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“My Grandmother and Myself”…A Short Story From WWI.

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. 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Know him well, sonny?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“How well?” 

“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?” 

“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. 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“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. 

Pg 229

“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?” 

“We are.” 

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.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 13th February, 2022.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share and wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day whatever that might mean to you. Apparently, roses are very inflated this year so I think Geoff and I will be lucky to exchange a box of chocolates. or, more likely, there’ll just be one to share and unless we go dark, the kids will tuck into them as well. Not that we don’t wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day, of course. It’s just that there are somethings you like to keep to yourself, and top of my list is chocolate!

It has been an interesting and stressful week here, but I am starting to see some progress. The kitchen table is clear, and it won’t take much to clear the couch and I actually ironed my daughter’s school uniform for the first time since she started kindergarten I suspect. We bought a couple of extra shirts and even after washing them, they were still creased from the packaging. So, a rare event occurred. I pulled out the iron. I’m not a believer in ironing, and I’ think I’ve probably only ironed a Scout shirt once in the last two years thanks to covid, associated lockdowns and becoming an endangered species. However, ironing felt strangely therapeutic. There are so many problems were can’t ort out in life, but we can pull out the iron and make those creases go away. If only we could take an iron to ourselves and magically sort ourselves out like that. Wouldn’t it be nice?!! That said, as much as I say I long for perfection and get it all sorted, I am fundamentally an erratic creative person and chasing the rabbit is much more interesting than having the perfect house.

Speaking of chasing the rabbit, I did some serious rabbit chasing this week and found myself hooning around County Clare, Ireland via Google Earth. Along the way, I stumbled into the village of Carriagaholt, in West Clare which is located on the Moyarta River where it flows into the expansive Shannon Estuary. This was the very first Irish village I have ever seen, and I’m sure I was spoilt because it was absolutely breathtakingly magical. Days later, I’m still fixed on the gorgeous white house with hearts painted on a red door. Of course, it’s great to see a house dedicated to love and goodwill. However, what really touched me about this house was it’s authentic rustic charm. It wasn’t polished, commercial or fake but that love feels real and genuine. I feel I could knock on their door, and I would be heard. To be honest, I hope my friends and family know they can knock on my door literally and figuratively speaking, even if it’s a bit hard during covid. I want to be that approachable person, and not the one who slams the door in your face, although I know I don’t always get it right and it happens. Moreover, we can’t leave out door open to everyone. A friend to all, is friend to none. We all need our inner sanctum and to preserve and nurture that.

Anyway, I really loved pottering around Carrigaholt, and I stopped into a few pubs and loved hearing some traditional Irish music including a real Irish singalong. Oh golly. Have I been missing out! I also had a cooking lesson on how to cook mussels and I’m very tempted to head down to the local fish market and have a go myself.

Here’s the link to my tour of Carrigaholt: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/10/waking-up-in-carrigaholt-county-clare-ireland/

By the way, I should mention that my Great Great Grandfather, Edward Quealey/Quailey came from the Carrigaholt region and his family were farmers there. He emigrated to New Zealand where he married his wife, Margaret O’Neill, around 1880 and they arrived in Sydney a few years later and had seven children.

In addition to all things Irish, I managed to write a contribution to Friday Fictioneers this week, and I must admit I was fairly stoked to get that done. Here’s that link, with a title which is rather apt for Valentine’s Day, even if it isn’t about romantic love. https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/11/anything-for-love-friday-fictioneers/

I also posted a short story written by Mary Synon, which I thought was quite interesting and a god read for those interested in short story writing like Gary. Here’s the link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/14/none-so-blind-a-short-story-by-mary-synon/

Violin Concert 2015.

I’ve also got back to playing my violin again after almost a two year absence, as well as getting some time in on the keyboard. My violin must’ve been in a good mood, because it usually has rather acute separation anxiety and can’t bare to be neglected for more than a couple of days without throwing a stinker. However, I didn’t sound too bad. Barely a screech! Now, there’s something to be thankful for.

That wasn’t the only thing. My friend’s dog almost died this week and somehow received a miraculous reprieve. I will come back and write more about that later after I’ve performed my afternoon taxi duties.

I hope you and yours have had a great week and look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to.

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Here’s a shot of our local Lifegard on duty at the beach while his daughter’s doing her homework in the buggy. Our daughters are best friends.

Where To From Here?

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll

I wonder if there is truly anyone whose life is exactly how it was back on New Year’s Eve 2019 we entered into 2020? I remember that night so well watching the Sydney fireworks on TV at a friend’s party. We had such high hopes for 2020. After all, it was meant to be the year of perfect vision – not the beginnings of a terrifying global pandemic which is still haunting us two years later.

Indeed, that also leads to the next question about whether we have changed. Or, to be more precise how much have we changed both as individuals and communities in all sorts of ways since covid first appeared?

There’s been a lot of talk about how vaccines are changing our DNA. However, I haven’t heard anyone mention how we might be reprogramming our own brains through the various covid or lockdown projects many of us are undertaking, and how the very structure of our brains could well be altered as a result – again in good and bad ways.

