Memories Enriched By Love

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I can’t believe it is seven years since Mum passed away, and as usual, on anniversaries of a loved one’s death or other special occasion, thoughts drift to the past.

I love my Life Stories & Legacies class at Godfrey Street, Bentleigh because each week I can conjure a memory and reflection as well as record family stories and history: growing up, studying, working, having my own children, and all the incidents, major and minor events,  coincidences,  and occurrences that weave to make the rich tapestry of our life.

This morning, my older sister sent me a message to say ‘thinking of us all today’ and as messages flew back and forth, we shared memories of Mum and her legacy – so different for each of her six children and fourteen grandchildren.

No matter how old you are there can be something special about a mother’s love – here’s a memory I had one day on the train going to work.

Shelter From The Storm
Mairi Neil

Bruised clouds sweep the sky
a gloomy ominous pall.
I remember your voice
a thunderplump is on its way.’

Nearing sixty,
I wish to be six again
to feel comforting arms
gather me close.

Cushioned against your chest
my anxious heart
working overtime
Pit pat, pit pat, pit pat

Until attuned to your
gentle breathing, and steady
ba boom, ba boom,
ba boom.

To relax, as your hands
usually burdened with chores
keep me safe
in rhythmic caress.

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Last year, in class we talked about childhood games and memories of the parks and places where we’d play. Children haven’t really changed but childhood has and oldies like me notice the change – the way we parented and the way new generations parent.

We were certainly left to our own devices for more hours in a much less structured day!

trace of butterfly on window

Parks and Places to Play

My first nine years were spent in Greenock, Scotland. I can’t remember much of the first three years living at number 2 George Square, a tenement, in the centre of town, but the move further out to Braeside and starting school at Ravenscraig Primary, provides plenty of material and memories.

Despite the rustic name (brae means hill in Scots), there were no parks as such for us to play in. We spent a lot of time in back gardens (‘back greens’ as they were called) and playing games in the street. Traffic minimal in the 50s and early 60s with Dad being one of the few in the street to own a vehicle. He had a motorbike at first, then bought a Bradford van. We played on pavement and road rarely disturbed by cars. In those days it would be rare not to see children playing in the street.

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Yours truly with ‘the big girls’ wearing mums’ shoes

Our games were rowdy affairs: hopscotch (called ‘beds’), skipping with lengths of rope salvaged from washing lines, football (soccer), rounders – often with homemade bats, and the exhausting body-bruising but fun British Bulldog and Relievers (an equally physical game).

We also roamed the hill opposite and the farmer’s fields at the bottom of the road. The housing scheme stretched on a steep hill. Our house at number 35 Davaar Road in the middle of the street’s curve. Davaar Road the topmost homes in the scheme. Across the road from us, behind the last row of grey Corporation houses, the hill climbed high to view or walk to Gourock and the River Clyde on the other side.

This brae devoid of tall trees, but spread with scrub, granite boulders, and heather. Enough natural flora to keep us entertained with games influenced by episodes of popular shows broadcast by the fledgling television industry: The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Robin Hood and his Merry Men (my favourite, Maid Marion), and whatever wonderful land Walt Disney invited us into when we wished upon a star on Sunday evenings.

Up the hill, I learned how to make daisy chains and to check who liked butter by waving buttercups under their chin and was shocked when a neighbour’s six-year-old asked if I wanted to see his ‘willie’. I shared Saturday night baths with three brothers, so couldn’t see the point!

A memorable part of the long summer holidays we spent collecting twigs, branches and anything that would burn in preparation for bonfire night in November. We never forgot Guy Fawkes or the rhyme, ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!’

The hills also experienced children roaming in hordes, buckets and jam jars in hand, seeking blackberries when in season. The taste of Mum’s delicious bramble jam a great incentive to risk getting scratched and clothes torn picking the hard-to-reach ones, which always seemed the fattest and juiciest.

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At the bottom of the street spread the farmer’s fields, where we weren’t supposed to go. His bull known to be a danger to life and limb. Of course, we incorporated a deliberate dare in some of our games.

There must be a guardian angel for stupid children.

The other reason the fields were off-limits was because the Tinkers (or Gypsies but now correctly referred to as Travellers) used to camp there.  Mum and Dad didn’t practise overt bigotry or prejudice against Travellers like some people. Mum, in fact, helped them whenever she could: letting them do mending and other odd jobs, and buying some of the goods they hawked (like wooden clothes pegs).

