Tag Archives: grandfather

Speech Day 1928: The Life Lessons My Grandfather Heard.

As a woman, it’s already difficult to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and know what it’s like to be a man. Moreover, not having a contraption like the Tardis to travel back in time, it’s also hard to rewind the clock back to 1928 when my grandfather left school as an 18 year old.My grandfather was also Catholic and attending Waverley College in Sydney, which is run by the Christian Brothers. Back at this point in time, there was a great divide between protestants and Catholics which I find hard to imagine these days, although its still rippling away under the surface.

Papa Curtin with Rowena 1969

My grandfather and I. 

Yet, almost 60 years later, I was also sitting at the back of the school assembly hall not paying much attention to what was being said. So, despite all these glaring differences, we were probably not all that different and had very much in common. The transition from the cloister of school into the next chapter has always been a big step.Yet, generation after generation, has gone before us. We were not alone. We have never been the first generation stepping out there trying to find out way, which I now find largely reassuring.  and I guess you just have to hope that most of them eventually found their way and as George Bernard Shaw said:

Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Being a by-product of my own generation, these attempts to walk in my grandfather’s shoes, have taken me back to one of the greatest movies of all time: Dead Poet’s Society, (Indeed, it would be my favourite if Casablanca hadn’t got there first!)  For those of you already replaying the movie in your heads, I’m reminded of that scene where English teacher John Keating played by our very much loved friend and mentor, Robin Williams, is looking at the portraits of ex-students on the wall and says:

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

-Dead Poet’s Society

As it turns out, I have been able to read the words my grandfather would have heard courtesy of the old newspapers which are now online. Eerily enough, these words actually have a Dead Poet’s Society feel about them, as most of these end of school speeches do. By the way, my grandfather had attended Waverley College, Sydney run by the Christian Brothers and the Address was given by Archbishop Sheehan:

Archbishop Michael Sheehan.

“Your years of youth, my dear boys, are very precious. It is the time in which you build for the future. The opportunities which are now close to your hands will, if neglected, never come within your reach again. Your greatest enemy is the spirit of ill-will and idleness; your best friend is the spirit of obedience and industry.

Your whole life from childhood to death is a warfare, a struggle against temptation. Every victory you gain over yourselves and over the powers of darkness brings with it a strengthening of your will, a strengthening of your character. 

The process of building therefore of which I spoke a moment ago means more than piecing together the divers kinds of knowledge. Let us put it in this way: your task is not only to build for your-selves the house of knowledge, but also and much more to build firm and strong the fortress of the will.

‘How will you take these few words from me? I know boys too well not be be conscious that they listen to old people like myself with a certain amount of patronage, and with a secret feeling that we are out of date and possibly suffering from a touch of dotage, and that therefore any advice of ours is to be taken with a good grain of salt.

Well, it may shake you a bit to hear that the boys of every generation have had exactly the same thoughts, and that when they grew up they found their mistake. One of the chief temptations of your time of life comes from a kind of pride, from a tendency to underrate the advice of the more experienced.’ His Grace concluded by again congratulating the Brothers and the boys on a most successful year, and wished all present the blessings of the Christmas season.” Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 5 January 1928, page 25

Whether you agree with the Catholic ethos or not, I found good wisdom in there. The Archbishop, who’d been born on the 17th December, 1870 at Waterford in Ireland, did a pretty good job of crawling into the boys’ shoes, seeing himself through their eyes and hopefully captured their attention. In his roundabout way, he first encouraged the boys to listen to their elders and hopefully thus avoid some of life’s predictable potholes. He also wanted them to have a heart, a love of God and be living breathing humans. He didn’t want them to be walking encyclopaedias, robots or money-making machines.  He wanted each and every one of those boys to have a rich and complex life. Catholic or not, there’s a lot of good advice to hold onto there and you can adjust it to suit your personal creed.

There’s one thing I’d particularly like add.

That is the importance of family, close friends and having meaningful relationships, which you carry with you throughout your life. Having lived overseas and travelled, I know what it’s like to be that random atom drifting through space where no one knows you, your history, or your family. Moreover, as an Australian living in Germany, there was only the odd person who knew what an Australian was either and I got away with a bit under that heading too.

While there can be real freedom and liberation in flying away from all those ties, I felt quite lost without them too. There’s a lot to be said for having shared memories within a close community where you can bump into an old friend down the street and have those shared experiences, insights and memories. We have been living in our home for something like 18 years. That’s really crept up on us and initially, it took a long time to get established. However, I now have a genuine, informed interest in the people around me. This has nothing to do with career, paying off the mortgage or even putting food on the table. However, there’s food we don’t eat and we also have to cater for our souls.

What would your advice be to a young person leaving school at the end of 2018? Any regrets? Anything you did or observed that worked well and you’d like to pass on? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d better point out that these young men left school the year before the 1929 Fall of Wall Street. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the Great Crash, started on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange’s crash of September, signalled the beginning of the 12-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries. Wikipaedia These same men could well have fought or enlisted in WWII having had their own fathers serve in WWI. They didn’t have it easy.

