise. As I was slowly feeling my way up the uneven steps, I heard a lot of clanking and banging, laughing and shouting coming from the house. A light came on and illuminated the front terrace. Then I saw what created the clanking noise. They where pushing a grand piano out from the house, down a few steps onto the terrace.
I found something to sit on. Along the stone steps where large old willow trees. Through the wispy branches the full moon winked at me, almost telling me to just watch.
The piano was now on the terrace. A stool arrived and a man. There were never men at these gatherings, only ladies chatting, eating and drinking. It must be a special occasion. More chairs appeared. The man sat down at the piano and the chatter and laughing stopped. There was total silence, only the wind in the willows like a whisper. The moon by now had moved away from the willow branches. She stood big and bright in the sky.
Then the man started to play. Many times had I heard this piece and I knew who was creating the beautiful music. Djanko was performing the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. My seat was not very comfortable. Still, I sat there until the end of the Sonata, totally mesmerized. The group of people on the terrace bathed in golden light, the garden now was lit up by the moon, blue and cold.
In a trance I walked back home, with the moon and the music. Forgetting why I went there in the first place.
When I arrived my brother sternly asked me where mother was, I just answered: “She is having a good time with Beethoven.”
Casting her eyes around the table at her family she smiled.
“Also, it was not really my place to take my mother away from a party where she had such a good time. Was it?”
© Ellen 2016
The children were getting board with the adults sitting around the table chatting.
“Can I play with the little sailing ship stuck on your funny clock?”
She looked at the little, delicate, boat in full sail and smiled: “No, sorry, you can’t. It is a window to my past, to the days when I was living in Oslo and spending summers sailing with my sisters on my brother-in-laws’ boat Salt Peter. I look at the little sailing boat and my mind takes me back to the time when I was twenty-one.”
Jiggling herself into a comfortable seating position, she looked at the boat in full sail, on the blue clock, going nowhere.
“I called it “Time”. It takes me back to a time in my life, that was both very beautiful but, also difficult; a period in my life of experiencing, learning and growing up.”
She smiled at the children, which had seated themselves back at the table. Their Oma always told a good story.
“You see, when I have a Nana-nap on the couch and look at the little boat, I go back to happy times in Norway. Closing my eyes I can hear the gentle click-click and flop-flop of the waves against the clinker build sailing boat, Salt Peter. I was in charge of the front bit of the boat,forgotten what you call it, so I slept on the sails. There I would lie in total darkness listening to the, blib-blib, and I could tell what the weather was like out there. I never knew what the time was until I opened the hatch, but I could hear by the sound of the waves what sort of day it was going to be. Rain sounded nice, soft rain that is. It was sort off singing on the water. There was no hurry to get up then, just snuggling back into the beautiful smelling Sails until I could hear my sister call.”
She made a snuggling-up gesture, then carried on:
“At the end of the sailing season there was a get-together of a number of boats, all shapes and sizes. It took two days to get to the Sunset-, or was it Sunrise Bay. The first night we anchored close to one of the many islands in the Oslo Fjord.
There was a tradition amongst our sailing friends, to have coffee and fruit cake for breakfast. As the sun rose my sister and I decided to deliver some cake to our friends in the boat nearby. Having tied the waterproof packed cake on top of our head, we gently slid into the cold, Nordic water and swam to the nearest Yacht. Knocking on the hull we woke up the inhabitants. ‘Put the kettle on’ we called out as we climbed up the side of the boat. ‘Here come the bringer’s of good food!’ We would leave one lot of cake in the galley and carry on to the next victim.
Stavanger was a very large, old, restored lifeboat build in 1901 by Collin Archer, a very famous boat builder. Colin Archer build three, all named after the towns from where they served. Stavanger came from Stavanger on the West Coast of Norway. Oh she was a beauty. When we approached her there was already lots of activity. Someone threw a rope ladder over the side, an invitation to come on board. Having almost arrived on the top, a strong arm offered to help me get on deck. We were wrapped up in towels. A mug of steaming coffee held in front of us. I had only seen Stavanger from a distance, never been on her deck. It was, as if I had wandered into a different century. We were taken below deck where breakfast was being prepared on a wood stove. The whole inside of the hull was carved. The table was built around the huge wooden mast.
