wings and things

Chapter 50: The missing jigsaw piece [2021]

In a previous chapter I mentioned how announcing our engagement to Anthony’s younger brother’s family was met with genuine joy. There were lots of hugs and kisses and congratulations and the champagne we had brought with us was consumed happily by the small throng that happened to be there anyway, most of the little blondies now adults. I remember catching a glance from my future sister-in-law and she seemed genuinely happy. Perhaps the brother’s abrupt exit from the house was due to a sick cow, or a hay problem? Anthony and I returned to the farm (just across the road) with one of their many nephews in tow and continued to drink champagne and Anthony’s relief was potent. I didn’t understand his relief any more than I understood his anxiety in the first place; I was so naive!

It was such a happy day and perhaps Anthony’s consumption of champagne helped him to steel himself for what would come next and (at this point) he hadn’t confided in me enough for me to understand anyway. When the brother came over to tell Anthony that our marriage would be the end of their partnership and I came back from grocery shopping to find my macho machine crying I got a terrible shock.

The beautiful blonde wife, my big-sister figure for so many years, ghosted me from the day after our engagement announcement. I was absolutely mystified and have been ever since her encouraging smile to me on that wonderful day transmogrified into silence the very next day.

A few days ago I contacted the oldest daughter asking her the why? question. She is a lovely person but our conversation has been fraught and we are no longer teenagers. She gave me some insights into her parents’ point of view that actually fascinate me.

Of course I am not stupid enough to not realise how 56-year-old Anthony was their financial security; Anthony had helped to finance their children’s private school educations and, even after we were married, he helped to finance his brother’s house renovations, investments. It was almost as if I had to be paid for – like a dowry.

But let’s look at it from their point of view: Anthony’s bachelorhood and workaholic tendencies ensured that they could live comfortably, even extravagantly. So the loss of this very productive work-horse, so to speak, was a terrible blow.

I was relieved to hear from their daughter about why I have been so despised for so long, even after Anthony’s death. I would be willing to reconcile (Ants and I tried for years!) but this brother/sister-in-law are pretty elderly now so I think it is best for me to let them go. I feel genuinely sorry for them. We could have had such fun together and they could have bonded with Ming!

The missing jigsaw piece is still missing.

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Chapter 49: The wink [1978]

I miss Anthony so much so that sometimes I forget to breathe.

Our love story was breathtaking because it was so unlikely; it wasn’t just the 23-year age difference, it was also an enormous cultural shift for me, fresh off the mission fields of PNG, plonked into the local grammar school, unhappy with my freckles….

When Anthony first winked at me, over the meat-pies at his and Gar’s dining room table, I thought I had imagined it but, when he winked again, I knew the wink was real. At the time, I didn’t know what that wink meant and I am pretty sure Anthony didn’t either. It was a tiny little breath of time, light and easy for him I guess, but rock solid for me.

My wonderful winking, laughing husband: I would give endless breaths to have one more wink.


Chapter 48: “It’s about time!” [1992]

56-year-old bachelors rarely get married, especially if they are dairy farmers in tiny towns like ours. The news of my engagement to Anthony entered the usual gossip mill which, as the ‘gossipees’, both alarmed and delighted us in equal amounts. I am very glad that twitter wasn’t around back then.

Anthony’s vast family of siblings, nieces and nephews, and Auntie Dorothy, mostly responded with “It’s about time!” sentiments and so did his friends. My smaller family of a mother and two brothers also, perhaps a little more reticently, protectively, joined the small throng of “It’s about time!” well wishers and my friends were probably relieved to know they would never again have to hear my woebegone unrequited love stories about Anthony.

My best friend was (still is) the Anglican priest, Tony, who married us so it was only natural to meet with him beforehand. It wasn’t the greatest of meetings, however, because Anthony was gruff and silent and in a hurry to get back to the farm because he was milking the next morning. After Anthony left, Tony and I went to a pub to discuss what the hell had just happened and, even though Tony was probably part of the “It’s about time!” brigade, he was nonplussed by Anthony’s odd behaviour.

“Cold feet?” I ventured

I got home to my lovely little bedsit in Subiaco where our engagement had become a certainty and I put my music up to high volume in order to drown out the sound of the telephone ringing and ringing and ringing.

The next morning, my phone once again began to ring and ring and ring until finally, knowing it would be Anthony apologising and declaring love, I answered it.

“Hello,” I said, pretending to be as calm as a cucumber.

“It’s about time!” he said.


