Secrets, Lies & Chat

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

I keep hearing a song on the radio, almost every day, which is very relevant to my life. Some of the words, and I quote, “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away, I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say” – or similar anyhow, touch me deeply.

I listen to the words of that song and often think that every person in the world should hear it every day, no matter where they live, no matter what language they speak. How many of us have, too late, realised that things we should have said to the important people in our lives, we didn’t say, for one reason or another? It’s too late once that person has died; the window of opportunity that may fleetingly have opened has gone, perhaps never to open again or to constantly be ignored in our rush through life.

In my case I have a double whammy. My father passed away suddenly in 1990. I didn’t say many of the things I should have. It was taken for granted he would be there forever or that the day of parting was a long way off. He knew I loved him and yet I should have told him more often that I did. He deserved that. Something cold is in my heart that makes it hard for me to say those words, except to my children and my granddaughter. It seemed that I didn’t need to say things to Dad, as there was a bond between us that could never be broken. But now I know; the words should have been spoken, and often.

Mum passed away last December. Not suddenly, like Dad. Death was at her door for a long time, and yet there was no window of opportunity open to me by the time I realised I had things to say, and needed to say. Dementia is a cruel disease and can strike anyone. Mum slipped into it slowly, so slowly that no one realised what was happening to her, until it was too late. Forgetfulness? A sign of old age, everyone gets there eventually. My visits to Mum over the last five years left very little scope for me to say much to her at all. Most of the time she didn’t know who I was, or if she did, she chose not to acknowledge that she did. I was angry with her and wondered if she was doing it on purpose, just another way to continue the trend that existed throughout our life from my earliest memories.

I would fly home depressed after every visit. Sometimes it would take me a couple of days after arrival to force myself to visit her; I felt guilt, sadness, depression, and anger. I wondered why I bothered flying to see her three or four times a year when I received very little back from her. Not even a hello, or a goodbye, or a smile, or a kiss. I didn’t understand what was happening to her and thought only of how I felt, not of how she was.

In the last two years or so, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and spent time thinking about my mother’s life. Losing her first-born son at the tender age of three. Spending those three years living a life filled with the woes of a child who knew no happiness. The harshness of that era with a World War raging. The resultant hardships of having little money, food, clothing or assets. Women in those days, well a lot of them, stayed up at night scrubbing lino floors while everyone else went to bed. They spent untold hours every day hand washing clothes, cooking meals with meat that needed to be cooked slowly for hours so it could be eaten, making something out of nothing so their children could have clothes to wear. Lining up for food stamps, crockery, anything at all they needed for half an existence. I knew none of that, although I was born at the end of the War in 1945. I don’t remember any of it so I can’t feel it.

Because of the severeness of my brother’s health, caused by German measles during early pregnancy, he had to be taken frequently to hospital for treatment. Having no car, my mother travelled by train. People stared at her, cursed her, because she had this seemingly badly behaved child who screamed all the time. His eyesight was so poor that he wore little glasses with brown paper over the lenses to protect his eyes from light. His visits to the hospital were to have injections in his eyes, and one can only imagine the dreadfulness of that for my mother. He never walked, he never sat. He was like a baby and had to be carried everywhere.

My problems with my mother, I think, began from the moment I was born. On the one hand she would say how much she wanted me, on the other hand she would delight in telling me, and anyone who may be listening, how she cried when she first saw me after I was born, because I had red hair. That story haunted me from a very young age and I detested my hair, thought it was evil. After all it made my mother cry so I definitely had something wrong with me to do that. Our relationship wasn’t like those of my cousins with their mothers, or my girlfriends with their mothers. I longed to have that, but I never did. Sometimes during the years when my children were small, and later as well, I saw softness in her towards me, but not often. There was a barrier and I have no idea what it was. I became my father’s daughter and I was blessed to have such a wonderful father, so blessed. My birth came a year after my eldest brother passed away. I had another brother, older than me, who survived.

