Monday Musings from The Writer’s Desk

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I welcome you once again, to my world behind the desk, staring into the faces of ghosts from the past and unravelling the mysteries of their lives.

I derive so much joy from piecing together the history of how my ancestors lived.  As I brush off the years of dust from old photos and letters; and devour every black and white morsel of newspaper articles on sites such as Trove, I embrace the world beyond the grave, of times that faded into oblivion long ago, like “the end” of an old black and white movie.

The characters of my stories were not actors, they were real people who lived in the high branches of my family tree.  Some whom I was never acquainted with in person; I have since met beyond the grave.  As for others, I find myself meeting their childhood personas as I only knew them in old age. Their lives consist of endless stories that went with them to their graves.  They have left me with a great number of mysteries to untangle and sort along the entwined branches of the tree.  But I have to say, it is those mysteries that fuel my ongoing search.  Eking out a picture from the fragments of their lives is like watching a photo appear on a blank sheet of photographic paper in a darkroom tray.

The phrase “a photograph speaks a thousand words,” perhaps was coined in our modern society.  We live in a world where photos are taken every second and minute of the day.  Mobile Phones, tablets and digital cameras world over are constantly snapping up moments of our everyday lives, from the very mundane such as the food on our plate, to important events such as weddings.  In fact the art of “selfies” is a disease that has become prevalent in our modern world, leaving no mysteries concerning our day to day lives.

All of these modern inventions and crazes will assist any future family  historians or archaeologists in their task of sifting through past lives of the 21st Century, however in many ways their jobs are already done.  One might say that the task of piecing together the fragmented pieces of lives past, is made easier by the mountains of documented evidence we will leave behind, providing of course it survives the ever evolving  modes of technology. However, isn’t modern technology erasing the element of mystery from the task?  That joy of discovery.  The element of surprise.

With this epidemic of recording every minute of our everyday lives, little is left for us to imagine.  Occasions such as weddings are documented  in hundreds of images which don’t leave many questions unanswered about the details of the event. When I look into my Great Grandmother’s staring eyes in her wedding photo, I could be forgiven for thinking she was unhappy.  When, in fact, the subjects of portrait photography back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were instructed to not smile, not move a muscle in their face due to the long exposures of early cameras.

Those early photos gave no details of the event as photos were generally taken in studios under controlled conditions.  Very few photos were taken outside a church or inside for that matter.  When we stumble upon photos of our ancestors, we are left with thousands of questions, rather than words.  We may know the answers, but they can be spoken in a single sentence, giving little more than the date and place.  We are left to imagine how the day panned out.

So, getting back to the wedding photo of William and Harriet Lyons, the only details of the actual day is the clothes they wore and the painted backdrop of a studio and its props.  I have no idea what the weather in Brisbane was like that day, despite asking google who had no knowledge of the day except that it was a Wednesday.  People back then did not own digital cameras or phones to record the day and post the results on facebook for the world to see for virtual eternity.  In fact, the average citizen would not have possessed a camera at all.  Therefore, I know that the likelihood of finding a packet of snaps portraying their wedding is highly unlikely.  I will just have to work with what I have.  One single photograph.

Once again, the details that can not be seen in a photo, may be found elsewhere.  In my research, I discovered they were married in St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral in Brisbane.  However, there are two churches on that site.  The original cathedral, first officiated in 1850, is a modest affair and now used as a chapel.  The current Cathedral was not complete in time for William and Harriet’s wedding. I really did not want to lead my family down the wrong church aisle, letting them think that the wedding was grander than perhaps it really was.

This niggling thought led me to contact the Diocese of St Stephens and I am pleased to say that in all probability my Great Grandparents wedding was officiated in the newer grander building.  The first mass in the new cathedral was held there in 1874 and the original building thereon became a school room.

