Chokos are an old-time Aussie favourite, native to South America where it is known as chayote. The choko vine remains a feature of many backyards, growing over the chook pen or along a fence; bearing green, slightly spiky fruit with mild, white flesh. In Australia it was used as a pie or jam filler during the Depression years. Often in those days the vine adorned its contempory, the backyard dunny. Choko still graces modern dinner tables of its fans, in vegetable form -barbequed, fried or baked with white or cheese sauce.
In this household I’m the single fan of choko as a vegetable. The G.O. however, has a fondness for choko pickles: the speciality of many a nanna, mum, aunt or generous neighbour; omnipresent as a condiment; ubiquitous at fetes & market stalls; and useful as a bartering commodity.
Use a long pole with a bent nail in the end to reach a baker’s dozen of the highest & biggest chokos on your neighbour’s vine because everyone else got there before you.
Peel, deseed & neatly dice chokos.
Wash your hands half a dozen times to get the choko sap off them… unsuccessfully.
Peel and neatly dice 16 medium brown onions.
Soak choko & onions in salted water overnight.
Hunt out jars from where they’ve been stashed in the shed.
Prepare jars by boiling for 30 minutes to sterilise.
Open all the kitchen windows. Turn on ceiling fan.
Heft tub of soaking chokos & onion onto the sink, drain & rinse.
Transfer chokos & onion to large stockpot.
Add equal quantities white sugar & white vinegar, i.e. 12 cups each.
Update shopping list to replenish white sugar & vinegar.
Add 6 teaspoons each of tumeric, ginger powder, white pepper, mustard powder & curry powder.
Stir to combine then bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer with lid on for approximately 1 hour.
Panic that you haven’t sterilised enough jars.
Scour cupboards for more, wash, then microwave extra jars for 2 minutes.
Put all jar lids in saucepan to sterilise… again, and boil for 10 minutes.
Put all jars on trays in oven on 120 Celsius for at least 30 minutes to sterilise… again.
Remove lid from stockpot, remembering not to stick face into spicy vinegar fumes.
Reserve half cup of liquid in small bowl.
Firmly break up softened chokos & onions using potato masher.
Turn up heat, bring back to boil & reduce by half.
Mix 2 tablespoons of cornflour into cooled reserved liquid.
When contents of stockpot have reduced by half, lower heat & blend in cornflour mixture until contents thicken slightly.
If, like me, you prefer thick, caramelised pickles rather than liquidy-floury, use as little flour as possible, make smaller batches… and share judiciously.
Spoon mixture into hot jars leaving headspace at top.
Sort through lids trying to figure out which belongs to what.
Screw lids on tight.
Wipe spillage off jars with damp cloth.
Lick sticky residue off fingers… mmm… spicy… sweet.
Place jars on heat-proof surface to cool.
Label jars with contents & date unless you plan, later, to play guess the mystery contents.
Add to the label, in the spirit of optimism, a note asking for jar to be returned.
Listen for popping noises that indicate jars have achieved airtight seals.
Happy dance each time you hear a pop.
Pickles are best left to mature for at least a week, better a month.
Store jars in cool cupboard. Refrigerate once opened.
If a not quite full jar remains, store in fridge and enjoy immediately.
Eat choko pickles with cheese & bread, as a side to eggs & meat dishes, as a condiment to curries and casseroles, add to rissole/meatball mix…
Many variations of choko pickle recipes can be found in old cookbooks and via Google.
A basic, classic recipe is http://www.foodtolove.com.au/recipes/choko-pickle-306
If you want to learn more about chokos including how to grow your own, Jackie French: A Choko Needs to know its Place is a good start.
“Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden, and find something to preserve. Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs. Bergson. Stout as she was, she roamed the scrubby banks of Norway Creek looking for fox grapes and goose plums, like a wild creature in search of prey. She made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel; and she made a sticky dark conserve of garden tomatoes. She had experimented even with the rank buffalo-pea, and she could not see a fine bronze cluster of them without shaking her head and murmuring, ‘What a pity!’ When there was nothing to preserve, she began to pickle.” Willa Cather, ‘O Pioneers
I could cover it off by simply re-blogging one of my very early posts, dear holiday houseguests, from December 2011… but more than a fortnight has passed since the same houseguests’ most recent visit, and my temper is still snaky…
There was some improvement in their style: Stepson wielded a tea towel as sidekick to his washer-upper father; and I didn’t have to yell “don’t run through the house” (1) or remind “put the toilet lid down” (2) more than a dozen times during their 2 night/44 hour stay.