I cannot quite remember the whole interior of the Stavanger, but I can still see clearly the bunks. They were like caves with curtains. The surrounds of the bunks were painted in Scandinavian floral patterns. There were also a lot of new carvings. I was told, the skipper kept himself occupied, during his journey to America, by carving.”
She smiled at the children:
“This was before computers and computer games.
Sadly he was lost overboard during a storm on the return journey from New York. His wife Lille-Mor and her twelve-year-old son lived on the boat. The man with the strong arms helped her sail Stavanger.
We were invited to sail with them for a while or may be for the whole day?”
She looked at the little boat on the clock. Her ayes glazed over for a while. One could see, that she was a long way away, in a different time. Then she smiled and continued:
“Well, we where only clad in bikinis! And it was cold up there in the wind. The boy offered to fetch our clothes. He would row to Salt Peter and get them, also telling brother-in-law that we were going to sail with them.
Stavanger was the first boat to leave. She was big and slow. We had to promise to stay out of harms way during the hoisting of the sails.
You should have seen the rigging. Wooden rings, attached the main sail to the thick mast. The strong guy was pulling the rusty-brown coloured sails up. I was sure I could hear him groan. The boy busily ran about getting orders from his mum, while she was steering.
Slowly Stavanger moved; slowly she turned. Our destination was in the south of the Oslo Fjord. The wind blew from the south. Apparently no problem, I was amongst experienced sailors. The sails filled up with wind. Everything creaked and off we went. She sort of just slid. There was no jolting.
Must admit, I was a little bit disappointed! As we were moving from the sheltered bay I was standing on the deck of Stavanger, my feet wide apart to hold myself steady in case of an unexpected storm. Alas, we were confronted with calm waters and a strong breeze.
By mid afternoon the rest of the fleet was overtaking us. We saw the green sail of the “Kristitiania”, another of the renovated lifeboats. She came from an island southwest of Oslo.
Stavanger, being the largest of the boats, dropped anchor in the bay of our destination. All the other boats tied themselves to her sides. Salt Peter, being the smallest was placed at the very end. The whole fleet gently turned about with the tide and the wind.”
She filled her glass and continued:
“I had been for a swim and explore. By the time I arrived back there was a party in full swing. They had lit a fire on the deck of Stavanger to grill a whole sheep. The owner of Kristiania had a small sheep farm on one of the islands. There were also buckets of oysters. Bowls of salads arrived. The whole front deck of Stavanger was turned into a beautiful smørgåsbord. Lights where strung up. There was music and dancing. And the whole picture was bathed in the light of the setting sun. The days were still fairly long at this time of the year. The party went late into the night. Like monkeys some of the children sat in the rigging of Stavanger, looking down on the grown-ups. Some had curled up in the sail.
Early the next morning, the decks were scrubbed. Soon all the traces of a party were removed. The word went around, that there was a southerly blowing outside the bay. The trip back to Oslo could be made in one day.
Everyone was busy getting ready. The wind was still blowing from the south. Good, fast sailing was ahead of us.
We had the wind behind us. Or as one says in proper terms, we where running before the wind. Did we ever move! The boom stood at 90 degrees to the mast. The other Yacht’s put up their spinnakers. It was a beautiful sight. We did not have a spinnaker, but Salt Peter was small and light, we could just keep up with the others.
Soon the skyline of Oslo showed up.
Over 50 years have been blown away! It feels as if my life is racing with full sails and spinnaker. But I tell you, all the wonderful memories remain and this one was brought back by looking at the little Yacht ‘Time’.”
Lifting her glass, she said:
“To all the good memories in life. What would we do without them!”
Her friends asked her, what they where going to do for Christmas, now the children and grandchildren had moved away.
She took a small sip from her after dinner port; looked at the glass, completely ignoring the question she started talking:
“I can’t quite remember which Christmas it was. Ian Hargreaves was still alive and we were living in the Scotch Pie House. There was just Ray, the children and me, the two Ian’s were there as well.