I thought about all these things, many of them I learned from my aunt. I started to see a reason perhaps for the way Mum was. She had a breakdown before my brother died and he was taken from her. How that must have devastated her. He died alone a day after my mother and father had visited him. I can understand why she was so protective and close to my brother who survived. She would have been terrified something might happen to him. Since my mother passed away I have spent many hours going through her photos and letters she kept, and the memories that I’ve found have touched me profoundly. I seem to have found my mother, but all too late.

Over the last two years before she died, when I visited Mum, I tried to summon up the courage to talk to her. It was too late; she didn’t comprehend much at all. Talk about Sydney and our life as a family drew a blank look. One day she became upset and I had to stop talking; perhaps that day she comprehended what I was saying. I would whisper to her that it was okay for her to go to Dad, that it was time they were together. I had heard that this often worked; not so with Mum. I had so much I wanted to say to her; that understanding had come finally and forgiveness as well. Each visit I resolved to say it all, each visit resulted in nothing being said and I kept it all inside me.

Three weeks before she died I sat by her bed and held her hand. Pressure from her hand reached mine and it was a wonderful feeling. Finally I felt that she knew whom I was and she touched me. It had been a long time coming. When she finally drew her last breath, I knew it had happened. I am sure that as her spirit departed that body she came to me and said goodbye. I was over 1,000 kilometres away and yet I knew she had died. Sure enough, about ¾ hour after I had a flash message, I received the news.

I spent time with Mum before the cremation and I spoke softly to her, saying some of what I had wanted to say to her for so long. It was too late for her, and yet it brought me some peace of mind. I wished however that while she was alive, and was without dementia, that we could have talked, and reconciled. I stoked her hair, it was so soft, and her face was like porcelain. The body in the coffin wasn’t much like my Mum; it was just what remained of her. I touched that face and kissed it several times and took a rose from the wreath on the coffin and laid it against her face. At that moment I truly loved my mother and told her so – too late. My hope is that she was around somewhere watching and now knows that I loved her, always had. I wasn’t able to show it because she didn’t seem to ever show it towards me, or hardly ever. I don’t remember hugs, just criticism it seemed of most of what I did or didn’t do. That’s all gone now and as I read the letters she treasured so much, I’m finding my Mum, warts and all.

The moral of this story? The title says it all – Say It Loud, Say It Clear – every day of your life to everyone you love. Tell them you love them always. It becomes a habit after you do it for a while, and if you forget to say it, you may even ring and say it once you realise it was forgotten because it will trouble you that you forgot something so important. Those words can mean so much and can make a huge difference to the emotional well being of all humans.

© vena mcgrath 2006

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australia Day - 26 January 2006

It's 12.56pm Sydney Daylight Saving Time and humid. There's a heavy cloud cover and no sun shining at the moment. The usual kind of day when there is high humidity. However, it's markedly cooler than some of the days we have experienced during December/January. I just checked the temperature under the carport and it's now 34 celcius .. without the humidity it wouldn't be a bad day.

I'm home alone today and it's a public holiday in Sydney. My son was down from Orange for a couple of days but just left to go back as he has to work tomorrow. I took the day off tomorrow so as to have 4 days straight at home. Shaye, my beautiful pup, is happy someone is here as he is experiencing for the first time now, long days alone while I am at work. Bryan, who was my partner, and I broke up, and he left here on Tuesday. Six months proved to us that although we were great friends away from each other, together there was a lot lacking.

I saw no point in continuing with a relationship that hadn't grown and never would, and so we agreed to part. I am sad about what happened as it was wonderful to think that perhaps two people alone could make it together. After 17 years without a man in my life permanently, I guess it was all too much for me, and I was probably all too much for him. We are very different and couldn't reconcile our differences. He has moved north close to his children and that's a good thing. Blood is thicker than water after all. I learned a lot sharing my home with Bryan, and I hope that in some small measure I helped him go forward and to better things. I suppose that is one good thing about today's freedom; you don't have to marry someone to live with them and you don't have to stay together if it's not working out. There's no messy divorce, no splitting up assets, just an agreement to end before bitterness and unhappiness sets in.

