the kiss and stick of cold dark clay
– I scrub the earth from my hands.
the prick of her pin at the back of my kitchen drawer
– I push it to the dark.
the lowing of the black cow
– out in the farthest field,
the smell of gardenias.
– Her things
keep finding me,
my old Granny Vik, she was
soft to touch, she had
an iron grip and
a sharp tongue.
So many stories.
When she was a girl, growing up in a Siberian gulag, a man came to the door on Christmas Eve. He wanted some bread and a place out of the cold. But there was no bread and no room for a strange man in the hut of four little children and their widowed mother.
The next day, Granny opened the door, and there he was, sitting on the step.
When we were kids she worked two jobs so she could fly us to Sydney in our holidays.
She took us swimming to the Bronte Beach.
She took us to the Luna Park and Taronga zoo.
We caught ferries from the Circular Key and visited the Opera House and walked all the way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It was bloody tiring, but we managed to keep up.
She wore a silky scarf over her dark hair and beautiful dark red lipstick and a camel overcoat, stockings and fawn high heels. Once someone asked her for her autograph because they thought she was Greta Garbo.
My Poppy was in the Czech Resistance. He would wake up screaming in the night. The ceiling above his chair was stained orange-brown from his cigarettes. He often smelled of whiskey. He was warm and witty and bitter. Once he got drunk after work and thought he was Jesus and gave away his pay packet. Sometimes he would not come home and Granny would get in a taxi and drive around till she found him crumpled under a tree somewhere, beat up, wallet gone.
Her favourite sayings:
- Marriage is a dark forest.
- All men are unfaithful. Some with women. Others with drink or horses.
Her own father died on the way to join his wife and children in Siberia. He was trying to sell their farm. He fell off his horse in blizzard. He died in the snow.
She really loved my Poppy; she always spoke fondly of him and his terrible suffering.
When I was 20 and single and pregnant and scared and everyone was ashamed of me my mum made me ring her and tell her and Granny Vik laughed a gentle laugh and said, Ah it is so. Well if anyone will do this, you will. You have this baby and go back to the university and study and have a good life. That is it.
And somehow, it was.
She always grew gardenias. In her backyard in Sydney and later in Brisbane. And little ones in pots on the balcony of her South Bank apartment. She loved gardenia talcum powder and gardenia soap.
When she worked as a forced labourer in a Bavarian factory for Mr Hitler, the girls slept in straw together. With no sanitation things often smelled a bit ordinary.
The day after Granny’s funeral, my mother’s gardenias flowered for the first time.
Those two often argued, but now Mum has a little shrine in her sewing room. Two photos of Granny, and a little vase of flowers on a doily, arranged on their own little table.
I’m thinking that it’s the most wog thing my mother has ever done.