My world has been affected more than many because I wasn’t in paid employment when Covid hit due my lingering health issues, but I was more or less at a point where I was considering looking for some part time work. Before lockdown, I’m been beavering away on my blog and had various attempts at writing books, and have been trying to find my thing. With our son booked to go on a six week history tour of Europe and visiting the battlefields of France where his Great Great Uncle paid the ultimate sacrifice just three months before the end of WWI, I started retracing his steps and putting together his story. I also picked up on my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey who I knew very little about and I had so much trouble nutting his story out, that I had to reach him through the letters and diaries of other soldiers. Before I knew it, researching our family members had expanded into a massive, obsessive research project. I saw no problem in that. Only good. Covid was the enemy, and I was going to have something concrete to show for it. Indeed, as lockdown continued, and it was still unsafe for me to venture out, and lockdown started up again, this project had totally overgrown it’s boundaries and it had become all consuming. While my friends were out there exercising with equal zeal, I was researching, writing, transcribing letters for hours and hours, days, months. Indeed, I didn’t mean this to happen, but along the way, I stopped playing my violin, my keyboard and even writing my blog. I also kept putting off exercise. Well, exercise is hardly my best friend, and it is a bit like swallowing that vile teaspoon of cod liver oil, especially before I get out there and actually see the roses and our stunning local beaches and coast.

Well, if you know anything about neuroplasticity, you know that the wiring in our brains isn’t set in stone. It is fluid – ever-changing. So the more you do something, your brain responds by building bigger fibres…whether these are good, bad, or indifferent habits. It’s part of the reason why practice makes perfect. It’s also the same with emotions. If you keep getting angry, the angry cable in your brain will just keep getting bigger and bigger unless you start bringing your anger in line.

This is all very simplistic. I’m not trying to be a neuroscientist. I’m just trying to give you the general gist.

Anyway, just before Christmas the penny finally dropped. Sydney had just completed an incredible four month lockdown and with my auto-immune disease and acute lung complications, I had to stay low. Moreover, after our fearless Prime Minister and his cohort, our new NSW Premier, decided to “let it rip” to save the economy, I burrowed deeply underground hoping the storm would pass by overhead and leave us alone. However, that hasn’t happened and now to quote a friend “it’s EVERYWHERE!!” Omicron is like the common cold on steriods. I’ve also decided it’s the fulfillment of all my grandmother’s most vivid nightmares of germs…germs on the toilet seat, germs on the public phone. She would’ve been beside herself through this covid crisis and her handbag which always seemed to have a bag of lollies (for herself as much as for us), dainty hankies which were useless when she cried in Church, she’d now be armed with industrial strength Spray & Wipe. The sort of stuff that dissolves the surface of your benchtop, your toilet seat, as well as a layer of skin.

To be perfectly honest I’ve found it much easier to hide than deal with all of that.

However, after two years of hiding, and after two years of fighting for the needs of vulnerable people with disabilities and chronic health conditions to be acknowledged and safeguarded and two years of detailed, obsessive but incredibly fascinating and productive research, I am not who I was before. I know I am seriously out of kilter, and all sense of balance has gone.

The other aspect to all this hiding away is that my social life is all but dead. For the hardcore introvert, that could be a blessed relief. However, as a fairly extroverted extrovert it has fairly major ramifications. I don’t know what it is to go our for dinner with friends anymore, and I’m glad I managed to get out for dinner with Geoff a few times before omicron flared up. I’ve become a prisoner inside my own body let alone the house.

After spending so much of the last two years reading, writing and researching and very little time socialising, exercising, or even doing such basic things as catching the train and using cash, I know I’m nothing like who I was before. I don’t know if I can or choose to go back to sit on the same seat on the bus I was occupying before. Or, if I want to get off. Or, Indeed, in so many ways I know I already have.

Of course, I know I’m far from alone in all of this. That many of you who are in the same boat, and you’re also asking: “Where to from here?”

The honest answer for me, is that I just don’t know.

My daughter goes back to school next week, but of more immediate concern, it seems covid has snuck under the front door and I’m not feeling well. Our son went to youth camp and we pretty much expected him to bring it home. I did try to get him tested before he came back, but that fell through. I tried to usher him straight into his room, but he was full of stories and so full of life. Meanwhile, our daughter’s best friend was also positive and just about everyone we know aside from my mum and dad has it or has been exposed. Dad is waging his own war on covid and he he won’t catch it, and it won’t catch him. A true introvert, he’s determined.

“When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!”  – Lewis Carroll

So, where to from here? In the immediate sense I’m off to make a cup of decaf tea before heading to bed. Anything more than that, will have to wait until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what lies ahead and I should just mention that the first quote from Lewis Carroll comes from a book I’ve just started reading: Tea & Honesty with Jules Sebastian – wife of international singer and musician Guy Sebastian and now an author in her own right.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Christmas 1921

As many of you will be aware, I’ve been researching WWI rather intensively for the last two years in what has emerged as a series of research projects. Those of you who also research in a more intuitive fashion and allow yourselves the luxury of pursuing all those twists and turns others might dismiss as “distractions”, “rabbit warrens”, will be familiar with the joy of discovering new worlds and perspectives you never knew existed, rather than simply proving your own point. It was this seemingly random fossicking, which led me to Australian author, Ethel Turner from an entirely different angle finding a message of hope, human kindness and generosity we sorely need today.