But what is rankling me will be forever known as “The Great Sugar Debacle”. It started quietly and caught us unawares. Granddaughter was coming solo to Taylors Arm with us for 6 days pre-Christmas so we suggested packing a water bottle for car trips, pillow, swimmers, and a book for entertainment in light of absence of internet coverage.
That was accomplished but also in her bags were 3 x 3 packs of chocolate flavour Up&Go (3) “liquid breakfast” drink, and 2 largish packets of lollies. I put a single 3 pack in the back fridge and left the rest in the bags.
Granddaughter is lovely and like most 11-year-old girls naturally has aspirations to behave much older than she is. We enjoyed her company and she enjoyed not having parents and 2 younger brothers cramping her style. An unfussy person in every way she hung out with us, herself or took advantage of the single item of modern technology, the TV, which at least has free-to-air channels including ABC3 Kids via the satellite dish.
The only things inexplicable were Granddaughter’s sudden bursts of manic activity or chatter particularly late afternoons. An easy houseguest, Granddaughter availed herself of the contents of the fridge & pantry, ate with us, ate well, and as we have little junk food-drink in the house, appeared to not overindulge her stash of lollies or when visiting her great-grandmother the endless supply of biscuits & sugary tea. She consumed a single Up&Go, preferring to join her grandfather in whatever he was having for breakfast, or a small bowl of rockmelon. Neither of them were interested in my breakfast of muesli (4), homemade plain yoghurt & local banana.
Initially we didn’t realize the moderate amount of sugar as we gauged it was cumulative in effect & desire. It’s consumption earned Granddaughter the nickname “Sugar” and better supervision of her intake. Which she took on board with good grace and improved self-moderation.
Fine until the rest of the family arrived on Boxing Day, descending upon the house with numerous plastic shopping bags (5) containing several more multi-packs of Up&Go, breakfast cereal – Coco Pops, Nutri-Grain & Fruit Loops, a six-pack of Powerade, 2 x 2 litres of fruit juice, 2 litres of raspberry cordial and copious packets of lollies & biscuits which were deposited on the kitchen table (6).
The G.O. made the new arrivals a late lunch of Christmas leftovers sandwiches before they proceeded to dive in to their sugary haul, dipping into the bags which I left unpacked in situ as we were eating at the outside table, or snacking on biscuits conveniently toted around the house by Daughter-in-law along with her bottle of Powerade.
Dinner was simple but homemade, Christmas leftovers: local pasture raised ham & roast chicken, pasta salad, mango salsa and green salad. Everyone enjoyed it (7) except Youngest Grandson who wanted lollies or dessert -got neither (8) , and Daughter-in-law who gratefully liberally applied to her food the bottle of fancy BBQ sauce they’d given us as a gift the previous year.
Next day the weather was miserable but we were out & about so a visit to the bakery made an easy lunch, and being a sensible woman I’d booked us into our local Pub With No Beer for dinner, which the houseguests prepared for by consuming more biscuits & lollies.
At the pub (which does have beer and thankfully, wine & spirits) the G.O. and I relaxed, had a few sanity restoring drinks and lovely meals. Despite the dreary weather the kids played in the Cubby With No Cordial, had a red “fire engine” fizzy drink each, ate their dinners except of course Youngest Grandson who wanted lollies or dessert -got neither. The parents couldn’t have cared less about food or drink… OMG the pub has WiFi… they were glued to their latest iPhones.
As the miserable weather settled into possible flood rain the decision was made by Stepson to decamp early the following morning as they’d, in his words “hate to be stuck in the boondocks”. I was sympathetic, I’d hate it too if they were stuck.
That morning the houseguests packed while ingesting Up&Go’s and breakfast cereal. I assisted by roving the house discovering discarded items, and restoring to the plastic shopping bags the remains of the sugar haul, assuring the houseguests probably unnecessarily “we don’t eat this, take it home”.
- Kids running through a 1930’s house built on raised “stumps” and full of old furniture-stuff creates an effect similar to earth tremors.
