Saturday, November 02, 2013

No bush fires here

My morning has been derailed by the news that one of my daughters has decided to travel with her boyfriend to Merimbula on the coast.  Just for the hell of it.  It’s a six hour drive.  

They wanted to go somewhere further away, my daughter said.  And they hoped they might find more warmth.

I start to panic.  Will their car hold out?  Will they be safe?  What might they encounter?  Then I remind myself when my husband and I were young we travelled often from Melbourne to Canberra, and Sydney sometimes.  Each trip took a day and we thought little of it except for the tedium of all that driving.
My mother never worried about my travels then, or if she did, she did not let on.  I worry more than my mother ever worried, perhaps to make up for her.  But my daughter is an adult now.  She is responsible and will take care.  I have to let go.

I spent last weekend in Bowral with my husband and various of my sisters and brothers and their partners on a family reunion of sorts, the third since our first effort to get together in 2010.
We had planned to go to the Blue Mountains but the bush fires were hard on the doorstep of Closeburn, the house at Mount Victoria where we had arranged to stay and the proprietor and powers that be there suggested we should avoid the area. 

My younger sister who was organizing the trip chose Bowral at the last minute as a place outside of Sydney that might appeal.  No bushfires there.  None of us had wanted to stay in Sydney proper – too much city. 

We try to compromise in distances for these reunions given that one of us lives in Mildura, another in Dubbo, one in Gippsland, still another outside Canberra and another further north in Brisbane.  The rest of us live in Melbourne, though one Melbournian is away at the moment in America for several months. 

Not everyone made it to this reunion, only six of the nine siblings, and it felt different to me as a consequence.  Some of us came with our partners, which also diluted that family-of-origin feel. 
Still we all managed to fall into role: the girls making tea for the boys; the boys sitting around talking; my oldest brother taking charge, in spite of himself perhaps; my older sister being her usual bossy self.
We joked about these things but on the Saturday night after dinner as we sat around in the dining room of our rented house, spread around on unmatched couches and floral fabric armchairs – the usual motley furniture of holiday houses –  and drank the last of the red wine, I sensed that old wish to subvert proceedings.
The wish rose in my throat.  There was a quality of playing happy families, and I railed against it.
When I consider how much I like to keep the peace in my present family compared to my wish to shake things up in my family of origin, I wonder about the contradiction. 

The front picture of today’s Age newspaper includes a beautiful young woman in a broad open weave hat, tilted on one side of her head.  She is wearing a slim two piece white suit, the sort of outfit women show off at the races. 

It’s the spring carnival season here in Melbourne, the time for people to dress up in anticipation of the great race on Cup Day.

Beyond the young woman’s beauty I was struck by the fact she was not your average white Anglo-Saxon.  She was of Asian descent.  This is not the usual fare we see on the front pages of our newspapers here in Melbourne, not the so-called main stream.

Are times changing?  Can we now recognize and accept the diversity of nationalities within our culture.
The article attached describes how this young woman had organized her outfit on a budget.  Her suit made in Vietnam, her shoes online from the US, everything from elsewhere, inexpensive and yet glamorous. 

It seemed to me there were subtexts here, hidden hints. 
Why the emphasis on frugality?  Is it to encourage ordinary folk to participate in what they describe as fashions on the field.
I do not trust it anymore than I trusted myself at the family reunion. 

I have a photograph in front of me on my desk.  In the class photo of 1968 I smile at the camera along with thirty two other girls in my third last year at school.  All of us in our mushroom pink linen dresses, with white Peter Pan collars.

The photo is taken at a significant time in the history of the western world - massive changes everywhere, the Prague spring - but in it I smile feebly, my medal of Mary Immaculate around my neck.
There are others who also wear the medal in this photo.  It marks us as future prefects, good girls who will soon become leaders at our school.  My hair is in pigtails, my collar crinkled.  My school dress is too tight and it bunches around my waist. 

These are the days when I see myself as ugly and compensate for my appearance by being cheerful, helpful and ingratiating myself to all and sundry.
It seems an effective way to get through my final years at school.  The nuns admire me for it.  My fellow students tolerate me.  A couple of my close friends even like me and one or two others despise me.  One girl in particular, Rosanna, considers me a fraud and treats me accordingly.  She sees through my fa├žade.  Under all the sugary niceness I am as flawed as the rest. 

The good girl of my school years contrasts with the troublesome one I have become.  There is only so long you can hold onto excess piety.

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