To do this story justice, I’m going to straddle the story of Christmas 1921 across both my blogs here at Beyond the Flow, and over at Tea With Ethel Turner. Here I’ll provide more of the social and political background and context to Christmas 1921 and why it was special while over at Tea With Ethel Turner, I’ll share how she made a difference to Christmas 1921 with her band of Sunbeamers.

While the 1920s is often portrayed as a time of unrestrained celebration after the horrors of WWI, the reality was much more complex and certainly Christmas 1921 was a time of very mixed fortunes. Sure, the war was over. The Spanish Flu was also officially over as well. On the 6th December, 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed seeing independence for Southern Ireland and ending the Anglo-Irish War. The Washington Conference was also promising peace in the Pacific. Yet, following his speech on the 20th December, 1921 Mr Stanley Bruce (the 8th Prime Minister from 1923 to 1929) who was representing Australia at the League of Nations, was described as “a supreme pessimist: sees nothing but trouble” after these dire warnings :

Mr Stanley Bruce

“SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Mr. S. M. Bruce, speaking at a National Club luncheon, remarked: “When one comes, back to Australia one is a little horrified to see what is going on. The whole of Europe to-day is struggling in a morass and it is doubtful whether it will ever get out. It is recognised if nothing is done to restore the economic stability of the world a wave of Bolshevism may spread all over the earth. We in Australia have a land where everything is good. Our country is the soundest of any in the world, but it is going to be faced, with the same troubles as the rest. We do not seem to have recognised this. We are only squabbling amongst ourselves.1.”

Gee, does this sound strangely familiar?

Anyway, here’s “Christmas 1921” which was published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve, 1921:

CHRISTMAS, 1921

For many thousands of people throughout the world this must be a “black” Christmas. Almost every country is suffering from the effects of those five years of war, during which production was stopped and the savings of decades were scattered. Thousands of families to-day will be clouded with anxiety because there is no longer a market for the goods the production of which has furnished them with a means of living and their breadwinners with employment. To other families Christmas brings back memories which, though they are colored with pride, arc memories of sadness. It seems impossible that in the lifetime of this generation Christmas shall ever be a season of unmixed rejoicing, except for the children, whose festival it is. Yet throughout the world it will be recognised that the Christmas of 1921 is more in accord with those universal ideals which it connotes than any that we have known for many years past. To-morrow men can take part in a festival of peace and hope without any reflection on the vanity of human effort or the insincerity of all professions of faith. The year has been one in which a genuine and fruitful attempt has been made to banish the dangers of war. For the first time for a hundred years the statesmen of the world have given a practical demonstration of their faith that peace should be the goal of their policy and is the greatest .of human blessings. The delegates to Washington have set aside personal ambition and national avarice in their work for the good of mankind. The delegates from Great Britain and Ireland have agreed that each nation may have failed to appreciate the point of view of the other, and that each must make sacrifices of its own beliefs for the sake of peace. And when these public achievements are noticed men will be driven back to remember the many private acts of beneficence that have been carried out during the past three years. “There is a budding to-morrow in midnight.” It may pass unnoticed while men are oppressed by the surrounding darkness, but it should be acknowledged when we have at last arrived at the dawning of an era of peace and goodwill. In almost every epoch there are lamentations at the incurable selfishness of mankind or at the degeneration of the human species, and invariably they are answered by convincing examples. Before the war we were told that the age of self sacrifice had passed, that men had degenerated physically and morally, that the virtue of patriotism would be practised only by barbarians. The last months of 1914 answered, that reproach. Never was there a clearer response to the appeal of idealism, never did men come forward more spontaneously to avenge and to rescue the oppressed. Every day of the blackest period of human history was illuminated by some act of devotion, when men sacrificed themselves for one another or for their cause, when the motive of self interest, conspicuous though it was, was less frequently exemplified than any other. Since attention has been concentrated on the struggle for the spoils of victory the nobility of hundreds of thousands of obscure lives has been forgotten, but to-day it can be remembered and can be acknowledged as of the same quality as the self-sacrifice which has been placed at the service of the famine-stricken peoples of Europe. To-day we may rejoice in the efforts made by statesmen to establish peace among nations. But while these same states men were manoeuvring other work more urgently and immediately needed was being carried on with even less regard for international boundaries. In Austria and Ger many citizens of the victorious countries have given their money and their services for the sake Of their former enemies. The war, though it has founded much hatred and bitterness, has produced the clearest practical recognition of the brotherhood of man. The period In which lamentations at the folly and avarice of men have be on most frequent, and apparently most abundantly justified, has again seen them answered by the most indisputable examples. “Man, what is this? And why are thou despairing? God shall forgive thee all but thy despair?” The same question might have been asked, and the same comment made at any time during the period which is now coming to an end. At no time has there been so much self-sacrifice; at no time have individual citizens been so ready to spend their lives in the service of their fellowmen, and, if necessary, to ignore the boundaries ‘between one nation and another. Was there ever a more heroic instance of such devotion than that given by Sir Arthur Pearson, who “turned his necessity to glorious gain,” and set himself to brighten-the lives of others stricken with the same infirmity as himself? In this last period the work of the individual has been -in contrast with that of the statesmen; but we cannot afford to forget it now that the statesmen are giving themselves to the furtherance of peace and concord. Rather the inference should be that the impulse towards peace and brotherhood is never dead, but moves forward continually until statesmen are compelled to reduce into the form of a. public document’ the desire of hundreds of thousands of their constituents. We cannot say to-day that these efforts towards pacification have been completely successful. Both at Washington – and In Ireland there are elements so blinded by tradition that they cannot obey the force of reason. But all the ‘omens for peace are good. Not since the reign of – Caesar Augustus have there been so many signs of unity among the nations that make up the civilised world, and not since the Great War ended has there been so good a prospect that the men who fought there will reap the fruit of their sacrifices In the elimination of one of the chief causes of future wars.”2.