Admittedly, if I had found my Great Grandparents wedding photo and the details were all handwritten across the back, giving the date and place, I would have been saved hours of research and deliberations.  And if the photograph was taken in front of the Cathedral instead of before a scenic studio backdrop, I would certainly have been happy with my find.  However, there is something magical about having to exercise one’s imagination to picture the world in which they lived.  The joy in solving the mysteries of past lives is what fuels myself and fellow family historians to climb from branch to branch in the far reaching realms of our family trees.

If the details of our ancestors’ lives were handed to us on a plate, perhaps we would not possess the same sense of curiosity. We would not know the joy that is derived by reconstructing past lives piece by piece from the fragments retrieved in musty old boxes on shelves behind old cupboard doors.

 

 

 

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Romancing William and Harriet

Taking another stroll through the old cupboard doors, and wandering down the corridors of time, I wonder about my Great Grandparents’ love affair.  How did they meet?  How and where did their romance play out?   Was it across a crowded room that their blue eyes locked and thoughts of “you’re the one for me,” set off wedding bells in their respective heads?

When one sees loved ones in their twilight years, it is difficult to imagine them as young and vibrant beings.  Once age has lined their faces and turned their hair to ash, one can no longer see their blooming beauty of youth. So, once again, I hit the roads of history, turning from shelf to shelf, box to box, trying to find clues in cards and letters, straining my eyes and ears to read and listen between the lines.

I was told that they met after the Boer War, however, a dance card from a Ball in 1898 may hold the clue I so desperately seek.  Grandma once said, “When I first met Will, he loved to dance.  He was the life of the party, always the last to leave.”  This is substantiated by the hundreds of dance cards he kept behind his cupboard doors.  Each displays the dance program for the evening, leaving a space on each line for the names of the ladies who have accepted his invitation for that dance. When I stumbled upon the card from the Military Ball of 1898, and waltzed from line to line between the polkas, the gallops and Circasian Circles,  my eyes happened upon the letters M.D. handwritten in pencil beside more than one dance.  I am intrigued that William asked ‘M.D.’ to accompany him in the Grand Parade that commenced the frivolity; again for the first dance following supper and the medley that was the evening finale.  Judging by his written code, M stands for Miss or Mrs.  Perhaps Miss ‘D’ was the favoured partner of the Ball?  I am asking, ‘does the D stand for Deane?’

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I yearn to learn more about feisty little Harriet Deane, the young school teacher, and her handsome soldier beau.  What a picture they must have been,whirring up a storm to the notes of Strauss and more, on the dance floor.  If they met prior to William answering the call of Mother England to go to South Africa and fight the Boers, then she would have waited with baited breath for his safe return.  She knew the sacrifices one chooses to make when becoming a soldier’s wife.  She would have been relieved when his ship returned to Brisbane’s shores with him safely aboard. They were free to talk of a future without war.

There is another question that I must ask.  Religion was a curious institution back in the early years of the 20th century, especially for those of Irish descent.  William hailed from the Roman Catholic faith and Harriet was born into a house of Protestants.  William was true to his faith and yet according to more than one source, “you wouldn’t get Harriet into a church of any faith!” Often the Catholic church insisted that one converts to Catholicism in order to be married in their house.  Did Harriet, who apparently lived up to the typical redhead temperament, relent for the sake of her man?

I would like to think that little Miss Harriet Deane stood her ground, for the sake of her principles, when she agreed to marry her soldier beau in St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral in Brisbane on 15th October 1902.  Did the church manage to coerce her towards conversion, or did she march to the alter on a promise to bless any future children in the faith?  Either way, I do know that if she kept any such promises, my family history would have taken a different road than it did.  I would not exist, that is for certain.

Monday’s Musings from The Writer’s Desk

 

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This morning I wish to remind you about the merits of research.

Visiting our family’s history is not always easy.  There are often lots of unmarked crossroads and dead ends in our journey, which leave us wondering which way to go.  It all depends on what our loved ones have left behind. In my case, I keep accumulating more and more stuff, however, on some occasions this is not enough.  Trying to read between the lines of notes or letters;  trying to envisage their lives through the windows of photographs is often left to our imaginations.