We had decided to have a Scandinavian dinner. Roast pork, potatoes, and cabbage. To drink we settled to have Aquavit with a beer chaser, very Scandinavian. It took me forever to find a bottle of Aquavit. The Castlemaine wine merchant managed to locate one. Can’t remember his name now, but you know he wanted to open the bottle to have a taste, the cheek of a man. I suggested he should get his own. That’s right, his name was Beckingsale or something like that. He had inherited the wine cellar from his dad; knew nothing about drinks. Well, he admitted, he did not really drink alcohol. I never quite understood what that meant. Either you do or you don’t. I also made him aware, that Aquavit belonged to the family of spirits, like Whisky. Just that, in good Scandinavian fashion, it was made from potatoes and wheat.
Anyway, we all sat around this table here. Ray had made his famous gazpacho soup and we were ready to carve the roast.
As you know, a Christmas table is always completely covered with bon-bon, crackers, decorations and the necessities like cutlery, plates and glasses for every course and then serviettes. We always used the silver for special occasions. My inherited silver collection was always a joke. One pepper grinder, one sugar shaker, one little bowl and then the cutlery which consisted of lots of knifes and folks, but no spoons. You see, my grandmother put aside cutlery for every grand-daughter, but since I left to live in this godforsaken, uncivilized place down-under, my share was doled out to the others as they married. My mother scraped together what was left when I got married. Every Christmas we cleaned my small collection of silver; a tradition I brought with me from Vienna. Well – at Christmas one always gets a bit nostalgic.
Back to the food! Because of all the decorations on the table, the food had to go on a separate table. Ray carved the roast. I handed the rest around. The little glasses were filled with Aquavit, the big ones with beer.
‘Cheers’ Ian Hux said, and sculled down the Aquavit. He filled his glass again. ‘This is a great drink!’
I sipped; I knew this drink from Norway, where I lived for two years. It sort of goes into your legs, clear head, but no legs. I just hoped that the pork with its crackle and fat would balance out the effect of the drink.”
She stopped talking and put the empty port glass on the table. Ray refilled her glass with the delicious port; she looked at it, had a sip and continued:
“When I had to hand some more food around, I could feel the effect of the potent drink in my legs. And I only had one glass! I had to will my feet to do their job as I walked around the table offering everyone a second helping. The others had refilled their glasses a number of times. ‘Cheers mate’, the Ian’s said.’ this tastes great.’
Then the sweets, and then after the sweets the long-awaited presents. The children had been very patient with us. Now it was their time. All the presents were kept in a basket. Having put a Father Christmas hat on his head, Ray got up, started swaying and fell on top of the presents. For a minute I thought, that Father Christmas was going to be beaten up by three little children. We pulled Ray out of the basket and seated him on a little stool. He managed to read the labels and hand the present to the intended person.
I don’t think that I mentioned, that we always had Christmas in the evening of the 24th and that we had a tradition to invite friends for a sing-song after our dinner at about 9pm.When our friends arrived the children were happily playing with their toys. Ian Hux, who played the mandolin, managed to make his way somehow into the living room and then lay down on the floor playing his instrument. The other Ian had it easier. He played the piano. Once he sat on the stool he was fine. Ray had wedged himself between the wall and the piano and with legs apart he was quite steady holding his fiddle.
You asked what we will be doing this year? We sort of feel, Christmas is for children. We celebrate now at the Solstice, with our friends up on the Rock of Ages and then we have a shared dinner here.”
She looked into her now empty glass, with a feeling of nostalgia.
“I have had a lot of wonderful Christmases. As a child, back in Vienna, as a very young adult in Norway and as mother and Grandmother here in Australia, with and without Aquavit.”
Pointing at her daughter across the table she started laughing. Somebody had mentioned something about a rubbish bin.
“What’s so funny about a rubbish bin?’ Nina asked.
“ You see, it makes me remember the time when you got stuck in a rubbish bin outside our shop in Castlemaine.”