Now it's back to square one and to knuckling down to work, both paid work and unpaid at home. I haven't done much writing in the last six months as I chose to spend more time away from the computer when I was at home, than sitting in my study working. Having Bryan here gave me the incentive to ditch the computer for companionship. It lasted for a while but then slowly began to disintegrate.

Shaye has had a busy morning exploring outside as he now has the whole yard to himself. Bryan sectioned the yard off because his dog didn't like the pup and was savage to him. Now Shaye has both sections to himself and a lot of discovering to do. He has worn himself out and is asleep on the tiles in the house, dreaming happy dreams I hope :)

Bryan built Shaye a wonderful kennel before he left. Well it's more like a young child's cubby house. It has an awning, a verandah, and a lean-to for extra shade where his small pool is that he likes to lie in most of the time he is outside. He loves the big pool too but can't access that area unless someone is outside with him. He is a very lucky doggie to have such a magnificent kennel. Now all I have to do is paint it. I will miss Bryan for a lot of reasons and I could have been selfish and kept him around as an odd job man, but he needs to find his own life, be himself, and with me he wouldn't have done that. The odd jobs I can get done by various means without using another person for my own advantage. I couldn't offer him what I should have been able to, it just wasn't there to offer. I hope he meets a lovely lady who will be just the right person, the person I'm not.

I can hear the kids next door in their pool having fun with friends who are no doubt visiting for a bbq for Australia Day. There are lots of activities going on around the country today to celebrate the beginning of the slaughter of the Aboriginal people who once lived here happily and in harmony with the land and with nature. Our forefathers sure put a stop to that idyllic lifestyle and stamped on them the British way.

There are many Aussies now who pine for the simple life, especially those over 50 who can remember a vastly different Australia to the one they now live in. They are opting out of the 'make all the money you can and buy everything you think you need' syndrome, and are moving out of the cities to quieter lifestyles for what are supposed to be the best years of a lifetime. I hope to break out of this cycle myself in the not too distant future and live a much more laid back life. I have all I need and as things wear out, then I will have to replace them. I never was a 'keep up with the Jones' person so it won't bother me much not buying the latest version of whatever.

I've been thinking along the lines of moving into a retirement village, buying a strata title smaller home and settling in, hopefully very close to the sea. But this is a little ways off yet as I can't get a pension until I'm 63.5 years. I'm lucky to have a good job and probably lucky John Howard considers we should all keep working until we pass away at our desks so we don't go on a pension. However, I have other ideas, and working for ever isn't one of them. There are a number of family issues at the moment that are keeping me from making a move and I accept that things happen for a reason, hence I'm not in the least bit frustrated at staying put for a while.

Anyone who has a happy stable relationship is very lucky. I think from looking around me that those relationships are few and far between. There are many people like me, who live alone because that's the road life threw to us for various reasons. It's a shame as nothing alone is really ever as good as sharing it with someone who enjoys whatever it is as much as you do. Perhaps I will be fortunate and still have time to run into the right person. That's what life is all about, the unknown.

Until next time, stay happy and if you aren't happy, then take steps to change the situation. We only have one go at this life and I don't think we were supposed to be miserable and living in a hateful environment.


Friday, January 20, 2006

A Little Ray of Sunshine

A little ray of sunshine has come into my world :) Actually he arrived on 19 November, the day after I returned from a visit to Brisbane to see my mother, the last time I saw her alive :(

He was this 3kg fluffy, soft, sweet little darling. He smelt a bit the worse for wear after having spent the day in a cage in a vehicle that had brought him from Tweed Heads, on the far north coast of New South Wales. I met the breeder at the door and took the little bundle from her and gazed at him. Instant love!

I vowed when my best mate and beautiful friend Scrubber died, that I would never own another dog. The pain and the grief I felt after he died was something I didn't want in my life again. As the months slowly passed and I began to accept his death as being what was meant to happen, I realised that I needed to fill that void in my life. I also knew I had a lot of love to give to another little soul who would always live in a loving environment and would, as Scrubber had done, forget he was a dog and think he was human.

