My father’s name was Paul Clifford Mason. The ‘Paul Clifford’ name came from the title character in the now infamous Edward George Bulwer-Lytton highwayman tale which happened to be the book my grandmother, Kate, was reading during her pregnancy. That book has the dubious fame of being the source of the purple prose which begins, “It was a dark and stormy night…..” as its introductory sentence.
The saving grace of (author) Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, for his long and much mocked sentence, is that he was also the author credited with first penning the truism, “the pen is mightier than the sword”).
Thank goodness for that!
I am almost through the final read-through of my memoir. A memoir that has taken ten years to write. Tomorrow I send it off to a literary agent to assess. I am telling myself that I will not be disappointed if the manuscript is criticised bluntly or if I am told to simply "forget about it". If there is too much to do to make it readable to anyone except me, I will accept that. If it is "just ok" but not publishable, I will print off three copies - one for me and one for my two children. Just to "have", but not necessarily to enjoy - or even read!
So that's the "state of play" with the great MEMOIR WRITE!
Walking down the street this morning, I passed a house with the front entrance adorned with balloons. There was a chalkboard propped on an easel, with the words (in childish handwriting), "welcem to Ebonys parety". How sweet...and how good of the parents not to correct Ebony's attempt at welcoming her friends to her party with her own written work.
At least I hope it was Ebony's writing!
Had I a camera with me I would have taken a picture. Perhaps it's time I joined the modern world and owned a mobile phone with picture taking capabilities (?)
FROM MY MEMOIR:
Once in the army, my father was soon dispatched to the Northern Territory, where he was stationed in Katherine, in a company supposedly supporting the troops in Darwin who were under horrendous attacks by Japanese land based bomber raids - and an estimated 188 attack aircraft. Katherine was also bombed but not as devastatingly as the ill-fated Darwin.
The weather in Katherine was unbearable, with relentless heat and/or humidity.
The army-supplied food of tinned “bully beef”and “dog biscuits” was almost inedible and there, in Katherine, the war was fought, not so much against the Japanese, but against the conditions.
Along with the rest of this - what was later referred to as - “forgotten regiment”, Dad lost weight to the point of having difficulty in keeping his trousers up and, no doubt, wondered about the wisdom of those in power and the reasons that kept so many men away from their families and
As a baby, I received letters from my father, containing heart-wrenching messages to his baby girl. I, of course, was unable to comprehend, let alone read them. They were full of phrases such as, “poor Daddy would love to be home with you……” and “when I get home, we will have lots of fun, won’t we, little pet?”
My father (Sergeant P.C.Mason, No.VX136748) was officially “demobbed” from the Australian army on 15thNovember 1945 and I finally had my Daddy home for good.
But I, as (by now) a three-year-old, didn’t know who my father was and cried when he tried to hold me. It must have been hurtful for him.
War is a terrible thing.
Going through my Memoir, I re-discovered this little "story":
"In my junior years at school, we were inundated with Bible stories. I’m sure that we didn’t differentiate much between those stories and all the other stories that we were told or that were read to us. Of course, we understood that Bible stories were somehow “special” because they were from the Bible, but we were more than happy to listen to them.
The magic involved in “The Feeding of the Five Thousand” was something to marvel at, while “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son” were stories with messages of which we were quite aware. The Talents' tale, where one man buried his “talents”, so as not to risk losing them and so incurs the wrath of his master was a trifle more obscure for our young minds.
How many times we drew Joseph in his “coat of many colours” is hard to remember. The wonderful thing about the chance to draw Joseph, was that it involved using every different “Lakeland” (or “Derwent”,if you were one of the lucky ones) coloured pencil.
For some strange reason many of us also enjoyed drawing Jacob having his famous dream of a ladder reaching up to Heaven, while asleep, with his head resting on a large stone. A stone for a pillow! Now that was something to ponder! Perhaps the eagerness to illustrate the story was the chance to draw angels, or at least a very bright light at the top of the ladder.