- Leaving the toilet lid up creates the possibility of a close encounter between a bare bum and a frog. Hilarious if it’s not your bare bum.
- Daughter-in-law works for the manufacturer. Linked product review dispels any illusions Up&Go is healthy.
- Homemade muesli ingredients: Organic if possible – oat bran, pepitas, sunflower seeds, mixed raw nuts, shredded coconut.
- The G.O. suggested as there are no shops (10) at Taylors Arm they come prepared with kids’ necessities and not to worry about food for meals as we had plenty of food but limited space in the fridges.
- Rendering unnecessary the tin of homemade Christmas biscuits I’d baked: usual Snap Biscuits recipe plus chopped dried sour cherries, macadamia nuts and white chocolate nibs.
- Eldest Grandson ate everything on his plate & licked it clean.
- Therefore no-one got dessert, which comprised leftover components of the deconstructed trifle I made for the G.O.: homemade custard; Aeroplane jellies – port wine with vodka poached cherries & passionfruit with vodka poached mango; Pandoro; tinned peaches; and Sara Lee vanilla ice-cream.
- The G.O. assisted with tidying up, collapsed on the verandah futon and didn’t move for the rest of the day. I did four loads of washing and drying (11). Wine o’clock was early but reverted to wine spritzers with homemade fizzy water.
- The new managers at the pub now sell their own homegrown eggs, meat, produce and a few basic grocery items.
- 5 houseguests = 6 bath towels even with the parents showering only once, plus 4 sets sheets & 10 pillowcases.
The dawn of a new mother-in-law era… I haven’t just acquired a husband; I’ve also acquired a
nother mother-in-law. My third. Enough for any lifetime.
M.I.L.#3 has acted unofficially in that capacity for 9 years but since we shocked her with the news of our unheralded nuptials, when speaking to the G.O. M.I.L.#3 has taken to referring to me as “your wife”. As in “the cards your wife sent out were nice. Everyone had to get a looking-glass, the words on it were a bit small but we didn’t have a looking-glass”.
About a month into married life I had a very clear dream where the G.O. and I visited my in-laws from marriage #1. They and their house was pretty much the same, although it was evident time had passed. Possibly they summoned our presence in spirit to convey their blessings. They were disappointed when I abandoned all hope for the success of my marriage to their son.
Our respective hopes for that union differed. They hoped for grandchildren. I hoped for a grown up husband. Their son hoped for a wife with surgically augmented DD-cups. Disenchantment all ’round.
The two families couldn’t have been more different.
Mine: Anglican, big stone church attended for weddings, christenings, funerals; dress as you please; lottery tickets are acceptable goodwill gifts; TV watching; beer & wine drinking.
Husband #1’s: Lay church, twice weekly; women modestly clothed often to neck, wrists and ankles, no jewellery; gambling is the devil’s work; no TV with the exception of his mother’s rebellious compromise kept in the cupboard for special shows; teetotalers.
I stumbled into this family unawares; inadvertently, promptly flouting the conventions. By far my most serious faux pas was the bathmat incident. During my inaugural overnight stay at the in-laws, careful not to make a mess of the spotless bathroom, I made sure to step out of the shower onto the bathmat, left the floor dry as the desert, and returned the mat to the rail.
After her discovery of the reprehensibly damp bathmat, it was left to her son to communicate to me his mother’s long-suffering explanation of what she thought would have been patently obvious… the bathmat is for standing on after one is dry. One should dry oneself within the tiny confines of the shower stall before stepping out.
But I was welcomed, and we enjoyed each other’s company: playing board games cards and chatting while their son watched the forbidden TV. They were keen for us to make right our aberrant cohabiting arrangements. After we married, but didn’t immediately embark on procreating, my new father-in-law offered me $3000 cash if I would agree to a grandchild and a further $2000 and his wife’s moonstone bracelet upon production of same.
It was an offer I had no trouble refusing, although I would have done pretty much anything else for that bracelet.
By the time I encountered M.I.L.#2 I was seasoned. I knew when to offer assistance or not, unblinkingly accept the hospitality status quo, and not to stand on the bloody bathmat (thoughtfulness for which I was complimented!). I shivered my way through a freezing Christmas in south-western Victoria wearing all my clothes in bed as blankets were thin and few. I was grateful for the first-time-guest honour accorded me of not being relegated to the mouldy backyard caravan as had my brother-in-law and his long-time partner.