I decided not to have another Cattledog as there was only one Scrubber. I didn't think it would be fair, as I would no doubt be comparing all the time and have expectations that most likely wouldn't be possible. So I chose another breed I had always admired. I read a lot about the breed before I ventured to websites looking for a puppy. My choice? Golden Retriever. After finding a number of websites in Australia it became obvious there weren't many litters around at the time I was looking. Then I found one!

There were pictures of the puppies, all colour coded, tiny little bundles just a couple of weeks old. I spent a few days looking at the pictures and chose ''Gold Boy'. I had decided on a dog, not a bitch, and I wanted a dog with stature, like Scrubber. Gold Boy sat and stared at the camera, or the photographer, and he had a curious, inquisitive look on his face. That got me right from the moment I saw the pic. I saw in him something that I knew would guarantee he would be bright, intelligent, and a joy to have around.

It's now January 21, and Shaye was 3 months old on January 2. I weighed him on January 16 and he was 15kg. He is growing in leaps and bounds and is now like the puppies you see on the ads on TV and on cards etc. His feet are huge, as are his ears lol. He has, thankfully, stopped most of that puppy biting that had me with sores all over my lower arms and hands. He sleeps in the laundry at night and although he can't get out of there, his area is clean and dry after 8 hours or so when he barks for me to get him up at 6.00 am. Probably the biggest problems I've had with him have been trying to toilet train him so he can be inside when I'm home and stopping him from eating stones outside.

I bought him his own little pool and whenever he is outside, he is in there, paddling or lying down. He loves to be wet. He goes in the salt water pool when anyone is swimming and loves to duck dive. Just amazing to watch this wuppie under the water! Because he is a retriever and supposed to be in water, he has an amazing coat that dries very quickly. When the breeder dropped him off she told me that once he found water he would be in it all the time. She wasn't wrong. He has his own towel, that he knows is his, and doesn't mind getting dried off as many times as he needs to be in a day. He will even roll on it himself if it's put on the ground.

He barks now if he hears someone coming up the driveway or a noise he doesn't recognise. He drives my poor old moggie crazy chasing her and harassing her. She hisses at him and smacks him across the face and yet he is after her whenever he finds her. I know he just wants a playmate, but she is too old to play. Or perhaps she has found a new lease of life and enjoys the attention. Best thing to do is just leave them be and save her if I feel she is tired of him and it's become something more than playful/spiteful banter between two different types of animal. Probably it's more a case of saving the pup now as Miss Jasmine has shown him who is boss .... I think!

This is all very new to me as Scrubber lived here with his mum from his birth until he was about 7, when she had to be put down. I didn't have to be his mum and go through all this training with him as he spent most of his life until she died outside with her. Once she was gone he became a house dog when I was home and slept inside every night wherever he chose to sleep. He slept on my son's bed until he left, but he never ventured onto my bed. I think a waterbed was a bit much for him and I preferred him not to be on there anyhow. He used to come and wake me up if he needed to go outside in the night. This is what I hope eventually Shaye will do. Now he goes to the back or front door if he wants out (well most of the time) and if I don't see him, then the mat gets the download. At least he knows that he should be out and it's not his fault he can't get out. At night the laundry is his bedroom and as I mentioned before, he goes in there quite happily around 10 or 10.30 and I don't hear a peep out of him until 6.00 am. Perfect baby!

I chose the name Shaye as it's an Irish name and means "stately, courteous and hawk-like". He is showing all those traits so I chose a very apt name for him. His colour is golden and a really nice colour. His line comes from breeding with the American Golden Retriever which I believe has traits that the Australian breeders, well some of them, are wanting in the Australian dogs. He chews anything so I've had to teach him that certain things are a BIG NO, such as the leads under my desk for my computer. He chewed through the phone connection to the computer but, as I use broadband, that wasn't that big a deal and I have other leads. He seems now to have learned that leads are not to be chewed, which is a great relief.

He brings things to me all the time and lays at my feet, or on them, while he plays with whatever he found. I have to make sure I keep the door to my walkin robe shut or he steals my shoes and any socks he can find. He has his own shoes and socks but of course, other peoples are more fun and banned!

