wings and things

The party

Last Saturday I invited a wonderful friend, Mike, who has done the painting in this house over many decades, for drinks at the nursing home at 3pm and my lovely friend, Mel, and her daughter, Emily, also joined us.

Of course it wasn’t the sort of party we might have had years ago when Anthony’s mother was alive, where the drinks were over flowing and the nibbles plentiful: champagne, pink gins, cinzano, cocktail sausages, oysters, assorted cheeses, pate, and other savouries. Neither was it the sort of party we had in Anthony’s pre-marriage-to-me bachelor days: lots of beer, roast chicken, steak on the barbecue, and, seasonally, crayfish.

It was a much simpler affair with just the five of us and the unexpected addition of a nephew from Perth, but this small number of people easily fills Anthony’s nursing home room and seems like a crowd. Also, despite the fact that none of us could drink much (or anything at all) due to having to drive home, and my bowl of almonds wasn’t popular, the open bottle of red wine, the wine glasses that I had ready, and a few bottles of warm beer, simulated a real party-of-old. We were all quite lively and attentive to Anthony and, thinking about it now, it wouldn’t have worked with any more people because it would have been too overwhelming for him.

After everyone left and Ants and I were talking about how lovely the occasion had been, I felt I’d hit on a great idea for the future. I could invite a handful of his many friends for the same kind of party every now and then; I might even be able to get a few of his friends and relatives that are a bit nervous of the nursing home to come along. Yes! I need to take the initiative here and do a bit of old-fashioned planning and inviting.

The next day, Mike emailed me this message:

Hey Julie, just a thank you for yesterday at the nursing home with Anthony.
I was happy to see Ants in a great frame of mind he is looking so well as to when I last saw him. I was laughing to myself all the way home with his comments to me when i told him that he waited until he was 55 then got married at 57, and he replied ” you’re an arsehole” he definitely hasn’t lost his sense of humour. I thought he was extremely bright also yesterday.

I’m thinking that the nursing home has done him the world of difference in knowing that he is being looked after so well in his stage of life with old age and all that goes with it.

Sadly yes he would still like to be home with his Julie and Ming on the farm but that is not possible now. We all realize that he is in the best possible care .

Family and friends can still get to visit him there for however long they have time to spend with him so long as it doesn’t tire him out, I noticed yesterday that he does tire out.

I will come see him again soon to stir him up or he to me.

It was good to see you again you are looking bright again since I last saw you on the farm the afternoon you brought Anthony out for afternoon visit.

Today, it was very easy to conjure Anthony’s newfound smile by reminding him of the party. This was our conversation:

Me: Wasn’t it great to see Mike again!
Ants: The food wasn’t good.
Me: Okay, so what do you want next time?
Ants: Hors d’oeuvres, you know, the ones ….
Me: That your mum used to make – yes I get that!
Ants: Is she all right?
Me: Who, Mel?
Ants: No, Mum.
Me: She’s fine, Ants.

Thanks so much, Mike, Mel, Em, and nephew Michael for being part of last Saturdays party!


Letting history go


Inside this suitcase are the last remnants of bits of history that are not mine: war medals, marmalade recipes, long-ago title deeds, documents, shop bills etc. Initially, when Dina, her assistant and I cleared the sheds and the old cottage, this suitcase was only half full but now I have filled it with every single other document/old photo so that all of the historical stuff is now in one place!

For some reason (procrastination + a bit of depression) I have saved this last job of sorting through for tomorrow when Dina is meeting me at the nursing home. There is a family member who has been writing a history of this family so it is wonderful to be able to put papers and photos into ‘the Margaret box’.

Also, the antique guy + heritage people have taken away the historical stuff that they know more about than I will ever know. Hence, I have earned a few thousand dollars for bits and pieces that were interesting to see, but not to keep.

The decluttering of this house and farm, over the last few months, has been an extraordinary experience of joy and pain, with a dash of relief!

Letting history go….


Cold, hot, not sure

I had a leisurely afternoon with Anthony, watching two episodes of Borgen (the Danish political television series), which he enjoys me enjoying. He was cold as usual, so I did what has become a bit of a winter ritual now: rug on knees, foot rub, heat bag on hands, eyebrow grooming (another story!) Oh yes and I put the heater on.