I can’t help looking back at these precious people of Christmas 1921 with their varying degrees of pessimism and hope, but still probably largely believing something could be done. That the Wall Street Crash, The Depression along and WWII weren’t just around the corner, although the writing was already on the wall.

Those babies born at Christmas 1921 would be 19 years old in 1939. It is unthinkable that so many of them went on to fight on the very same battlefields as their fathers, and that Australia’s sons would also find themselves fighting the Japanese and defending home soil. Our women weren’t immune either.

Yikes, sometimes time travel isn’t much fun after all, is it?!!

Meanwhile, while I’m tapping away here about Christmas 1921, we’re watching the movie: Don’t Look Up. A comet is threatening to collide with the Earth and the response of Americans is let’s just say “a concern”. I know that while we’re focusing on covid, climate change is our big threat and most of us don’t see it coming either. I hope this movie isn’t too prophetic!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Hauled up at home on a wet and overcast day with covid spreading like wildfire all around us, I feel like I’m talking to myself. However, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

  1. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), Wednesday 21 December 1921, page 13
  2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Saturday 24 December 1921, page 10

T – Time Management: Quotes A-Z Challenge.

“The common man is not concerned about the passage

of time, the man of talent is driven by it.”

Schopenhauer

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for writers and creatives.

I’m currently immersed in researching and writing a collection of biographical short stories ranging along the continuum between fiction and non-fiction. I thought this series of motivational quotes could be a great help to myself and other writers in the same boat who are busting a gut to get that book project done and dusted. However, contrary to my expectations, I’ve been going gang busters on the book and have needed more of a motivational cattle prod to get through the A to Z Challenge…even though I’m finding working on these quotes very informative.

Today, we’re catching up a little and finally reaching the letter T. For today’s quote, I’ve decided to go with time and in particular my dreaded nemesis… Time Management.

I’m addressing time management because so much of what it takes to get that 80,000 word book into print has nothing to do with sticking your head in the clouds and having your feet anywhere but planted on the earth. Yet, for those of us who are creative and very right-brained, dealing with the so-called business side of writing can be a struggle and something we avoid like the plague. Yet, when so many writers are having to juggle paid work, family commitments and the realities of survival, time management is particularly important. It’s the closest we can get to squeezing more hours into a day.

Dealing with distractions is a huge challenge for me. I’m married with two teenage kids, three dogs and we all live life to the full what with work, Church, school. My husband and son are both full on into sailing and our daughter dances upwards of 10 hours per week and has eisteddfods, performances and will be in the school production of Grease. Our son is now a Venturer in Scouts and will be performing in their Gang Show production. Yet, I’ve hunkered down researching and writing this book trying to understand what it’s like to live in any other era but my own. When I put it like this, writing my book seems madness, but most dreams do until they become reality. I need to get this book under my belt. Become a real writer instead of just a gunna-be.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

Benjamin Franklin

However, that all comes at a cost. After all, how on earth do you get those 80,000 plus words into print and manage to do it all? Be more than a face staring at a screen and all your family ever sees is the top of your head? Don’t even talk about friends! What are they? That’s the downside of being 100% focused on what truly is a massive goal.

Rosie and ball

Speaking of distractions, a mangled tennis ball has just been deposited on my keyboard and Miss Rosie Border Collie x Kelpie dog and her brother, Zac, are waiting. Two pairs of eyes, ears cocked waiting and occasionally editing as the ball strikes the keys.

It’s hard to concentrate.

It’s hard to know if anything is making sense anymore. I’ve been working on the book all day. Managed to walk the dog but still have a ballet shoe to sew up for tomorrow’s dance eisteddfod. I’m needing to divide myself up into such small portions that I’m not sure what’s left when the book demands so much. Can’t the dog just throw the ball to herself?

Are these questions you have also asked yourself somewhere along the way?

