wings and things

Chapter 33: The distance between [1978]

Sometimes I admire my younger self and sometimes I despair at her idiocy.

Riding a bicycle from Boyanup to Dardanup, rain or shine, this younger version of me would pedal the 12 kilometres madly in order to get to the farm by 8am to help Gar do breakfast.

Sometimes, Gar would greet me at the back door with a reprimand “You’re late!” but mostly she was grateful that I had arrived to do breakfast for herself, Anthony, and the two farm hands,

There were two tables on which breakfast and lunch were served: one was the dining room table and the other was the kitchen table. Fortunately for me, once I had served everyone, I was invited to dine with Gar and Anthony.

They must have seen me as somehow worthy of this privilege? On one extremely stormy day, my dad decided to drop me off and he met Gar. I will never forget it – they just exchanged a look underneath the orange tree close to the house.

And that look changed everything.


Chapter 32: Moonflower [1977]

Outside the back door of the farm house the pavement had been skewed by the roots of a camphor laurel tree someone had planted before Anthony, Gar and the younger brother bought the farm [1960?]

This was a huge, disruptive and unkillable tree that Anthony got several tree-loppers to cut down and/or poison again and again over years! All of these attempts were futile; this tree was a botanical version of Hercules and I have to admit that I retain a bit of sentimental fondness for this tree.

Adjacent to this dominating tree was another, kinder, species of plant – a cactus that Anthony called the moonflower. At that stage, new to the job of looking after Gar and trying desperately not to blush whenever Anthony winked at me, I couldn’t have cared less about either the tree or the cactus. I was too busy learning how to poach eggs on the marmalade scarred Aga.

But one morning, as I was attempting to make breakfast, Anthony rushed in from milking, grabbed my hand and pulled me out the back door to see the moonflower flowering. We stood, hand in hand, looking at the biggest flowers I had ever seen.

The beauty of that moment has stayed with me for decades, because the flowering was so temporary and yet so exquisite.

When Anthony let go of my hand, I rested it against the camphor laurel, knowing somehow that I was in for the long term.

[Note: I have some of the dates wrong but will fix this in the final edit]


Chapter 31: The death of Gar [3rd April, 1979]

By the end of the year that my father died, despite the fact that I had become ensconced in Gar’s and Anthony’s household, I decided, reluctantly, to leave in order to pursue a career in nursing. I stayed until they found a replacement “Do-for” woman and I went to Perth.

The hardest thing about this particular decision was not leaving the proximity of Anthony who now had the age-appropriate girlfriend; the hardest thing was leaving Gar with whom I had developed a deep attachment which was mutual. I felt terrible guilt which was compounded by my guilt at moving 200 kilometres north of my recently widowed mother.

So, in early 1979, I began my nursing training at St John of God’s Hospital in Subiaco, and also got a job at a nearby nursing home. I lived in a shared house with other students.

It was extremely difficult to concentrate on both my studies and my job as I was in a constant state of anxiety about both my own mother, and Anthony’s mother. I rang them all weekly, sometimes more and, during one phone call, Anthony said Gar was in hospital with pneumonia.

The following day, I went to work but got very light-headed during handover and was sent home. That near-fainting attack eventually subsided and I somehow got the next week off. So I took the train down to Bunbury and every day, for ten days, my mother drove me to the hospital in the morning, on her way to work, and picked me up on her way home in the afternoon.

It was pretty evident, during the ten days I sat with Gar, that on top of the pneumonia, she had also suffered either a stroke or a series of strokes because her ability to vocalize rapidly diminished. To begin with, she was lucid enough to actually ask me to light her cigarette (allowed back then!) But gradually, over the days, she became too ill to express anything but a moaning frustration. I held her hand and sat for hours and hours holding one hand or the other. Her brothers, sisters, and adult children all visited at which times I would withdraw into the waiting room to give them privacy.

I think it was around three days before she died that she managed to get that last sentence out to me and I was lucky enough to catch it. It was a question really: “Will you look after Anthony?”

I said yes.


Chapter 30: Hindsight [2021]

Hindsight is a bit of a folly in the sense that, for me anyway, it just makes the guilt of past mistakes sharper. For example, hypothetically, I shouldn’t have/said/done/written this. Or that. But I did.