Being cold has become a constant theme in our conversations:

Me: Are you warm enough?
Ants: No!
Me: Do you want a blanket on your knees?
Ants: Good idea. But can you light the fire?
Me: Good idea.

I reach up to turn the air conditioner on and heat gradually fills the room but it’s invisible heat; he wants to see the fire burning – real logs, real sparks, a real fireplace, our living room, his worn armchair. He doesn’t realise that I am missing all of this too. Ming and I haven’t lit a fire in the living room fire-place since Ants moved into the nursing home.

Halfway through a particularly interesting scene in Borgen, Anthony rummages around inside his knee rug and finds a hand which he gives to me as proof that he is freezing. Bloody hell – he IS freezing!

So I take this 2-kilo heat pack, that a lovely friend gave us ages ago, and heat it up in the microwave of the adjacent kitchen and bring it back.

As soon as Anthony sees my irritated face, he begins to smile. I thrust the heat bag into his lap and put his hands underneath it.

Ants: This is too heavy.
Me: Don’t be such a wimp!
Ants: Jules, please.
Me: Argh – okay, here is the heat bag and here are your hands on top of it! Can we get back to the show?
Ants: Could you just put the cold onto the icebox heater?
Me: What?
Ants: There’s a blister on the floor, a cow.
Me: You’re hallucinating, Ants, you know that don’t you?
Ants: Only if you’re here.
Me: I love you.
Ants: (watching the news channel on TV)
Me: I said ‘I love you’ – aren’t you going to say it back?

I am about to leave, but I rush back into his room and frighten the hell out of him by pretending to leap onto his lap the way Ming did when he was little.

Ants: I love you!
Me: Are you warm enough?
Ants: Yes!

I get home and contemplate lighting a fire in the fireplace but, instead, put a jumper on.


‘The doll thing’

In yesterday’s post I rather clumsily referred to “doll therapy” as ‘the doll thing’ so here is a short explanation: it is simply the provision of life-like baby dolls for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Doll therapy, sometimes called “baby doll therapy”, has been used in the care of people with dementia for over 20 years but is still controversial. This morning I did some online research in the hope that I would find some life-like dolls that were less than hundreds of dollars each; alas, they are very expensive. In the dementia house where I work there are two baby dolls that are semi-life-like but, as there are more than two women who love these dolls, we need a few more. Pros and cons: In my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons of this kind of therapy because I have seen how comforting it is for someone to have a doll in her arms that she sees as a very real baby. However, it can be quite confronting for relatives and even new care-givers to see this kind of simulation unfold and the most common complaint is that it is demeaning and undignified. Now that I have formed a very strong opinion on the pro side, I would ask the person who said the other day, “What’s with the doll?” in front of the woman holding her ‘baby’ in the wheelchair I was pushing, to justify this insensitive comment. But now I get it – I get how ‘the doll thing’ upsets people; it is a sight (mother and baby) that hits the core of the beginning of uncertainty. If Doll Therapy comforts your mother, grandmother, friend, then why do you criticise it? And if you do, at least have the decency to dignify your criticism with a more than once-a-month visit to her. The dolls are more reliable.



Attraction is a weird thing because, even though this ‘pull’ is usually to do with the romantic urges of the young, it still has a very powerful influence on the confused emotions of the aged.

Many of the ten women in the dementia house ‘see’ staff and/or other residents as men, possibly because most of us have short hair. So there are often small cries or salutations to ‘Joe’ or ‘Fred’ or ‘Henry’ and we (staff) have to loom close to cover the invisibility of those absent presences. There is no strict rule about how to answer the question of ‘where is Richard?’ but most of us go with the flow and say that he will be back soon.

The doll thing used to give me the horrors because it seemed so totally odd, even patronizing, but I have changed my mind now due to the need many of these beautiful women have – just to hold a baby again.

Attraction: a weird and wonderful experience of opposites, failings, clumsy sentences, beautiful, unusual, extraordinary human beings but mostly a desire to know that interesting person better.


Jigsawing Parkinsonisms

When most people think of Parkinson’s disease, they think of dyskinesia which is the involuntary movements, tremors and tics that are symptomatic of the disease. Anthony’s version (called ‘Parkinsonism’) is not like this. Instead, his disease is characterized by bradykinesia – the chronic slowing down of movement.