How do you find juggling writing your book with the demands of everyday life? Do you have any tips for success or simply surviving til the end? I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure there are many more like me. Please leave your thoughts and links in the comments below.

Best wishes & Good luck,

Rowena

 

R- Read…A-Z Challenge.

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

― Lisa See

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers for the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge. These quotes are particularly geared towards writers working on a large project such as writing a book and aim to help you reach the end of the tunnel.

It was a toss up between READ and RESEARCH today. However, they overlap quite a lot and since I’ve covered research elsewhere, read it is.

For me, reading fuels and refuels a writer. After all, if we keep pouring our words onto the page, we need to put something back. Of course, experience is also important but reading helps us to arrange and interpret these experiences in ways which will excite and entice the reader.

“The more that you read, the more things you will

know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll

go.”

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

 

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than

the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. …
“[R]ead a lot, write a lot” is the great commandment.”
(Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000)

Best wishes,

Rowena

Q- Question…A-Z Challenge.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

-Albert Einstein

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for the A-Z April Challenge where I’m choosing a word for each letter of the alphabet and then finding corresponding quotes.

This process has become an adventure in itself, because I didn’t plan ahead and now I’m not only putting these together on the run, I’ve fallen behind. However, there is still honour in bringing up the rear. After, I’m in the process of catching NOT giving up.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the

answers are simple.”

Dr Suess

Personally, I believe that questioning is more important than knowledge and once we think we know everything there is to know about a subject, that we’ve condemned ourselves to ignorance. There is always what we don’t know we don’t know and that’s probably what we need to watch out for most.

When my kids were being taught to write at school, they were taught to ask the following questions (otherwise known as WWWWH):

Who?

What?

Where?

Why?

How?

Even though we might be well down the path from those early writers, as we’re getting caught up in the flow, creativity and showing off, I’ve still found it helpful to come back to these basics…Have I covered the WWWWH? After all, while we might know our story or subject, our readers aren’t mind readers and it can be all too easy to think we’ve communicated what our readers need to know, when in fact we haven’t. It’s still stuck in our head.

I am currently working on biographical short stories which fit somewhere on the spectrum between fiction and non-fiction. I not only need to cover the WWWH of each of these characters, but where they were in time and place and there’s no room for mistakes. It has to be right. No assumes or slacking off. So, asking questions is very important and I’m so grateful for Google and all the resources which are right at my fingertips without leaving home. Getting the answers is nowhere near as painful as it used to be back in the day. Indeed, we researchers are incredibly blessed.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 20th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Coffee Share!

How are you? How was your week? My manners have improved this week, as I often launch into an animated diatribe about my week, without even thinking of you. While you could interpret that as “rude”, I’ll excuse myself by saying that I’m excited to catch up with you and I thought you might be interested in a few snapshots of Australian life. That’s one of the things I really love about our Weekend Coffee Share is gaining a more personal insight into what it’s life to live in an other country.

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Bushfire Viewed from Ettalong Beach, NSW.

After seeing some spectacular photos of the fires ravaging California and hearing horror stories of mass destruction and heartbreak, we had our own local  bush fire this week over at Killcare, North of Sydney and about a 15 minutes drive from here. I woke up one morning and feel a thick cloak of smoke immediately wrap around me, and there was a definite tightness and constriction in my lungs. I have about 55% lung capacity. So, the panic buttons went off and I was wondering whether I’d need to get out. However, the wind must’ve changed because the smoke dissipated and by afternoon, I actually ventured to our local beach where I could photograph the towering plume of smoke without suffocating.

Saturday, saw a different kind of fire. Our kids were attending District Scout Camp at this very remote camp site at Sugree Bag Creek. Different scout troops were attending and each had its own camp fire blazing by the time we’d turned up late afternoon after our daughter’s dancing. These fires don’t just happen and there’s quite a lot of science involved. I saw our scout leader clearing away the grass with a shovel, and I’m not sure what else was involved but when my husband picked the kids up the next day, I was told that the fires didn’t go out overnight and the local bush wasn’t set alight. People are so quick to criticise and blame teenagers. Yet, here we had at least 50 or so kids with fires, bush and no problems.

My husband and I decided to turn the drive into more of an experience, which is why I’d come along. Of course, only one parent was required to do the actual driving. It was about a 90 minutes drive to the camp site and while you think of the outback in terms of remote in an  Australian sense, once you leave the road less travelled and continue onto the roads rarely travelled, it doesn’t take long for you to either experience that sense of getting away from it all or feeling isolated and I little bit vulnerable. There’s “nothing there”. However, ideally you don’t go camping in the supermarket car park and you actually do experience all that’s entailed with getting away from it all and you find out what you’re made of. You find interest in nature and the simple life instead of being glued to electronic, TV or having your nose in a book. This is living.

This lecture is as much for myself, I should point out. I could easily have read a book for much of the drive instead of engaging in conversation or looking out the window. As we drove off the main road and kept driving and driving onto what was by now more like a driveway or a cattle path, I noticed a rising sense of impatience…”Are we there yet?” I felt like we’d almost driving off the edge of the earth and I should’ve been embracing it. Enjoying the get away. Appreciating the benefits of switching off instead of being constantly switched on and lit up like a Christmas tree. By the time we reached Spencer, it was like “there’s nothing here”. I was really hanging out for some coffee and cake by then too. It was 5.00pm and everything was shut. Well, that was except the “Dunkirk Hotel”…an open air pub with a wooden sign suspended over a picnic table.