Although I visited their house numerous times, M.I.L.#2’s first visit to mine occurred a few days preceding wedding #2. I made sure there was plentiful food & drink (F.I.L.#2 loved a scotch, disapproval from his wife seemingly augmenting his enjoyment) and their room was comfortable, furnishing it with a duck down doona and pillows: which had to be swapped immediately upon their arrival and the fraught disclosure of M.I.L.#2 ‘s Pteronophobia (feathers).
Amongst the many pre-wedding house guests M.I.L.#2 didn’t reciprocate my when-in-Rome style: 24 hours later not much had been deemed agreeable. Granted her trip must have been tiring, as M.I.L. #2 stayed in her room late on the wedding day while the rest of us thought left-over chocolate cake & champagne was a fitting breakfast including the dog and cats who had been served their portions convivially on saucers. Upon emerging, being offered same, M.I.L. #2 surveyed the scene clearly appalled, and declined, ingesting as little as possible except tea for the duration.
We maintained polite relations for almost another decade but I’m pretty sure M.I.L. #2 doesn’t miss me.
Despite prior acquaintance with M.I.L.#3 via my friendship with the G.O., the slate was wiped clean upon commencement of our defacto in-law relationship. Once again I had to watch my step (although I’ve never ventured a shower) and my tongue.
One of the good things about M.I.L.#3 is that her son is like her in many ways. Understanding one gives you insight into the other. For instance, neither necessarily conveys what they mean, evidenced by a disconcerting discussion between M.I.L.#3 and her sister on fashion merits of chicken thighs… not the sort from the supermarket, the ones inserted into a bra for figure enhancement… aha, chicken fillets!
Other than M.I.L.#3 demanding to see our marriage certificate as proof we weren’t lying, we’ve had a fairly amicable relationship since the time I was asked my thoughts about financial arrangements they were considering, and foolish enough to venture the honest opinion that it was unfairly one-sided in M.I.L.#3’s favour. Wrong answer.
M.I.L.#3’s sulk lasted a blessedly peaceful couple of days; our visits greeted with silence. The G.O. kindly indulged his mother her mood, but eventually advised “think about it, we’ll be back tomorrow”. Upon our return M.I.L.#3’s greeting was friendly, details of revised financial arrangements cheerfully proposed, and my opinion once again sought, but not proffered.
M.I.L.#3’s house, garden and self are immaculately turned out, and she’s dubious about my casual sartorial approach, helpfully suggesting the local department store’s lovely but expensive selection of apparel and the nice affordable clothes to be had in Coffs Harbour.
By way of complimenting me on any efforts, M.I.L.#3 predictably and frequently admonishes me that I have gone to too much trouble. She also doesn’t practice what she preaches, her Christmas extravaganza outshining my modest offerings. We did manage to underwhelm her by announcing we’d eloped and married on the beach in day clothes; and were informed that proper protocols of guests and attire would have been preferable.
As Christmas approaches the G.O. navigating his mother’s traditional “oh you’re so busy we don’t want you to make a fuss” protests about Christmas lunch conceded only her wish to contribute her customary festive $80 lobster (costing $40 any other time of the year) of which we each get a single bite-size piece.
On Boxing Day, my own step-daughter-in-law will pay us a visit with her entourage of the G.O.’s son and grandkids. I just want her to know… it’s fine to use the bathmat. If it gets wet, no worries, hang it on the line. Relax. We’re family, make yourself at home… and feel free to get a drink out of the fridge, prepare meals, wash up & tidy a packed-to-the-rafters house… mi casa es su casa.
Once again nose to the scent of a family history trail, I was looking for names, dates and places but what I found was so much better: the opportunity to spend some time, in a fashion, with the G.O.’s Pop Mac.
Apparently there’s been family history research done on the G.O.’s mother’s paternal family side but I’ve never seen the fruits of it. Possibly I haven’t asked the right questions of the right person at the right time. Regardless, I like doing my own
snooping research. Curious, I Googled the G.O.’s grandfather’s name and got not what I was looking for but more than I’d bargained.