She settled back in her chair, wiped the tears from her laughing eyes and started her story:
“It was one of those days. Your little brother was again busy collecting pebbles from the driveway so he could listen to the blop when dropping them in the outside toilet. I was on the pottery wheel, clay up to my elbows, when Sean came waddling past towards the toilet with his treasures. I had to stop him!
Then there was this blood-curdling scream from the footpath outside the shop. I snatched up Sean with my clay-smeared hands and ran towards the scream. And there you were stuck in the rubbish bin. It was one of those round metal ones fastened to a short pole to be used by the public. It was not much bigger then 50cm across. All I could see was your little head and your arms sticking up. I put Sean down and with lots of difficulty I managed to lift the bin of its fastenings and I then laid it on the footpath.
I just could not understand how you managed to get stuck in it! Yes, you were a thin little girl, but you were at least twice as tall as the bin!”
Nina looked at her now laughing mother.
“Did you have to get someone to cut me out?”
“No, “she said, wiping her eyes. “No. I started to gently roll the bin backwards and forwards. You see, you must have stood in the bin and then slowly slid into it. You had your knees up at your chin. Then, getting worried, you tensed up and pushed your knees at the side of the bin.
By now your screaming had brought the neighbors out onto the street. Ray had gone to get some milk. He came running. One of the neighbors came with a pillow for your head. Another one held your hand. We all talked to you, trying to calm you. Then you dad arrived and you started screaming again. I gently rolled the bin, someone else managed to lodge their hands under your shoulders and pulled. The lady holding your hand was talking to you. She was very clever, taking you attention away from your situation. Slowly you moved. And then like a cork from a bottle you popped out.
We all hugged and laughed. All seemed well again.
Sean in the mean time had escaped back to his favorite pastime. Listening to the noise a pebble makes when thrown into the toilet.”
She settled back and looked at her children, now grown up.
“It was quite something balancing work and family. But I tell you, I would not change a thing.”
One could always tell, when there was a story brewing in her mind. She sort off settled back in her chair, filled her glass with wine, had a sip, cleared her throat, then looking into the far distance.
Ray always liked to clear the table of dirty dishes after a meal, but when she got that look, he felt better not. He enjoyed having her revisit their past, talking about good times had.
“Do you remember Ray, when you took me ‘up country’, as you called it, to meet your mate Bill? It seemed we went ‘up the road’ forever. What a trip it was. Straight roads, they went on and on and the landscape, so flat. That country up there, close to Broken Hill, sort off grabbed my soul. It was my first trip ‘up country’ since arriving in Australia.”
She stopped, had a sip of wine. Her whole psyche seemed to be transported to another place.
“And that night we bush camped just outside of Yunta. Words fail me. So many stars! You know the sky here still grabs me. Remember us lying on the ground next to our little tent, the campfire only just alive. You tried to tell me all about the southern sky; showed me the constellation of the Southern Cross. Laying there on the earth the sky seemed to be so big, the land so flat.
Arriving at Yunta we did a ‘lefty’ onto a dirt road and through that amazing Ghost Town Walkeringa. But that is another story. I want to talk about the experience I had at the Koonamore Homestead. The road from Yunta to Koonamore Station was rough and you made me drive the old 1948 Dodge. Even though she was well sprung it was quite a drive. Remember, Tom the cat did not like it all!
After many slow miles we arrived at the front gate of Koonamore Station. I was convinced that we soon would be at our destination. Little did I know, that this property was bigger then my home country, Austria and that we had a good hour before arriving at the homestead. Remember, we took a photo of us just before driving onto the property.
Koonamore’s badly neglected homestead was sitting quiet a distant away from the rest of the outbuildings. It must have once been a grand place. A one-meter high wall surrounded the old building. No garden, just a dead, cropped, bleached Kikuyu lawn. There was a rowboat tied to a corner of the wall. It all looked quite surreal in the drought stricken landscape.
Bill came down the hill from the station-hands-quarters to greet us. I was introduced and looked over. The girl from the big city somewhere across the sea, his mate had fallen in love with. Did I ever feel uneasy!
‘G’day’ he said with a strong handshake. He had huge hands. But then he was a big man, and did he ever have a big nose! It looked big even under his enormous hat. I asked him what the wall was there for.