My favourite, and that of many others, was the story of “Moses in the Bullrushes”. It was fantasy at its best. A little baby, threatened with death (and we dared not try too hard to imagine the reality of such a threat) who was placed in a basket in a stream (how on earth did it stay afloat? we wondered, mentally picturing a basket similar to our mothers’shopping baskets). And the baby, put at further risk by his older sister, Miriam, making a gamble on good fortune playing a part. For the baby Moses to be found by a princess was almost too good to be true.
Another Bible story, happy though its intention may have been, gave me nightmares. It was the one where Samuel is called by God. The young boy hears someone calling his name and asks Eli, who is the only one nearby, if he called him.
“No, not me,” says Eli.
Samuel hears his name being called again and again and each time Eli tells him it is not he who is calling. Eli suddenly realises who is calling Samuel and tells him that it is probably God who wants him.
Gulp! “What will I say?” asks Samuel.
“Just say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth’,” advises Eli.
So Samuel does so and the Lord tells him what he wants him to do.
But what worried me was, what if I heard a voice calling me and I think it might be God. What would I do? How would I escape?
I decided that the only course of action was to pretend that I didn’t hear.
Pretending that I didn’t hear became a way of life for me in later years, but it wasn’t God I was ignoring."
Lately, in the eulogies I have been called upon to write there has been an ongoing ‘thread’of
early sadness with stories of mothers dying when children were tiny. I have just notice that I begin this part of the ‘story’ with the words “tragically”or “sadly”. The reason is obvious, I suppose. Here are three excerpts from eulogies of men born in the 1930s. (Makes us realise how times have changed and perhaps how lucky we are.)
1. Tragically, John’s mother died shortly after his birth and, with no other option, his father handed
him to foster care. A wonderful and loving family, Norman and Elsie Byron, with two children of their own, took over John as their foster child.
2. Sadly, when Bob was not much more than five or six years old, his mother died as a result of
contracting Tuberculosis. Not long afterwards, Bob’s father, who had been unwell from after-effects of poisonous gas encountered during the war, was killed in an accidental fall. As the children’s only grandmother had died a couple of years earlier, it was left to Auntie Marg to care for and bring up the seven children.
3. Sadly, Max’s mother died when Max was a tiny one-week-old baby. He was brought up by an aunt and only ever saw his father on weekends. (There were other children in his aunt’s family, but they were teenagers, so it must have been a lonely life for little Max).
These eulogies have been written in the last two weeks.They are stories from the 1930s - and now, in 2013, we almost never hear such tragic tales. What a blessing!
Oh, the awfulness of what happened at the Boston Marathon and the continued awfulness of
the aftermath…and it continues.
And the explosion at a fertilizer factory in Texas. How did that happen? How come nearly everyone knows that modern fertilizers have an important component that is a deadly explosive and yet both a school and an elderly persons’ hostel were allowed to be built within spitting distance of this factory? How come the local firemen did not know that to add water to a fire containing this chemical would cause an explosion?
And how come we (and I’m in Australia) are mourning the dead and wounded from the Boston
Marathon episode and (now) the Texas factory fire and yet we have taken scant notice of the dreadful personal toll of this week’s earthquake in Iran & Pakistan, which killed at least 34 people - or the terrorist bombing of innocents in Pakistan, at an election campaign, where at least 8 people died and untold were injured. Is it that we don’t care? That we think Pakistanis and Iranians
are lesser people? No, I think it is because we see the tv ‘footage’ of what happens in USA and our media grab at all the scenes and eye-witness stories that they can and we, like ‘rubber-necked’ voyeurs at a road accident, can’t get enough of it.
But, perhaps I am being too cynical.
In fact, how come people die when we are not expecting them to? And how do we cope?
Not so long ago, the American actor, Bradley Cooper, spoke of his father’s death (in 2011),“My father – someone who had been in my life for 36 years – is just f---ing gone.” And then goes on to say, “Nothing has ever been the same since.”
Perhaps John Donne was on to something when he wrote (just before his famous words of not sending to know for whom the bell tolls… “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind…”
But here’s the last word on the subject- from William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”
“Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?....”