My sister recently asked whether the events of my latest post Behind the Cupboard Doors  had really happened.  The point in question was whether my Great Grandfather had actually stolen a piano in South Africa and somehow managed to sneak it aboard his homecoming ship in a crate marked “officers’ equipment”.   I explained that it did, however the details have gone to the grave with him and those who assisted him in the task.  So, I explained that one uses a little of creativity to bring the story to life. In other words, the scene in question was totally (well almost) a figment of my imagination.  I used my writer’s voice to reconstruct the event embellishing the few details that I had.

When the question was asked of me, I had already begun a post about my Great Grandparent’s wedding.  I knew they were married in Brisbane in October 1902, however I had no idea where the wedding took place.  I assumed they were married in a church so began my story, using generic descriptions that would generally match any church in Australia. You know the ones;  stained windows filled with beaming angels; sculptures of Christ dying on the cross; and the list goes on.

As my Great Grandmother marched down the aisle of my imaginary chapel, I suddenly felt a need to research the facts.  My Great Grandfather was Catholic, however, I don’t think my Grandma cared for religion much at all.  Briefly, I thought that perhaps they could have been married in a Registry Office, however most Catholics from that era were tightly restrained to their faith.  So, that prompted me to do the research.

I tried Birth, Deaths and Marriages, which drew a blank.  Then I decided to try Ancestry.com which at least gave me the exact date.  Armed with the little information I had, I tried BD&M once again.  This time I had success.  However, in order to see the details, I needed to pay a fee of $20 for the actual historical record or $28 for a Marriage Certificate.  Eager to find the real facts, I paid $20 for the historical record.  As I downloaded the PDF file onto my computer, I was astounded to read, handwritten in indigo ink, the establishment where they exchanged their vows.  My assumption was correct in they were married in a Catholic Church.  However, I did not expect them to be married in a Cathedral.

Harriet & Williams Marriage Registry (click here)

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St. Stephens Catholic Cathedral, Elizabeth St, Brisbane

St Stephens Roman Catholic Cathedral in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, is a grand affair.  Its soaring spires; its magnificent gothic revival façade and glorious stained glass windows filled with angels and biblical figures is a 5 star house of God, fit for a King.

Although my original generic descriptions were not too inaccurate, it is so much more gratifying to see the real place;  to look at old historical photos taken around the year of 1902; to peer down the long aisle where my Great Grandmother walked on the arm of her father to the melodious notes of the giant pipe organ that stood pride of place behind the grand alter.

St Stephens is an architectural song from the angels in heaven.  It takes me back to my Art History classes; to the great architectural masterpieces of Europe.  Athough it is certainly not of the magnitude of Notre Dame or the Cathedral of Seville which is the largest Cathedral in the world, it means the world to me to know that is where my Grandparents began their long journey together, more than a century ago.

My suggestion is that if the information is not passed down the years via word of mouth, and there are no written accounts in your possession, a little research might produce the answers you are looking for.  Then, if your search is unsuccessful, you can employ a little creative license to colour between the lines of your ancestors’ world.

 

 

 

A Voice From The Past

Upon the shrill sounding of the postman’s whistle, William’s leather clad feet rattle down the front stairs and march with military precision to the mailbox at the end of the garden path.  Collecting the mail is a ritual that gives purpose to his day and as he eagerly retrieves the single white envelope from the box, the welcoming smile on his face tightens into a frown when he sees the sender’s name typed across the back.

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Letter from W. Finch dated 6th May 1950

For the most part, Redpath is a quiet little street, a short strip of five houses that face a football field and a grandstand begging to be filled.  Then on weekends, the seats fill to the brim, the field is alight with running feet and the air is a song of yelling cheering voices that the sea breeze carries onto the verandah of No. 10.

William prefers weekends when he can truly unwind in his favourite chair as the noise of a game invades his mind.  He finds peace in the disturbance. Watching the players battling the ball, back and forth across the field, keeps his own battles at bay.