Most of us know the experiences that hindsight gives us – regret, new wisdom and, sometimes, a determination to do better in the future. Why else would so many of us say, or at least think, ‘In retrospect, I would/should have done this differently.”

None of us can predict the future any more than we can change the past.

In hindsight, I would have given Anthony that ultimatum years before I did and, by now, we would have several children. But we wouldn’t have Ming.

In hindsight, I would have noticed how ill Anthony was becoming instead of putting it down to ageing.

In hindsight, I would have loved him more than I already did.


Chapter 29: The Parkinson’s disease diagnosis [2009]

Most people associate Parkinson’s disease with the tremors, the shaking hands and the wonderful Michael J, Fox who continues to lead, and fund research into this strange disease.

I began to notice how much difficulty Anthony had in, for instance, opening the jar of vegemite at breakfast. He also started to shuffle rather than walk and he became even more stooped than he already was. It was subtle and insidious and odd.

On my days off from work, Anthony would ask me to drive him to wherever he needed to go and one day, during our drive to a doctor’s appointment about his diabetes, I lost the plot.

Me: Why the hell can’t you drive yourself? Why do I always have to be with you every second of every day of my days off from work?

Anthony: I don’t think I can drive any more, Jules.

Me: Why not?

Anthony: It was that one-way street incident in Perth when you panicked.

Me: Well you made a wrong turn – what was I supposed to do?

Anthony: I’ve lost my confidence.

Me: And that’s my fault?

We had parked at the doctor’s office and I was now crying with frustration and remorse at being so horrible to Anthony, but I was so annoyed! I could see that I had hurt him but he was, as always, nonplussed and, strangely, blank.

Once were in our doctor’s office, and the diabetes solution reached, I let my tears out and described how Anthony now refused to drive and I had just found this out. Anthony quietly conceded that this was true. My car-mad husband could no longer drive.

“It’s possible that you may have a form of Parkinson’s disease,” our doctor said to Anthony.



Chapter 28: Unbreakable [1993-2018]

Sometimes you don’t know how strong you are until you get the wind knocked out of you a few times and you develop a way of bouncing back up. That’s what happened to us – to Anthony and me. One devastating diagnosis after another, year after year, we bounced back up. Well, I wasn’t the one who was ill of course but the emotional impact on me was huge.

The hardships we had endured and Anthony’s deteriorating health seemed to make our relationship even stronger than it already was. The joy we had in each others’ company was quite magnificent and was still there the moment he died. It’s still there now and I can summon it any time I want to – a gift that never loses its shine.

We made each other laugh. A lot. And loudly, until Anthony’s voice became a whisper. My guffaw became enough for both of us. There was much more joy than pain and Anthony’s incredible resilience and uncomplaining acceptance of his illnesses was remarkable to me.

Bouncing back up. Unbreakable. Us.


Chapter 27: Warning signs [1995…]

I married a robust, healthy macho machine but this very quickly changed. Anthony began to succumb to one disease after another. Good friends laughingly suggested that marriage didn’t agree with him. I, too, laughed through my tears of empathy when Anthony was diagnosed with a kidney cancer that entailed two operations because the first one erroneously deemed the tumour benign.

For richer or poorer and in sickness and health: I was prepared, but not prepared enough. In marrying someone 23 years my senior, I knew that one day in the far future he would be old and I would still be relatively young. I didn’t forsee the illnesses and I certainly didn’t forsee Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The deregulation of the dairy industry was a terrible blow but Anthony had already retired by then and we had a contingency plan. I think it was more the way the dissolution of his partnership with the younger brother affected him. It wasn’t just the fact the Anthony was put into a situation where he had to choose between his wife and his brother, it was also how the many years of waiting for his brother to sign the dissolution, that he himself (brother) had orchestrated, began to take its toll on Anthony’s health.

Anthony tried so hard to please his younger brother, financially and emotionally but our marriage was still deemed a kind of scar and still is.

Was Anthony’s Parkinson’s dementia exacerbated by the above? Yes.

It killed him.


Chapter 26: Grapefruit marmalade [1978]

Under the tutelage of Gar, I gradually learned to cook things like underdone scrambled eggs and salmon mornay on Anthony’s brand new Aga. He had bought this beautiful, bright red stove the year before I came into the picture and it was his pride and joy.

Every day, sometimes twice a day, he would polish the Aga which is why, to this day, it still looks new. It ran on kerosene and it was always on, warming the whole house. There was a boiling hot plate and a simmering hot plate, a roasting oven and, underneath, a slow cooking oven.