 

Finally, My Favourite Dead Artist…A-Z Challenge.

After traveling through the alphabet with the likes of Botticelli, Munch, Da Vinci and immersing myself in such incredible paintings as Christina’s World, The Scream, Picasso’s Dove of Peace, I had to finish the series off with a tribute to my very favourite dead artist…my grandfather or “Papa” who used to draw my brother and I little cartoons, which he’s stick in with a letter or card. As a kid, they were magic and they still are.

My grandparents always lived inter-state and back in those days, letter writing was a very regular thing along with the weekly phone call. My grandparents always had two telephones in my time, and there would be one on each phone so neither of them would miss out on a single word from us. In hindsight, it was truly amazing growing up knowing they loved me that much. Indeed, my grandmother said to me once, that she didn’t even care if I wrote her letters on toilet paper. So often, particularly during my teenage years, their love held me together as the swirling vortex of pubescence engulfed me in waves of angst. Family was their world and they had so much love to give. That’s particular true of most grandparents who are freed up from the demands of parenting just to love and be loved and my parents are carrying this forward.

Anyway, this is a tribute to my grandfather and his little drawings.

Scan10070

Out watering the veggie patch with my grandfather. He used to grow beans, which fascinated me as well as fresh corn. Don’t you love his orange terry toweling hat!

Life was much simpler back in the 70s and 80s. My grandparents used to post me a $5.00 note for my birthday and quite often there might be a washer or something simple in there as well. Or, perhaps that was in the Christmas parcel, which came wrapped very simply in brown paper and string, both most likely “recycled”. My grandfather’s motto was “waste not, want not”, which never made any sense to me. If I didn’t want it, I didn’t care. Indeed, it was more a case of: “Good Riddance!” Another one of his sayings was: “Die Gänse gehen uberall barfuss ” or “The geese go barefoot everywhere”. I was most surprised when I finally made it to Germany in my twenties, that most of the Germans had never heard this phrase before. Even Google was rather stumped but did come up with this:

Geese go barefoot and ducks wear red shoes

The drawing I’ve posted was drawn in 1976 when I was 6 years old and our school choir was making a record. This was a very big deal back then. My nickname as a child was “Nina and my mother was the accompanist. I particularly love the little record player he’s drawn down the front doing the recording. However, that’s not the only dinosaur in the picture. The piano is almost a dinosaur these days as well.

Above: The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage in Hahndorf where my Great Grandfather was born and died. Top right… Haebich’s Smithy by Hans Heysen. The Haebich’s owned the blacksmith’s shop on Main Street, Hahndorf and it was depicted by three highly esteemed Aus tralian artists.

The other interesting thing about my grandfather, was that he was born and raised in Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and he was full of crazy stories about the place, which I always listened to with baited breath. This town was populated with real characters and he real brought them and the place to life.

Papa Bert Rowena Wedding

My grandfather and I taken in 2001 at our wedding, where he gave the blessing. he also gave a speech at the reception where he brought up my teenage dream of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister, a position stilll available at the time. I was so embarrassed at the time, but I came to appreciate how proud he was of me and just for being myself (as long as I studied hard!!).

That was until his memory started to fade. The stories stopped, and tragically Alzheimer’s moved in and forced him out. He was about 90 by then and reached the grand age of 95. I sometimes wonder whether his brain just ran out from over-use or whether it was just bad luck. I guess when you’re over 90, the odds are that Alzheimer’s is gunna get you. It’s unfortunately, a much too common end of a brilliant life.

So, this officially marks the end of my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. This train has terminated. All out. All change.

Many thanks for joining me and my crazy crew of artists for the journey.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Our Father’s Day!

Happy Fathers’ Day!

While I’m tempted to philosophise about what it means to be a Dad, I think I’d better stick with what I know and focus on what it means to be a daughter and my observations of my husband. Of course, it’s very easy to hop up on the soap box when I’m in my own blog bubble on my laptop and my husband’s watching a very strange movie, Tropic Thunder, which seems worse than any Dad joke. However, even now, there’ s that caution and thank goodness for that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see my Dad for Father’s Day today, and by the time we managed to call, he was already in bed. We’ve put our celebrations off until we’re all feeling better. However, Mum said that he was up early to play golf this morning and quite frankly Fathers’ Day should also be about Dad doing what he wants to do, because even though my Dad’s retired, he still has responsibilities.

“To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.”

Euripides

My Dad has always been my rock… stable, reliable, always there for me. Most of my life, I’ve been anything but a rock…the social butterfly, the panic merchant, the deep thinker who could easily fly off the deep end. Whenever life got tough and I’d start to complain, Dad would tell me “this’ll put hairs on your chest” or he’d quote our then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser: “Life isn’t meant to be easy”. We had a family whistle, which I later found out Dad had inherited from his own father. If we were lost, he’d whistle out to us and it was such a relief. I also remember being small and looking right up over the top of the crowd to find Dad. Not quite a tall as Roald Dahl or the BFG, Dad was noticeably taller in a crowd. Speaking of being tall, Dad also looked like John Cleese back in the day and I didn’t understand why people made such a joke of the Nudge ad on TV: “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more”. Dad buried my dead goldfish and the dead tadpoles because I was too scared to go near them and how he encouraged me to drive out of my comfort zone. Whenever I was nervous about driving somewhere, he’d ask me if my licence prevented me from going there. Obviously not, so there was no reason I couldn’t do it. I also remember being terrified when notorious criminal William John Mundy escaped from gaol. I clearly remember checking the windows and being absolutely terrified and Dad said he’d protect me. I felt so safe. Dad was invincible. Back then, I really could believe father knew best and Dad was only a very small still away from being Superman.