On this particular day in 1950,  there is no game to fill the void in his troubled head.  It is a week day and the name scribed on the back of the envelope is that of someone he has not seen nor heard of in almost 30 years.

The canvas sling of the squatter’s chair barely notices William’s weight  as he sits back and stretches his trousered legs out onto the extended arms. He peers out between his  booted feet, through the gaps in the timber rails, beyond the silver mesh garden fence to the empty football across the street. He longs for the distractions that a weekend brings;  anything to delay the task at hand. And, although he is glad to hear from his old friend with whom he initiated the communication a few weeks before, he is still apprehensive about the memories that his friend’s reply will bring.

The battle scars of his seventy-seven years cascade in lines down his thin gaunt face and  neck.  Despite the advancing years, his past career still reflects in his perfectly trimmed moustache and the crisply ironed creases of his button through shirt. He grabs a kitchen knife from the small table to his side and slices a clean straight line along the top of the envelope he holds between his long thin fingers.  Retrieving the folded sheets of paper from their sleeve, he takes a deep breath before casting his eyes down upon the typed words of greetings on the page.

Dear Mr Lyons

Yes your letter came as a pleasant surprise.  Do you know that you are dragging me back 42 years, the last time I remember meeting you was perhaps 1923 or 4 on Queen Street, Brisbane.  I am very sorry to find that you have not been enjoying the best of health, however I wish you the best health and many more happy years to come……

William reads on cautiously, about the Light Horse men of whom he had enquired.  He is saddened to read name after name of those who have died.  He gladly listens to his friend’s account of his happy productive life.  He takes a minute or two to admire the black and white snaps that had fallen on to his lap.  As he looks at the proud fatherly shots of his friend’s sons who are now grown men, a growing sadness begins to overwhelm him.  How could I have let so many friendships slip?  It has been so long.  A lifetime has passed. 

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Tommy and Roy Finch

 

With a sigh of resignation, he reads on.  Words, sentences and paragraphs pass by.  Then  one word in particular stands out from the rest.  Like the black and white keys on a piano keyboard, it fills his mind with melodious joy, rekindling memories from the very distant past.

His friend has taken him back 50 years to the dark moonlit night in Capetown, South Africa, prior to his departure for home.  He laughs out loud as he recalls the four of them, drunk and merry, trying to carry that crate up the narrow gangway.  Their relief at reaching the top was short lived as a voice from the dark greeted them with:

“Good evening lads!  What have we got here?”

“Officers’ Equipment,” William replied, trying to correct his staggering stance whilst pointing to the words painted across the side of the crate.

“Really?  And why are you carrying it aboard at this late hour?”

“To be precise,” William answers.  “It is recreation equipment.”

Noticing the guards expression of doubt, he whispered an explanation into his ear, before the dim light on the deck illuminated the sergeants’ stripes on William’s sleeve.

William lets out a roaring burst of laughter as he remembers the young guard’s face, before he finally let them aboard with the crate.  Pulling a neatly folded handkerchief out of his shirt pocket, he wipes away the joyful tears that ripple down the creases beneath his eyes and he hungrily savours his friend’s words, reading them over and over.

 I hope to be able to call back to your memory a few old stories.  One time some soldiers pinched a small piano in South Africa, put it in a case labelled Officers Equipment, got the case aboard the boat for home etc.  Were you guilty? 

Refolding the letter, he presses it flat with the palm of his hand, before tucking it back in the envelope in which it came.  He then peers out through his glistening eyes to the football field beyond, no longer caring that there is no game at play. His thoughts are with that piano, the stowaway!  “Whatever happened to that darn thing?” He wonders, allowing himself to be drawn back to times when he was young and carefree.  Often he struggles with recollections of the past, but today he is happy to be reminded.  He is happy that he has rekindled his friendship with a man who understands; someone whose shares the same past as he.

Monday’s Musings From the Writer’s Desk

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“I was named after my two Grandmothers,” my Mother told me umpteen times over the years, referring to her Grandmothers Bridget Maud Hendy and Annie Hawkes.

