The streets of St Germain were almost deserted – except Alice returning home in her diaphanous red gown, carrying her stilettos. She wasn’t drunk or under the influence of drugs. Rather, her overactive imagination was suddenly swept away by the alluring, white tulips in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Their luscious, white faces were all smiles, drawing her in like a drunken bee intoxicated by pollen dreams. Usually reserved, she finally unleashed her soul: “Why tiptoe through the tulips, when you can leap? Geronimo!”
That’s where Alice was found – sound asleep by a young man wishing he’d drunk his morning coffee.
Tulips aren’t a flower you see a lot of in Australia. Indeed, they were very rare when I went to Europe back in 1992 and really had the chance to appreciate them more fully – especially as I flew with KLM and landed in Amsterdam. So, my story had to have a European setting, even though we do have a tulip festival in Canberra. Indeed, that reminds me I ought to go to our version of Floriade sometime.
This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields, and I encourage you to join us.
Two years ago, our son was booked to go on a European history tour with his school, which included visiting the battlefields of WWI, and spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneaux. Wanting him to know what our family members had gone through, I started researching my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealey, and my husband’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was Killed in Action at the Battle of Mont St Quentin.
It was all supposed to be fairly quick, and nothing more than an overview. However, it was me doing the research, and after covid hit and his trip was cancelled, unravelling and understanding their WWI experiences dramatically expanded to become “My Covid Project”, especially as lockdowns and self-isolation continue. Once again, my passionate curiosity had led me astray.
As it turned out, there were some interesting twists to their stories. Uncle Jack’s parents were Irish, and the “Bill” Uncle Ralph mentioned in his diary might’ve been born in Tasmania, but his parents and siblings were German-born. While the Irish initially supported the Empire and got behind the war effort, the 1916 Uprising and the brutal English response, reignited longstanding animosity and called for independence. I’m Australian and we weren’t taught any Irish history at school or university and I just grew up with some scant reference to the potato famine. I had no idea parts of the family had come out more recently, and what had gone on. Ireland was simply the land of green grass and Guinness. Clearly, I’ve been on a steep upward curve trying to make sense of it all, and it’s no wonder I’ve ended up in an Irish mist so much of the time.
Anyway, this brings me to this short story I wanted to share with you. Of course, it will mean a lot more to people with Irish heritage, but I really enjoyed it as a story and was also intrigued by the grandmother who can’t see, but has incredible vision- very much like a close friend of mine.
My Grandmother And Myself
By Mary Synon
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOARDMAN ROBINSON
My grandmother was at the basement window, peering into the street as if she were watching for someone, when I came home from school. “Is that you, John?” she asked me as I stood in the hall stamping the snow from my boots. “Sure,” I called to her. “Who’d you think I was? A spirit?”
She laughed a little as I went into the room and flung down my books. My grandmother hasn’t seen any one in ten years, though she sits day after day looking out on the street as if a parade were passing; but she knows the thump of my books on the table as well as she knows the turning of my father’s key in the lock of the door. “‘Tis a lively spirit you’d make, Shauneen,” she said with that chuckle she saves for me. “No, ’twas your father I thought was coming.”
“What’d he be doing home at this time?”
“These are queer days,” she said, “and there are queer doings in them.”
“There’s nothing queer that I can see,” I told her.
“I’m an old, blind woman,” she said, “but sometimes I see more than do they who have the sight of their two eyes.”
She said it so solemnly, folding her hands one over the other as she drew herself up in her chair, that I felt a little thrill creeping up my spine. ”What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Time’ll tell you,” she said.
My mother came in from the kitchen then. “Norah forgot to order bacon for the morning,” she said. “Will you go to the market, John, before you do anything else?”
“Oh, I’m going skating,” I protested.
“It won’t take you five minutes,” said my mother. She seemed tired and worried. The look in her eyes made me feel that there was trouble hanging over the house. My mother isn’t like my grandmother. When things go wrong, my grandmother stands up straight, and throws back her shoulders, and fronts ahead as if she were a general giving orders for attack; but my mother wilts like a hurt flower. She was drooping then while she stood in the room, so I said: “All right, I’ll go,” though I’d promised the fellows to come to the park before four o’clock.
“And look in at the shop as you go by,” my grandmother said, “and see if your father’s there now.”
“Why shouldn’t he be?” my mother asked.
There was a queer sound in her voice that urged me around past my father’s shop. My father was there in the little office, going over blue-prints with Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and a big man I’d never seen before. I told my grandmother when I went home. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. And I dreamed last night of my cousin Michael who died trying to escape from Van Diemen’s Land.”
“You knew what?” I asked her, for again that strange way of hers sent shivery cold over me.
“Go to your skating,” she bade me.
There wasn’t much skating at Tompkins Square, though, when I found the crowd. The sun had come out strong in the afternoon and the ice was melting. “Ground-hog must have seen his shadow last week,” Bennie Curtis said. All the fellows—Joe Carey and Jim Dean and Frank Belden and Joe Krebs and Mattie Kleiner and Fred Wendell and the rest of them—had taken off their skates and were starting a tug of war in the slush. Mattie Kleiner was the captain on one side and Frank Belden the captain on the other. Mattie had chosen Joe Krebs and Jim Dean and Joe Carey on his side. Just as I came along he shouted that he chose me. Frank Belden yelled that it was his choice and that he’d take me.
“He don’t want to be on your side!” Mattie cried. “He’s with the Germans!”
“Well, I guess not,” I said, “any more than I’m with the English. I’m an American.”
“You can’t be just an American in this battle,” Frank Belden said.
“Then I’ll stay out of it,” I told him.
They all started to yell ” Neutral!” and “‘Fraid cat!” and “Oh, you dove of peace!” at me. I got tired of it after a while, and I went after Mattie hard. When I’d finished with him he bawled at me: “Wait till your father knows, he’ll fix you!”
“What for?” I jeered.