Chapter 47: Time travelling

I have begun this book so many times over the years since I started blogging and, now that I have found the printout of those early years of the beginning of Anthony’s demise and death, I am in awe of the way he conducted himself in the face of so many adversities.

Writing about the past by looking at how I wrote about it at the time is not only problematic in terms of tense (present, past etc,); it is also a way of forgiving, letting go, and embracing the legacy of this beautiful man.

As a writer, I have created my own maze; I have written too much; I have some of the dates wrong; 1978 is too long ago; I haven’t mentioned the good people enough; I haven’t un-mattered the others.

Anthony’s loud laugh was, is, my best way of honoring him on a daily basis. He is gone and I am here.

Every time I laugh is a bravo to him, to us. Time will tell.


Chapter 46: The spider [1979]

One afternoon while Gar was having a nap and I was attempting to make one of Anthony’s favourite meals – salmon mornay – a massive, hairy black spider suddenly caught the corner of my eye. It was on the kitchen ceiling and seemed to be looking at me quizzically. I stopped stirring the unthickening white sauce, took the pan off the Aga and backed away to the pantry where the fly spray was kept.

It took a lot of fly spray to kill it but eventually it dropped to the floor and curled up in the corner. I was pretty sure it was dead but I didn’t want to touch it, or squish it so I just left it there for Anthony to deal with when he came in from milking the cows.

Like clockwork at 5pm Anthony came in and immediately grabbed a spoon to taste the mornay, proclaiming it nearly as good as his mother’s. I pointed to the spider’s corpse and rather proudly told him about my little adventure but instead of congratulating me he looked aghast.

“That’s Edith,” he said solemnly, “You’ve killed Edith! Edith’s a pet! Didn’t Mum tell you? Oh, Jules!”

“What?” I said, blushing crimson. “What? Oh I’m so sorry. No, nobody told me!”

“She only comes out once in awhile, completely harmless I can’t believe this. You’ll have to tell Mum,” he said, “I can’t.”

I fetched him a beer and shakily gave it to him as he sat down at the kitchen table. He looked devastated and I remembered how much of an animal lover he was and how we had had philosophical arguments about why, if there were a God, humans were privileged over animals. He could never shoot a sick calf and had even raised a steer from birth after its mother died, which he had named ‘Reject’. I felt sick.

“Anthony I am so sorry,” I said over and over again, nearly in tears.

There was a long pause as Anthony looked over at the spider, his face expressionless. I waited nervously for whatever was going to happen next. Then, abruptly, he exploded into loud laughter. Tears of shocked relief filled my eyes.

Immediately Anthony jumped up, remorseful. I thought he was about to say, “You should have seen your face, Jules.” But he didn’t.

Instead, he gave me a gigantic hug through another burst of laughter.


Chapter 45: Auntie Dorothy

For the many years before and after Anthony and I got married, the most wonderfully unusual, dignified and fun person used to come and stay at the farm. Often!

Auntie Dorothy was Gar’s brother’s wife but, as both of Gar’s brothers had died before I met the family, it took me awhile to understand her place in the family. She had been married to Robin Menzies Fergusson Stewart and this is where Anthony got the idea of naming our Ming Menzies.

She and I would smoke cigarettes and drink brandy out on the back veranda and laugh our heads off at Anthony’s low-ride shorts. We would have naughty, gossipy conversations.

For at least a decade Auntie Dorothy was my ally, my confidante, my mentor. Before our marriage, she would always warn me if the other woman were around; she would let me gabble out my heartbreak to her; but she didn’t easily tolerate my tears.

But Auntie Dorothy also always believed that Anthony and I were kind of fated to be together and she was one of the first to congratulate us on our engagement as she had been privately coaching Anthony on tips about how not to lose the girl of your dreams. Apart from my mother, she was the most delighted!

One of the things that Auntie Dorothy helped me with most was the terrible hurl of backlash just before and just after Ants and I were married. She tried to be a conduit between the two brothers who she loved so much and I will never forget her for that attempt.

Auntie Dorothy sat with my mother at our small wedding table, at our small wedding – just siblings and special people. Her infectious, encouraging, cheeky smile gave me the courage to carry on, to be pragmatic, to last the distance.

The farm was on Paradise Road. Auntie Dorothy and I used to walk together up and down this road until one day she said she would prefer to walk alone as she had become so slow. I miss her in so many way but that walk is what is miss most.

Auntie Dorothy.


