Tag Archives: death

The Sommelier

This is the creative piece which I wrote from that initial prompt from Friday Fictioneers. The original was just 100 words, this is a little longer (about 3000). It may seem that the writing is slow and drawn out, This is intentional, given the subject. I hope you enjoy the longer version of the story,

Dave

The Sommelier

When I identified my dad at the morgue, they gave me a bag of his personal effects. His wallet, phone, handkerchief and comb, and about $2.70 in change. The wallet was still full of all cash and cards. The handkerchief was iron and neatly folded. The comb plain, black.

The phone was a smart phone that I had bought him a few years earlier. Dad mastered the phone, but not so much the smart side of it. His computer at home, which stored all the photos that mum had taken over the years was now just used to play solitaire, mah-jong and spider when he got bored reading. The photo gallery on the phone held memories of places he had been and people he had been with. One such photo in his phone was a selfie. I didn’t know my father had even known what a selfie is, and while the phone obscured his face, his body was perfectly replicated in reverse as the selfie was taken while facing a mirror. I knew the scar on his stomach, the bulge of his navel as well as the mustard coloured work shorts which were the only thing he was wearing in the photo. While this photo intrigued me, I closed it and put the phone in my pocket for safe keeping.

When I returned home, I connected the phone to my computer to look through everything with ease later. I cried, using my father’s own handkerchief to wipe dry my eyes and mop up the snot which came involuntarily as I wept. I put the comb next to the computer, and the change on the counter, then went to bed.

On the Tuesday, I called into work, saying I was working from home that day, my father had died, not telling the details. I wouldn’t take compassionate leave except for the funeral, which I had yet to arrange. The funeral home called and said they would drop by later that day to arrange things with me. Then I tried to finish the article I had been working on before I got the news that my father’s body had been found. I found it difficult to remember the nuances of the wine I was reviewing, so poured a glass from a fresh bottle to write.  Colour, deep and mysterious, Swirl, even and smooth. Sniff…sniff. The room in which my father lay was very sterile. Very unlike the usual smell of my father, He loved his aftershave, was proud of the manly smell it and his hair oil produced. Sniff, dark and fruity, like a Christmas cake. Sip, I took one and couldn’t gauge it, so I gulped the whole glass. And Savour, yes, the taste is lasting, like the memory of seeing my father. His pallor pale, unnatural. That was not my father on the table. That may have been his body, but his spirit had gone, it did not stay around.

They asked me who I wanted to invite to the funeral. I really had no idea. Dad and I had sort of drifted since mum died. He kept to himself but was always happy when I visited, taking me to the golf club for dinner.

I always drove down to the shops first thing in the morning, via the beach and the river to look at the view, I stopped at the newsagents, then the garage, where I bought the bait for a fish later in the day. The mechanic at the service station always asked the same question.

“You’re Frank’s lad, aren’t you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much. He going fishing with you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Oh Aye”, he said “tell him to take you to… he knows where… Jock caught some good size bream there last week.”

“Ok” I replied, gave a wave and went back home; well to dad’s place, it was never home to me. Mum and dad moved down here when Dad retired.

Dad sat on the porch, having his first cup of strong black coffee and cigarette to start the day, while he spoke to the parrots who came to feed, and look out over the blue blue bay to see if he could spot any whales. He thanked me for the paper and told me that the coffee was on the stove if I wanted some, giving me his own cup to refill. Later that day, Dad directed me in my car, or took the 4 wheel drive out, to his secret spot, which was always the same. I hated the four-wheel drive and vowed to sell it at the first opportunity.

Dad still had a companion when mum died. Shadow, the trusty German Shepherd was about 20 years old, was in terrible pain with arthritis, and dad had to get him put down to be kind about two years previously. He didn’t tell me that he was going to do it. I was still in the city and not planning on going down to see him for a month or so. I made my usual call on a Friday evening, in May, and he told me just like that; so matter of fact, so stoic and upright. Never shed a tear, never tell someone you are hurting. It is a sign of weakness.