“For going against his principles, that’s what,” Mattie Kleiner roared.
“I’d like to know what you know about my father’s principles,” I laughed at him.
“Well, I ought to know,” he cried. “I heard him take the oath.”
“What oath?” we all demanded, but Mattie went off in surly silence. Joe Krebs and Joe Carey trailed after him. I stayed with the other fellows until it was dark. Then I started for home.
Joe Carey was waiting for me at the corner. “Do you believe him, John?” he asked me. “Do you believe Mattie about the oath?”
“How’s that?” I parried. I seemed to remember having heard a man who’d been at the house a fortnight before whispering something about an oath, and I knew that I’d heard my mother say to my grandmother: “I pray to God he’ll get in no trouble with any oaths or promises.” I kept wondering if Mattie Kleiner’s father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and the big man with the blue-prints who’d been in my father’s shop had anything to do with it.
“Oh, Mattie’s talking in his sleep,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” said Joe Carey; “but he wasn’t sleeping the night they had the meeting in his house. He was on the stairs going up to the top floor, and he kept the door open a little way and he heard everything they said, and nobody at all knew he was there.”
Joe Carey’s eyes were almost popping out of his head, and so I knew that Mattie had been telling him a long story.
“I guess he didn’t hear very much,” I said.
“You bet he did,” Joe declared. “He heard them reading the letters telling people not to go on the ships because they were going to be sunk, and he heard them talking about bombs and munition factories. He says that he heard your father say that he’d gladly lay down his life for the sake of Ireland.”
“But Ireland’s not in this war!”
“Sure it is! Mattie says the Germans are going to free Ireland if they beat England. That’s why the Irish ought to be with the Germans. Mattie says your father’ll be awful ashamed that you wouldn’t go on his side. Mattie says your father…”
“I don’t give a whoop what Mattie says about my father,” I told him. “I guess I can take my own part.”
“I guess you’ll have to,” said Joe.
As I went up the street toward our house I had that queer feeling that comes sometimes after I’ve been away for a while, a fear that something terrible has happened while I’ve been gone and that I’ll be blamed for it. It was dark on the street, for people hadn’t lighted the lamps in the basement dining-rooms, and I was hurrying along when suddenly a man’s voice came over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard his step behind me at all, and I jumped when he spoke.
“Where does Mr. John Sutton live?” he asked me.
“Right there.” I pointed to our house.
“Do you know him?” he asked. Through the dark I could see that he was a tall man with sharp eyes. I knew that I had never seen him before, and that he didn’t look like any of the men who came to my father’s machine-shop. “Don’t you know Mr. Sutton?” he repeated.
“Know him well, sonny?”
“He’s my father.”
He whistled softly, then laughed, turned on his heel, and strode down the street. I watched him to see if he’d take the turn toward the shop, but he turned the other way at the corner. I thought that I’d tell my grandmother about him, but my mother was with her in the dark when I went in. They were talking very low, as if someone were dead in the house, but I heard my mother say, “If I only knew how far he’s gone in this!” and my grandmother mutter: “Sure, the farther he goes in, the farther back he’ll have to come.” I stumbled over a chair as I went into the room with them, and they both stopped talking.
I could hear the little hissing whisper my grandmother always makes while she says the rosary, but I could hear no sound from my mother at all until she rose with a sigh and lighted the gas-lamp. She looked at me as if she hadn’t known I’d been there. “Have you any homework to do to-night, John?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “It’s Friday.”
“Then I want you to come to church with me after your dinner,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t want to go to church,” I’d said before my grandmother spoke.
“‘Twill be a queer thing to me as long as I live,” she said, “that those who have don’t want what they have and that those who haven’t keep wanting.”
The telephone bell rang just then up in the room that my father uses for an office, and I raced up to answer it. A man’s voice, younger than that of the man who’d spoken to me, came over the wire. “Say, is this John Sutton’s residence?” it asked. “And is he home? And, if he isn’t, who are you?”
“What do you want?” I called.
“Information. This is The World. We hear that there’s to be a meeting of the clans to-night, and we want to know where it’s to be held.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you find out?”
“No,” I lied. “There’s nobody home.”
“Won’t your father be home for dinner?”
Even then I could hear his key turning in the lock, could hear him passing on his way up to his bedroom, but a queer kind of caution was being born in me. “No, sir,” I said. (pg227)
“Who was that?” my grandmother asked me when I went down.
I told her of the call, told her, too, of the man who had stopped me on the street. Her rosary slipped through her fingers. “I feared it,” she said. Then the whisper of her praying began again.
At dinner my father was strangely silent. Usually he talks a great deal, all about politics, and the newspapers, and the trouble with the schools, and woman-suffrage, and war. But he said nothing at all except to ask me if the skating were good. My mother was just as quiet as he, and I would have been afraid to open my mouth if my grandmother hadn’t started in to tell about New York in the days she’d come here, more than sixty-five years ago. She talked and talked about how different everything had been then, with no tall buildings and no big bridges and no subways and no elevateds. “Faith, you can be proud of your native town, John,” she said to my father.
“I wish I’d been born in Ireland,” he said.
She laughed. “And if I’d stayed in Ireland, I’d have starved,” she said, “and little chance you’d have had of being born anywhere.”
“It might have been just as well,” he said bitterly.
“Oh, no,” she said; “there’s Shauneen.”
He rose from the table, flinging down his napkin. “I won’t be home till very late,” he said to my mother.
She stood up beside him. “Do you have to go, John?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m afraid.”
“Of what may happen you.”
“Nothing’ll happen me,” he said.
I wanted to tell him of the strange man who had halted me on the street, and of the telephone call, but my father’s anger was rising and I feared to fan it to flame. My grandmother said nothing until after my father had gone. Then she spoke to my mother.
“Don’t you know better,” she asked her, “and you eighteen years married to him, than to ask John not to do something you don’t want him to do?”