‘Well, in this country you are either up to your neck in dust or up to your neck in mud. They do get big floods here.’
We were invited to the quarters of the station hands where we met the other workers.”
She had a little chuckle and looked at her husband. They seemed to share a funny thought.
“They called it a dry station, something I could not understand in those days. We drank tea and more tea and as it happened this girl needed the bathroom!
I was taken to the back of the building and Bill pointed at a little shed-thing on the horizon. My bladder was full. Best thing to do, to get there fast. I heard shouting behind me. No time to waste. I was on a mission! Then I heard footsteps behind me. This is a race, I thought!”
She looked at the faces around the table.
“Have you ever tried to sprint with a full bladder without doing- you know what into your pants?! I did my best and got there. Opening the door, I was greeted by a maze of spider’s webs. Well, no time to ponder. When I was sitting there, relieved that I made it, I noticed a brush next to me. Well, I thought, the boys probably don’t use the WC much and the brush is probably there to clean the top of the toilet.
Coming out of the dunny, Ray and Bill looked at me, sort off strangely. Was my fly undone? Bill looked embarrassed. He was one of those old-fashioned country guys, who could not talk about certain things in the company of a lady. In all the time I knew him he never used a four-letter word in front of me. You, Ray, laughed out loud and asked me, if I saw the brush. He explained to me, that one had to brush under the hole before sitting down, in case a red-back spider was lurking there. On the way back, I was informed about the danger of those creatures.”
She wiggled on her chair, as if there was a red-back under it.
“You know, I am not scared of spiders and have seen plenty of the red-backed variety, but still sometimes when I visit an old dunny, I do look for a brush!”
Quite often after a good meal, Ray would go to the piano and let his musical imagination go. With a dramatic ending he put his hands in the air, smiled and left the instrument.
“Oh please, can we have some more?” the friends around the table clapped enthusiastically.
But Ray never gave an encore. He just joined his guests at the table and started helping himself to some of the cheese his wife had put out for them to enjoy.
She looked at her husband and started laughing.
“Do you remember how we got the piano?”
With his mouth full of his beloved Stilton Cheese, he could not answer. He knew that she would tell the story.
“Well, I had one of those old Pope washing machines, the ones with a wringer on the top. I hated the thing. It kept on trying to eat my hands; and one day it did. It grabbed my rubber gloves and then started to nibble on my fingers. Luckily the mechanism did what it supposed to do when eating hands. It popped open and stopped, never to work again. My laundry future looked grim. I did not look forward in having to wring out the washing for five people by hand.
Then I remembered. During a visit to Cassidy’s secondhand store in Castlemaine, I saw a whole lot of wringers. Surely he would have one that worked and fitted my machine.”
With a frown she looked at her husband.
“Do you remember? You went to see Jack at Cassidy’s to pick up one of the wringers? And do you remember what you bought? A Piano! You heard someone tinkling the ivories somewhere in the bowels of the big shed of the second-hand place. You found it, you played it, you loved it and you bought it. Yes, it was cheap; there was a reason why! The shed had one hole in the roof! It was above the piano. The veneer on the lid had been water-damaged. Was there any harm done to the inside? Also, we had very little money in those days. I felt getting a new ringer was a luxury!”
Helping herself to a biscuit and some cheese, she started to calm down.
“The piano arrived in the afternoon. The whole living room had to be rearranged. It ended up in a corner away from the window and any draught. Ray placed it across the corner, so that the sound could escape from the back. It was a very beautiful peace of furniture. It was an upright Grand, with an Iron Frame especially designed for tropical condition. But did the water create any damage inside?
Well, as you heard, the piano does not gurgle! It has a beautiful sound, especially in this big room.”
She looked lovingly at the instrument.
“Then came the news, that Ray’s dad had died. I never met him, but I was told that he was a first-class pianist. Working down the coal mines, as his dad did before him, to make a living, he only was able to show his talents at night at the working-men’s-club. Mother sold dad’s old piano and there will be some money in the post. The money order covered the cost of the piano. We also could get it checked over and tuned.”
