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first hearing aids, how thrilled she was
with her first set of glasses, how she
wouldn't ever wear jeans or trousers to
My son will fish out the photo albums
and leaf through to find pictures of himself.
He will sometimes arrange some of them
into a story that lets me work out what
he thinks his weekend should consist
of: a picture of my car, a photo of him
swimming, images of past McDonald's
birthday parties. So, Mum, let's go for a
swim and have lunch at Macca's.
Stories, all of them stories of varying
I have grown up with stories.
My childhood was populated by Pippi
Longstocking, Heidi, Meg from A
Wrinkle In Time, Lucy Pevensey, Jennie
the cat, Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf,
Digit Dick, and Naughty Agapanthus. I
lived half my life in books. I wanted real
life to have beginnings, an understandable
plot, and an end.
I tried my hardest to create my own
stories using my literary friends. The
troublesome problem of Susan Pevensey,
who was no longer a friend of Narnia.
She chose growing up, lipstick and boys
over life as a Queen in Narnia. I wondered
about her life. Did she ever, in her secret
heart, remember her time in Narnia and
admit its truth to herself?
When Lucy, Edmund and Eustace
continued their adventures, and talked
secretly about them, did she pause on
her way out the door to a party, and
want to take a backwards step, sit down
with the youngsters and say: "I quite
liked Caspian, you know. If I'd stayed....".
I used old school exercise books to
write my stories in. Eventually, I moved
beyond others' characters and created
my own, with their own adventures
and lives. I took my deep hankering for
stories and built myself around it.
Yet, they weren't enough. I wanted
something more. It took me a long time
to recognise the sense of fullness I had
after Christmas Day each year. Not just
the glut of food, drink and new presents.
Not just a letdown sense after the previous
weeks of build-up, all for one date
imposed on the calendar by Christians
seeking to convert Celtic pagans.
It was Christmas morning, from
11am through to around 1.30pm, when
lunch was served. My mother and her
two sisters, her niece, and several female
cousins would gather in our kitchen.
While Mum fizzed around with last
minute preparations for lunch, and the
men got stuck into the beer outside
under the verandah, the female members
of my family told stories.
I sat under the kitchen table, on the
linoleum, legs crossed. I picked at the
rough wood of the underside of the
table and took in family gossip. The
same stories every year, trotted out to
be re-examined. Often, the same words
every year, and the same Greek chorus
of responses. All the incidents that never
came up in day-to-day conversation.
My two aunties berating Mum for never
visiting their mother's grave and Mum
saying, "For heaven's sake, she's dead.
She's not going to care."
Which would lead straight to the
story of when Mum and her sister went
to the cemetery on Mother's Day, and
how I was only three years old and climbed
up on a neighbouring grave to do a few
dance steps and pirouettes. It looked like
a stage to me. And my auntie saying. "Lila,
Lile, make her get down. It's disgusting!"
And Mum said. "Leave her be, Eily, she's
only a baby."
Over the next couple of hours, the
pre-marriage pregnancies would be
rehashed, cousin Gwen's double
mastectomy mentioned, and various
other family stories given an airing.
I took in these stories, and more,
just like I inhaled Christmas lunch. I
would come out of the day, resonating
to the history of my mother's family.
Now that all my aunts and my mother
are gone, I am the only one who
knows many of these woman-to-woman
All the stories: the ones from my birth
family; the ones my own family have
made; the ones I write -- they all fill me,
and are the heart of who I am. May there
never be a neat ending.
© NOVA OCTOBER 2009
'Now that all my aunts
and my mother are gone, I
am the only one who knows
many of these woman-to-
'I sat under the kitchen
table, on the linoleum, legs
crossed. I picked at the rough
wood of the underside of
the table and took in
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