Anthony had some very strict rules about how to use the Aga which included not frying any food likely to sputter, never heating up milk, never leaving anything to boil unwatched, and definitely always cleaning its surfaces after cooking anything.

At the time the farm had a small orchard with several orange trees and a couple of grapefruit trees. One day, Gar decided to teach me how to make grapefruit marmalade. I wasn’t particularly excited about this idea until she said that Anthony loved it.

So we ventured out to the orchard, Gar with her walking stick, and me with my eagerness, and picked four grapefruit. Once back in the kitchen, Gar instructed me on how to cut up the grapefruit, how much sugar and water to add and I placed all of this in a large saucepan on top of the boiling plate of the Aga.

Anthony didn’t know we were doing this as he was milking the cows. I helped Gar to her bed for her afternoon nap and returned to the kitchen to watch the marmalade. After about half an hour, when the mixture still hadn’t boiled, I decided to go over to the dairy and fetch some milk.

As always, on seeing me with the milk billy, Anthony yelled “Jules!” and, as always, I fought the temptation to swoon. “We have a surprise for you,” I said shyly as he used a scoop to swish milk into the billy.

He grinned.

On returning to the house I was greeted with a strange smell and as soon as I entered the kitchen I realised with horror that the marmalade had boiled over and its syrupy overflow had not just soaked the top surface of the Aga but had bled into the hotplates.

The sense of panic was terrible. At any moment, Gar might wake up and in exactly an hour Anthony would be finished milking. I did my very best to clean up but the burnt sugar smell still permeated the house when Anthony came in.

He was not forgiving as he took the top of the Aga apart to clean the damage. Gar got up and frowned at me. I said the word ‘sorry’ a million times then got on my bicycle to ride home.

It was several weeks before I received another grin from Anthony.


Chapter 25: Engaged! [1992]

Sometimes I have to go back in time in order to remember the sequence of events but, after the Bill escapade, Anthony and I became engaged. I have no idea how other people’s engagement stories pan out but ours was a bit fraught.

We had told my mother and a few friends but we hadn’t yet told Anthony’s younger brother with whom he shared ownership of the farm, the brother with four gorgeous blonde-headed children, and his wife, my confidante.

I didn’t understand why Anthony felt it necessary to take a case of champagne over to J’s house to announce our engagement but my qualms were disguised by our sharing a bottle on the way. Anthony’s nervousness was palpable and it sort of leaked into my joy; I felt very confused.

We hadn’t warned them of our visit and they were just about to have lunch. And there were even some friends there. Our announcement was met with great joy and excitement and, of course, surprise, perhaps even shock but overall it was a relief to have the implicit blessing of this family who I had loved for so long. I noticed, but decided to ignore, that Anthony’s younger brother, J, had gone pale and left the house.

I am not sure if Anthony noticed his brother’s abrupt exit as we were all a bit champagned by then. But the following morning, this younger brother came over to the farm and said to Anthony:

“If you marry her, we are finished.”


Chapter 24: Melbourne [1992]

The man, Bill, who had convinced me to come from Perth to Melbourne with an extraordinary flurry of happily-ever-after promises was waiting eagerly for me at the airport. After so many years of being seemingly un-adored by Anthony, being adored by another man was pretty seductive.

This whole story may have changed route if, on the morning of the day of my flight, roses hadn’t arrived. But it wasn’t just the roses that flummoxed me; it was the rather desperate last phone-call Anthony made to me, within which there was a marriage proposal.

Maybe I should have just reneged on Bill? No, I couldn’t do that; it would have been too cruel! Also, it had been a couple of months since I had once and for all given up on Anthony with zero attempts from him to reconcile. He almost never phoned me so I found his multiple phone-calls to me, over the 24 period before going to Melbourne, bemusing, bewildering and slightly irritating.

So on that midnight flight to Melbourne I wrote everything Anthony had proclaimed to me, during all of those frantic phone-calls, on the back of a large envelope in which I had my writings to show a very interested Bill. I knew that if I didn’t write Anthony’s sentences down pronto I would never believe them.

Anthony begged me not to go to Melbourne and I said, with the tiniest bit of satisfaction, “It’s too late, Ants.”

Melbourne can be cold, even in summer.