We cannot help but mourn as others mourn…..isn't that so? Is that perhaps what makes us human?
At the rising sun and at its going down, we remember them.
I am about to experience a different sort of “leaving home” situation. This time it’s us (me!) leaving our (my) home. What do you do? What do you feel? I’ve wished so hard to sell our house and wished so hard to be able to move away and be close to family, but now I realise that leaving a home, as opposed to “leaving home” can be both different and the same thing.
I have searched my memoir to find the part of a chapter where I write of having to leave a much loved family home when I was a child.
Here it is:
"And so it was that we began the awful task of selling and moving away from the much loved family home.
The leaving of our Celia Street home was a sad time; heart-breaking, almost.
It was no doubt an extremely difficult move for our parents, but it was hard for us children as well.
We loved our house and loved our neighbourhood friends. We had experienced a happy relationship with most of the kids in the street. The freedom that was afforded to big sis and me was a blessing that could not be measured and we both knew that perhaps this was the end of “life as we knew it”.
The day the furniture van came and removed our goods and chattels from the house, I walked through the empty rooms, one at a time. I said goodbye to each room in turn and, when I came to our bedroom, I stepped inside the inbuilt wardrobe and closed the door. Sitting on the floor of the cupboard, I said a goodbye prayer as tears rolled down my cheeks.
I count that day as the end of my childhood. I was 11".
And now, as a (very!) mature woman I find the pull of emotional attachment to this home of ours that we built 30 years ago to be almost frightening at times, while at the same time I am experiencing a sort of relief that the decision has been made and is now out of our hands, so to speak, as we search for our new home.
About 32 years ago, a 12 year-old boy put an acorn in the earth of a vacant one-acre paddock. The acorn stayed there, seemingly doing nothing for a while, but, by the time a house was being built on the land, the acorn had already started sending a small shoot upwards.
We admired the little shoot and laughingly marvelled at the thought of such a small thing coming to life “just like that”.
And the little acorn grew into an oak tree and, about 20 years later, grandchildren of the owners climbed into its welcoming branches. Each time the grandchildren visited they climbed higher as the tree grew
There were times when the children hid from the adults and could hardly be seen as they scaled the branches and the leaves covered them.
And now we are going to leave the oak tree to new owners. The new owners have small grandchildren who we hope will enjoy the climbing and the hiding made possible by this magnificent tree.
Two things this proves: one is that “from little things, big things grow” and, two, English oaks do grow well in Australia.
Today the sky is not completely blue all over, but the blue of the blue parts are just as vibrantly blue as they were yesterday when there was not a cloud to be seen. Perhaps it is better to have some clouds to help us see the brilliance of the blue more clearly. I am reminded of old sayings such as "every cloud has a silver lining" and the one about we have to have clouds to appreciate the sunshine (or however that saying goes).
But sometimes the clouds overwhelm us. There are cloudy days that are, indeed, just that - cloudy days, with (often) accompanying rain and cold weather and there are the cloudy days that are the metaphorical ones that cloud our minds and bring sadness into our lives. I am, today, thinking of someone who was part of our family for quite a while. Someone who is no longer a 'real' part of our lives, but who is still dear to my heart. She has just lost her mother and I have no words to say to her that I think would even come close to being able to soften her grief. She lives on the other side of the world. Her mother was younger than I am and I feel a guilt of sorts that I am here; here to appreciate the blue sky and the trees and the sunshine - and she is not. Sometimes life seems unfair. But who are we to question? I have no idea why I am still here and others have left long ago. Just as I have no idea why other people live to "ripe old ages" and are "given" so many more years on earth than others.
I sometimes include the words of the Beatles' song, "Let it Be" on the front of printed eulogies. I'm still not sure if I believe it to be true, but we can always hope.
"And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, there will be an answer, let it be".
Today the sky is so blue it’s almost unbelievable. I’ve been sitting outside, on our sunny timber deck, reading Saturday’s paper and weekend magazine. The combination of blue sky, overhanging leafy branches of the pin-oak tree, combined with the bird song from magpies, native thrush and butcher birds makes me truly aware of the beauty of nature and the beauty of the place in which I now live. I wonder if I will ever experience such a blissful combination once I have transported myself and all my (our) belongings to the state of Queensland.
