Thursday, December 6, 2012

And that was the me that was

I've been spending a fair bit of time at Mum's house lately - doing maintenance work and readying it for her return from hospital. She's home now, with a four-wheeled walker to give her some stability and confidence. Luckily her house has wide enough halls and doorways so getting around with the wheelie is pretty easy for her.

I'm back at my home now and feeling guilty at leaving her, although I'll be at hers again tomorrow for the night and will probably spend a night or two there each week over the coming weeks to assess how she's going and when - and it will be when rather than if - G and I have to move in permanently with her.

Hmmph, three paras in and I've already digressed. Back to Mum's house itself. And my old childhood stuff secreted therein.

Like Mum, I'm loathe to throw old memories away and I came across a stash of my old diaries in my first bedroom, high up in a cupboard near the ceiling. These were from my very horsy years: my teen years and early twenties.

The school-aged ones were covered in stickers and drawings, photos from old Hollywood photocopied from books, quotes, jokes, drawings copied from cool 1970s calendars. Meticulously I would decorate them during the summer holidays for the year to come, so there was bugger-all space to write in useful reminders about when assignments were due and boring old school stuff. They were works of art and I giggled as I flicked through them. What a little tragic I was! Anniversaries of when racehorses had been born or had died, with special attention paid to those put down on the racecourse. Jockeys' birthdays (namely those on whom I had a crush). The 'addresses' section was full of racecourses and - what a stalker! - jockeys' addresses (see that bit about crushes again). The only part of the diary that was regularly written in was when I went to the races, or went riding.

There's a sad entry on 30 September 1978 - simply "Nan died". My favourite person in the world, my grandmother, died unexpectedly in her sleep from an aneurism of the aorta, and my world fell apart. The diary was not completed often for the rest of that year until the last day of school when I'd scribbled "I'm FREE!!!" in big letters across the page. I remember bounding out of the school gates for the last time, undoing the top three buttons of my blouse (totally against the rules) and knowing I would never, ever, get a detention for it.

Even at 17 when I'd finished school and was at business college, and had my own horse, I'd kept doing the teen sticker thing. I'd written in when I'd bought horse feed, tack, had the farrier around and how much it all cost. I'd scrawled in when I had driving lessons. I used 'bloody' a lot (and still do). I made comments about the other horses sharing the paddock with mine, and their teenage owners. Ominously there are selfish comments about my grandfather who was then living with us. He was unable to live alone after Nan died; he had a blockage in a vein near his brain, which made him act like an Alzheimer's patient from time to time. He'd swear blind some days that you put your underpants on over your head. He'd leave the stove on and forget about it, letting saucepans boil dry and blacken. He'd put his gloves in the freezer. He'd eat food he shouldn't (he was diabetic). In short, he couldn't be left alone.

All teens are selfish. I cringe when I remember how I was back then. I was grieving for Nan, but how must Pop have felt, after living with that lovely lady for 55 years? Then having to leave his home - which we left intact and took him to visit - and his routine for our house and ours.  But I was bitter. Pop had changed as the blockage affected him more and more. He wasn't the lovely man I'd studied the form guide with every Saturday and went with to place bets at the local TAB. His vocabulary had dwindled; he didn't have much to say anymore except repeating, "What do you know?" every time he saw me. Gone were the tales from his past which used to enthrall me, stories from when he was a baker or a kid in the country. Now it was just "What do you know?". Over and bloody over, as I'd noted.

I grew to dread that "What do you know?". I hate people repeating themselves at the best of times and I think this is why!

I also grew to hate mealtimes as Pop was a ravenous eater and would hoover up the food on his plate and then stare at my plate or Mum's, unblinking, like a cat. We were slower eaters, although I soon learned to hoover too so I didn't have his eyes fixed on the food left on my plate. On days where I really couldn't stand it I'd take my plate into another room. (I recall standing in the laundry once, bitterly eating from my plate which was perched on the washing machine.) He wouldn't talk; just stare. I can't stand people staring at my food while I'm trying to eat it, either.

I grew to hate being in the same room as him. I couldn't talk on the phone to any friends I might have as Pop would come into the kitchen and listen; it was entertainment for him I guess. Purgatory for me.

In short I was a selfish teenager who could only see my tantrum-filled side of the story, and called him The Old Bastard in my diaries for 1979, 1980 and 1981. I was a little shit. I hated Pop at the time for tying Mum and I both down. Oh universe, oh Pop, I do apologise. I've felt bad over the years about being such a little bitch to you at that time, Pop. I put Mum under pressure too, complaining about Pop; Herbert only knows she was under enough pressure of her own, and having to play nursemaid to an ageing and sometimes non-comprehending parent aged her ten years I think in the three he lived with us before he died.

Staccato scribbles tell me that Pop went to stay with my aunt in the country a few times; he'd be away a month or two and come back with his diabetes in a total mess, which gave Mum and the doctor extra work to get him back on track. It gave Mum and I a break while he was away - we even had a road trip ourselves to Queensland and back in 1981 where I stalked a jockey I fancied. (We drove to his house and looked at it and drove away again.) A paragraph, cramped into the little space allocated for that day, states that jockey-boy GK and I talked over the fence at the races. We were supposed to go for a drink after the last but he disappeared. That didn't stop my lurve for him; my initials and his were childishly encased in love-hearts all through the diary (and preceding ones and even anteceding ones). I had his phone number; I rang him a few times and noted whether the call was a good chatty one or whether he simply wasn't interested in talking. Poor bloke, he mustn't have known what to do; a teenage girl very clearly wet behind the ears and still on V-plates chasing after him. Most guys would have taken advantage I guess even if they didn't find me attractive. GK, I discovered later, preferred blondes who were good time girls; I thought he was being a gentleman but frankly I wasn't his type.

So that was my late teens: a girlish crush on a jockey, and a grandfather whose marbles hadn't been handed in at the Police station. I was a child still in many ways; a kidult, vastly immature compared to my peers. I'd been brought up in a strict household and frankly didn't know how to rebel aside from stomping around the house with the shits. I didn't have a proper boyfriend but a fantasy relationship with a jockey whom I plucked up the courage to phone a few times. In fact my life was a fantasy existence to get away from my sulky teenage reality of a life revolving around keeping my grandfather out of trouble.

My grandfather died in 1981, and a simple "Pop died" is on the day, 4 October. I have noted that it's also the anniversary of Phar Lap's birth, as if the grand horse and the man who loved horseracing were somehow intertwined. On the day of the funeral I report my mother and her sister having a row at our place afterwards, and that I drove down to feed my horse Mikki illegally on my own. I was still on L-plates but there was nobody to drive with me.

It's struck me, reading these diaries, that I'm the age now that Mum was when Pop came to live with us. I hope, when we have to move back with her, I'm a nicer person now than I was then. I hope I can bite my tongue when she annoys me, because she is sure to; I still feel like a child when I stay at her house, and my inner rebel wants to scream. I hope I can have patience, and tolerance, and love. Mum's not like Pop; her marbles are thoroughly intact and she has a mind like a steel trap, but the generation gap is pretty much a chasm. When the time comes, I don't want to be a me I regret later.

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