My mother began to cry as we heard the banging of the outer door after my father. “Well, if you can do nothing else,” my grandmother said, “you’d better be off to church. Keep your eyes open, Shauneen,” she warned me, while my mother was getting her hat and coat.
It was a grand night, with the evening star low in the sky, like a lamp, and the big yellow moon just rising in the east. The wind blew sharp and salt off the water, but there was a promise of spring in the air, saying that it must be almost baseball time. We went over to the Jesuit church, walking slowly all the way. There we knelt in the dark until I was stiff. As we came out my mother stopped at the holy-water font. “John,” she said, “will you promise me that if you ever marry you’ll never set any cause but God’s above your wife?”
“No, ma’am, I won’t,” I said, vaguely understanding that my father had hurt my mother by his refusal to stay at home, and wondering what cause he had set above her. As we walked toward the car line I remembered what Joe Carey had told me of Mattie Kleiner’s speech about my father. “Do you have to go to Ireland to die for Ireland?” I asked her. She clutched my hand. “My grandfather died for Ireland,” she said, “and he wasn’t the first of his line to die for her. But I pray God that he may have been the last.” She said no more till we came into our own house.
My grandmother was still at the window of the dining-room. There was no light, and my mother did not make one. “There was another telephone call,” my grandmother said. “Norah answered it. ‘Twas the newspaper calling again for John to ask about the meeting. She said she knew nothing about it and that no one was here to answer.”
“Do you suppose,” I said, “it was detectives?”
They said nothing, and I could feel a big lump coming up my throat. I thought they might not have heard me until my grandmother said: “Do you know, Kate, where the meeting is?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” my mother cried. She turned to me sharply. “Go to bed, John,” she said.
“I know where the meetings are,” (pg 228) I blurted out, eager enough for any excuse to put off the hateful order. “They’re at Mattie Kleiner’s house, because he hides on the stairs when they come, and he heard them take the oath.”
“Is that Matthew Kleiner’s boy?” my grandmother asked, so quietly that I thought she had not realized the importance of my news.
“Go to bed, Shauneen.” She repeated my mother’s order.
I went up-stairs, leaving the two of them silent in the dark. I whistled while I undressed, but I shivered after I had turned out the light and jumped between the sheets. I was going to lie awake waiting for my father’s return, but I must have dozed, for I thought that it was in the middle of the night that something woke me. I knew, as soon as I woke, that someone was in my room. I could feel him groping. I tried to speak, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then I heard a faint whisper. “Shauneen,” it said.
So far away it seemed that I thought it might be a ghost until my grandmother spoke again. “Your mother’s in bed now,” she said. “Put on your clothes as quick as you can.”
“What is it?” I whispered.
“We’re going to Matthew Kleiner’s, you and I,” she said. “I’d go alone if I could see.”
“What time is it?”
“Between ten and eleven.”
I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could. Then stealthily as thieves we crept out from my room and down the stairs. I held my grandmother’s hand and wondered at its steadiness. When we had come outside the basement-door she halted me. “Look down the street for the tall man,” she bade me. There was no one in sight, however, and we walked along sturdily, turning corners until we came to Kleiner’s.
It was a red-brick house in a row, not a basement house like ours, but with a cellar below and an attic above its two main floors. There was no light on the first floor, but I thought that I saw a stream behind the drawn curtains upstairs. I found the bell and pushed on it hard. No one came for a long time. I rang again. I could see shadows back of the shades before Mattie Kleiner’s mother came.
“What is it?” she demanded before she opened the door.
“Tell her that your mother’s sick, and that you’ve come for your father,” my grandmother ordered me.
I repeated what she’d said.
Mrs. Kleiner opened the door. “Oh,” she cried, “it is Mrs. Sutton and little John. Oh, you did frighten me. Is the mother very sick? I shall call the father.”
“Let me go to him,” my grandmother said. We were inside the hall then, and I put her hand on the railing of the stairway. She had started up before Mrs. Kleiner tried to stop her. “I’ve a message for him,” said my grandmother. Mrs. Kleiner and I followed her. At the top of the stairs I turned her toward the front room, for I could hear the murmur of voices. I passed a door and wondered if Mattie Kleiner were hiding behind it. “Oh, we must not go in,” Mrs. Kleiner pleaded. “The men will not want us to go in.” She tried to stop us, but my grandmother turned, looking at her as if she could see her. “I’ve always followed my own conscience, ma’am,” she said, “not my husband’s, nor my son’s, nor any other man’s.”
From within the front room came the sound of the voices, growing louder and louder as we stood there, my grandmother alert, Mrs. Kleiner appalled, I myself a thrill. I could hear my father’s voice, short, sharp. “It’s our great opportunity,” he was saying. “We have only to strike the blow at England’s empire, and the empire itself will arise to aid us. Twenty thousand men flung into Canada will turn the trick. French Quebec is disaffected. What if soldiers are there? We can fight them! We may die, but what if we do? We will have started the avalanche that will destroy Carthage!”
There were cries of “Right!” to him. Then a man began to talk in German. His voice rang out harshly. From the murmurs that came out to us we knew that the men were applauding his words, but we had no idea of what the words were. Mrs. Kleiner stood wringing her hands. “Who’s in there?” my grandmother asked her.
“I do not know,” she insisted.
“Joe Krebs’s uncle is there,” I said. “I know his cough. And Mr. Winngart who keeps the delicatessen shop. And Frank Benner’s father; and that’s Mr. Carey’s voice.”
“They just meet for fun,” groaned Mrs. Kleiner.
“Sure, I saw that kind of fun before,” said my grandmother, “when the Fenians went after the Queen’s Own.”
My father’s voice rose again. “We are ready to fire the torch? We are ready to send out the word tonight for the mobilization of our sympathizers? We are ready to stand together to the bitter end?”
“We are ready!” came the shout. Then my grandmother opened the door.