She hated her second name “Maud” so much that she only used it on legal documents; otherwise she was just ‘Desley Ann Lyons’.

“It could have been worse,” she’d say.  “I could have been named Bridget!”

Personally, I think Bridget surpasses Maud by far.  At least she wouldn’t have inherited the nickname of ‘Mud’ that her brother Barry had bestowed upon her.

Recently, when trying to decide upon a destination for a short holiday, my husband and I chose Bundaberg.  Whilst he was hankering for the heavenly spirit produced by the Bundaberg Distillery Company, I dreamt of searching the spirit world for my Great Grandmother, whom my Mother was named after, in part.  Her home town of Bundaberg is also her final resting place.

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Bridget Maud O’Connel (Hendy)

I only knew my Great Grandmother as “Granny Hendy” and of course her Christian names of “Bridget Maud” are embedded into my brain.  I had no idea of the actual date of her death, however I do have a photo of myself with Granny Hendy not long before her final demise.  So, I was guessing that occurred sometime between 1960 and 1962.

Prior to departing for Bundaberg, my Aunt reminded me that Granny had remarried and her surname became ‘O’Connel’, or so I thought she said. I intended to confirm that fact before leaving, but with getting ready and all, I forget to do so.

Last Wednesday we rocked up at the Bundaberg Cemetery to find ourselves at the gateway of a giant City of the Dead.  “How on earth will I find Granny here?” I exclaimed, feeling totally defeated, before our search had begun.

As we proceeded through the gates into the sea of concrete angels, crosses and clasping hands, my prayers were answered by a gracious young man called Nicholas who came to our aid, like Saint Gabriel, the arch angel  himself.  He told us that he was formerly a funeral director whose respectful manner told us that his residents were truly in good caring hands. He directed us into his office where he and his assistant began the search of the computer records for my dearly departed Granny.

There were ‘Bridget Mauds’ by other surnames but not by the name of O’Connell, Connell, Connor or anything remotely similar.

“Perhaps I’ve got the wrong surname,” I admitted.

Then, as if by the way of a miracle, Nicholas’ assistant remembered, “We have a Catholic Cemetery.  Could she be there?”

“Well, yes, she was a Catholic.” I realized, as  I had gleaned that fact from another family story that I had heard over and over.

The search began in the Catholic Cemetery and came to a dead end.  Nicholas asked us to leave it with him and he’d phone us as soon as he found anything.  Half an hour later, true to his word, he phoned to say he’d found Bridget Maud O’Connel in the Catholic Cemetery where she was interred on 14th October 1961.

Following our Arch Angel’s directions, we found Granny waiting for us, where he said she’d be.  She was resting peacefully in Grave number 522, in a tiny community that faces onto a quiet country road, on the outskirts of town.  From her eternal bed of rest, her days are spent listening to the happy tweeting songs of birds in the trees and the soft whispering breezes that gently sweep across the neighbouring fields of cane.

We stayed only for a short while, not wishing to disturb her 45 years of sleep.  But I urge anyone who remembers her personally, when visiting her home town of Bundaberg, stop by and say hello.  I’m sure she’d be watching down from the pearly gates with those smiling blue eyes, welcoming you to her heavenly home.

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Apart from Nicholas, whose perseverance was next to none, I can thank my Mother and her family for speaking Granny’s name so often over the years.  If it wasn’t for my Mother being given the name of “Maud” I would never have memorised her Grandmother’s name.  If it wasn’t for stories about Granny’s wonderful cooking skills, her motherly kindness and her clear blue eyes, I would not have searched for someone I never knew whose final resting place is almost 1000 miles away.

So, it is important to keep talking about family, both present and departed, to keep their memories alive.  If we continue to include them in our daily lives, then they are never truly gone.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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“Just one word a day,” Mrs Barnes, my year 11 English teacher, lectured my class back in 1974.

“Open your dictionary at a random page and point your finger to a word, any word,” she said.  “Memorize it’s meaning and your vocab will improve no end.”