Ray took a long look at his wife. He made a questionable gesture with his hands.
“Oh yes,” she said. “The wringer was delivered with the piano!”
“This was a great meal.”
They were all sitting around the table, clean plates in front of them. The dish with the well carved bone of a goat and a few remaining vegetables was all that was left of the meal. She refilled the glasses with Ray’s homemade parsley wine, then started telling this story:
“I saved a goat once from being eaten. She was only a kid. We were living in Castlemaine in an old dilapidated stone house. The so-called garden was a jungle. The Victa-Mower did not manage to cut the weeds.
I had been admiring this little kid-goat jumping about her mother in a garden close by. One day I met the lady who owned the place. She was Italian. She looked at me very sternly, when I told her what a sweet little thing the kid was. She grabbed the sweet little thing on a hind leg and held it up in the air. ‘Good tucker’ she said and dropped it. I was distressed for days. So, I thought, a goat would just be the thing to have. She could eat her way through the messy garden. My main reason however was my concern of having the little thing eaten. It is sort of different when I think of the animal alive, then roasted on a plate.
I bought the white bundle of a kid. With mixed feelings I carried it home. What will Ray say? Will it get on with the dog?”
Looking around the table at her friends, she had a drink of the parsley wine and continued:
“Not a bad drop, that one! I called the kid Victoria, hoping she would be a fierce competition to my “Victa” mower. There was a little shed in the garden. Victoria was going to sleep there. I got some straw and made it cozy for her. Little did I know, that I was going to spend the first week of Victoria’s stay in her abode! She cried and cried at night. During the day we kept her on a long chain attached to a special goat peg. She was fine and happy with that arrangement. Before we went to work, I would give her a bucket of water, put far enough away from her, so she could not tip it over. I never knew how far goats could stretch. She learned very quickly how to spill the water. I also got her a block of salt lick. Another thing I learned was, that goats like to stand on the highest point in their landscape. She managed to get her 4 tiny hooves onto the small block and stood on it, saying: “ I am the king of the castle.” When she got bigger, and learned how to get off her chain she would climb onto the roof of the house. The property was very steep and the roof of the back of the building almost touched the ground. Easy for a goat to get up on.”
She started laughing at the thought of it.
“No, thank you, no more wine. I might not get to the end of the stories
I had to go home at lunchtime and check on the goat. She would be so happy to see me. I had started to tie up the bucket to the peg, so she could not tip it over. It worked, until she found out that she could eat the bucket. She never ate any of the weeds! The chain flattened and in some cases even cut them. Victoria found all sorts of goodies in the weeds, old lino, rags, cardboard and who knows what else.
One day I came home and found long green bandages lying about. I had pegged her just that little bit too close to the rotary washing line. She managed to get hold of the corner of a sheet and tore a strip of it. As the rotary line rotated she got hold of the next sheet. She continued doing so until the washing was out of her reach. She ate the strips, but could not digest them. So, everything came back up again, stained green. I could never understand the green colour, because she never ate anything green!”
Trying to remember more of Victoria’s bad deeds, she looked around the table at her friends, and then with a short laugh continued.
“What else did she do? After she managed to find out how to get off her chain? Yes, I remember now. She got into the kitchen, ate the fruit and some cabbage. That day we found her asleep in one of the beds. At Christmas Vicky demolished the Christmas tree.
Somehow she did not end up on our dinner table, like the one we just enjoyed.”
She took a long look at her husband.
“No wonder Ray always said that in his next life he would marry a farmer’s daughter, not an animal lover from the city.
When we moved to our house in Maldon there was an old stable on the property. Ideal for a goat! There was absolutely no escaping and during the day she could be pegged out across the road and eat the black berries and what ever she found hiding in them. All went well and Victoria grew up into a handsome Saanen Goat. It was time to get her mated.