Dad told me that when he was a child, he was in the choir at church. He sang his heart out as a boy and got rewarded. He was the first boy soloist at the cathedral. This was a position he kept for three years, until he was 13. Then when his voice was breaking, he was kicked out of the choir. The boys lined up either side of the entry to the apse and beat him and kicked him as he walked through on his last day of choir. That was when he had decided to leave the church as well as the choir. Dad hated it when I wanted to go to church as a boy, and when I was said to have a golden voice, he hated it more. I would go to church of a morning and be back by breakfast. Dad would be at work then, so I didn’t see him until after rehearsal at night. He never asked me about church or the choir. But I knew he was secretly proud of me, as he did turn up to performances again and again. I worked it out later. He was just scared that what had happened to him when his voice broke would also happen to me. I was lucky though. My choir master was one who kept me going through the transition, and I continued to sing with the choir, no longer as a soprano but now as a first tenor, just like my hero Aled Jones.

I wiped the tear from my eye, again with dads folded hanky, which was next to his phone on my desktop. The question remained. Who would I invite to the funeral? His brother of course, Uncle John, and his two sisters, who were still alive, one having died around the same time as mum did, some ten years before. I picked up the phone and pulled the charger plug out of it. I turned it on and started to scroll through the contacts on his list. There weren’t many; maybe twenty. I invited them all.

The funeral people knew I was not able to make choices. They were good at helping me decide on flowers, on the booklet and the service. I needed to go down to dad’s to find something for him to wear in the casket. I rang into the newspaper and told them that I had changed my mind, I was taking some time off after all. They could use some of the columns that I had in reserve, and then repeat some from last autumn. Nobody would know the difference. I packed some clothes in a bag and started the long drive down, even though it was after 8pm and I wouldn’t arrive until midnight.

I slept in the room that was always mine when I was down. I was tired and that was good, It meant that everything could wait till the morning, and I fell back on the crisp white sheets, covered myself with the featherdown doona and drifted to sleep listening to the wind through the palm trees and the waves lapping at the beach.

I woke at 6 on the Wednesday morning. I padded out to the kitchen and thought that this was the first time I had ever been alone in this house. The first time, that the cuckoo clock had not been wound before I rose, and the first time that the aroma of strong coffee was not permeating through the house. I opened the rear door and said good morning to the kookaburras that had congregated. My father went every morning to his worm farm, and after putting the food scraps from the day before in it, scooped out some worms to feed the Kookaburras and crows. I did the same, although soon, the birds would have to find their own breakfast.

I put some shoes on and did the ritual drive around the beach and the river. I made it a longer one this morning, wanting to look at the lake as well. It was the lake I came to when I was down here, to read and relax, with just the occasional pelican landing with a whoosh to interrupt my reading. This morning I didn’t relax but drove past just to assure myself that my spot was still there, just as it always was when I was ready to relax and read. I drove to the newsagent and got the paper, and then stopped by the garage. I didn’t buy bait today, I just wanted to see the mechanic, whose name I didn’t know.

“You’re Frank’s lad aren’t you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much lately”.

“Dad passed away” I said.

“Oh” said the mechanic.

“I wondered if you would come to the funeral, invite some of his friends if you will”.

“Oh Aye”, said the mechanic “You’d better be giving me the details then”, he said in a subdued voice. “I’ll invite the lads, we’ll be there. A good man was your da”.

I nodded and muttered my thanks before getting back in my car and heading up the hill. Today it would be me on the balcony drinking hot black coffee, reading the paper and feeding the parrots their seed. I looked up from my paper to the ocean, in time to see a whale breach and fall back into the water out near the island.

“Fuck” I thought to myself. All these tears, my dad would wonder if he raised a son of a daughter.” “Toughen the fuck up Allen, there are things to be done”, I drained my mug, folded the paper and went inside.

I selected Dad’s suit. It was one that I had seen him wear to other funerals so I knew it would be suitable for his own. I polished his shoes and mine, finding the polish where I thought I would. It was the same place that it was kept in my childhood home, on the bottom shelf under the sink. My dad taught me to polish his shoes and it was my chore to polish his and my own every evening before going to bed. Some days, when he wanted extra shine, he had me apply the polish when he first got home from work. “Big meeting tomorrow son. I have to look spick”. I left the polish to soak in before I brushed it off then buffed it before bed.

I started to clean up his bedroom, discarding old tissues, newspapers and taking coffee cups and whiskey glasses to the kitchen. Most of the clothes were in the hamper where they should be. Do I wash these and give them to Vinnie’s or just send them to landfill? I certainly didn’t want them. I could not imagine filling my father’s clothes or boots, nobody could do that. I stood up and saw myself in my dad’s full-length mirror behind his door I was shocked to be looking at a younger version of my father. I didn’t have the same scars but I have some of my own.