I was an eager student, ready to impress, inspired by the great masters of the written word.  Despite my literary ambitions, I never showed any signs of the talent I yearned. Sadly, I only randomly opened my dictionary that once and found my finger drawn to a word that I can still remember to this day.  It was a strange little three syllabled word that sounds heavy as it lifelessly thuds off my tongue.  I had neither heard it before, nor did I know what it meant.  But now that I look back at that day of discovery, I can see that fate had silently mirrored my future calling as I stared down the letters of truth.

Be true to oneself!  That is a mantra that is bandied around throughout one’s life, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to realize what meaning it holds for you.  I faced my truth more than forty years ago;  a symbol was printed in the dictionary in black and white. But sometimes it takes a lifetime to work it out.

My Grandmother was my teacher, she took me by the hand.  And then one day she passed away before I could possibly understand.  She hailed from a family of twelve children, who she embraced into her daily life along with their families and theirs.  She was a staunch protestant who attended church each week.  Thus her life was filled with priests, fellow parishioners and their families as well.  She was a person who embraced people which showed on the day of her funeral when the church was bursting at the seams, not being able to accommodate the hundreds of mourners who came to bid her farewell.

Nanna’s life was full of farewells.  Almost every week she attended a funeral of a relative, a friend or someone she barely knew.  She’d return home with a running commentary about the grieving families and recite from the various eulogies, the highs and lows of a person’s life.  She was a self-proclaimed spoke woman for the dead. The priest, her friend, who recited the eulogy at her own funeral said “she was the closest to a saint, one can be.”

My uncle explained one day, less eloquently, “Most mothers collect teaspoons or tea towels, but my mother collects funerals.”

I can also thank my grandmother for my ongoing love affair with old church graveyards and cemeteries.  Nanna’s love of her family carried into the beyond; her bond with family and friends never relinquished when they were gone. I recall visiting graves with Nanna, taking offerings of flowers and sitting quietly as she tended to the grave with the same care and dedication she applied when the loved one was alive. It was from those visits that I learnt the value of those inscriptions carved in stone;  the names and dates that genealogists crave.  But I didn’t have to seek out graves to learn the names as I gleaned them from the many conversations I was privy to as a child.

Life and death are intertwined along the twisted branches and winding vines that form our family tree.  It is not until we reach the middle of our lifeline that we wonder about those who sit in the far reaching limbs at the top of our trees.  Those faceless names have already spent their lives and we are left peering through the dappled light that shines through the leaves of time, yearning to know who they really were.

Some think it morbid, but it is important to seek out the dearly departed; to commemorate their legacy.  And, often we cannot know our true selves until we see our own lives mirrored in those of our ancestry.  As I wander aimlessly through graveyards of old, I admire the poetic inscriptions, I ponder upon the sad circumstances of the person’s demise and pay attention to the symbols carved upon the headboards of their eternal beds of rest.

Life is full of symbols, like that little word I discovered in the dictionary 41 years ago.  According to the dictionary,  Cadaver means corpse.  It is a symbol of death. I believe there is a reason I have remembered it all these years.  As I said, life and death are intertwined.  From now on, I shall think of that strange little word as being representative of lives that were, lives that beg to be remembered eternally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving On A High Note

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Capetown Harbour late 19th century

 

The dockside is a silhouette of dark looming shapes against a moonlit sky. There are no yelling voices or clip clopping horses; nor is the daily clatter of wagon wheels rumbling along the tracks that run parallel to the wharf. No, on this January evening of 1901, the harbour of Capetown is sound asleep as it bobs gently with each exhaling breath.

Then, from somewhere in the distant darkness of night, a feint trail of barely audible voices stealthily seeps into the slumberous void with a crescendo of laughter and song.  By the time it reaches orchestral pitch, it takes shape and form in the shadows of the dim gaslight that softly illuminates the steel hull of the ship.