Rowena & Geoff

I don’t know why we have to grow up. Or, at least go through that whole process where we realize our parents aren’t perfect and tend to focus on the gap, instead of being grateful for the abundance we have and the enormous, immeasurable sacrifices they’ve made.

Now, that I’m a parent even if I’m not a Dad, I can appreciate the enormity of the task. That being there 24/7 x 18 if not a lifetime is beyond huge. Of course, there’s love. Such love and delight in our kids, but so much worry, concern and just wanting to ease their path, understand who they are and try to see the world through their eyes instead of our own.

So, I’d like to thank my Dad for that. I’d like to thank my Dad for still being there for me and our family. Both Mum and Dad have helped us extensively through a very intense time with my health, especially when the kids were small and I was hospitalized for seven weeks. I still remember Dad’s reassurances at the start, and how they were running out of oomph by the end…”you coming home any time soon?” Having a 3.5 and 18 month year old left on your doorstep for so long without warning is just the sort of thing which “puts hair on your chest”. After all, it no matter how much we might love our little people, the heart might be willing, but the body can struggle to keep pace. My Mum and Dad have been truly amazing.

Rowena & Papa 1969

Look at those little eyes looking up at my grandfather for the very first time…you can feel the love between us. 

Fathers’ Day is not just an opportunity for me to remember my own Dad, but also my grandfathers. My Dad’s Dad was a real character…a dentist who used to buy soft drink by the crate every weekend (large family) and used to give us horsey bites under the dining room table in such a way that you’d bang your knee. He also did the coin behind the ear trick. I remember my grandparents travelling and my grandfather bringing me back a very stately-looking English dress which he’s bought on Bond Street, an apron from Amsterdam, Denis the Menace in French from Paris and even a giving me a precious taste of some dark chocolate he’d brought back from Italy. I also remember the last time I saw my grandfather before he died of cancer. He took his oxygen mask off, even though he was having a coughing fit, because he didn’t want to scare us. He held my hand and told me the importance of hands. He’d worked as a dentist and my grandmother was a concert pianist so hands had been very important to them. They had worked with their hands. Expressed themselves.

DSC_6352

I don’t remember anything about my grandfather’s father, known as “Pop”. Not unsurprisingly, he died before my time. However, Dad has a funny story about when he went away with pop to visit his aunt inter-state. Well, Pop handed my Dad a hip flask of Scotch. Dad was about 7 years old and he’s pretty sure Pop asked him to drink it. Well, later on, Pop asked Dad for it back. Apparently, he’d asked Dad to mind it and we get the feeling he was hiding his stash from Gran. He wasn’t very impressed when Dad had tried the stuff. Indeed, although he hated the taste and it would’ve been pretty rough for a young kid, he thought he’d better do his best. I found out in recent years, that Pop had lost his eye in a childhood accident in the family foundry and stove-making business. I admire his tenacity, because most of the family didn’t know about it. He ust got on with it.

Father’s Day is rather mixed for my husband. While he’s been celebrating being a Dad himself for the last 13 years, his own father passed away when Geoff was 16 so many years ago now and his funeral was a week before Father’s Day. That’s like a double-dose of tough but then shifting gears and celebrating the present. Well, to be honest, parenting is more about ups and downs and loving your kids through the entire spectrum of experience.

DSC_6349

Our son courageously cooking bacon this morning and dodging spitting fat. 

Anyway, our Father’s Day began with bacon and eggs. Our son has become quite the bacon cook around here and our daughter made the eggs. I made the coffee. Then, we were off to Church where they’d set up a photo booth in front of a vintage black Mercedes and we had our photos taken. They also provided meat pies for the dad…and the kids. Yet, they still felt hungry enough to have pancakes for lunch back home. I was an egg short and added a good shake of custard powder to produce some rather yellow-looking pancakes, which thankfully passed muster. My family is very fussy.

After lunch, the day went down hill…rapidly.

In a moment of deluded madness, I’d booked the carpet cleaner in for tomorrow…and the window cleaner as well. We’ve never had our carpets or windows professionally cleaned before, but I can get it as part of my disability support package. There was just a slight problem of finding the carpet in certain areas of the loungeroom and also needing to move furniture. Indeed, you could say that we’ve moved mountains this afternoon. So, much for Geoff relaxing on Father’s Day!! He was doing a lot of moving, shaking and sweeping.

I guess you could call that a father’s day.

Did you celebrate Fathers’ Day today? What did you get up to? Please share in the comments below.

xx Rowena