Later, Jock called on dad’s mobile phone.

“Hello”, he said, “I knew it wouldn’t be your da’ answering, didn’t I?” he said.

“I just wanted to say, well how sorry it is that he is gone, but we all knew it was coming didn’t we?” he said

“I want to talk at your da’s funeral” he said “give a eulogy, that’s it. Yes. Can I talk to you about it?”

I invited Jock to the house.

“Come fishing wi’ me,” he said. “I can talk free when there’s only the fish and the birds to hear.”

Jock picked me up at 3pm. “Just in time for the outgoing tide,” he said, “we might catch a good haul, or we might catch naught, but we will have time to spend talking so that’s good isn’t it?” He said.

We stopped by an old pier and fished for a couple of hours. Jock didn’t say much, but we enjoyed each other’s company, in our shared solitude. It wasn’t until we took our fish to the cleaning table that he opened up.

“A good man was your da’. He knew right from wrong and was not slow at saying his piece when he thought it needed to be said. He stuck up for women and loved your ma with a love I never seen matched by another man for his wife. He loved you too Allen. He were so so proud of you boy. He liked your wines alright, but he preferred his whisky.” He smiled with tears in his eyes. “Tradition I guess.”

Jock passed me an envelope. My father had asked him to give to me on his passing. It was yellow with age and the glue on the back old but stable. It had my name on the front in my father’s hand. I thanked Jock for it and took only one of the fish we caught for my dinner, allowing Jock to take the rest for bragging rights at the club.

I left the fish marinating in lemon juice and black peppercorns while I had a shower and changed into clean clothes. The envelope remained unopened on the table. That letter will need a good red after dinner, perhaps a whole bottle.

After eating my fish and potatoes with a bottle of Hunters Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2017, I put the dishes in the sink for later. I looked through dads LP collection and chose Songs of Scotland by Alastair McDonald and set it on his antique HMV player. It skipped a little until I found the sixpence near the turntable to set on top of the needle.

I took the letter given to me by Jock, opened a bottle of Carmel Road Pinot Noir Drew’s Blend and sat in the armchair that was designated until recently to be my father’s own. I needed to adjust the light over the side table, so I could read the letter he had written me. My fingers trembled as I tore the seal on the envelope.

The letter was in my father’s hand. His writing reflected his personality. It was very straight, not much of a flourish. Dad insisted on writing important letters by hand. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home. He would spend hours drafting and rewriting letters until he thought it was perfect. I shook as I opened the delicate paper. The date at the top of the page was not long after my mother had died. I gulped a mouthful of wine, ignoring sommelier protocol of swirl, smell swish and then swallow. Pouring another glass I started to read.

My dearest son Allen,

Since your mum died, life for me has just stopped. I can’t think, I can’t move, sometimes I can’t even breathe. Shad is not well, and I think I will lose my faithful friend soon. I wish you weren’t so far away, or, should I say it, so successful with your own life. Then you would want to spend more time with your old man. But life goes on. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. I continue to live because of you. I m very proud of what you have achieved. I think back to when you were in school plays and in the choir. Do you know I didn’t miss one? Even when I couldn’t get there for your year 10 solo, your mum took a mobile phone and called me when it was beginning, so I didn’t miss a note.

I looked up, wiped a tear and took a gulp of the expensive red.

We nearly lost you once son. Do you remember? You were riding that darn silly motorbike on a rainy night. Six weeks you spent in hospital. The first six days in a coma. When you were released, you were still so tired. You fell asleep in the car, so I carried you to your room, undressed you and put you to bed. It was the first time I had prayed since I was a child. I made light of it afterwards and told you if you were going to ride, you should get a bigger bike so it can get you out of trouble. And you did, you beggar. At least then we got to see more of you. You had your own transport and came and went freely.

I remembered the bike, but sat dumbfounded, until then unknowing how I had got to be the day I came home from hospital.

We had some good times didn’t we son. Fishing trips with a load of blokes from the club, and their families. You always managed to make and keep friends easily. Are you still friends with Brad, and Michael? The three of you were thick as thieves all through primary and high school.