Big words to match small, sometimes unnoticeable, symptoms. To begin with, many years ago now, I deliberately tripped over these words and many, many more – like ‘idiopathic’, ‘hypokinesia’, ‘ataxia’, ‘dysphasia’, ‘mirographia’, ‘akinesia’, ‘palilalia’ – just as Anthony was undeliberately tripping, literally, over his own feet. I didn’t want to know what those words meant back then; I didn’t want to know what was coming. The glossary below is for those who are curious:

The first signs were subtle like Anthony’s inability to open the vegemite jar, and his reluctance to drive the car. But then the signs became more dramatic: Anthony’s increasing stoop, strange gait, the drooling, getting stuck in the back yard and being unable to walk back to the house, the hallucinations, me coming home from the local shop to find him face-down in the vegetable patch, Silver chain home assistance, hospitalisations, drug experiments, nightly toiletting shifts with Ming, Anthony’s apologies, his gradual loss of control over his body, his shame and frustration….

All of these things jigsawed into each other crookedly, violently sometimes; we could not get the jigsaw back together again no matter how hard we tried, because already there were too many pieces missing. A simpler jigsaw needed to be built and learning what those many big words meant has helped frame the centre of this new jigsaw, the centre being Anthony himself of course, and his incredible resilience and acceptance.

One of the most wonderful things that has happened lately is that just when I thought Ants had become totally immobile, the staff told me that his nephew, P, visited on the weekend and Ants was able to use his walker to go outside into the sunshine with P. This nephew visits Ants every weekend, but he doesn’t do this out of duty, he does it because he loves Anthony (and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t).

Another wonderful thing is that just when I thought Ants had completely lost his ability to speak coherently, I arrived and rushed to give him a kiss yesterday and he smiled his newfound smile and this was our conversation:

Anthony: You are a wonderful person!
Me: Why?
Anthony: Well, you always find yourself in the most extraordinary places!
Me: What – like here?
Anthony: Yes! You always find me, Jules!

The fact that Anthony’s eloquence, mobility and ability to smile all seem to have come back to some extent, after a long period of struggling with all of these things, is quite strange. I write down all of his extraordinary sentences and am thrilled when he can actually walk; as for the smile, it is almost as if my determination to get that brilliant smile back via any means – including slapstick antics, banter, his favourite comedy series, and just laughing my raucous laugh – has somehow tickled his facial muscles into action again. And, like any exercise of any muscle, the more Anthony smiles, the more able he is to smile. Ming has noticed this and so have the staff and everyone is surprised and delighted.

Does this mean Anthony is getting better? Of course not, but it’s a very interesting turn of events made even more interesting by a conversation I had with a resident whose room is two doors away from Anthony’s. She beckoned me over to where she was sitting in her wheelchair and whispered loudly, “I’ve heard a rumour that Anthony is getting most of the attention these days and is the most popular, but don’t let it bother you because we are all treated well.” Then she guffawed enigmatically and I have yet to decode what she meant.

The other day I told Anthony about Gutsy being killed and he kept reaching out his hand to put it on top of mine.


Over and over and over again – his hand, found underneath the blanket that is always on his knees, and my hand bringing his out into the cold air of a heated room, and his hand finding my hand – a jigsaw of interlaced fingers, a smile, a repeated hand tap.

But, when I was telling Ming about this tonight he said he’d seen Anthony earlier today and Anthony was so confused and blah that he almost didn’t recognise Ming!

Ming: I get it with the smile thing, Mum, but Dad was pretty bad this afternoon.
Me: So should we give up then?
Ming: No!
Me: No?
Ming: I don’t know.
Me: I don’t know either.

The above is not an exact rendition of our conversation but, rather, a compression of many conversations over many months/years. Ming, at 21, is always going to be the vital jigsaw piece that has the elasticity to fit right back in and complete the puzzle, or else wing to and fro.



The loss of Gutsy 9, our pet peahen

The evening before last, Ming found Gutsy 9’s body just in front of his shed. He came over to the house to tell me that he wasn’t quite sure that it was Gutsy but he’d taken the body to the woodpile. He had two friends over to stay, so he said they would leave me alone and they retired to his shed.