Little Mondi was born on a Monday. Oh, she was gorgeous. Victoria was a very good mother. Ray built a milking stall, so I could get some milk from Victoria. Soon we could keep little Mondi away from her mother. At least over night, so I could get some milk. Armed with a bucket of yummy molasses water I would drag Victoria to the milking stand. It took me forever to lure her into position. Jamming the milking bucket between my knees, so she could not kick it over, I started milking. The goat started kicking and jumping. Well, the bit of milk I got no one liked. It went to the dog. It looked like Jack the milkman was not going to loose us as a client.
Mondi grew into a fine looking kid. Ray threatened me with divorce. Me or the goat.”
Again a long look at her husband, then both laughed.
“The Mondi story is a very happy one. The lady who had Mondi’s father lost one of her twin kids. The remaining twin was fretting and would not eat. Now, we had a friend who was going to help us knock a rather big hole through the kitchen-living room wall. We wanted to open up the old house. We had no money to pay him. A big beam was needed. He had the beam and the knowledge to do the job. He also had a child that was allergic to cows milk and he was looking for a good milking goat. Well, Victoria was not a good milking goat. She was a good for nothing. But, we managed to exchange Mondi for a goat in milk. So, Jonnie got his goat, we got a hole in the wall and we got rid of Mondi.”
With a triumphant look she smiled at Ray.
“Ray still threatened me with divorce; something had to be done.
A friend had some goats in a paddock closed to the Maldon Hospital. If I was willing to go up there and water the goats every day, I could put Victoria in with them. Done! Until one day word came to me, that a very large, white Saanen Goat was seen in the Hospital corridor eating some curry of the food trolley. Some kind person put her back with the other goats in a paddock close to the Hospital. Apparently she was such a lovely creature, easy to lead and no problems at all.
Ray’s thought of divorce was still hanging over my head.
Well, it looked like Victoria and I had to part.
I advertised and soon got an answer.
Remember Ray, with the money I bought myself a small transistor radio. I had always wanted one of those. It was a mini ghetto blaster with 2 tape decks. It had pink and green ends. My children killed themselves laughing.
Anyway, that was not the end of Victoria.
We enjoyed a weekend at the Maldon Folk Festival. It was a small festival in those days and held at the ‘Butts’ at the foot of Mt. Tarrengower. The musicians performed on the tray of a truck, we sat on the rocks, which sort of created a small amphitheater. Ray had joined one of the performers to playing his fiddle, the children were dancing, I decided to go for a little wander.
Suddenly I heard Victoria. And there she was on the back of a ute. I found the owner and yes, it was the guy who bought her. He told me, that he couldn’t tie her up or lock her up. She always escapes. After having demolished next door’s orchard he decided to take her with him wherever he went. She loves a drive, he told me. She is a goat with spirit and a good mate.
After that I never saw her again.”
She let go of a short laugh.
“Well and then there is the story about the cow. Remember Ray? She was so thin! We called her ‘Bonypart’. She had a calf at foot. We got so much milk of her we could have had a bath in it.”
She lent back in her chair.
“I’ll have another drink now.”
ARTHUR’S NEW SHOES
“Oh, how much I love Christmas with my family!”
She looked around the table, smiling. No one answered. Everyone was busy with their food, eying the pork crackle still on the serving plate. The floor was littered with the discarded remains of the Christmas bon bons. Everyone wore a paper crown. On the table strips of paper with corny jokes printed on them. Her daughter proudly wore a plastic ring. Their friend Ian was the hat man this year. He had to wear all the excess hats which kept on sliding forwards toward his plate.
Her youngest son pointed at the crackle. His plate was empty and clean. She put one finger up and mouthed, One. Yes, she had allowed one piece each. He took a good look at the offerings and dug out a large piece which he put with a grin on his plate. Protests all around. Quickly all the plates were scraped clean, down to the last piece of vegetable.
When, after the sweets, the table had been cleared they all knew that she would tell them a story. After that the presents handed out by dad.
“You all do know old Arthur? He lives in that handmade, never finished house just up the road from us. Well, when I took the dogs on my usual morning walk the other day,
I saw Arthur coming down the hill, all dressed up in new clothes. On top of his head a black and red striped beany, in celebration of his local football team. He even had new shoes. BUT! I had to make him aware that he actually wore his shoes on the wrong feet. I crossed over the road. The dogs were delighted. They like Arthur. He always had something for them in his pocket. Not this time. Not in his new jeans!”