Chapter 44: Joy

I am not very good at maths but I think it is 44 years since I first met Anthony and this is Chapter 44 of the book I have been trying to write versions of for years – a bittersweet coincidence.

There was so much pain in our relationship, from the very beginning until Anthony’s death: our 23-year age difference; my parents’ alarm; his younger brother’s extraordinary unhappiness for us; Anthony’s many diseases; etcetera.

But underlying all of these challenges, which are common to so many of us, was, for me, a rare joy, an exuberant love, and a fantastic sense of hope. Yes, Anthony died, okay, and that is a fact.

I still have the absolute joy of knowing him, loving him, laughing with him, delighting in our little Ming, dancing in the living room, polishing the furniture with old-fashioned wax, holding his hand before he died.

44 years of incredible memories.



Chapter 43: The nursing home decision [January 30, 2012]

Today I found the post I blogged on this dreadful day. It was a relief to find the date and even a relief to find my anguished words from that decisive day. The decision to alter Anthony’s two weeks of respite care in the nursing home to permanent care was made mutually by Anthony, Ming and me because we were told the room/his room wouldn’t be available unless we took the offer immediately.

I tried to copy/paste my words from that day but it didn’t work which is probably good because it is a very painful memory.

Anthony’s incredible bravery that day never fails to astound me. At that time, his Parkinsonism was advanced but the dementia that went with it was still at bay. He didn’t know how confused he was and he never found out because I made sure of that; I didn’t want to embarrass him, ever.

We had embarked on a new story – the nearly six years in the nursing home, our broken hearts regrouping into a clumsy contingency plan.

It would be okay. We had each other: the three of us – Ants, Ming, me.


Chapter 42: The six oysters [1977]

This was probably the most exciting day of my life and, now that I have remembered it, it remains so in retrospect.

Anthony and I went to Perth to get Jodie (miniature dachshund) mated so Gar was going to be looked after that day by the younger brother and his wife.

It was a terribly hot day, around 40 degrees C, so I was appropriately dressed in a sleeveless pink shirt and a blue midi skirt plus sandals instead of thongs. Gar tried to convince me to wear her stockings but Anthony and I took off before that argument ensued.

We drove up to Perth in the Datsun 120Y Anthony had taught me to drive in – no air-conditioning, windows open, sweating, free….

Once we had dropped Jodie off, Anthony said we were going to Kings Park restaurant and we did. He wanted me to try oysters for the first time and I did. I am not sure if I really liked swallowing the slime of each of those six oysters whole, or if I just pretended to.

I wanted to make Anthony happy, and I did.


Chapter 41: I can’t wait to get there [2011 – 2017]

There is a big difference between visiting a loved one in a nursing home out of a sense of duty and visiting for fun – yes fun! I know what this difference is because, with Anthony, I experienced the former to begin with but, after about a year, the latter kicked in big-time.

The dreaded visit to see my beautiful, lonely, homesick, confused husband was gradually transformed into an ‘I can’t wait to get there’ feeling. This was partly due to my decision not to take him out for drives, or to home, or for lunch because the disorientation and heartbreak of wrenching him back from home to the nursing home (for instance) was ghastly for both of us.

Sunday was definitely the best day of the week because the management staff weren’t there so the atmosphere was completely different, more relaxed. It was also the best day of the week because my mother came straight after church. But the absolute best best thing about Sundays was when Anthony’s nephew, Peter, visited.

Peter lived quite close-by to the nursing home so he was able to easily drop in on weekends. Sometimes I would miss him and my mother would tell me and I would be so disappointed because it was always so much fun when Peter was there. Apart from my mother and Ming, Peter was Anthony’s most regular visitor and what I loved most of all about these visits was that there was no sense of duty in Peter’s demeanor; he just wanted to see Anthony, his uncle.

One of the most ironic things about this was that Peter’s mother, Anthony’s older sister, had also been in a nursing home with dementia. Anthony was always nervous and reluctant to visit her; perhaps he didn’t want to see what might happen to him? If I had know then what I know now I would have forced him to visit her, but I didn’t and I regret that. Peter’s mother, and his father too, were the first to make me feel comfortable within the family from the very beginning and ongoing. My memories of them include Cinzano, daffodils, picking oranges, and chicken and mushroom spaghetti.

Whenever I knew Peter might visit, I would get that ‘I can’t wait to get there’ impetus because the dynamics of his presence in the nursing home room with Ants, my mother and me was absolutely fabulous. I will always be grateful for those many hours of light-hearted joy over those years.

Thank you, Peter.