I spent some time in April, visiting faces and places, tracing my roots, like a celebrity in my very own episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ I highly recommend it. Everybody should get a chance to be the star of their own show.
Revisiting homelands, both organically and of the heart, I discovered the stories, the homes, the resting places, of the ones who came before, the ones I carry inside. Like shimmering dust in the sunbeams of our souls, we keep them alive by saying their names aloud and telling their stories.
I’ve developed a need to find out where I came from. It came as a symptom of menopause, along with those symptoms I nicknamed FAHC, which sounds a lot like another word but is in fact an anagram for Fat, Awake, Hot, Cranky. Along with FAHC, I also got ancestry.com. I didn’t get the full sign-up symptom; I just became research assistant to my Mum who is the genealogy queen. Mum has been my queen since birth so I happily follow her direction, especially after the 1982 curfew incident which resulted in a catastrophic grounding.
During my episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are,’ the opening scene is me dragging Mr Ed onto a plane bound for Newcastle, after waiting very patiently for his last kidney dialysis for the week. That’s the irony of dialysis, it gives life but messes with life. I had previously offered Mr Ed one of my kidneys because I thought if part of me, was inside him, he might suddenly know how to pack the dishwasher.
We spent four days squelching our way through the silent in soggy cemeteries from Raymond Terrace to Beresfield and East Maitland, while Mr Ed patiently listened to me prattle on with childhood memories. One memory exploded out of me when we passed the corner shop that I would walk to in 1976, with a handwritten note from Nanna and money folded inside. It was on one of these errands for my Nan, that I spent ten cents of her change on lollies, which back then, almost filled one of those little white paper bags. I had to scoff them quickly and then destroyed the evidence by throwing the paper bag into someone’s garden. (Clearly, “Do the Right Thing” was not yet a ‘thing.’)
When Nan counted her change, she almost choked on her Iced VoVo. She kicked off her slippers and without stopping to put on lipstick, charged out of the house with me in tow. I had to break into a weird half skip to keep up. I was terrified – she was about to confront Mr Corner Shop, and he would give me up, for sure. So, halfway down her street, I got brave and ‘fessed up. She stopped dead, with my hand still in hers, and stared into my sorry face for a second or two. Then she turned on her toe and headed straight back home without uttering a word. My sticky, guilty fingers stayed in her hand all the way, she never changed her grip. If I close my eyes, I can still see the defeat on her face.
Mr Ed said it was the fifty-sixth time I’d told that story, which confirmed there’s also the ‘shimmering dust’ of my Pa in me as well, because he was famous for telling stories fifty-six times too.
I found twenty-one graves of ancestors, along with some of their stories – my stories. I polished their plaques, spoke to the earth above them, and to the ashes they left. I learned of the eminence of a columbarium and discovered my great grandparents’ ashes encased in vintage timber.
I found who I always knew I was. The descendent of pioneers, champions, and rocks of a community; of publicans, Town Clerks, and convicts, who rolled up their sleeves and never gave up. I share the blood of the generous, the recognised, and the distinguished.
I walked the streets they walked, I stared into the same river water, I touched the same sandstone.
I know that they wondered about the world beyond them, as I do.
Which is why, not long after mine and Mr Ed’s flight from Newcastle touched down, my sister and I ran away. But not in the same way we ran away in 1974 – this time we didn’t pack Cindy dolls or Little Golden books. This time we ran away Thelma-and-Louise-style and just took the essentials: a hair straightener and Berocca. Unlike Thelma and Louise, we had no hitchhikers, nobody got shot, and we didn’t drive off a cliff. We sang until we were heard, laughed until our hearts hummed, and hugged until our worlds healed.
We delivered a bouncing belated birthday wish to our baby sister, and I handed over my family research to Mum, for extra brownie points.
When these days with family were over, I connected with another sister-tribe over cocktails, food, and sand, as the Hammo7 (minus 2) celebrated another 50th. No celebration is ever ordinary with these stunning women and this time, none of us cried or nearly died. We let ourselves be girls which meant we ran squealing through pouring rain, laid around wearing face masks, and made a TikTok video that is now best forgotten (thank you very much).
I could write my own ‘Donna Parker’ novel about my April adventures, and it would be a story of mystery and intrigue, of exciting plane trips, girlfriend parties, and cousin catch-ups. But all fun ground to a halt when Mr Ed tested positive for COVID-19 after a routine PCR test during dialysis. Unlike “Netflix Covid,” which usually results in a positive test and mild fatigue, securing a week on the couch, Mr Ed developed his very own strain. Despite Queensland Health’s insistence Mr Ed had COVID, he had no symptoms, nothing, zero, zip, zilch, nada. We endured a week in isolation, both working from home, while Mr Ed had what we now call “Clayton’s Covid,” the Covid you have when you don’t have Covid.
As I reflect on the month of April, I’ve declared it the Month of Connection. When we connect, a phenomenon occurs – a cross-pollination of love. We offer pieces of ourselves, in a hug, a kidney, or DNA, and then we accept pieces of others, and carry them with us into our day.
I carry with me, a convict determined to right wrongs, a pearl-wearing champion lawn bowler, a publican’s wife who took in those in need – including her widowed sister. A do-right, a winner, a lady, a saviour. I honour them by taking them into my day; they walk alongside me.
Almost a century apart, my world is not too different to theirs. Rainy days still flow to rivers, kindness still heals, laughter still fills the silos of our souls, and family still welcomes with open arms.