Friday, February 22, 2008
2004 was the Year of Funerals. First my poppy died. He was 96, Highland Scots though in the 80 odd years he lived in Australia he went back just once . He had exactly 2 words for Scotland ~ cold & wet. He much prefered sunny Queensland.
Then on my birthday my aunt Shirley died. We were tarred with the same brush, cut from the same piece of cloth, kindred spirits. The night before she died she was propped up in bed having a tea party with all the long dead relations & having a ball. Exactly a month later her youngest brother, my father, also died.
The only grief that has been easy to bear is the grief of losing my aunt. I couldn't go to her funeral or say goodbye but in the days following her death I dreamt vividly of her last old house, the one I remember with the Jacaranda tree flowering over the back verandah steps, the rose bushes potted about the lawn, the wisteria poking through the bedroom walls & the garlands of yellow alamanda festooning the verandah rails. I remember the smell of turps & thinners, of sweet talc, & old roses, of dust & polish & the rich pungent aroma of her lush garden. More particularly I remember the bathtub ~ removed while the girls were at school & buried in the yard for a goldfish pond by the time they got home; the fridge she painted in mauve & black stripes; the outdoor shower with it's resident carpet snake draped over the rafters & scores of green tree frogs, which was why the snake was there.
I first learnt about art from my aunt. She painted quickly in oils using a palatte knife & she liked the rich warm shades ~ the oranges, & bronzes, the yellows, golds & ruby reds ~ & she painted landscapes: eculypt trees weeping strings of bark, dark pools hidden in shady nooks of bushland, the mountains behind Canungra. I use a brush , or a bit of old rag, & I do not like the warmer colours. I like blues & greens & shades of grey. Yet in the days following Shirley's death I mixed warm shades on my palette & painted the old fashioned Peace Rose she so loved, & found in the curled centre a face I can't possibly remember of when my aunt was young. I've looked at pictures since & can't believe how close I came. I could almost feel her painting with me & it was a running joke because neither of us can paint people. Shirley would put occassional figures on her paths & a week later they'd be gone & if you were so foolish as to ask you would be told they were taking a toilet break in the bush! She, who was a great gardener, would find it highly fitting that she reside in a rose bud.
I remember visiting with my cousins, all much older. We would get up early & drink mik coffee on the verandah from blue & white willow pattern mugs then go in & eat oatmeal with brown sugar & cream from blue & white willow pattern bowls. My aunt's blue & white china. It's what I chose for our everyday plates. Not expensive. Not even particularly attractive though I like blue & white, but every time I use our plates I think of Shirley.
In a very particular way Shirley lives in our house. Ditz strokes the piano keys instead of thumping them, but there is still the music, the jungly garden where she would feel right at home & the smell of turps & thinners like a mist, taking me back a long long way & I do not grieve for Shirley. Too much of her is here in me & with me. I have the painting to prove it.