He learned very quickly to chase things and bring them back, which is the retriever instinct in him I imagine. He loves a tummy rub and a chest rub and I run my hands all over his face, under his chin, over his eyes and he accepts that as part of our relationship. He is becoming a beautiful quiet dog, but when he wants to play and has a playmate, like my grand-daughter, he has endless energy and nortiness too.

So that's Shaye, my new little wuppie friend. Scrubber would have loved him as he was very friendly with other dogs and Shaye is very friendly too, always looking for a game of chase or punch-ups. If you are thinking of a mate, and don't want a small dog, then give the Golden Retriever some consideration. They aren't used as seeing eye dogs without a good reason and I can attest to the fact that Shaye is well worth the effort and time needed to help him become what he will be eventually. He is very loyal and loves to be around people. His time outside he isn't that fussed about except to chew a bone or sit in his pool. He much prefers to be where I am and that puts a smile on my face.

I learned something from the vet, and from reading on the internet about the Golden Retriever, that they should not be exercised by walking until they are fully grown. I used to take Scrubbie for long walks and my sons would run with him. No wonder he had arthritis! I know now that the only exercise a puppy needs is playtime as they know when they have had enough and it's time for a rest after play. We humans take them for walks thinking we are doing them a good turn, when actually we can be doing them a lot of harm. Until their bones have fully grown they are susceptible to hip dysplasia and arthritis later in life, and skeletel problems, and all these things, as well as overdosing them with calcium, are caused often by their human mates. They keep walking even if they are hurting because they are doing what we want them to. I guess if a dog sits down during a walk (you see people dragging them along on their leads) he is telling you that he is hurting and he doesn't want to walk anymore. So my plans to walk with Shaye are on the backburner. It's okay to take them for a short, very short, strolls on the lead now and then.

I take him for rides in the car and he knows now to put his feet up on the front seat so I can lift him in. He is quite at home in the car, looks around a lot, or goes to sleep. Wherever I can take him I will, just as I did with Scrubber, so being happy in the car is important.

Until next time, take care and keep smiling.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Summer in Sydney

It's Tuesday 10 January 2006, 9.15 pm daylight saving time in Sydney. The day has been long, and hot, with the temperature at 6.00 pm outside in the shade, a humid, horrible 39 degrees celcius. I hate summer; it seems to me as I get older. that summer is the longest season we have. Spring starts out hot usually and ends up like summer would be in other places. Then along comes December. and the weather just gets hotter and more humid by the day.

According to a report I read recently we experienced the hottest year on record in 2005. Winter wasn't really all that cold, with just a couple of frosts. No rain probably made a big difference to the temperature. Winter to me would be a perfect summer. I could still get sunburnt on a winter's day if I spent too long out in the sun. We have been on water restrictions for months as Warragamba Dam drops lower and lower. Most of the rain we get in Sydney seems to fall near the coast, with little or none in the catchment area. The ideal situation would be to knock down some of the houses on the coastline and build a reservoir. After all, can we live without fresh water? No, but we can live without the mass of houses built along the coast. But now I sound like I'm jealous because I live inland, about 60 kilometres from the coast.

I had an aunt who lived near the beach. She never went to the beach; she never sat on the sand and watched the waves roll in, or breathed in that wonderful sea air, or smelled the aromas of the water. I bet if you surveyed those that live in close proximity to our beaches, a large percentage of them would agree they rarely go near the water. And so here we all sit in our homes, with pools if we can afford them, out in the heat at the foot of the Blue Mountains, dreaming of living near the beach, or at least having a holiday there. We live near the catchment where it hardly ever rains. Warragamba Dam is now closed to visitors as work is carried out. So we can't even go there to gaze at the water and have a picnic anymore. The Nepean River is just a ghost of what it used to be, as are most of the waterways around Sydney.