Girls were a mystery to you though. As much as we wanted grandkids, I knew that our dreams would not be fulfilled. Yes, Allen, I know. I knew all along. I never told your mother and we never talked about it, but I think she knew too. As much as I don’t like poofs, you are my son and if you like men, then that’s ok. Nobody is going to say anything bad about you while I am alive. Thanks for protecting your mum though.

Well son, I don’t know how much longer I can live on this dear Earth. As you know, I am not a well man. I guess I just didn’t want to go without saying goodbye. This letter is in case I don’t have the chance. Have a great life Allen. Be successful in everything you do. Now that I am gone, find yourself a good fella and settle down somewhere.

Love always

Your Da

And he signed his name on the bottom of the letter as if it were just another business letter.

I sat back and began to breathe deeply, letting the tears run down my face unabated. I didn’t have to hide anymore. I picked up the phone.

“Simon, hi.” … “Yes, yes, I know I have not been answering your calls.” … “Simon, listen, my dad has passed away.” … “Yes, honey, I am down making arrangements now.” … “Honey, the funeral is Friday, can you come down?” … “Thanks, see you soon. Yes, I love you too. Bye”.

 

 

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Is Daddy Home?

She rested her head on her hands, elbows propped upon the sill. Weary eyes filled with water and her nose was pressed against the cold glass.

“When will it ever stop raining Mummy?”

“It will stop when the clouds are empty baby, and the stars and moon can shine through them”

“When will that be?” Emily asked

“About half past your bedtime, but before the Sun raises its head.”

Headlights appeared, reflecting off my little girls curls. A car approached slowed on the gravel circle, and stopped at our front door.

“Mummy, a car,” said my little one. I waited to see who would brave to monsoonal type rain to visit us on such a night, Out of the car stepped two men in crisp Army uniform. One carried a small box, the other, a meticulously folded flag. I saw this through the window which was being pelted by raindrops. Teardrops left my eyes that would rival the speed of the rain.

I wailed as the knock came upon the door.

Daddy is home.

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The Sommelier. Friday Fictioneers

I have used a paragraph of an assignment I am writing about memory for uni for this challenge. In fact, the challenge prompt has assisted me in writing my assignment. Its a few words over the 100, but the entry in my assignment was way more. I edited and adapted for the challenge. I hope you enjoy.

PHOTO PROMPT © Jeff Arnold

 

I tried to finish the article I had been working on before I got the news that my father’s body had been found. I found it difficult to remember the nuances of the wine I was reviewing, so poured a glass from a fresh bottle.  Colour, deep and mysterious, Swirl, even and smooth. Sniff…sniff. The room in which my father lay was very sterile, unlike the usual smell of my father He usually smelled manly, of aftershave and hair-oil. Sniff, dark like a Christmas cake. Sip, I took one and couldn’t gauge it, so I gulped the whole glass. And Savour, yes, the taste, like memories are lingering.

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Take a look: Poetry reading and Cello music in Brett Whiteley’s Studio. (with a footnote on alchemy and purity)

On Sunday this week, I attended a poetry reading “Take a Look” at the Brett Whiteley Studios. The poet was Peter Boyle, who has  books of poetry published, has won numerous awards for his poetry and has translated poetry works from Spanish and French. 20191103_141151[1]

Many of the poems resonated with the love he felt for his late wife, Deborah Bird Rose, who passed late last year. It was obvious to all present just how in love this man was… or is. Others spoke of his experiences in the world of art, literature and travel.

Accompanying Peter was a solo Cellist Christina Christensen, who with her cello managed to convey emotions only found when one is in meditative quiet. I remember she played a piece which she wrote called Lost Dreams, I think. Deep deep notes echoed regret, sorrow and sad contemplation. But just when you would have let out a sigh of empathic understanding, the last few notes were higher, faster, and finished with a flurry which left me feeling that the dreams had not been lost forever, that there was indeed hope.20191103_141739[1]

Lost Dreams touched me deeply and inspired me to write a poetry piece of my own.

The Death of Dreams

Too late.

Why did we wait

Life caught us up in the trap

of want more, need more

until at last

we are now time poor

We could have done

so much more.

Too late.

You grieving already,

Me being at deaths door.

The dreams are gone

But memories can live forever.