She often repeated a story of the ‘Gypsy Woman’ who knocked on the door when she was a little girl in Belfast. Her mother bought clothes pegs but also gave extra money and food. In return, for the kindness, the woman offered to tell her fortune but being a devout Christian Grandmother declined. Instead, the old  woman took Mum’s hand and prophesied that she would travel across the sea, not once but twice, and the last journey would be far away across a large ocean. Mum would also bear seven children.

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The surviving six of us with Mum 1961

 

You cross The Irish Sea to get to Scotland, so all of us knew the first part of the prediction was right! (It wasn’t until much later that we found out Mum gave birth to seven children and my older sister’s identical twin died soon after birth. Of course, the largest ocean was the journey to Australia by ship when we migrated.)

Mum also believed you don’t go ‘looking for trouble,’ stranger danger not indoctrinated like modern times and we were not made overly fearful, but we were warned to be careful and obey the limitations placed on us, ‘no visiting the Tinker’s camp.’

Again, rules we chose to ignore!

Unfortunately, as a consequence, for years a vivid nightmare recurred, of being terrified and running in fear of my life, yet unable to ask for comfort because I played in the forbidden fields.

Sometimes we live to regret not obeying rules!

I must have been seven years old and had wandered away from the usual gang of playmates, including my older brothers and sister. Always inquisitive, I decided to explore the fields at the bottom of the road. I discovered the remnants of an army camp – underground bunkers abandoned at the end of WW2 and no doubt used by the Travellers. Perhaps I’d heard the more adventurous boys talk about it – I can’t really remember. I do remember spending most of my childhood playing with my two older brothers and their friends because we were all so close in age – only 13 months separated me from George and 17 months separated him from Iain.

In the campsite, there were the usual discarded items: an old army boot, rusted tins, broken furniture, and piles of accumulated recent rubbish, including the ubiquitous empty whisky and beer bottles. Exciting finds for a curious child.

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An abandoned camp similar to the one I remember

 

I never heard or noticed a movement from a bundle of dirty, grey blankets.

Without warning, an unkempt man reeking of alcohol made a grab for me. I ran for my life and didn’t stop until I was home, safe behind the gate. Davaar Road was steep but my little legs pounded the pavement without a pause.

The drunk maybe didn’t mean any harm, my presence probably surprised him as much as he startled me. I vaguely remember him murmuring about a match. Perhaps he woke up craving a cigarette – the two addictions of nicotine and alcohol often go together. All I remember is knicker-wetting terror; the sound of panting breath and thudding heart in my ears.

The proverbial wild horses would not pull me into the farmer’s fields! I didn’t care if I was accused of being a scaredy-cat because I was after that encounter. The smell and fear of the abandoned army camp forever part of my nightmares.

A more pleasant memory is playing near the secret lake. We’d walk along the Aileymill Road, a country trail linking the new housing scheme with isolated cottages on the way to Inverkip and Skelmorlie, tiny seaside towns further down the coast.

The hedgerows home to Willow Tits and Warblers singing their delightful ditties, the Golden Ringed dragonfly patrolling and the final goodbyes of the Swallows and Cuckoos before they left for Africa.

Cotton Grass swayed in the breeze and the heather’s vibrant colours bright amongst scented summer foliage not found in our home gardens with their neat rows of dahlias and roses. The hedges camouflage for lizards and beetles darting at our feet and the hilarious attempts of the boys to capture them.

We fished for tadpoles, and hunted frogs and toads, in our secret lake. Logs and stones upturned along damp paths. Bumblebees buzzing and Blue Bottles humming and maybe a hare or deer spotted, fleeing our noisy play. Sojourns to the secret lake a highlight of the long summer holidays as we ventured further afield than allowed.

I revisited Braeside in the 70s and like everything else seen through adult eyes, the secret lake had shrunk. More a puddle really, just as the farmer’s fields seemed a small tract of land with plenty of cowpats, but not a bull in sight!

However, the hillside and view to Gourock was still a scenic wonderland and looking across the sparkling River Clyde revived memories of delightful Sunday School picnics at Kilcreggan and trips ‘doon the water’ to Millport and Dunoon. Children’s laughter still echoed and with a deep breath and strong imagination I could smell Mum’s blackberry jam.

A Triolet Can Be Child’s Play

d53f9f494a3bd30c67725c2d0dba4b23Before writing a serious post about Remembrance Day tomorrow, I’d like to share the lesson this week in my Writing For Pleasure classes at Mordialloc and Bentleigh.