Through the haze of their tobacco smoke they looked up, the dozen men crowded into the Kleiners’ front bedroom, to see my grandmother standing before them, a bent old woman in her black dress and shawl, her little jet bonnet nodding valiantly from its perch on her thin white hair. She looked around as if she could see every one of them. My father had sprung forward at her coming, and, as if to hold him off, she put up one hand.
“Is it yourself, John Sutton, who’s talking here of plots, and plans, and war?” she said. Her voice went up to a sharp edge. She flung back her head as if she defied them to answer her. All of them, my father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and Mr. Carey and Mr. Winngart and the big man who’d had the blue-prints in the shop, and the others, stared at her as if she were a ghost. No one of them moved as she spoke.
“‘Tis a fine lot you are to be sitting here thinking ways to bring trouble on yourselves, and your wives, and your children, and your country. Who are there here of you? Is it yourself, Benedict Krebs, who’s going out to fight for Germany when your own father came to this very street to get away from Prussia? Is it you, Matthew Kleiner, who gives roof to them who plot against America, you, who came here to earn a living that you couldn’t earn at home? Is it you, Michael Carey, who’s helping them hurt the land that’s making you a rich man? Shame on you; shame on you all!”
“Why shouldn’t we fight England?” Joe Carey’s father said with a growl. “You’d be the last one, Mrs. Sutton, that I’d think’d set yourself against that.”
“‘Tis not England,” said my grandmother, “that you fight with your plots. ‘Tis America you strike when you strike here. And, as long as you stay here, be Americans and not traitors!”
They began to murmur at that, and my father said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother. You’d better take John home. This is no place for either of you.”
“No more than it’s a place for you,” she said. “Will you be coming home with me now?”
“I will not,” my father said.
“Faith, and you’ll all be wishing you had,” she told them, “when the jails’ll be holding you in the morning.”
“The jails!” The big man who had held the blue-prints came closer to us. “What is it you say of jails? You have told the police, then?”
“I didn’t need to,” my grandmother said. “The government men have been watching this long time. ‘Twill be at midnight that they’ll come here. But ’tis not myself they’ll be finding.”
I saw the men’s glances flash around the room through the smoky haze before she called: “Come, Shauneen.”
I took her hand again and led her out of the room. Just before the door closed after us I saw that my father’s face had grown very white and that Mattie Kleiner’s father had dropped his pipe on the floor.
Outside the house I spoke to my grandmother tremblingly. “Do the police really know?” I asked her.
She gave her dry little chuckle. “If they don’t, they should,” she answered; “but I was born an O’Brien, and I’ve never known one of them yet that ever told the police anything. No, Shauneen,” she laughed, “’twas the high hill I shot at, but I’m thinking that the shot struck. We’ll watch.”
We crossed the street and waited in the shadow of the house at the corner. For a little while all was quiet at Kleiner’s. Then I saw the tall man come out with Joe Krebs’s uncle. After a time my father came out with Mr. Winngart and Mr. Carey. They walked to the other (Pg 230) corner and stood there a moment before they separated.
“Shall we go home now?” I asked my grandmother after I had told her what I had seen.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ve one more errand to do this night.”
I thought it might have something to do with the tall man who’d spoken to me or with the telephone call, and I wondered when she sighed. “I’m a very old woman,” she seemed to be saying to herself. “I’ll be ninety-one years come Michaelmas Day. Some of the world I’ve seen, and much of life. Out of it all I’ve brought but a few things. I’d thought to give these to my son. But—” She paused. “How old are you, Shauneen?” she asked me.
“Fourteen,” I said.
“Old enough,” she nodded. She turned her head as if she were looking for something or someone. Then: “Do you know your way to the Battery?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I told her. “Are you going there?”
It had been quiet enough in our part of town. It was quieter yet when we came to Bowling Green and walked across to the Battery. Down there, past the high buildings and the warehouses, we seemed to have come into the heart of a hush. To the north of us the sky was afire with the golden glow from the uptown lights. In front of us ran the East River and the North River. Out on Bedloe’s Island I could see the shining of the Goddess of Liberty’s torch. Every little while a ferry-boat, all yellow with lights, would shoot out on the water. A sailing-vessel moved slowly after its puffing tug. The little oyster-boats were coming in from the bay. A steamer glided along past it as I walked with my grandmother out toward the old Castle Garden.
On the Saturday before Joe Carey and I had come down to the piers, prowling all afternoon on the docks, watching the men bringing in the queer crates and boxes and bags while we told each other of the places from where the fruits and spices and coffee and wines had come. There were thousands and thousands of ships out there in the dark, I knew, and I began to tell my grandmother what some of the sailors had told us of how the trade of the world was crowding into New York, with the ships all pressing the docks for room.
“If you could only see it!” I said to her.
“I can see more than that,” she said. Then: “Take me to the edge of the waters,” she bade me.
Wondering and a little frightened, obeyed her, trying to solve the while the mystery of her whim to bring me to the deserted park in the middle of the night.
“Is Castle Garden over there?” she pointed. “Then, I’ve my bearings now.”
She stood alone, a little way off from me, staring seaward as if she counted the shadowy ships. The wind blew her thin white hair from under her bonnet and raised the folds of her shawl. There in the lateness of the night, alone at the edge of the Battery, she didn’t seem to be my grandmother at all, but some stranger. I remembered the story I’d read somewhere of an old woman who’d brought a pile of books to a King of Rome, books that she threw away, one by one, as he refused them, until there was but one book left. When he’d bought that one from her he’d found that it was the book of the future of the empire and that he’d lost all the rest through his folly. As I looked at my grandmother I thought she must be like the old woman of the story. Even her voice sounded strange and deep when she turned to me.
“It was sixty-five years ago the seventh of November that I first stood on this soil,” she said. “‘Tis a long lifetime, and, thank God, a useful one I’ve had. Burdens I’ve had, but never did I lack the strength to bear them. Looking back, I’m sorry for many a word and many a deed, but I’ve never sorrowed that I came here.”