When I was a kid we would go swimming of a weekend in whatever river we happened to be spending a happy family Sunday near. The water was pristine, and the banks were clean and some were even sandy. The creeks warbled along over flat stones that we loved to pick up and toss, watching them skim along the top of the water. The winner was the person whose stone skimmed the furtherest. There was no fear of broken glass in the water, of used needles, condoms, plastic bags and other refuse. You could swim at night with no lights and have no fears about what might be in the water. Those days were fast disappearing when my children were born, and the places I had swum in I wouldn't take my children to. No longer can you fish around Sydney unless you are just in it for the sport, or love to kill things. We are warned not to eat the fish and prawning has been banned in Sydney Harbour because of the toxins found in the prawns. What a wonderful world the last couple of generations have made for those yet to be born and those already living here.

I think about today, in Sydney, and understand why there are such problems with the young. Not only can't they find work, but they have no recreational activities either like I grew up with. We lived in town and yet we lived on acreage. That land now would have probably 10 houses on it, all built so close together that you might as well knock down the fences and the outer walls of neighbouring houses and all live under one roof. We had old pushbikes and spent our weekends having Redex trials in the scrub at the back of the house. We would pack sandwiches and a drink and disappear for the day. There was no fear of rapists or weirdos. The only thing that happened to me was I managed to collect a slug in my face from a gun fired over a fence. The local Constable visited the boy concerned and confiscated his air gun. End of story. Now I guess my parents would sue his parents.

When I left High School I continued my education at TAFE for another year full-time. Most of the boys who finished High School the same year as I did, attended the TAFE college as apprentices. They were already employed. Every young person who wanted to work could get a job in the Government. Depending on how you fared in the entrance exam, there would be a choice of jobs. Young males could go straight into apprenticeships. Those young men are now approaching the age of retirement with no one to take their places as tradesmen. For years there has been only a token apprenticeship scheme with the Government setting down guidelines for the number of apprentices a business is obliged to take on. This depends on the company's workforce of skilled tradesmen and is worked out on a ratio. No longer do we have young men learning tradesmen skills unless they are very lucky.

For every apprenticeship on offer, hundreds of young, and mature age, males and females apply. It's a sad indictment on our society when we bring in skilled workers from overseas because we have very few young tradesmen/women coming up through the apprenticeship scheme. Where did it all go wrong? Who decided that it was best for the economy to stop training and start shipping in workers? Didn't anyone ever consider what it would do to the self esteem of the young, and not so young, when they realised that they may never hold down a permanent job in their lifetimes? One day all of this will come back to bite society and we will all pay the price. Already there are stirrings. People are beginning to fight back, or try to. Laws are being changed to keep these people down where the powers to be have decided they should be kept. People power may well overcome force in the days to come.

People by the hundreds are leaving the city, or working on a plan to do so soon. They are tired of the ratrace, tired of the traffic, the noise, the pollution, the one sided laws, the melting pot of races that isn't turning into the wonderful brew it was supposed to. They are heading for places away from cities; either to the country to start small family farms, or to the seaside. Many are heading west, right across the continent, to Western Australia. There they find a lifestyle they can afford without being mortgaged to the hilt, a lifestyle that allows them much less stress, and a state with less taxes than those on the east coast.

For those who grew up in Sydney in the 50's, this is no longer a place they wish to be. The friendliness has almost gone. People rarely smile. Shoppers are treated like they are being done a favour, not the other way around. Every day, no matter where you go, there is this feeling of tension in the air. Most people show the stress of life on their faces and their big homes and flash cars don't do a thing to erase that stress that is etched in the lines on young and older faces alike.

So, to cut a long story short, I'm so grateful I grew up in the world I did. We didn't have much, but then we had so much more than society has today. We had family and a family life where respect didn't have to be earned, it was the right of parents to expect respect, and the right of teachers, and employers. I grew up in a strict environment in a lot of ways and I probably resented some of it too, but when I look around me now, when I hear the way people speak to their children, and the way children speak to everyone they single out, I'm grateful for that strictness. I bet today's kids would have loved to grow up when I did. But they will never know about the things that I know, and they will never experience the things that I experienced. And their children yet to be born will know even less of the good things and more of the bad.

As I step off my soapbox, have a great night.

Vena McGrath