This coming Thursday, my parents will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary and all sorts are coming out of the woodwork and turning up for the festivities. My Dad is the only one making a speech, and I’ve supplied him with photos so there’s been no role for myself in all of this, which perhaps could be a good thing. However, that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about their big day and what it was all about. I just don’t have much to go on, because I wasn’t there which isn’t always a given but that’s how it was for us. Obviously, many of the people who were there on the day are no longer with us or have drifted beyond their orbit. One of the interesting snippets from my parents’ wedding was that my grandfather was a pastor and so he had another minister there at the start so he could walk my mother down the aisle and conduct the service. My Dad’s family was Catholic and Mum and her family were Lutheran and they got married in a Lutheran Church. That meant Dad’s family needed to get dispensation from the priest to attend. I don’t even know what that is, but it sounds serious. Mum’s wedding car also broke down on the way to the Church. The reception was held at my grandparents’ home in Lindfield.

2david-bottin1957

Anyway, while I was pottering around with my research, I found a photo of my mum taken at a school reunion back in the 80s and found her year had set up its own web site, which included pdfs of the school newsletter. I was particularly interested in the Principal’s reports. One was headed “the casual cult” and spoke out about the horrors of casual dress, manners and the “bodgie pack”. More time research required. Also, there were quite a few references to the girls outperforming the boys academically, which I hadn’t anticipated from that era. I have sensed that the needs of boys are being swept under the radar, which is all well and good if you only have daughters and don’t believe in some form of equity.

I’ve also been making considerable progress researching not only my grandmother’s career as a concert pianist, which I’ve mentioned before. She worked as a music critic in the 1950s for the Daily Telegraph and despite so many of the old newspapers being uploaded onto Trove, the Daily Telegraph has only just been uploaded and I’m finally able to read her reviews without trudging into the State Library viewing them on the reel to reel and paying a fortune to print them out. I’m now in the process of converting them to text and pasting them chronologically into a word document. Sounds all well and good but why did she have to attend so many concerts and be so prolific? I know. I’d be complaining if there was only a handful of words but it’s going to take some time to get this under my belt. 1950 alone is currently standing at 30,000 words and I’m not done yet. I should also point out that she had four children under ten at the time, although her mother lived with her and she also had home help. Nevertheless, she was an extraordinary woman.

Book

By the way, I am still making my way through Raphaelle Giordano’s: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. This supposed novel features a whole lot of steps towards finding greater satisfaction and fulfillment in your life. This week, I focused on: “Throw out ten things”. That was all well and good. However, it didn’t bargain on us stopping at a roadside sign advertising “FREE” in huge red painted letters. We had no idea what was free when we pulled over. However, being out in the country, we expected something along the lines of oranges or horse manure. However, much to our delight, there were bags and bags of good books, which somehow found their way into the boot of our car. Although common sense tells you not to bring bags of books into your house when you’ve just downloaded your ten items, the book didn’t say you couldn’t. So, now I’m clearing more space and my husband will no longer be sleeping on the train. He has a lot of reading to do.

Meanwhile, you might enjoy reading my review on the book so far and my progress Here.

Books

So much more creating more space…there’s an avalanche of books.

Lastly, I have come across a blog share, which you might like to take part in. This was my first week over at Thursday Doors hosted by  Norm 2.0. . Here’s my contribution.

St Johns Parramatta door

Thursday Doors…St John’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Sydney.

Well, that’s me done for another week. It’s been great catching up and I look forward to catching up on your news.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Virtual Cafe Crawl Through Paris.

“The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.”

-Oscar Hammerstein II

If a mighty caffeine hit is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. I’m inviting you to join me on an almighty cafe crawl through Paris’s left bank, as I desperately try to find the cafe where I used to hang out back in the Summer of 1992.

By the way, I apologise if our tour darts and criss-crosses all over the place. This is a virtual tour and you’ll find me curled up in my ink-stained writer’s chair inconveniently parked in Australia.  So, the dots could well be scattered all over the map.

“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.”

-Allen Ginsberg

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m desperately trying to find the cafe I hung out at with my friends in Paris.

cafe-st-michel

Our cafe located somewhere near St Michel.

So, after much preambling, you’re invited to join me on a cafe crawl through the Left Bank. By the way, I can’t help wondering whether we’re being joined by the ghosts of creatives past…Hemingway, Cézanne, Picasso, Braque and Jim Morrison. Who knows?