The lyrical notes of “Goodbye my Bluebell…” serenade the starlit sky, as shadows of grey and black shift from side to side, wavering, correcting, to the tune of running feet.  A tweeting of “ssh” and “quiet” commands a brief lull, before the singing recommences unashamedly belting out lyrics for the entire population of Capetown to hear.  Crooning “One last fond look into your eyes of blue…”, the rabble weaves along its crooked way.

“Down men,” one of the dark figures orders.

“Righto, Serg,” another voice confirms his instructions and all four carriers stop and gently lower their cargo to the ground.

Leaning against the gangway that leads to the upper deck of the ship, the group’s happy serenading is replaced by a discord of short laboured breaths.

“Serg, do you think they’ll believe us?” The speaker lowers his rasping voice to a whisper as he addresses William.  “Do you think they’ll want to take a look in the crate?”

“Just leave it to me men.” William winks at his friends and lifts his hand in a mock salute.  “Who’s going to disbelieve an officer and gentleman?”

A loud volley of laughter once more sounds like a cracking whip. All four men in khaki green are the cleanest and happiest they have been for the entire year.  Filled with light-hearted energy, fuelled by the drinks of cheer they have consumed, they are happy that they are going home.  There will be no more suffering from thirst or hunger and no more images of dead friends to add to those already lined up like tombstones in their heads.

“Okay lads.” William orders. “Lift, on the count of three….one, two, threeee!”

Following a few grunts and groans, the four friends heave the weight of their cargo off the ground and commence their precarious ascent of the gangway, towards the guard who has been watching them from over the ship’s rail.

 

Monday Musings From the Writer’s Desk

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Good Morning to My Family, Friends and Followers

Life, like an ocean, ebbs and flows, bringing happiness and joy with each new birth.  Then on the turn of its mercurial tide, we are left to mourn the passing of someone dear. We are left to grieve our loss, their empty place, but we are never left bereft of their presence.  Our memories will always remain. There will always be reminders, of a person’s existence, whether it is an object, a photograph or an act of nature.  Something will always trigger moments of time that will extend your lips into a smile or bring a tear to your eye.

In searching behind the old cupboard doors, my fingers have crossed paths with the presence of those that last touched letters and cards one hundred years before.  There is nothing to trigger my own memories, but I wonder what memories those items would trigger for my Grandfather or his brothers?  My thoughts are with my Great Grandmother who lovingly kept cards written to her children by their father from a foreign land.  I found them sitting in an old jewellery box where she had placed them for safekeeping, together with a card in which is scribed “To my darling wife.”

If only I could feel the love Grandma felt as she held those cards in her hand;  if only I could revisit her life on the day she received those cards in the mail.  Those few precious words, she knew only too well, could be the last she’d receive from her husband who was away fighting a war. As I hold those cards in my hands, I wonder about the hands that held them last; about the hand that wrote the words.  Those hands are intertwined with my own; my hands are the sum of theirs and more.

On the numerous occasions that I had sat on the floor of my Grandparents’ empty house filing through boxes and shelves, I could still feel the presence of those who once inhabited the rooms.  By then it was no longer a home, it was an empty vessel for storing more than one lifetime of memories, all of which were at risk of disappearing.  My grandmother’s smiling face was still glued to the kitchen window waving me off to work; the running feet of me and my siblings were still rumbling across the timber floors; my grandfather’s loud discussions and my Grandmother’s cackling laughter still bounced off the ripple iron walls.  And my memories of the many photographs that sat on the sideboard was the sum of my Grandmother’s memories of her family and more.

Our memories are our most important and valuable possessions.  They are more important than things.  However, we should feel grateful when some of our ancestors leave things behind when they depart this life.  Those things might be our only connection to family we did not have the privilege of knowing as their time was well before our own.  They represent pieces of lives that form part of our own family tree.

Now, my grandmother’s old house no longer stands where it once used to be. But as bare as that land now seems, I still feel the house is there, like an amputated limb.  So, nothing is gone forever, as the presence of life leaves a residue behind, a soul.  The soul of that old house still lingers in the back of my mind with my memories which are the sum of the life of mine.