 

Contemplating death, and those dying, who have given up hope, I believe you can tell. The glimmer leaves the eyes. The love for a partner, once so intense, while still there speaks from an apologetic place. Sorry I am so much trouble. Sorry I will be leaving you alone, that I am causing you sorrow. Related image

Having cancer now has made me confront my own mortality. While having a full life, I can’t echo Frank Sinatra when he says, “Regrets, I have a few, but then again too few to mention.” My regrets are many. There are things in my life that I am certainly not proud of, and if I could have my life over, it would be so much different.

But I don’t live in the land of “shoulda, woulda, coulda”. I can only ensure that the future is different from the past.

Oskar Schindler:
“I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t!”

I live my life now as I should. I think it was the apostle Paul who said: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” 1 Thessalonians 4:11. And that’s how I shall live till I pass.

sorry its morbid.

Dave

footnote: I again looked at Brett Whiteley’s Alchemy now in a new light. Alchemy. Typical Alchemists would take a mineral and hope to turn it into gold, for one example. To take something ordinary, worth little, and to make it into something priceless. Brett Whiteley’s Alchemy starts with birth, the act of conceiving, then becoming born. through the panels we can track life’s experiences. Brett’s explorations of science, religion, drugs and art, literature. He ends it on a background of pure white, with gold representing, as I have written before the ultimate sacrifice for art, for purity. It was this purity that Brett Whiteley considered most valuable of all. Thank you Brett for continually speaking to us, even though you have been dead for decades.

Dave

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As I lay dying: Faulkner

“the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself … alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat” ?

As I lay dying, wracked in pain  upon my bed, I wonder who I can give my advise to. I have no heirs, no pupils who hang on my every word. Is wisdom, My Wisdom to die with me?

I have written. My words are not written with the graphite of a pencil, that can be erased easily or written over. My words are not written on parchment or paper, which can easily be torn, or wrinkled and thrown in the fire…to warm ones toes. My words however can be lost in the annals of time, on some hard drive, or some cloud, where who knows who will read them in the future.

I am guessing that those who catalog, those archaeologists in the future, will dig down deep into our version of the present, might not, i hope not, just record my ramblings but read what is written and say as we do of Plato, or Blake… “How Profound”.

Has my ego got the better of me in my disease of age? I think not. I think we all desire to leave a legacy. We all desire to be remembered and thought well of. We all desire that someone will use the wisdom that we have discovered, unearthed, perhaps uncovered in dusty books in a dark damp cave of a library.

Some writers, as Faulkner has said, concentrate on matters of the heart, Love is illogical. If you ask someone why they love a person, true love can give no answer, as it is illogical. “the human heart is in conflict with itself”, it knows not which way to go. it has no logic. The heart needs to work in tandem with the head. One beats while the brain thinks. Logic itself, or love itself are somewhat useless. One must use both.

The body cannot do without the brain, and the human brain cannot do without the body. The body is the vessel in which the brain must operate. Artificial intelligence is not yet possible because logic without heart is useless. What good is brains without the body, other than to be food for dogs. What good is a body without a brain, except to follow the instructions of someone with a brain.

Do what you will with my body. Although I do wish you inter and bury me quickly. I have tried not to cause offence when living. I wish to cause no offence (by my smell) when dead.  I do not wish to cause trouble to those who must dispose of my body. Throw it to the fishes. Let the sharks feast on me instead of one still living. Give my body, complete with brain and heart to science, so they may study, and see how the three are connected.

Image result for a dying man

When everything else is stripped away, these three remain… faith, hope and love. When a person is on the way to the heaven he has faith in, then there is no need of hope, as the head has made him confident of where he is going. Faith is the head and heart working in tandem. The heart loves with an illogical love, the head says that it is the only thing to do..love, and believe. So the greatest of these is love.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

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Mark Twain: The Somber Side

list-8-things-mark-twain-family-96815927-E

In our American Literature class, we have looked at Mark Twain as a person who can write from Experience and from the heart. He is able to sympathise and identify with the common man. Mark Twain had a family, which is not often written about.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) married Olivia Langdon in 1870. ‘Lily’ as she was known was a constant companion for her husband, accompanying him on lecture and book publishing tours. Lily often edited Twain’s work, sometimes somewhat critically.