I would have thought that she had forgotten me if she hadn’t touched my arm. “You’ve heard tell of the famine, Shauneen,” she went on, “the great famine that fell on Ireland, blighting even the potatoes in the ground? We’d a little place in Connaught then, a bit of land my father was tilling. We hadn’t much, even for the place, but we were happy enough, God knows, with our singing and dancing and the fairs and the patterns. Then, little by little, we grew poorer and poorer. I was the oldest of the seven of us. My (pg 231) Mother and myself’d be planning and scraping to find food for the rest of them. Everyday we’d see them growing thinner and thinner. Oh, mavrone, the pity of it! And they looking at us betimes as if we were cheating them of their bit of a sup! Sometimes now in the dark I see them come to my bed, with their soft eyes begging for bread, and we having naught to give them. Brigid—she was the youngest of them all—died. Then my father went.
“I used to go down to the sea and hunt the wrack for bits of food. There by the shore I would look over here to America and pray, day after day, that the Lord would send to us some help before my mother should go. You don’t know what it is to pray, Shauneen. Your father cannot teach you and your mother hopes you’ll never learn. For prayer is born in agony, avick (my son), and grief and loss and sorrow. But because you are the son of my soul I pray for you that life may teach you prayer. For when you come to the end of the road, Shauneen, you’ll know that ’tis not the smoothness of the way, but the height of it and the depth of it, that measures your travelling. Far, far down in the depths I went when I prayed over there on the bleak coast of Connaught.
“God answered my prayer. There came from America food to us. There came, too, the chance for me to come here with the promise of work to do. ‘Twas a drear day when I left home. How I cursed England as I looked back on the hills of Cork harbor, all green and smiling as if never a blight had cast its shadow behind them!
“‘Twas a long, dreary sailing. Nine weeks we were in the crossing. A lifetime I thought it was between the day I looked on the western sea from the Connaught mountains and the day when I stood here looking back toward home. Sure life is full of lifetimes like those.”
She paused a moment, but I felt as if I were under a spell that I must not break by word of mine. A cloud came over the moon and all around us grew shadowy. The big throb that the city always beats at night kept sounding like the thrumming of an orchestra waiting for the violin solo to start.
“I’d plenty of them before many years.” My grandmother’s voice came like the sound for which the thrumming had waited. “Did you ever think what it means to the poor souls who come here alone for their living? When you’ve a house of your own, Shauneen, with men servants and maid servants, don’t forget that your father’s mother worked out for someone. They were kind people, too, who took me to their homes. Don’t forget that either. For ’tis my first memory of America. Kind they were, and just. They helped me save what I earned and they showed me ways of helping my folks at home. I’d brought out Danny and James and Ellen and Mary before the war. I met each one of them right here at Castle Garden. That’s why I always think of this place as the gateway through which the Irish have come to America. Sure Ellis Island’s been for the Italians and the Jews and the Greeks. We didn’t wait outside the door. We came straight in,” she chuckled.
“My mother wouldn’t come from the old place. Long I grieved over her there in the little house where my father and Brigid had died, but after a while I knew she was happier so. Sometimes, Shauneen, I think of Ireland as an old woman, like my mother, sitting home alone in the old places, grieving, mourning, with her children out over the world, living the dreams of her nights by the fire. ‘Twas here we found the freedom the Irish had been fighting for. ‘Twas here, away from landlords and landholding, away from famine and persecution, that we found that life need not be a thing of sorrow. ‘Twas here I met your grandfather.
“I’d nothing of my own, and your grandfather had but a trifle more when we married. I suppose ’tis brave that people would call us now. We didn’t think that we were. We were young and strong and we loved each other. And we were getting along fairly well—we’d started the payments on a bit of a house of our own after your father was born— when the war came down on us.
“Your grandfather went with the brigade. Not twice did we think whether or not he should go. We knew that he owed his first duty to the country that (pg 232)had called him, and sheltered him, and given him work and hope and freedom. For he was a boy from home as I was a girl from home. I stood on the curbstone the day he marched by, with your father in my arms, and I cheered for the flag. ‘Sure he’ll be walking to meet you when you come back!’ I called, lifting up the child. Your grandfather never came back. He fell at Marye’s Heights.”
When she spoke again her voice had changed more to her every-day tone. “Well, I raised your father,” she said, “and I thought I was raising him well. My arms were strong. I worked at the wash-tub morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t long till I had a laundry of my own. I thought to give my son all that I’d ever wanted for myself. Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I thought too much of the things that money can buy in those years when money was so hard to earn. Perhaps ’twas myself and no other who taught your father the cold, hard things of life, though, God knows, I’d no thought to do it. He’s a good man in many ways, but he’s not the man I want you to be. He’s a good hater but he’s not a good lover. And, faith, what’s there in life but love?”
I moved a little then, and my grandmother swung me around, with her two hands on my shoulders, and, blind as she is, stared at me as if she were looking right down into my heart. “Shauneen,” she said, “I have prayed, day and night, that your father might be to America the good citizen his father was. I have prayed that if America should ever need him he would stand ready for her call. I have prayed that he’d love America as I have loved America. I love Ireland, mavrone. Always in my heart do I see her hills as they looked on the morning I looked back on them from the sea. But I love America, too, and I wanted my son to love her even more than I do. I’ve wanted him to love this land as my fathers and their fathers loved Ireland. ‘Twas not that I wanted him to forget my land; when he was a lad like you, I’d tell him tales of Ireland’s glory and of Ireland’s woe. How was I to know that all it would do for him was to rouse the black hate for England? I taught him love for Ireland, but never did I teach him to set my land above his own.
