Thursday, February 27, 2014

The letter no wife wants to get

I have been sorting through my Mum's desk; a hotchpotch of letters, ancient receipts, brochures, information about the suburb I live in and much more.

Mum's letters have been scattered in boxes in her bedroom and pigeonholes in the desk. Some are letters from her sister, and parents when they were on holiday. Some are carbon copies of letters she has sent others. And there are, most interestingly and importantly, letters from my father. I have yet to put all these letters in some kind of chronological order, but have read most of them over the last couple of months.

Dad was an airline pilot and was sent to Geelong to train on the Boeing 707 in 1964, ostensibly for six months. He returned on leave to Sydney a couple of times at first, and his letters to Mum were initially full of love for her and for his little infant daughter, me. They also spoke of what he was learning. Then there was the letter a few months in saying he would stay in Geelong on his next leave and catch up on his study and try to get more flying hours in. The letters got shorter. I can't find any carbon copies of Mum's in reply to Dad's letters but they could turn up.

Then two days ago I found this one, in Mum's desk:


Dear J---,

Well I did check yesterday and it was terrible although they passed me except for the night part of it. I am getting another go tomorrow at it. My flying seems to be going from bad to worse and so does everything else. I guess you can tell by the last few weeks that I am not interested in coming home again so I think it would be better for all concerned if I did not and we keep on going as we have been over the last six weeks. I will be up in Sydney as soon as I get through here & will give you a ring and talk about it, you decide what you want to do about the house etc as it is yours to make the decision also about "Carinthia". I am missing her very much and still think you are a wonderful person but cannot go on deceiving you and myself about our relationship it just worrys me all the time I am home so that it will be better this way. I guess you have been expecting this the way you were speaking before so do not be too upset. I think it is the best for both of us so please be sensible. Will ring you when I get to Sydney and still
lots of love
L-- xxx

I vaguely remember this time. I was two and a half. I remember waiting at the living room window with Mum, watching for Dad's car to come down the hill and into the drive on his return from Melbourne, but it never did. Mum cried a lot. I did too. I was told that Daddy wasn't coming home again. I was used to him being away for days at a time in the job he had, and always waited at the window on the days he was due home.

Mum reckoned she and Dad never argued. I don't know what went on in regard to 'the way you were speaking before' but I suspect Mum challenged Dad about him having an affair with what was then called an air hostess (hostie) - the woman he divorced Mum to marry. I think she suspected the hostie was also staying in Geelong and I suspect she was right. Neither of my parents is around now to ask, and Mum was pretty frank with me when I grew to adulthood about Dad and the hostie and my parents' marriage breakup.

Frankly, I think this letter is a copout. It's like being dumped by text or, in the 90s, email. My parents were married for 14 years before Dad wrote this letter. Mum was furious for years about it and called him a gutless wonder, because he didn't say what he needed to say face to face.

The copy of the letter is a photocopy with no original available. I suspect the original got used in the divorce courts when Mum was fighting for the house. Dad's letter clearly states 'you decide what you want to do about the house etc as it is your to make the decision'. Mum made damned sure it was hers!

I can't imagine my Mum's utter sadness when this letter arrived in the post. It would have wrenched her heart out and thrown it on the ground to sizzle and die in the Sydney summer sun. My poor lovely Mum, getting a missive like this. I think she thought Dad had had a mental breakdown of some sort and that he'd realise his mistake and come home then as the months went on in 1965 realised he was serious.

So now I have a cataloguing job ahead of me, putting this whole story together chapter by chapter, letter by letter, date by date. I can't bear to throw them out; this is my family history.

Many couples go through divorce, but in the 60s it was less common and a long, drawn out process which took a good five years to complete. There was a social stigma attached too, even in those modern times. My Mum wasn't alone in divorcing her husband, but her story is important to me and deserves preserving, even if I am the only one who reads these letters and feels my own heart wrench in sympathy.

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