Someone around the table giggled. They all knew Arthur and his dress sense.
“That must have been the first time he got out of his tatty clothes!”
“Come, come now!”
“Why did he wear his shoes on the wrong feet? Is he that daft?”
“No, not at all!” She answered. “He said, it was calculated planning. By wearing the shoes alternatively, he would wear them out evenly and they would last longer. Not so daft, I think. Wish I could do that with your shoes!”
The giggling stopped. She looked at her children and continued.
“When I complimented him on his new clothes, thinking it might have been a Christmas treat to himself, he just laughed and told me that he had been to Brighton to see his posh sister. For that he needed something new to wear. He leaned against the wall of the shop on the corner and started talking. Arthur is a tall, thin man, all bent. Still he stooped down to my level. I noticed he even had his hair cut!”
“Didn’t he smell? I was told he never has a wash.” Someone interrupted her.
“No, he did not smell. Not that I can remember. So now, where was I? Apparently, some weeks ago he woke up in the middle of the night and remembered that he had a sister who lives in Brighten. You know the posh suburb of Melbourne. He had not seen her for years, something like thirty years! He felt a deep fondness welling up inside him and decided to give her a Christmas surprise. As not to upset her he went off to Castlemaine and fitted himself with new clothes. The lady in the op-shop was a great help in finding the right jeans. Being so thin was a bit of a problem. But he soon solved that with a bit of baler-twine.”
She filled up her glass with the special Christmas wine, straightened up in her chair and continued:
“Arthur told me that he rode his old bike all the way to Brighton. That is quite a long way for an old man, also his bike does not have gears like yours. I was so astounded, I did not even ask him how long it took to paddle all that way! You know, he got there. He then waited in anticipation and with fond thoughts for his sister’s front door to open. When it did, she looked long and hard at him. She wanted to know what he wanted; and whatever it was she would not let him have. With that she slammed the door shut!”
There was total silence around the table.
“What! What the hell did he do?” someone asked.
“He turned around and cycled all the way back to Maldon.”
“You know what he said then? He said that it was so much harder to ride back to Maldon. It seemed to be uphill all the way! Then he patted the dogs and walked off in his new clothes and his shoes on his wrong feet. He disappeared around the corner and I was left wondering. Wandering, if I heard right. The dogs pulled on their leads and I continued on my walk.”
“Come on! You have just made that up!”
“No, scouts honour!”
She finished her wine, her husband got up and played a jolly tune on the piano.
“What about the presents?” The children shouted in a chorus of anxious voices.
THERE WILL BE AN OTHER DINNER-AN OTHER STORY
4 thoughts on “A CONFECTIONERY OF SHORT STORIES”
Wow, Ellen, very emotional stuff. Beautifully written! xx
The way you have woven your stories from threads of memories and present times creates a very beautiful fabric. The alternating contrasts and harmonies really do invoke the Moonlight Sonata, And your images just crystalise the scenes your words paint. But I have no words to describe what your stories of Salt Peter do to me. Heady stuff my friend.
Dette er en skatt Ellen, bare fortsett å skrive! Jeg kan jo ikke bedømme teksten utover det at den flyter fint og harmonisk. Takket være min engelsk/norsk oversettelses app skjønte jeg også alt sammen. Gudrun og jeg leste tekstene i fellesskap. Gudrun kjente seg veldig igjen i følelsene dine da hun utvandret til Norge. Enveisbillett og fløy for første gang, sammen med Barbara på to og halvt år. Du får bli med på seiltur her hos neste gang vi treffes på sommeren, opplevelsene jeg fikk takket være deg og Merete er nok en av grunnene til at Gun og jeg fremdeles seiler rundt i vår lille spekkhugger.
Masse hilsener fra oss.
Just finished reading the five last storys load to Gudrun. There are some similarities in our lives! So after the first aquavit story, I gut an urge, opened the bottle with our old homemade port wine from 2001 and we sipped tre or four glasses as we enjoyed the stories. Just keep on writing.