“For ’twas America gave us our chance, Shauneen, when we’d no other place on earth to seek. Hard days we’ve known here, too, days when even the children jeered at us, but we’ve never felt the hand of the oppressor upon us since we touched our feet on these shores. We’ve been free and we’ve prospered. Fine houses we have and fine clothes; and ’tis a long day since I knew the pinch of hunger. This is our debt. Tell me again, Shauneen, what you see out there?”
I told her of the shining lights, of the funnels of the steamers, of the piled piers, of the little oyster-boats, of the great liners waiting the word for their sailing.
“‘Twould be a fine sight,” she sighed. “Do you think me a madwoman to bring you here?” she went on, as if she had read my thought. “Perhaps I am that. Perhaps I’m not. For you’ll remember this night when you’ve forgotten many another time, just as I remember the day when my mother took me to the shrine at Knock. For this is the shrine of your country, Shauneen, this old Castle Garden, where your people set foot in the land that’s given them liberty. Here it was that I told my brothers and my sisters of the future before them. Here it is that I’m telling you that your country will be the greatest nation of all the world if only you lads stay true to her. That’s why I’ve brought you here to-night, Shauneen. I’m an old, old woman. I’ve not long for this earth. But I’ve this message for you; it’s yours; this duty that your father shirks when he plots with black traitors who’d drag us into wars that are not of our choosing. Raise your hand, Shauneen. Say after me: ‘As long as I live, God helping me, I shall keep my country first in my heart and, after God, first in my soul!”
Through the misty moonlight there came to me the memory of my mother’s plea at the door of the church, my mother’s cry: “Promise me that you’ll set no cause but God’s before your wife!” Some battle of spirit struggled within me. For an instant I was silent. Then, suddenly, as if the moon had ridden above the cloud, I saw the right. “Since all (pg 233) true causes come from God, it is right to set my own country above anything else that may ever come. I said the words after my grandmother. She took my face between her hands and kissed me. “God keep you, Shauneen, for the woman who’ll love you, and the children you’ll teach, come.” Then through a sleeping city my grandmother and I went home.
There’s a lot to absorb and process in this story, but I wanted to share it with you first.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you and get a bit of discussion going.
Nancy was an artist and a dreamer. After visiting Monet’s garden, she was determined to transform her slimy, mosquito-infested pond into a masterpiece. Harry Hemsworth, reputedly a cousin of the legendary Thor, was doing the work, and naturally Nancy had to supervise.
Finally, the first lily had opened, and her art class was coming in the morning. The cake was just out of the oven, when her grandson burst through the backdoor clutching her precious lily: “Nanna, I brought you a flower.”
Nancy was dying inside, but tried to smile. Hopefully, Harry could sticky tape it back on.
The doors of Alcatraz slammed shut on Jack’s trip, and the key turned one way and wouldn’t turn back. Indeed, that damned key was jammed in the keyhole. Wouldn’t budge.
Jack was 16 years old and about to launch out of the nest on the school trip of a lifetime… Sydney, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Pompeii., Paris. Then, it all went up in smoke thanks to the coronavirus. Why did it have to happen now? Right at this very moment in time? Gran was right. We were born under an unlucky star.
This story is more fact than fiction. Just over a month ago, our son was supposed to be flying out of Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith International Airport bound for Berlin on a school history excursion. It was a strange thing sending him on this trip, because my husband and I haven’t been overseas since our honeymoon almost 20 years ago. Of course, it would’ve been nice to go ourselves. However, sometimes you make those sacrifices as parents, the same way mine have done for me through the years. You’d give your kids the shirt off your back at times. Besides, our son’s been through a lot due to my health most of his life and I sort of viewed this trip as a kind of compensation package. Yet, it wasn’t guilt money. It was a gift straight from the heart, especially for that blond curley-haired 3 years old who saw me looking absolutely wrecked in hospital and asked: “Mummy better?”
I felt absolutely shattered when the trip was cancelled. That this very special treasure we’ve all but handed over to him was smashed to smithereens and destroyed.
That was on the 2nd of March when the NSW Health Department banned all out of state travel due to the coronavirus. It was at least a week before the WHO declared a pandemic, and while we were starting to think that the trip might be cancelled, it still seemed a bit premature when the axe fell. However, their decision was on the money. A day or two later, the coronavirus struck Italy with a vengeance, and the rest as they say, was history. We are very thankful that the trip was cancelled and the group wasn’t overseas when this all happened. Indeed, like the rest of us, he’s had to stay home along with mum, dad and his sister. In many ways, he should be thanking his lucky stars and yet…
I guess there a lot us out there wanting to hit the coronavirus over the head with a baseball bat and put it out of action. You can add us to the list, but our concerns go beyond the loss of his trip. We’re very aware of all the people who’ve lost their lives and the grief of their family and friends. Each and every one was loved and cherished. I have acute lung issues and know many people who are equally vulnerable as well as our seniors. We all keep hoping it will all just blow over, but it seems to have a mind of it’s own.
I hope you and yours are well and safe and please take care.
PS I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I started researching my Great Great Uncle’s service in France during WWI and the project snowballed into a pending book (which still has a very long way to go!!)
Once again, yours truly is completely unprepared for the annual A-Z April Blogging Challenge, despite fervid vows to “Be Prepared” next year and have all my posts written up in advance. Well, I guess my disorganized, last minute response could well be in keeping with the theme of today…April Fool’s Day. Last night, I decided to change direction from ANZAC Soldiers serving in France during WWI to a photography travel series covering places I’ve been. I chose this theme because much of our world is currently in some form of social isolation at home and any form of travel has been outlawed and a plane has become a rare sight.
So, let me introduce myself.
My name’s Rowena Curtin and I’m no longer a 40 something writer, researcher, wife, mother, photographer and poor impersonation of a violinist. I am now 50. However, let’s be quite clear. I haven’t become 50 something YET!!!