The couple had 4 children, and while each gave them joy, they also brought heartache. None were without their troubles.hc-pictures-140-anniversary-of-twain-home-20140916

langdon_clemensLangdon Clemens was the first born of the Clemens children. He was the only son. Langdon was born premature in 1870. It was a hard pregnancy for Olivia when she contracted Typhoid fever. While Mark Twain was busy writing witty stories and columns, he spent a lot of his time nursing both Olivia and Langdon. Olivia’s father Jervis died that same year. Langdon got a cold on one of the journeys in April 1871 and died after it developed into diphtheria. He died in 1872 aged just 19 months. Twain blamed himself for his son’s death.

 

 

 

clemenssusy_headstone Second born was Olivia Susan Clemens. Suzy was born in March 1872. She was a happy playful girl who at times became very deep in thought when trying to understand aspects of life and its struggles. While the family was overseas and Suzy at college, she contracted Meningitis and died at age 24.

This is the headstone of Suzy’s grave which is in the Clemens plot in Elmira New York, Composer Dan Forrest was searching for some lyrics to go with a song which he had written for a little girl’s funeral. He found this epitaph in the graveyard close to his home. Dan wrote Good Night Dear Heart from the words of Mark Twain.

220px-Ossip_Gabrilowitsch_&_Clara_ClemensClara was the third of the Clemen’s children. She was born in 1874 and spent most of her early years being home-schooled as she travelled with her father. Clara was sent to boarding school in Berlin for later schooling. The whole family moved to Austria in 1896 so that Clara could study piano. Following her mother’s death in 1905 Clara had a nervous breakdown. in 1909, she married the Russian composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch. Her father died not long after that and Twain did not get to see his only grandchild, Nina who was born not long after. Clara was the only one of the Clemens children to live a long life, and she died aged 88 in 1962.

DSCN0175Jane (or Jean as she was nicknamed) Clemens was born in 1880. When 18 years old, she developed Epilepsy. Twain said of Jean, “There was never a kinder heart than Jean’s”. During her childhood, she gave most of her allowance to charities and had a heart for animals. Jean began two charities for the protection of animals and because of this love, her father had bought her a farm. Jean’s epilepsy was severe at times, causing her to have spells in sanatoriums for her recovery. She was never alone, and a trusted maid accompanied her on shopping trips and helped Jean with her daily needs. On Christmas Day 1909, she had a fit while in the bath and was drowned.

JeanSam6

Twain was heartbroken. “She was all I had left, except Clara, who married Mr. Gabrilowitsch lately, and has just arrived in Europe.” Twain said to gathered journalists on the morning of her death. “My daughter was trimming the tree yesterday and I was helping her,” he said. “She was so anxious that the lads and lassies of the neighborhood should have a tree, so we brought this one in and began to trim it for them. Tomorrow there were to have trooped in to see the tree and to get presents from it”.

 

 

A life full of sorrow and grief. Mark Twain died just 4 months later, in April 1910 of a heart attack in Redding Connecticut. He was buried alongside the others in the family who had passed before in the family plot in Elmira.the-family-plot-of-mark

Apologies with some of the typesetting. I bet Twain never had these problems.

Dave

Some of the websites visited:

http://www.design.caltech.edu/erik/Misc/Twain_eulogy.html

http://www.marktwainhouse.org/man/clemens_family_tree.php

http://www.marktwainhannibal.com/twain/biography/family.shtml

http://www.marktwainonline.com/site/577770/page/924842

http://www.marktwainonline.com/site/577770/page/924743

http://www.twainquotes.com/19091225.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

 

 

 

 

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It happens to us all

One thing is common to all men, that is death. It may be a cliche but from the moment we draw our first breathe, we begin to die. What a fatalistic way of looking at things. If we have the realisation from the beginning that we have a purpose in life, then we would strive to seek it and then achieve it. or would we. Would we forsake all else and strive toward the purpose in which our lives were destined?

“You were made by God, and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense”… Rick Warren.

Picture credit: Pushkin House 2014

I have just finished reading ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ by Leon Tolstoy. I hated the story, I loved the story. My conflict arises because it described the death of a man suffering from (I speculate) cancer. My own father died of cancer some years ago. I knew it was a long illness for him and at times a very painful distressing time for him. Tolstoy seems to have an intimate knowledge of the thoughts and pains of a dying person.

