Thursday, January 1, 2009

A place for forgiveness


Reminiscing has its pitfalls.

As they squared off from either end of the dishevelled bed in the nursing home, neither father nor son was in control of the flow. Far from being accusatory, Barry was simply recounting an event from the dreadful winter of '60, when he was a mere slip of a 15 year old: gaunt, intense and withdrawn. Paying scant regard to the advice of Wilson, the shearer, Dad had released his newly-shorn flock from the shed pens within hours. He paid a heavy penalty over the next three days as 90-odd of their number succumbed to the intensely bitter winds of August.

Using his ancient tractor and chain saw , Dad scavanged for dry, fallen timber, after instructing Baz in how to stoke a bonfire and load the carcases, ensuring that all remnants were reduced to ash to avoid the outbreak of disease. With a length of rope lashed around the back feet, this wirey boy dragged each carcase to the flames and heaved as much as possible before shovelling some of the flame to it. The stench of seared flesh and wool was overwhelming, as was the heat of the oven. As one day stretched to four and then five, the rotting carcases added to the piquancy. Eventually, as he dragged one flyblown carcass after another, they started to decompose before his eyes: eyes that could cope no more. Eighteen months later, in the first half of '62, Barry decided his "out" was to join the airforce, training at Laverton near Melbourne before his first posting to Woomera in remote South Australia.

Recounting this tale in his guttural, slurred monotone, Barry tried to elict some acknowledgement from Dad, but being hard of hearing and slightly demented, his incomprehension resulted in voiceless and uncontrolled laughter.

Both brothers will be down again in a couple of weekends and, once more, we will sit around and reminisce.

This be the verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin

4 comments:

altadenahiker said...

Among other things, families are made to break your heart. How can it be otherwise?

So then I had to hunt up my Pagnol because he of course said it so much better,

"Such is the life of man. A few joys, quickly obliterated by unforgettable sorrows.
There is no need to tell the children so."

Well, now I'm so captured by your stories that I must go through all.

Julie said...

Ahh ... but this voice has only just found its freedom - as you will realise reading back through the posts.

I had a blog for City Daily Photo called "Sydney Eye" but found it stiffled what I needed to say. So, one evening in early November when that depressive episode was at its nadir, I trashed the blog. At that point I realised I had no voice at all. I created "Plumbing" but found it could not be my main voice as many people tend to react superficially. Hence, I now have four bloody blogs.

But in doing so, my voice has been freed ...

altadenahiker said...

Which makes a great deal of sense. I find I take a harder edge on my own blog, and a more thoughtful one on comments to others (sometimes, anyway). Both are me. Four are you.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Stories like this show the reality behind pretty countryside images.

Nice match between poem and story. I bought a volume of Larkin's poetry a couple of months ago, I enjoy his work.