The G.O. and I were pleased, and a little surprised, to come across a published version of his grandfather Roy Mackaway’s (1912-1994) work “Nulla Nulla”. The G.O. tells me he sat with his Pop for many hours as he one-finger-typed poems and stories. Roy always wanted them to be formally published. We have a copy of an early version of this work, and now a hardcopy for the G.O. and e-book for me of Jan Hawkins’ “Around the Campfire” 2013 published version.
I could give Nulla Nulla nothing less than 5 stars in my Goodreads review. “A time capsule of entertaining, amusing… sometimes poignant and hilarious… stories and poems. The author has a lively turn of phrase and is a talented storyteller and poet.” Lively turn of phrase may be understating it. I made the mistake of reading “The Pickle Bottle Poultice” on a crowded train. It describes Roy’s wife treating a boil on his “goat” in the manner prescribed by his Grandpa. “The [dreaded] pickle poultice is short for pickle poultice murder…”
“… My Grandpa, he’s dead and gone now,
may the angels bless his soul.
For he’s the only man this side of hell,
that’s got a Grandson with two bum holes”
Wikipedia describes a nulla nulla (aka waddy) as “an Australian Aboriginal war club… A waddy is a heavy club constructed of carved timber. Waddies have been used in hand to hand combat, and were capable of splitting a shield, and killing or stunning prey. In addition to this they could be employed as a projectile as well as used to make fire and make ochre.”
Pop Mac adopted this name for his writing. In his words “Nulla Nulla is a stick, with a great knob on one end. One of its uses is when a young aboriginal lad was beginning to feel a bit lonely and he reckoned he needed a wife, he would wait until the middle of the day when it was a bit hot and he would sneak up to the water hole where all the young girls from other tribes would be having a swim. He would pick the best and spring on her like a greyhound with a bull-ant under his tail and if she gave any trouble he gave her a slight tap on the noggin’ with his nulla, throw her over his shoulder and head back to his tribe. In this way they were married.”
As well as being published, Nulla Nulla : a collection of Australian prose & poems by Cecil Roy Mackaway is held in the National Library of Australia and State Library of Queensland collection.
I’ve been distracted from my intended family history research but I will get back to it. There’s a wealth of clues in the book.
Often dipping into Goodreads quotes looking for tried & true words in the form of quotes to supplement my own literary efforts, I was thrilled and a little bemused to read the following of Roy’s recorded by Goodreads for posterity.
“Just Fat and Cuddly
There’s Aunty, just out of bed, looking a little glum and gloomy,
but I tell you mate, she’s put on weight as her frocks ain’t nice and roomy.
I’ll send her west where there ain’t no pests, where frogs all croak for water,
and I tell you mate she’ll loose the weight and once again she’ll be a corker.
I’m now heading back to my mountain shack, this only if I get the time,
for things won’t go well, she’ll give me hell, when she reads this little rhyme.”
― Cecil Roy Mackaway, Nulla Nulla (Around the Campfire Book 7) Cecil R Mackaway (Author), Eric S Hawkins (Illustrator), Jan Hawkins (Photographer)
A glimpse into the book is available via Amazon, one of the options for purchasing it.
a collection of Australian Prose and Poems
by Cecil Roy Mackaway
As noted by the publisher, Jan Hawkins:
“Cecil Roy Mackaway grew up in the Hunter Valley* north of Sydney, touched by a time now passed. Fresh from the influenced of a family with a convict colonial history he witnessed a world, seen from a unique view. His stories and poems bring to life the Australian colonial era and life lived from the Bushman’s perspective. Not always politically correct in today’s society, he none the less brings a richness and variety to our history and the tale of life as it was lived in the bush in a era now gone.”
“The Author gave the copyright to this collection of prose and poems into my care some years ago, to be published in time. I found the writing so delightful and entertaining that I have published it now for the general public. I invite you to step back into colonial Australia, into a time now passed and see the world through the eyes of someone who enjoyed the adventure of life and the living of it.
These works have been presented as originally written with minimal editing, preserving the vernacular and prose of the era passed where possible, which may be seen in the use of italics. The terms used in the past may not be appropriate if used in the discourse of the present day. If these terms are likely to offend please so not read this book. Neither the Author or Publisher intends to offend.
In publishing these works I would like to introduce Cecil Roy Mackaway, a friend, a relative and an inspiring writer and poet.”