But that’s not something I wish to dwell on. The main object of the Big Move is to be closer to family and all else pales into insignificance next to that. But I also must admit to the fact that I will not miss my hands turning red and stinging in the cold weather experienced by us here in Victoria. To have warmer weather for (much) longer times will be a blessing. To awaken to balmy days will be a delight hard to equal and I will not miss those mornings where to keep warm means to have the gas heater and/or open fire going and to also have a knee rug and a heat bag across my legs if I am sitting still - such as times when I am writing.
But, as I scan the “property for sale” sites on the computer, I have to keep telling myself that although I may never find as lovely a home as that which we now have, to be close to family is all I want - and all I need.
I promise that this will be the last mention of the eulogy for a suicide victim. It has been consuming my thoughts and, as I have completed the writing now, I will post one last item that I think is worth reading and then, hopefully, branch into a happier subject next time.
In my search for appropriate words to include in this funeral service, I came across part of a talk given by the minister and author, Norman Vincent Peale, who had conducted a service for a young man who had taken his own life.
The mother and sister of "my" suicide person agreed to include it in the service for their son and brother.
Here it is:
"Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and his strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him. And it appeared that he lost the war. But did he? I see a host of victories that he has won!
For one thing - he has won our admiration - because even if he lost the war, we give him credit for his bravery on the battlefield. And we give him credit for the courage - and pride - and hope that he used as his weapons as long as he could. We shall remember not his death, but his daily
victories gained through his kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through his love for family and friends, for animals and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember not his last day of defeat, but we shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had.”
Perhaps this says some true words about depression?
I have spoken to the family of the young man who committed suicide and have written a eulogy (yet to be edited properly). The family did not chose to include the poem I listed in yesterdy's blog, but chose other words which we offered.
To his friends, this man was known by the name "Bear".
After writing a brief history of his life, I was unsure of how to end the eulogy and have come up with what follows. I am not certain that these are the words that will be used. There are still a couple of days before the funeral is to take place. But I will share the eulogy endng with you here:
Bear went through some hard times. He had an injury which put him ‘out of action’ so to speak, for a time and which, together with his undiagnosed depression, made life difficult for him. He may have seemed boisterous and cheerful on the outside to many, but that was not how things were “on the inside”.
He was a brave man, no matter what; it was different sort of courage that he possessed.
Bear may have been a big man, who could even (at times) look a bit scary, with his height - and his tats - and his loud swearing voice, but he had a massive big heart; much of which he shared with his friends.
And it is this heart and all it contained and all the friendship that Bear offered so freely that will be the thing that is remembered about this man who has left us to wonder.
Perhaps nobody realised how difficult things were for him.
And so, although we may feel hurt and sad – and even angry, perhaps a slight feeling of guilt or even some sense of blame, we also think today of a life that is to be celebrated.
A good life, which, in its ending makes us feel somewhat diminished.
Sir Walter Scott is quoted as asking, “Is death the last sleep?” and he answers, “No, it is the final awakening."
Let us hope that Bear has been awoken to peace at last.
And now for something really serious.
I am assisting in the composing of a funeral service for a young man who committed suicide. I have done this before and collected some poems that (almost) fit the occasion. (Occasion? that's hardly the word, but what else can one say?). I have discovered a poem I have not seen before that will be offered to the family and friends of this young man to see if they would like it to be read at his funeral. It is titled "Friends" and was written by Alice Kavounas. See what you think.
In a circle of friends, the one who dies first
is the friend you will never forget:
this is the death that unhinges you
from the trappings of everyday life
and makes you – suddenly – absurdly grateful
for each new breath – beginning with this one.
This is the death that could break you
apart in every way possible; that
persuades you –
in memory of that friend
– to turn away
from whatever refuses to speak to your heart
threatens to numb your soul
from whatever it is that revels in death.
Yet this, too, is the friend you need by your side.
Together they urge you: Live your life.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.