Posts tagged creativewriting
Photo via Loty (JohnnyMrNinja) on Wikimedia Commons.
I overheard a cafe owner in her mid-forties bubbling about her teenage children and the sports they played. Her name was Karen and she was giving a family update to a man in his late sixties with a round face, his ‘lean-to’ stare suggesting they knew each other well.
While she told him about how the children were progressing, it occurred to me that her simple statements seemed to reveal more about her family than she intended.
Tom, the younger of her two children, “really enjoyed football and was making lots of friends.”
Translation: Tom has the coordination of a drunk octopus on ice skates, but she prefers him playing sport to sitting alone in his room, creating collages of girls who have dated Justin Bieber, their eyes scratched out with a compass.
Karen said Tom’s brother Chris was in his final year of high school and played football and a number of other sports. She said he’d talked about playing for a local side after he left school but would likely give up sport altogether.
Translation: Chris is a gifted sportsman but lazy, a source of constant disappointment to her and her husband. He’s smart and talented, but he worries them.
It occurred to me how much I ‘learned’ about the children from these observations made by their mother and it made me think what a simple update like Karen’s might have revealed about my family, when we were young.
There were four kids in my family - three boys and a girl - and I was the youngest by five and a quarter years. Our thoughts about sport were universal - we loved it and played it from sun up to last light - but our approach to homework was quite different.
My elder brother always did his homework to the highest standard and when none was set, he’d make his own.
The second eldest, another boy, would much rather be chasing a ball or a neighbour’s daughter than practicing algebraic equations. He excelled at these two things and school but he never did his homework, or at least he hid it very well.
My sister literally chewed through pens - shoulders tight - practicing again and again, trying to get everything right. She worried about homework, although she needn’t had.
I never ever did my homework, well, almost never. I was forced to do it once when I was in my final year of high school, when my English teacher threatened to stop me from playing sport.
My sister and her family of four are moving to a beautiful big house sat on a golden plain in Bathurst, and needed a place to stay while the previous owners got their act together.
Their previous place consisted of two bedrooms, a study, and a generous backyard, but with two children under foot, one now walking and into everything and the other, a burning ball of energy with an irrepressible curiosity, the time was ripe for larger digs. So, they decided to stay at Mum’s house in Lithgow while she was away, and my sister could not believe how small the place felt.
Our childhood home was built by my grandfather for his wife and only son. It’s a sturdy ‘three-bedder’ on a double block in town. We had two in each room, until Dad asked me to move in with the boys when my sister “became a lady” and needed privacy, at which stage we put a double bunk and a single bed in the top room, which was the size of a large bathroom, and with three boys living in it, often smelt like one. But the size of the room didn’t matter, we only slept there.
After school and at weekends, when we were not being ferried about in the old green Tarago to football, hockey, tennis, cricket and dance lessons,* we were outside experiencing a life that could have been ripped from the pages of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
We played games in ‘the Jungle,’ a dense pocket of trees at the side of the house that had, at its heart, an imposing pine tree twenty metres high and several metres wide, and fished for rainbow trout and crayfish in Farmer’s Creek, a rambling river that skirted our back fence and ran the length of the valley, out into Wallerwang’s Fish River and into Bathurst, where it straightened up and was called The Macquarie.
Our street was hugged by mountains to one side, and I lived in them as a boy. By the time I was 10, I couldn’t get lost in them if I tried, and I tested this boast a few times. Beyond the back fence and over the creek was a park about two hundred metres long with a set of steel play equipment in the middle. We used the monkey bars as footy posts, booting our grubby ball into the street alongside.**
There was a wet lands across the road, which once fed water to Australia’s first iron-producing blast furnace, but after significant investment, was home to a variety of water birds, and more yabbies and fish. There was also a jetty, which we would tether our worst BMX bikes to in summer, riding them off the pine to smash against the murky brown dam top, which lay several metres below. It was a charmed existence, in its simplicity, but we were not what you’d call wealthy.
Mum was a nurse and Dad was a fitter and turner in the coal mines. With four kids in the family, we had very little in the way of the latest toys and kit, but we wanted for nothing. It was a modest life, in the way that Tim Winton described briefly in his article in the latest edition of the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Weekend,’ but it was incredibly rich in the ways that mattered – love, support, freedom and adventure.
I’m happy with my ‘prosperous’ life in Sydney – I write most days, have a well-paid job, an airy apartment in a well-to-do suburb, a beautiful girlfriend who loves me, and the opportunity to study under some of the best writers this country has produced.
But I will always value the simplicity of life away from the city, the easy laughter of the people, the soft whisper of the wind as it moves through the quiet, the feeling that you’ve found something, some perfect place, a slice of wonderful that city folk are simply too busy to notice.
And I love creating opportunities to let that kid from the country out,*** because it reminds me of those long hot summers in Lithgow, and how wonderful a simple life can be.
* Dad was very clear that this activity was for my sister, only
** This was not nearly as dangerous as the time we set off railway detonators by throwing large rocks at them, or when we used a .22 to shoot the locks out of the boots of passing cars so they would pop open.
*** Took him standup sailboarding, last weekend. He loved skylarking in Rose Bay and almost lost a very expensive pair of sunglasses.