my Granny Vik – for her birthday.

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.

Dead.

Merry Christmas!

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.

Imagine!

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:

  1. Marriage is a dark forest.
  2. 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.

grief

She came to me last night and asked me to take her shopping. I drove her home and she put on her shiny cream heels, her glamorous fawn coat, her dark red lipstick. She was so young and strong, beautiful and content. I took her to the David Jones, and she lingered over some hand-carved ornaments. She noticed their beauty and she ran a finger over the part where polished wood met an interesting natural edge. She wandered around the coats and jackets, feeling the weights of the fabrics, the luxurious piles, so soft! And then I was all alone, holding her bags and her things.

She is gone.

It’s not like I think of her every moment of the day. And some days I don’t at all. But sometimes I wake up and have another cry. And then I get on with it again.

In search of my human nature

It is our psychic needs and the feelings that accompany them that are at the root of human nature. (Mary E Clark)

My Gran is old and frail. For 90 years she has been tough and fiercely independent but today she finds herself in an old people’s hostel. She eats what she is fed, goes to bed and rises according to the routines of the institution and occasionally needs assistance to bathe and dress herself.  Despite the pleasant and caring hostel environment, this has not been a happy or easy time for Gran, so her extended family makes the effort to support her as best we can. We visit Gran daily, provide her with little luxuries, and bust her out for a visit to the hairdresser or cafe.

Taking care of Gran in the midst of all our other responsibilities can be quite an effort. And yet we do it. I think it is a normal human activity to look after the elderly as best we can. If you disagree, think of the deep emotions – sadness and outrage – expressed by the community when elder neglect and abuse is reported. However, looking after the frail elderly contradicts accepted understandings of human nature as expressed by Richard Dawkins that is, that human nature is essentially selfish, that we are motivated to act only to further our own interests, to ensure the survival of our offspring at the expense of others. Our behaviour makes no sense according to the selfish gene.

So, are we human beings intrinsically selfish, competitive and even violent? Mary Clark argues no. We are in all likelihood evolved with more capacity for kindness, cooperation and reconciliation than for aggression. There is much hope for those interested in nonviolence in her book: In search of human nature.

Continue reading “In search of my human nature”

things that are sustaining me right now while my Granny is fading and my secondment is is not as fun as i expected

subtitle: reminder to self to keep doing these things 🙂

yoga – Melissa West’s current series is on working with the inner critic

actively engaging with nonviolent communication, reading, doing exercises, writing in my nonviolent communication blog and just feeling my feelings as they occur

allowing myself to really enjoy and appreciate my relationships with my partner and children and to express that to others even when it feels awkward

being creative when and as I feel like it, enjoying having a number of crochet and sewing things on the go and attending to each whenever I feel like it

getting outside for a stroll around the block, or moving my craft stuff into the sunshine and working there

keeping things in order at work with weekly and daily to do lists and if stuff does not get done bumping it to tomorrow and going home on time and not thinking about it even if everyone else works a bit over

feeding the chooks and spending a little time with them

life moving on

My old Granny is fading. She has been in and out of hospital for the past few months with a number of infections, including one in her chest that seems intractable. At one point it seemed she was actively dying, but it does look like we will have her for a little longer, that she can go home again at least for a bit, and enjoy all the attention she is getting from her children, grandkids and great grandkids. (And she is enjoying it too 🙂 )

Gran has started to reminisce. We all love listening to her old stories, but it is a bittersweet thing for her, to remember and to be the only one left. She has outlived all her friends from the old days, her parents, all her siblings, all those connections to Ukraine, to her childhood, her teens, her young adulthood, all gone.

Personally, I am also feeling some emotional impact, apart from the grief about Gran. That is, I keep getting washed over with nostalgia. I look at my young adult daughters and I wonder where my babies, my little ones went. Where is the girl who wrote in grade one I will be a carpenter and build my mum a house and we will all live in it and we will love each other? Where is the four year old who confidently pronounced that we could fix the shower leak with zelly zorclan (Selly’s all seal)? Where did my little miss who perched on the loo with her nose buried in her skirt disappear?

When I was a girl in primary school one of my teachers said to me you won’t believe this but your life will go by in a flash. Make the most of it! He was right. I didn’t believe him and also, here I am, 46 years and two days old, marvelling at it all. How wonderful it has been, how glorious, how hard too, and how blessed I am 🙂

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