I watched my father deteriorate from a strong capable man to one who aged way beyond his years; before his time. He was too young to die. Unlike Ivan Ilyich, my father achieved. It was not just his professional life in which he excelled. He was the loved father of four boys, grandfather to many before he passed. He was adored by many and liked by all. My father had a professional life that made all the boys in my class envious. He was able to take us on many flights in helicopters and planes in his capacity of an Aeronautical Engineer. He strove to make life good for my mother and his family. He achieved that goal. When he retired early due to illness, he decided to pass on his knowledge to assist schoolkids in learning about the theory and practicality of flight. He went to the high school of the town in which he retired and offered to assist the kids to build a real aeroplane. One that could be registered and flown. He achieved that goal.

It was also in his retirement that he learnt the beauty of wood. In the Australian bush, some trees developed a pimple like growth on their trunk. These are called Burls. They are distinguished by the inner pattern of not rings, but more like squiggles throughout the wood. My father learned to make all manner of things from wood, from pens to coasters and bowls to much larger projects.

Picture Credit: Cliff Baker, West Virginia Woodturners Association

But I saw him waste away. He gave up smoking in an attempt of maybe extending his time on Earth, but in the last few months, I noticed that he took it up again. Like Ivan he had resigned himself to death as being inevitable.

Ivan Ilyich strove to achieve position in society. He strove to accumulate ‘things’. he did so not just for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his family. Perhaps for his own benefit as well, because if he found favour with his wife, he could then be relieved of her whining.

This book not only made me look at my own mortality and the futility of accumulating things, but to reassure myself that my purpose for life is now on track. In hindsight, I can see that in the past my actions and inaction, my own need for wealth and seeking favour from society ( as Ilyich attempted to do when setting up his house in Petersburg) had caused hurt to others. My goal in life now is to not accumulate wealth but to share beauty with those unable to see it for themselves. I do that with my art, photography and writing on a semi professional level, and by volunteering for social justice causes and organisations to assist those less fortunate than myself.

I was not able to be there in the last days for my father. This is something that has grieved me as I look at the past with regret. Ivan Ilyich also looked at his life with regret. I hope that at my death, I can look back on my life, not with regret, but with a small amount of humble pride.

There are 3 Victorian novels that I have looked at so far in my studies of 19th Century Fiction. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Silas Marner by George Eliot and The death of Ivan Ilyich by Leon Tolstoy. The three main characters all have the same need, redemption, although not all three saw that need.

Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times needed to be redeemed from his rigidity. “All men must be amused”, Mr Sleary pointed out, and for Gradgrind, a shock or two were needed to make him sway from his path.

Picture Credit:Charled Reinhart, found on http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/reinhart/ht2.html

 

George Eliot wrote that Silas Marner had a need for redemption. While some see the book as pointing out his need of a religious redemption, it was his obsession with gold and the accumulation of it that he needed to be redeemed from. That redemption came in the form of his sweet foster child Eppie. The Gold metal had been exchanged for the Golden curls upon her head. She tore from him his depression over loss, and gave him a new purpose in life, that being to care for Eppie. Interesting to note that when his metal gold was restored to him, his golden haired child was being claimed by another. The child would not be torn from his grasp as his gold coins had been, and justice prevailed when he could  his child chose to remain with him rather than be tempted by the lure of gold. Eppie had become more important to him than the lifeless metal.

Photo is a still from the movie made in 1985

Leon Tolstoy portrayed Ivan Ilyich as a man in need of redemption from life. Life for him had been a painful existence; before, and after his injury which led to his eventual death. Life in the presence of his wife was mundane at best. He did his utmost to spend as little time as possible with her. I believe he loved his children although he saw many of them die before he. His remaining daughter unfortunately was becoming a younger version of his wife, with her need for being prim and proper, whereas his son truly had compassion for his father. It was his son who cried as his father drew his last breath. To everyone else, his dying, or taking his time doing so, was a mere inconvenience. At the very beginning of the book we see that upon his death, his colleagues were looking at the question of who was to fill his position, which bought with it a hefty salary. Ilich becomes aware of his need for redemption when he was in the greatest pain. He wanted relief from the pain, relief from his wife and others. He saw himself a burden to others and to a man who was mostly independent and solitary this was devastating. Ivan Ilich wanted to be free of it all.