The anthology begins…
“A Breath of Yesteryear
From the Memoirs of
Cecil Roy Mackaway
I was born in 1912 and reared at Dyers Crossing on the Wallamba River in New South Wales, Australia. My Grandmother was the daughter of a young Englishman, he was sent out to the colonies by his family for colonial experience like so many young men from England. It is believed however that he was murdered on the gold field at Bendigo…”
I sit alone in my mountain home with a pencil in my hand,
tryin’ to think of a line or two, for my cobbers down on the Strand.
They’re rushing here and rushing there as life is just one way,
and they forget their mates up bush, that they knew in another day.
So life goes on and years pass by, where’s it getting you in the end?
A cripple from rush and strife, or slightly ’round the bend. So I’ll sit up here and write good cheer for them mates down in the Strand,
and tell them about the fish I caught and latest about the brand.
Perhaps they will think of me whilst strolling in the Strand.”
* Dyers Crossing is correctly located in the Wallamba Valley near Nabiac on the Mid North Coast.
My stepmother once mentioned you are your father’s daughter when less than pleased with both of us. This is not news to me. I’ve been my father’s daughter my whole life. You have to take the bad with the good… but my futile efforts to arrange a Fathers Day get-together went from bad to worse.
The noisy environs of our apartment mean we often don’t hear our mobile phones ring if it coincides with a passing train. In conferring with the G.O. re his 4WD quest Dad’s taken to calling him directly on his mobile but if the G.O. doesn’t answer then Dad calls my mobile, and leaves messages on both.
I missed Dad’s call on my phone but heard the message beep, and caught the G.O.’s ringing so answered Dad’s call. To the point as usual, he explained it wasn’t necessary for us to give him a lift back to collect his ute, he was catching the train but would like to see us anyway on Saturday night. I countered yes, we hoped so too but the G.O. had yet to make arrangements, and it was still likely to be Sunday as he’d been working long hours each day including Saturday and over the course of several weeks, so driving up on the Saturday night wasn’t preferable. Dad barely waited for me to finish before suggesting it didn’t matter if we arrived very late. The G.O. could have a lovely sleep sequestered in the spare room at the end of the hall. I reiterated my explanation.
Now concerned for the G.O.’s welfare, Dad suggested he stay on there for the week to catch up on much-needed rest. By this time my patience had run out and my volume had increased, as I announced fine, I haven’t been able to organize anything like that but I’ll put you onto him, and you see if you can do better than me. There’s no dignity in this, I thought, here we are shouting at each other like it’s 30 years ago and I’m 17. As I thrust the phone at the G.O. Dad’s final parry was well that’s whose phone I called.
Sometimes it feels like I have the spiel of our work-life imbalance on loop tape. Trying to explain the troughs, peaks and deadlines of project work and that the G.O. works 6 days a week, as a rule rather than an exception, to family, friends… and ourselves even, gets a little wearing.
The plan the G.O. and I made to drive the couple of hours north up the freeway to visit my Dad for Fathers Day and also the G.O.’s son and grandkids en route, came unstuck. Dad rang on the Thursday, giving us advance warning my stepmother had come down with a lurgy. Dad although he sounded snuffily assured me he was fine, as he’d been sensible, unlike Someone Else, and had a Flu Shot.
According to news reports Swine Flu is back. We weren’t taking any chances. The G.O. & I are germ-a-phobic; we’re rarely get ill, and there’s a link I’m sure. When we do, we go down like sacks of potatoes falling off a truck, but still have to drag our sick and sorry butts to work. Actually, the G.O. does, I try to manage a day or 2 at home, even if I’m logged on to my work emails.
We rain-checked the Fathers Day excursion to the following weekend and spent a quiet Sunday at home. Which the G.O. appreciated as he’s consistently been working 6 long days which seem to be getting longer, and continues to suffer from plantar fasciitis aka sore feet, as well as simply being bloody tired.
Not much older and only a little wiser after the demise of marriage #1, I embarked optimistically on marriage #2. Two of the players stayed on for the second act, Baddy and Jack, my cats. The cast welcomed Bo, an Australian Cattle Dog, who adored them both.
I met the man who would become Husband #2 for the first time a fortnight or so after I started a new job as Office Manager for the state branch of a hire company for mining and construction heavy equipment. He was the Branch Manager, somewhat elusive until that point. He’d been absent during my negotiations with Head Office and initially his existence substantiated only by a few phone calls from locations unknown, deferring his return.