Once the boys had gone, I did the crying thing, then I took a torch and went out to the woodpile, but I couldn’t find her, so I came back inside and cried some more. I felt bewildered, because, despite the danger of wild foxes, the peafowl have always ranged free because they can fly up and away. Our dogs, too, had become so used to their presence that they would drink from the same water trough.

I will never know what happened that evening, or how it happened, but at dawn yesterday I went over to the woodpile and there she was – her crooked left foot and her white feathers making it easy to identify her body. I picked her up, but couldn’t find where she had been wounded; her eyes were closed and her neck flopped against mine in a last hug.

As a pied peachick (half white, half blue) G9 was rejected by her mother nearly three years ago, so I raised her, and we all loved her. Just the other day, we had some visitors and I picked her up and put her on my lap and she purred her unique hello.



I feel absolutely devastated, but am now beginning to appreciate G9’s fantastic presence in our lives … in retrospect – my beautiful bird.



Born with a silver spoon ….

Today is my first niece Ashtyn’s birthday and in around five weeks she will give birth to her and Gordon’s first child. So on the weekend there were numerous celebrations – a mother blessing ceremony, a baby shower, and a birthday party.


Ashtyn is gifted with the ability to be the star at every family gathering without even trying. Her birthday invitation read “The Most Important Day of the Year!” And her favourite present (given by her sister) was a selfie stick which was put to much use that day.




At the baby shower, my mother, “Grandma” now to eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, gave Ashtyn two pictures that she had hand-embroidered over the last few weeks, then had framed. She’d told Ashtyn that if the baby were a boy, she would have the angel picture back for another occasion, and if the baby were a girl, she would have the train picture back for the same reason. Ashtyn’s response: “No way! I’m keeping them both.”


I haven’t included the numerous pictures taken of the rest of us because, well, I didn’t want to detract attention from Ashtyn haha!

Anyway, in all the decluttering of this household, I had already found several silver teaspoons and I remembered that Ming had been given one at his christening. So I sorted through the good ones, found a matching spoon and fork, polished them up and then found a suitable box.



I was so excited about this gift for Gordon and Ash’s baby that I did a bit of research into the whole silver-spoon-in-the-mouth tradition and was delighted to find that using silver cutlery is a lot more healthy and hygienic than other materials. Who knew!

Ashtyn is an absolute joy of a person to be around; she is totally, unselfconsciously, gregariously, generously beautiful. I am so proud to be her auntie and can’t wait for all of the mother-and-baby selfies!



Thank you, Jill

In all of the decluttering and re-organising of this household/farm I have made some wonderful friends like Dina (Chaos to Clear), Mike (antique valuer from Australind Timeless Wares and Collectibles), and now Jill and Ray (from Dardanup Heritage Park and Museum). I’ve already provided links to Dina’s service and will do so for the other businesses once I obtain their permission.

I have sold some things to Mike and, this morning, a ute-load of ‘goodies’ from the sheds to Jill and Ray. Jill, whose late husband, Gary, began the heritage enterprise some years ago, now runs the museum with employees like Ray, and a team of volunteers. She is a delightful woman whose enthusiasm for some of the objects was contagious today. Jill likes items that can tell a story and this, to me, is invaluable and I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the stories her museum tells.

Ray, a big, strong, no-nonsense sort of man, single-handedly lifted everything from milk cans to a marble-topped vanity, to an old ice chest, into the back of his ute. Ming and I helped of course but we were distracted by the fascinating information Jill and Ray shared about each of the smaller bits and pieces. And I was able to provide some history of this farm to them too because I knew a bit about Anthony’s family’s predecessor from what Anthony has told me over the years; I also knew various dates.

Anyway, after the ute was full, we had a coffee break and I showed Jill some of the inside-the-house stuff – the hat box full of hats; the roll-top desk; an antique mirror; an old singer sewing machine, the old print we found in one of the sheds etc etc. and bits and pieces of very nice, but chipped, china. Just as we’d done with the shed contents, we agreed on prices for some things and I donated others.