I was fond and grateful to the young servant Gerasim, who patiently cared for his master at the sunset of life. Gerasim could be compared to the palliative care people who cared for my father in his last days.

It happens to all of us, death. It happens to all of us, the realisation of the need for redemption. With the 3 characters in our books, redemption came at different times. Gradgrind was saved. Silas Marner found his redemption in time to make a difference to his future. Unfortunately Ivan Ilich discovered his need too late. I implore you, to seek redemption while it can be found, before its too late.

“Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind,

nothing was gained under the sun” Ecclesiastes 2: 11

Dave

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 19th Century Literature, Best Critical Post 19th, literature

One Afternoon

I plopped down in the long grass, exhausted by play. I heard the rustle of a small body coming to join me, heard him come to rest beside me and found his small fingers soon entwined in mine.

He pointed, “A cow”

I pointed ” Snow covered mash potato”

He giggled, then pointed again “A car”

“Yes, It does look like a car. Is daddy driving it?”

“No, daddy likes red cars; remember?”

“Mummy, are there cars in heaven?”

“If your father has any say in it there would be”.

“I’m never gonna drive a car.”

“Then how will you get to the world that is waiting for you to see it?”

“You can drive me.”

“Oh, thanks for that. I might be busy.”

“Yeah, cooking dinner.”

“Speaking of which, we better get home before it gets too dark.”

“Can we have p’sgetti for dinner…please?”

“Only if you are good in the bath.”

” I promise not to splash you…too much.” he giggled again

I turned over to tickle his tummy, then grabbed his hand and lifted himself and me off the ground.

“Come on tiger, race you back.”

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Filed under short stories

Flash Fiction

On Tuesday afternoons, I can be found in a creative writing class. We have a small class of writers with varying degrees of experience. Most in the class are marginalized people, so while some of us have brilliant minds, they have been affected by issues in our past which include mental unwellness, addictions, abuse and homelessness.

Out teacher is a very gifted patient mature lady, who has ways of extracting the brilliance from our fractured brains.

Yesterday, being Spring in Sydney at present, we were each given a flower currently in bloom to examine, describe and to write about.My flower was the Nasturtium. While I wont share what I wrote about the description of the flower, I will share the two flash fictions I wrote incorporating the flower into the story.

nasturtium_flowers

Row C, Aisle 8, Plot 6.

The new address of my dearly departed wife. Last week was the celebration of her life. Roses adorned the coffin. The kids came, shedding adequate tears. Grandchildren, sad, but bored to be there. They have no idea what a special woman their Nana was.

The grass is already starting to creep over the red, recently turned soil of her resting place. I tidy. I pick up some litter. How can people be so disrespectful to throw rubbish on a grave. I wipe a tear.

I pluck free some of the wilted flowers from the bouquet I placed here only yesterday. Tomorrow I will do the same.

Today, I pull from my pocket some seeds from the plants in our garden. Some Allysums, Impatiens and of course the bright orange Nasturtiums.

I scatter the Allysum, daisies and forget – me – nots and plant the nasturtium seeds 2 cm apart as Nora instructed me in out garden.

In a few weeks her grave will be as colourful as the quilt that she made for the bed we shared for over 43 years.

Until then, daily, I will come and change the water in the vases of flowers I bring; using the old water to moisten the new garden.

Nora will NOT be forgotten.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I could hear her crying before I could see her. It wasn’t a big sob but she was truly sad. Seeing the depression in the long grass of the vacant lot next to her school, I found my little girl face down in the grass.

“Come on princess,” I say “Why so sad, especially on THIS day?”

“Daddy, nobody remembered  my birthday at school today!”

“Your birthday? Is it your birthday?” I tease

“Oh daddy, you didn’t forget too did you?” Now she is wailing making me regret my jest.

“Come on Princess, how could I ever forget the day that Sunshine first entered my life. I made you something special today”.

I pulled from behind my back a chain of nasturtiums that I had made into a crown.

I picked my little girl up from the ground, placing her on here feet. I straightened her ponytails and fringe so she didn’t look so disheveled. I took my handkerchief and used my bottled water to moisten it to wipe her face free of tears.

I took her schoolbag in one hand and offered the other to her to hold on our journey home. Home to her surprise fairy 7th birthday party.

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Filed under short stories