Sunday, December 08, 2013

Finding my father

I have unplugged, for fear of storms.  Varuna, the writers' house, sits on an iron stone and therefore, it’s safest to unplug.

To get here I took the train through places whose names are familiar to me, through Blaxland, Westmead and Penrith, Emu Plains, Wentworth Falls. 

Here in the Green Room I have a view at the corner to east and south, or north and west. I cannot tell which because I am geographically challenged. 

I have come to Varuna to find my father, or some semblance of him in a deeper directionality than I have known to date.

Within half an hour of my arrival a storm typical for this time of the year erupts.  I unplug.  A breeze dense with the smell of rain pushes against the curtains and washes away some of the musty smell of this house in which countless writers have penned their words. 

I look at the photo of my father as a boy, maybe six, maybe seven.  He sits on the floor cross-legged, one in a row of seven children who sit in the first row in front of the adults at what looks to be a wedding shot.  My grandparents are there too, in the corner first row standing behind the seated adults, which include the wedding couple.

 I guess they are a married couple because the woman in white carries a bouquet but she has no veil.  The photo could have been taken in Freud’s time though not in the Vienna of his fame but in Haarlem Holland where my father lived for his entire childhood, and where my father met my mother and from where he took her to Australia before I was born. 

I do not know why there are tears behind my eyes when I look at these photos, something about my inability to make sense of these times and these people, especially of my father and my father’s father and his mother. 

The mystery of these people.  My father’s head is lowered but he lifts his eyes towards the camera as if he mistrusts the person taking the photo and his arms are folded.  Some of the other children in the photo fold their arms as well.  A technique of the photographer in those days to keep the children still, perhaps.  No one smiles as is the custom in these old photos. 

Several are caught at that moment with eyes closed, including my paternal grandfather, the one who looks to me as though he could never be a relative of mine.  My grandmother, on the other hand, looks like me, the same long face, the angular chin. 

My great grandparents are in this photo, too.  They sit on the side of the bride and I can only assume that this photo was taken at the wedding of my father’s aunt.  Apart from my father I know none of these people, unless I am to include my aunt Nell who might well be the baby in the photo seated on my great grandmother’s knee.  Nell I have met.  Nell who was named after my grandmother, Petronella and after whom by rights I should have been named but by the time I was born my mother tells me, my grandmother Nell was ‘in disgrace’.

‘What did she do?’ I asked.  Asking my mother questions such as these plunges her into a fug of memory to which she does not want to return.  I can see it in her eyes.  That glazed look.  A look that says, must we go there again?  I can’t bear to think on it.  I only want to think about the good times. 

My mother is 94.  I should leave her in peace.  I should not trouble her about these things, but I cannot help myself. 

I worry at these thoughts like a dog at a bone.  I worry at these thoughts as if I am scratching at a wound whose scab is dry and ready to shear off. I know I should leave it scale off without help from me and yet I persist. 
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