The Family at Christmas 2019
The other cast members here are my husband Geoff and two teenagers simply known as Mr and Miss. Geoff is currently working from home having conference calls and the like from our kitchen dining area which has now become his office. Our kids are doing schoolwork from home until the end of the week when they go on holidays. Our daughter has also been turning our kitchen into a dance studio right through dinner time and then there are the three dogs who are overjoyed to have all their ball and stick throwers at home. So, as you can see. Our place is rather cozy at the moment and will be for the unpredictable future.
Lady at Ocean Beach, Umina, NSW.
By the way, we live at Umina Beach just North of Sydney Australia. The beach is only a short walk away, which has been a blessed escape hatch from being imprisoned at home. Well, being stuck at home hasn’t quite become a prison yet. So, perhaps I was exaggerating things just a little for creative effect. However, whichever way you look at it. The world as we know it right now is hardly situation normal.
Of course, we’ll be travelling around the world alphabetically. However, there will be a particular emphasis on revisiting my 1992 backpacking trip around Europe where I landed in Amsterdam and then caught a train to Koln (Cologne) in Germany and onto Heidelberg, where I ultimately ended up living for roughly 6 months with a local family which was the experience of a lifetime. I also spent a week in Berlin living in what had been an East Berlin student house which still had all the authentic “interior design”. Then, I spent two weeks in Mons which included seeing Van Gough’s house nearby. There was about 6 weeks in Paris, a weekend in Florence and a week in London. It has become the trip of a lifetime, despite my desire to get back. Added salt to the wound, was when our son’s 3 week school history tour of Europe was cancelled due to the Coronavirus. He was due to be there now, but my goodness! We’re so glad he’s home.
So, I invite you to join me for these vicarious travels and I hope these photos and stories lift you out of the coronacrisis and possibly even taken you to your happy place. Indeed, that is the hope for myself.
Moreover, if you are doing the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, please leave a link to your theme reveal in the comments below.
I should preempt today’s coffee share with a few “Glub! Glub! Glubs” because after surviving extreme bush fires and choking smoke, we’re now experiencing damaging heavy rain and winds and flooding. Indeed, you don’t even need to live near a river to be affected and today our daughter had a day off school because a tree had fallen across power lines and the school was also flooded. Her older brother wasn’t impressed. He had to go to school. As far as the impact on us is concerned, our back room which is one of those atmospheric indoor-outdoor rooms with Laserlite to let in the balmy light, leaked like a sieve. This is the third time we’ve had to virtually everything out of the room. The last two times, hail had peppered holes through the roof like machine gun fire. This time there were numerous gaps for no explained reason and my husband superhero that is, had to get up on the roof armed with goodness knows what goopy sealand stuff and paint to seal it up. I told my son that’s what his job will be when he grows up. Something tells me our daughter will never get up there in her pointe shoes and she’ll need to find equality in other areas, especially something which doesn’t involve removing spiders from the house!
Without any further ado, I’d better check whether you’d like tea, coffee, hot chocolate or some other beverage of choice. I thought you might like to join me and dig into one of these biscuit sandwiches I found at a cafe in Newtown, Sydney today. It was absolutely scrumptiously divine with rich butter cream in between two chocolate biscuits dipped in sprinkles for a bit of festive colour and crunch. Wow! I feel like getting straight back on the train for more, except the trains were out today after the storm so I’ll have to exercise some uncharacteristic patience. Meanwhile, I’ve sitting next to a chunky caramel kit kat. Have you tried one of these? I’m a recent convert and they’re sooo good!
So how are you and what have you been up to?
Last Monday, I met up my friend Stephen who was part of a group of friends I had in my early 20s and we’d largely lost touch I got married and moved a little North to the Central Coast, which is part of Greater Sydney. We met up at Sydney’s Central Station and caught the train to Newtown which is 4 kms South-West of the CBD. Traditionally, it’s had a large student population and was rather grungy and bohemian. However, now it’s become highly expensive and let’s just say the place has had a face lift. Stephen and I found a cafe where I found the biscuit and walked down King Street onto City Road past Sydney University. .
We had planned to go to a lecture but I’d mixed up the date and we were a month early. So, we went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant off Broadway, called the Holy Duck. It was wonderful and we had a cocktail each. To be more about our adventure, click HERE
My adventures researching the stories of WWI to gain a better understanding of our family’s involvement and what happened in general continues. This project has been like jumping off a cliff clutching an octopus. I just keep ploughing deeper and deeper with no idea where the next soldier’s letter will take me. It’s been a real confirmation of that old proverb…”everybody has a story”. It’s interesting rebuilding the story of WWI through the eyes of the little people. Privates who had no say in what happened and were simply flotsam and jetsam ordered around by top brass or shot at by the enemy. However, they still had concerns of their own like the rest of us and reading through y husband’s Great Uncle Ralph’s diary, right before the Battle of Amiens which proved to be a critical turning point in the war, he’s writing about not getting mail for awhile with the underlying implication that he was missing home. Or, perhaps there was a certain someone we don’t know about who he was missing in a special way. That said, he does express hope that the war will soon be over: “Let us hope that Providence will be kind to us this stunt and enable us to make a move that will go a long way towards winding up this ghastly business.”
The new school year kicked off a week ago. Getting the family and the house ready for this is to be a logistical nightmare. Now that I’ve been studying more of the logistical side of managing a war, I realize the operations side of the household has been sadly lacking. That love isn’t enough to get the troops moving. We need to get all that boring stuff which feminism and equality was supposed to do away with, done. Speaking of this reminds me that I’m intending to have a talk with the kids about equality. How’s this for a bumper slogan…”Equality begins at home”.
Anyway, the start of the new school year, is always when the rubber hits the road with my new year’s resolutions. After all, it’s virtually impossible to stick to just about any resolution during the January holiday period in Australia. We’ve all gone troppo. So, now I’m trying to get into the routine of going for a walk after I drop the kids at school in the morning. I managed to pull it off on the first two mornings. However, on the third, I ran into a friend and went for a talk instead. Since, then I made up for a few walks almost reaching 10,000 steps on my rip to Newtown, although I don’t done much walking since. It’s been raining. Yes, I know it hasn’t necessarily rained all day everyday but it hasn’t exactly been inspiring and like most of us with our best-intentioned resolutions, I’ve fallen off the wagon.