Arriving at the yard early one morning I was curious to see a strange vehicle parked out front. The wanderer had materialised, and invited me to have a seat in his office. As I sat myself in the chair opposite his desk, I experienced a tangible but inexplicable sensation of cogs shifting then setting into a new alignment. We had a lengthy get-to-know-you discussion about the company, his role, my role, our backgrounds… and the way in which we most feared dying. This was something up until that point I’d not considered but the words by burning spontaneously but surely uttered from my mouth.
Several years later I read an article about a woman in Tasmania who did past life readings from photographs. I sent her a photo of Husband #2 and myself. She sent me a letter back describing a previous life connecting the two of us, in Cornwall where I’d been a healer in a small village neighbouring a larger settlement. Husband #2 had been a member of a church community who objected to my practices, and was responsible for me being burned as a witch.
If house sharing was the frying pan, marriage was the fire, and I carelessly fed my life to the flames.
Both Husband #1 & I were barely in our twenties when we set up house. He wasn’t averse to sharing household tasks but was shy of public knowledge. I was bemused one night cleaning up after dinner when he reacted to a knock at the door which I went to answer, by directing me to wait. As I hovered, he stepped away from the sink, dried his hands, walked to the living room, turned on the TV and settled on the couch. Only then was I free to open the door.
TV was central to Husband #1’s existence. Back in the 1980’s there were two channels – ABC plus a local commercial station, and VCR. Enthralled, he would sit for hours, gazing at the screen. On one occasion, I’d had enough. Awoken from solitary sleep in the early hours by noise seeping through the floor to the bedroom, my exasperation with the habit of his absence in favour of the idiot-box got the better of me. I stomped downstairs, eliciting no reaction though he was awake, engrossed. So rapt, he didn’t blink as in a single movement I pulled the TV out from the wall with one hand and cut the power cord to it with the scissors in the other. That got his attention.
Continuing the tradition of family hospitality, when the elder of my younger two sisters started work she moved from living at home in the country to my home on the coast. At the time she was vegan, we were all working & commuting, and so we ate a lot of vege rice. I remember Bo, our dog, considering sadly the usually coveted dinner leftovers in her bowl, and looking at me as if to say, not again.
All of us busy, it was a DIY household. My sister summoned me to deal with the sizeable huntsman spider in her bathroom. Not my bathroom. Not my problem. Deal with it, was my response. To her credit she did, compassionately, with a dustpan and brush.
When my sister decided to end a relationship with a guy she had dedicatedly pursued for quite some time, an afternoon of music and cooking was in order, and so we created Nirvana-Lasagne.
My sister is a good musician and terrible sleeper. I believe there is a correlation. Many early morning hours the dull sound of her electric guitar, unplugged, could be heard emanating riffs from the crack under the door to her room.
During the time of my sister’s residence, the cats – Baddy & Jack, and Bo benefited most from her company, as my then husband and I were both away a lot. The timing was great. The furry ones loved the extra attention, lap and set of opposable thumbs to open food and doors. The cats colonized her bed, even when we were home.
During the course of my second marriage we decided it would be a good idea to get out of the rental market and build a house. To do so we needed to save every cent we earned so we thought to rent somewhere small & cheap for the 3 months construction term advised by the builder. With 2 cats, Baddy & Jack, and dog Bo, finding such a place proved impossible so we took up a generous offer to live with my husband’s daughter, her 2 kids and new partner.
We 4 adults, 2 kids, 2 cats and a minimum of 3 dogs shared an old, compact 3 bedroom brick clad house 3 blocks from the beach. In the main it was a satisfactory arrangement with logistical and financial benefits for everyone. The dogs and the kids thrived, happy because they always had company. The cats were confined to our bedroom as the household was chaotic and I couldn’t risk them bolting.
There was one flaw. My husband’s daughter was a vet nurse, and she brought her work home in the form of numerous & varied rescued animals and birds. I’m fond of the furred and feathered but you simply never knew what you’d encounter where.
When the budgie died, it lay in state legs up in the cage for a day or two, so when I saw it had been removed; I who have a horror of dead things was relieved I could now go out the back past its cage. My relief was short-lived when I opened the freezer door to deposit a packet of peas, and found it in a plastic bag shroud next to the icecream.