I introduced another type of form poetry – Triolet – pronounced TREE-o-LAY. The form has 13th-century French roots linked to the rondeau or “round” poem. The triolet is perfect for line repetition because the first line of the poem is used three times and the second line is used twice. That leaves only three other lines to write: 2 of those lines rhyme with the first line, the other rhymes with the second line!

The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines.

poets.org

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A template of the triolet would look like this:

A (first line)
B (second line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
A (repeat first line)
a (rhymes with the first line)
b (rhymes with the second line)
A (repeat first line)
B (repeat the second line)

The form was often used for light, humorous themes, but like all poetry it can be a vehicle for serious themes – melancholic or philosophical reflections. Especially if the repetition marks a shift in the meaning or mood of the repeated lines.

In class, we concentrated on the structure and had fun getting the rhyming scheme right. (For rhymes just Google the word you are trying to rhyme and choose a site like rhymezone, or download a free rhyming dictionary.) We laughed at Godfrey Street when Jan wrote her poem about Triolet being mistaken for toilet and one repeated line was about ‘the loo’.

It is a pure form, but can be tricky remembering where the repeated lines and rhymes go, so I suggest using the template until the rhyme and rhythm occur without prompting.

It is also important, like any good piece of writing, to spend some time choosing the introduction (in this case the first two lines) because that will determine the theme/mood and also the rhyme scheme.

For the construction of my first triolet, I chose as my first line: “Stand behind the yellow line” and decided to make my second line: Or under the train you’ll go. (A consequence of being too close to the edge – a message repeated daily on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. )

A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go
a
A Stand behind the yellow line
a
b
A Stand behind the yellow line
B or under the train you’ll go

With more than half the poem already written, I simply brainstormed some rhymes and crafted other lines to fit the train platform situation. Then, I added a title.

Terminal Triolet
Mairi Neil

Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go
The painted stroke a warning sign
Stand behind the yellow line
a disembodied voice will  whine
as distracted passengers ebb and flow
Stand behind the yellow line
or under the train you’ll go.

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Spring Joy
Mairi Neil

I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night
What makes it happy, makes it sing?
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
Constant, confident the music flowing
The Butcher Birds are in full flight
I hear a voice, it must be Spring
A clear refrain morning, noon and night

image from birdsinbackyards
image from birdsinbackyards

And thinking of tomorrow:

WWI Noted
Mairi Neil

Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious
Mining emotions like a drill
Letter writing an important skill
Soldiers had more than time to kill
Words written to soothe the anxious
Letter writing an important skill
Expressions of love so precious

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Write a Poem You Say
Mairi Neil

Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected
Whether for the living or dear departed
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Sometimes it’s hard just to get started
Brain, heart and hand not connected
Writing poems not for the faint-hearted
Words, technique, emotions expected

The Triolet form can also be used to write a longer poem, perhaps beginning with a statement or observation:

Halloween
Mairi Neil

On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about
make sure you dress with special care.
On the last night of October beware,
perform some tricks for delicious fare
be extra polite and never shout
On the last night of October beware,
the witches and spirits are about.

Scary apparitions wander street and lane
Halloween is their special night
Imagination may drive you insane
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
It’s a night for real ghosts to reign
in the dark where there’s no light
Scary apparitions wander street and lane.
Halloween is their special night.

Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare
werewolves, wizards and witches rise
Ordinary people may don a disguise
the ‘best pretend ghoul’ always wins a prize
‘Take off your mask’ the fearless dare
Ordinary people may don a disguise
shadowy figures designed to scare

And of course, Triolet poems can be simple and poignant. This morning walking past the nursing home at the end of my street a memory was triggered:

Mordialloc Monday, November 9
Mairi Neil

The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam
As memory stirred of the terrible night
The ambulance left with flashing light
Resuscitation an unforgettable sight
Dad alone and prone, in nursing home
The ambulance left with flashing light
With palpitating heart my emotions roam

But here is an image I will always have of my Mother and a reflection on that memory:

Remembering Mum
Mairi Neil

I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration
I know you’d rather read than cook
I can see you sitting reading a book
Into another world with such a contented look
Did Dad envy the Mills and Boon destination?
I can see you sitting reading a book
Twisting your hair, deep in concentration

I’m looking forward to the wonderful variety of Triolets the classes will produce next week – why not try some too and please share them with me.

Triolet can be child’s play it just depends on what you have to say!