My other resolution is to try to do at least 30 minutes of daily violin practice. This has been rather hit and miss as well. Some nights, I forget. Others, I’ve been too busy and others I simply can’t be bothered.
So, perhaps I need to add reading motivational books to to list of resolutions.
Yet, all the same, there’s another school of motivational thought which is geared well towards limping and impaled failures. That’s the idea that something is better than nothing and not to let a mediocre effort convert to giving up. That the person who cuts back the number of cigarettes is still making progress even if they haven’t quit. That it’s better off to be an imperfect vegan who cuts back their consumption of plastics and fossil fuels than making no change at all. That our instance on perfection, can inherently cause us too fail. I get that. Yet, at the same time, I still want to tick all the boxes. Get everything right.
I know we’re almost heading into March, but how have you been going with your resolutions? Are you still chipping away at them? Or, have you moved on altogether?
Anyway, I thought I’d give us a few motivational quotes to spur us on…
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent” – Calvin Coolidge
“If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.” – Jesse Jackson
“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” -Richard M. Nixon
“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ―Harriet Beecher Stowe
“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”– Elbert Hubbard
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”
–Robert Collier (1885-1950), American self-help author
“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Well, I’m not sure whether all those quotes are enough to get me away from my writing to clean up the incredible mess from last night’s storm and leaking roof, but they were encouraging. Indeed, they actually pose a strong argument for ignoring the mess and just keep researching and writing until the book’s done. If only! However, something tells me that could be rather catastrophic on too many fronts. Better have a look at Plan B.
This has been a return to writing for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.
The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.
As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.
Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy
My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.
However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.
Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.
It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters, including ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to the front and serve as a nurse. I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.
While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.
Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :
“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer.
Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.
“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.”
Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:
“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.”
However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.
Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.
However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England. On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.
During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.
Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.
On 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban, South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:
Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.
2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19
He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.
He was home at last.
After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevicmasquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.
 Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2
 Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2
When the Ledoux Family rented out their home in Antibes, they had no idea a couple of famous ghosts would move in along with their heads.
Louis and Marie-Antoinette had evacuated Notre Dame toute de Suite after accidentally sparking the fire which almost turned their beloved Lady into a pile of ash.
Of course, it wasn’t Versailles. However, they loved the beach and their new found freedom. Louis could barely keep his hands off his beloved Queen in her alluring bikini, although didn’t like wearing budgie smugglers* at all!
“Mon Cherie, nobody would ever think to look for us here.”
Don’t ask me where the inspiration for my take on today’s prompt came from, except to say that I was quite taken by the stairs at the front and floating to the top. Stairs like that are not kind to me. By the way, Budgie smugglers is an Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear and the term received a lot of press thanks to our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was often photographed wearing them. He is a volunteer lifesaver.
This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s prompt was provided by C.E. Ayr. Thanks, C.E.
We’d love you to join us. Every week, Rochelle posts a photo prompt and we respond in 100 words or less and I’ve been quite amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish in so few words. Makes me ponder the need for the novel.
Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast. Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.
Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed. I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.
Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life. We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.
Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.
However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.
So, I did what I could.
Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.
Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise.
Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.
Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.
My backpack and I just before I left.
On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.
Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.
My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.
Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.
No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.
Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
“(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”
So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.
However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.
Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.
Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.
“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”
“Behind the most beautiful eyes, lay secrets deeper and darker than the mysterious sea..”
Last night, I was trawling through Facebook, when I stumbled across this fantastic image of a big blue eye staring out to sea with a sense of the ocean being swept up inside and the waves crashing within.
Of course, I had to investigate it further. Investigate it via the only means at my disposal…Google. Sadly, there was no spontaneous trip to France for this little black duck. Yet, coincidently, I’m watching a travel doco set in Paris at this very moment. Well, I was until the ads started up.
French artist Cece painted “The Eye” on a WWII blockhaus on the beach of Siouville-Hague, Normandy, France. The village of Siouville-Hague is located in North-West France, in the department of Manche in Basse-Normandie.
These days, it’s hard to imagine the scenes this blockhaus witnessed during WWII. I have no sense of direction at the best of times and it is difficult for me to get a real sense of the geography and the action it actually witnessed. However, I gather this blockhaus witnessed The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune), which led to the liberation of France from the Nazis.
Getting back to the artwork, Cece explained:
“The basic idea was to revitalize an abandoned place full of history: a world war 2 blockhaus, collapsed, almost lying on its side. At first it was about to humanize this place with some poetry : before, the eye of the soldiers were watching the dead coming from the sea, and now there is this big blue eye, looking at the life and moves coming from waves movements, talks and answers , interactions of two creations coming from man and nature .. and then also I’ve wanted to point out the damage that may make human at some sites (into the pupil, the silhouette of the nuclear power plant from la hague).”
Yet, clearly “The Eye” also stands alone, divorced from the past. The eyes are the window to the soul and with this eye staring out and being washed by the sea, it’s redolent with meaning. I would love to stand there on the sand in front of it, peering deeply almost through the eye, and see what comes back to me. What mysteries would be revealed? Would “The Eye” reveal hidden, inner parts of myself? Or, perhaps even lead me into some kind of dance with its creator? Either way, I have no doubt, that there’d be magic.
“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”
– Paramahansa Yogananda
Coincidently, a new TV series is about to start up here in Australia. Seasoned journalist, Ray Martin, will be hosting: Look Me In the Eye in which two estranged people sit in silence for five minutes, looking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Although we know eye contact is very powerful, is it enough?
By the way, if you have seen this magnificent artwork in the flesh, I’d love to hear what it was like.