Here are some pics of what will now be at the museum. I am going to be allowed to write something about Anthony’s history which will be displayed in the dairy section of the museum with the milk cans. I raced into town this afternoon to tell Anthony that, if he sold some milk cans to the Dardanup Heritage Park, he would go down in history because I would write something about him.

Anthony: How much money?
Me: Heaps!
Anthony: We need to check with xyz.
Me: Rubbish, Ants – they are your milk cans!
Anthony: Okay….


Okay so I am making some money from this massive cull, but I am also making friends with some really knowledgable people who know the difference between silver-plate and sterling silver (surprisingly difficult to tell sometimes); antique and just plain old; rare and common. I don’t even think Anthony would have known what was in the sheds; after all, he came here at 23 and proceeded to milk cows nonstop for decades.

The most hilarious thing that has happened so far is to do with the old copper washing machine that the heritage people were interested in. I got some advice from someone who said it could be worth $1,000 so I emailed Jill a couple of weeks ago with that quote and she didn’t reply so I got all paranoid-worried and apologised if the price seemed inflated. I subsequently got advice from Mike that it would only be worth $200 max. How embarrassing! But today, we all realised that the stupid copper was cemented to the floor of the wash house so would be impossible to retrieve anyway. Lots of laughs!

Me: Do you want me to get the Dardanup Heritage Park people to come and have a chat with you about the past?
Ants: With Ming too?
Me: Yes.
Ants: Good idea, Jules.

I am not sure how the same heart can splinter but still sing at the same time. This describes my paradoxical experience of the last several weeks since my decision in January to tackle the enormous job of decluttering, selling, finding, giving, keeping, organising over a century’s worth of stuff.

It isn’t over yet; there are still the old photos and documents to get through but it is a beautiful thing to have clear spaces that hold their history inside the dust of imagination.

Thank you for today, Jill – thank you for the hug.


My dad’s birthday

Today would have been my dad’s 94th birthday if he had lived. He died when my brothers and I were teenagers so he never saw any of our children who nevertheless know him as Granddad. My mother was only 43. Dad was only 57 and died in Intensive Care at the local hospital. He had been admitted having suffered two heart attacks and was recovering when he suffered a third fatal one. The shock and grief of that day is something I will never forget especially as I was on the other side of Australia at the time, in Sydney.

The following portrait was done of a photo taken of Dad a couple of years before he died. We all have the photo and the portrait and my youngest brother even has it tattooed on one of his arms.


Herbert Henry Brinsley Lane, who went by the name of Brinsley but was most often called Brin, was a tall, well-built man who had a presence. He was known for his eloquence and his strong silence, was not particularly gregarious, but very compassionate and generous. His love for my mother is the lens through which I remember my childhood.

He had a Charlie Chaplin way of standing which, as a child, I tried to imitate, and a habit of talking to himself when trying to figure anything out. A strict father, he taught us all manner of manners, especially table manners! But he was a gentle giant.

A radio announcer and high school teacher at Sydney Grammar School, Dad made the extraordinary decision in his early 40s to embark on chiropractic studies and thus began our travels – first to Canada (I was 8) where he completed his chiropractic degree, then to Papua New Guinnea (I was 12) to work as a chiropractor on a mission in the highlands, then to Western Australia (I was 15) where he set up a practice. He was a wonderful chiropractor and if patients couldn’t pay, he would accept milk or apples as payment.

Not long before he died, I was on the phone to him about how much I hated the college I was at in Sydney and, despite being a godly man he told me to come home and to tell the college people to “go to buggery!” Those were his last words to me, unforgettable in the way they still make me laugh, and cry, in that I didn’t make it home in time to see him alive for the last time. At the time of the phone-call, there was no indication that he was ill.

In my writing room, I often look up to my right at the portrait of my father and, underneath, a more recent one done of my mother.


Significantly, Dad approved of Anthony when nobody else did, including Anthony! After all, I was eighteen and Ants was 41. After Dad died, I went back to work for Anthony’s mother, Gar, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I often feel the presence of my dad: when I am having lunch with my mother; at family get-togethers; in the nursing home with Anthony; during moments of hysterical laughter with Ming; during those unexpected moments of intense grief; and when I accidentally speak with my mouth full. Sometimes I imagine that Dad is there/here with me/with us, smiling proudly.

Happy birthday, Dad.