Our first stop is La Palette at 43 Rue Seine on the corner of Rue Jacques Callot in St Germain. It has a large terrace overlooking Rue Jacques- Callot. The restaurant’s façade and the interior of the second salon, are registered as historic monuments. The second salon has a larger back room with dining tables, and is stylishly decorated with ceramics from the 1930s-40s. Meanwhile, the bistro is traditionally a gathering place for Fine Arts students, nearby gallery owners and artists. La Pallete was frequented by Cézanne, Picasso,  Braque and later by Ernest Hemingway and Jim Morrison. Today’s celebrities include Harrison Ford and Julia Roberts.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

-Ernest Hemingway

Our second Stop is Les Deux Magots. Its outdoor terrace is apparently a great spot to soak up the atmosphere of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From there, you can also see the historic Saint Germain des Pres Church and Abbey. The nave and bell tower date back to 1014 AD, while its foundations date back to 543 AD. So, definitely worth checking out.

Les Deux Magots was founded in 1812 at 23 Rue de Buci and in 1873, it moved to Place St-Germain-des-Prés. In 1885, the shop gave way to an alcohol-serving café, which took on the name.

The Café started playing an important role in Parisian cultural life and Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, to name a few, were regulars at the café. In 1933, the cafe launched its Prix des Deux Magots award. This is a major french litarary award presented to new works, which are generally more off-beat and less conventional than the more mainstream Prix Goncourt.

Les Deux Magots has also been frequented by numerous famous artists including: Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragon, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Prévert, Hemingway and others, the café hosted Surrealists under the aegis of André Breton, and Existentialists around Sartre and Beauvoir.

Our next stops are going to be a lot quicker…

3) Cafe Dauphine 17 Rue Dauphine

4) The Luxenbourg  4, Place Edmond Rostand

5) Cafe Le Depart 1, Place Saint-Michel 75005, Paris

6) Cafe de Flore  172, Boulevard Saint-Germain

7) Cafe Le Buci  52, rue Dauphine 75006 PARIS

Finally, I stumbled across Cafe Conti at 1 Rue de Buci. Finally, this could be it. I have emailed the details to a friend, hoping he can see or remember something I can not. 

By this stage, Geoff is also home from work and I’m handing him the photo album and the laptop to help playing spot the difference. Did my photo match the image? We couldn’t be sure and in the end, all we had was eye-strain.

In a way, I hope it is. However, because it closed this year, I’d rather it was somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to go back and enjoy another cheap cafe au lait watching the crowds pass by. I’m sure my friends are still sitting there, looking exactly as they did 24 years ago.  After all, haven’t you ever noticed how memory does that. It freezes moments in time for eternity.

By the  way, speaking of Cafe Conti, it’s recent claim to fame is its dog. Or, perhaps I should be saying that the dog is famous. His name is Orson and he’s an exceptionally cute Cairn Terrier. You can read about his travels here: Orson Paris dog and there’s also an exceptionally cute video.

So, that ends our rather exhilarating yet exhausting cafe crawl of Paris’s Left Bank. I hope none of you objected to me appropriating Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum and transporting it from Arles to Paris. For me, it’s the ultimate French cafe scene. I had to use it.

Do you have a favourite cafe in Paris? Please share. I love a good story served up with a coffee and a French pastry is an extra special bonus.

Thank you for joining me!

xx Rowena

 

Why Journal?

As the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues and today, which should have been a simple Saturday, has now become J is for Journal, my tune is starting to switch from Edith Piaf’s “Je ne Regrette Rien” to: “Why Why Why Delilah?”

When I first took on the challenge, I almost thought it would be too simple. However, even though I already post most days, I’m usually writing about the day’s events or something which has fired me up, rather than conforming to any kind of set format. So far, I been needing to do quite a lot of research to complete the daily post and by the time I’ve uploaded the photos, the day and even the night are gone. At the same time, however, I can feel myself being stretched and challenged and participating has really helped me take things up a notch. Growth usually comes at a price, after all. I’ve also discovered some fabulous new blogs… a fabulous kaleidoscope of people and tales.

Another complication for me, of course, has been that the kids are currently on school holidays and we’ve gone away to an absolute slice of paradise at Sydney’s Palm Beach and I have no intention of spending the whole time with my head stuck in my laptop. I’ve been out kayaking the my daughter while my husband and son were out sailing today and I also had an impromtu paddle to rescue our dog Lady yet again after my daughter noted she’d left our backyard and was heading for her favourate rabbit hunting ground. Later in the day, we went for a drive to Whale Beach. It was a bit late for good photography. However, we all enjoyed clambouring over huge slabs of sandstone which have fallen from the cliffs throughout time and feasting on the dusky pinks of the fast-fading light.It was so timeless and serene, that we almost drifted in suspended animation. That is, until Mister who had been showing off his rock climbing skills one minute, was now well and truly stuck!! As they say, pride goes before a fall and he was along way up and the ground was naturally, a long way down.

I’ve divided this post into two parts:

1) Why journal?

2) Journaling: Dear Anne.

Why Journal?

When I was 11 years old, I started writing my first journal or “diary” as it was known back then. My teacher was a committed and passionate diarist and he just encouraged us to use a student diary, which allowed about a paragraph’s worth every day. The aim seemed to be establishing that routine, the consistency rather than writing pages and pages and not being able to keep it up. While hardly the Diary of Anne Frank, this diary does talk about the arrival of our first dog, Lassie and so I really treasure it. Having something like that from your childhood is so very, very special. At least, it is to me.

As much as I rave on about the virtues of keeping a journal and a regular one at that, I must confess that my commitment has waxed and waned and over the years, Consequently, my diaries read more like a series of stepping stones than a smoothly flowing stream. Indeed, quite often, it’s been quite such long leap in between entries, that I’d make it into the long jump finals. This is hardly surprising because I struggle to even comprehend consistency, let alone maintain some kind of routine day after day after day. That said, my blog shows that I’m somehow capable. It’s just that I’m inconsistently consistent. Or, perhaps Aldous Huxley got it right:

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead”.

If you are interested in the benefits of keeping a journal, or the “why”, I recommend you read here: http://www.easyjournaling.com/2011/07/101-reasons-to-write-a-journal/

Probably the main reason I keep a journal is to document not only what has happened but also how I feel about it as a form of historic record. Having started writing diaries from such a young age, I have long appreciated being able to read about the past and pick out the bits which resonate in the here and now and have been able to identify certain threads or themes, which weave throughout my life journey. Following these threads over time and reading about my personal ups and downs and revisiting the details, has really helped me gain a better grip on who I am, where I’ve been and my place in the bigger picture. I have also been intrigued that even though so much has changed both around me and within, that there is still this sense of self…me…something solid and concrete which I could stick a flag in a claim as my own. This is quite a breakthrough for someone who has been through brain surgery and even had that self revamped and even further challenges came which I became a parent and also developed the muscle disease. A sense of self isn’t something I take for granted and it has been a long battle where journalling has really helped both in terms of providing feedback on my progress but also consoling me along the way.

Another famous diary.

So, writing my journal has also been cathartic. Being quite emotionally intense,  I need to get those emotions out. If for whatever reason, I can’t express that angst, then it travels inward, a bit like poison and threatens serious consequences. After all, we all know stress does nasty things to our health. Journalling is very good. It helps to vent and let out a hell of a lot of steam!!

Journalling was particularly helpful as an angst-ridden teen when shattered romance and rejection inevitably resulted in very intense emotions and my diary and my dog bore the brunt of these. As I’m sure most of us have been there, these are the sort of emotions you can’t really put into words in a verbal way and given that friends can blab or run off with your latest love interest or “prospect”, there’s good cause for keeping a journal and sticking to your own counsel.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (1985) Poster

Since having children, my journaling has taken on another function, particularly given my precarious medical situation. A parent is something of a human super-computer watching, analyzing and storing millions and millions of snippets about their kids. Kids just love it when people reflect back on their journey, their story and all their little battles from the cut finger and surgery out at Westmead Children’s Hospital to the stitch at Little Athletics when Mister came last by a country mile and when he sang Imagine with his class in the school musical. I store all their medical histories and bits and pieces about their milestones in my head as well as in their precious “Blue Books” where everything is recorded for posterity.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/09/Diary_of_a_wimpy_kid.jpg

When a child loses a parent, they also lose this ready-reckoner and such a swag of memories that they literally lose a huge chunk of themselves. To combat this, I have written my own journals expecting my husband and kids to read them and need them. I have also tried to record what the kids have done and their funny little comments etc in journals that are their own. I did this much more when they were younger and and also at times when my health has reached a crisis point. It has slackened off of late as I’ve been well, busy blogging and I’ve also been wanting to hand the batton over and get the kids to write in their own journals. Miss has a had a few stop starts but when it comes to Mister, I’d have an easier time pulling teeth. Writing isn’t his thing. At least, not at the moment!!

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1345386687l/1950183.jpg

While discussing journalling as a family, we have found out that my husband’s Great Great Grandfather, Irishman Daniel Burke was mentioned in Jail Journal by John Mitchell. John Mitchell was an Irish radical who was exiled to Tasmania but managed to escape to America. It turns out that Daniel Burke who lived in Westbury, loaned him a horse which was instrumental to his escape. Finding a historic, personal reference like this is priceless to a history lover.

While I have extolled the virtues of writing not only a journal but also the virtues of making journalling an ongoing, life-long habit; I should also point out some challenges.

If you are wanting to really do your journals justice, you also need to re-read them and that also means thinking about how and where you are going to store them where they can be somewhat accessible but also protected against the elements. This can be quite problematic for a prolific journal-writer because storage can become a serious problem, especially if you’re on the move.

That’s where writing your journal on your computer has real advantages over using those gorgeous handwritten journals, which really do look inspirational and pretty but probably aren’t the most practical solution.

The other problem with putting all your journals in one spot is that if there is some freak of nature, one goes up, they all go up. Also, if they are private and someone else finds them, they’ll have your entire life’s story in their grasp. Is that what you want?

Naturally, anybody who has written a private journal has included those personal secrets that are your secrets and there remains that lingering question about whether they should be burned. That is an incredibly personal matter. I haven’t destroyed any of mine but I have considered it.

So do you keep a journal and do you find it helpful and if you are doing the A-Z Challenge, what did you blog about today?

xx Rowena