wings and things

Chapter 59: The serenade [1978?]

Before I left home (again) to pursue a nursing career in Perth, my mother invited Gar and Anthony for a goodbye dinner. They had already met my dad, the tall distinguished man with a BBC voice who also happened to be a chiropractor, but they didn’t really know my mother.

It had been nearly six months since my dad had died but, because he had given his consent for my relationship with Anthony – a relationship that hadn’t even developed yet – my mother, who had an instinct for romance, was supportive (reluctantly I am sure!) of me singing a song I had written for Anthony that night. Even though I still cringe with embarrassment at this memory, it may well be one of the most courageous things I have ever done. I had been playing the guitar and writing little songs for years but Anthony didn’t know that.

So, after the meal was nearly over, and Gar and my mother were happily chatting over dessert, I beckoned Anthony to my parents’ front veranda where my guitar was already placed. Of course he was a bit mystified but as we sat down and I reached for my guitar, he became almost as nervous as I was.

As my shaking fingers plucked the chords, I sang the following lyrics:

We’ve known each other for awhile, my old friend; we always make each other smile, my old friend. But I can’t go only saying I’ll miss you, when I know now I love you.

I can still hear the tune in my head! Anthony’s nonplussed reaction was “Oh, Jules, you are so sweet!”

We returned into the house, Anthony awkward and me blushing, and Gar immediately said what she often said when I took too long to fetch a billy of milk: “You’ve been having a cuddle, haven’t you.”



Chapter 58: Confusion [from 2001]

Anthony seemed to me to become very confused about the difference between a coffee cup and a jar of vegemite and I began to notice some strange behaviours during this time. He, all of a sudden, it seemed to me, became incredibly inept at almost everything but he kept trying to work like he had always worked; trying to (irrationally) attach hoses to water tanks, trying to get the Aga working, trying constantly to be useful,

The Parkinsonism had a grip on him well before the diagnosis was confirmed but Anthony’s Parkinson’s wasn’t the usual, recognisable type, with the tremors etc. Anthony had the kind of Parkinson’s that slowed every single organ to become inept, stagnant, dysfunctional, so constipation was a major form of torture for him.

As Anthony’s health deteriorated, our confusion about why and what was happening to him increased, I despaired. We had little Mingy by then and this added to our anxiety about why Anthony had succumbed to so many illnesses, and why he couldn’t be a more functional father. Was it something genetic? Was it emotional hurt? Who knows. It was almost a relief when we got the diagnosis.



Chapter 57: The accusations [1992]

One of the ways I quite like to deal with difficult memories, situations, and even people, is to view them through the lens of how interesting and/or how funny they are. The following situation is both of those, as well as being utterly bizarre.

In the months before Anthony and I were married, I would often come down from Perth via the train. Anthony would pick me up from the train station in the evening and whisk me back to the farm for the best roast chicken I have ever tasted. On one of these occasions, just days after we became engaged, he said he had a crazy story to tell me. “You’ll need a drink, Jules.”

Apparently, the previous day, his younger brother had come over and, again, begged Anthony not to marry me.

“Is it still the gold-digger thing?” I sighed, sipping happily on my gin and tonic.

“No, apparently he knows for a fact that you and Dr X conspired to euthanize Mum.”

My sip turned into a choke: “What?”


Oh! I was so gob-smacked that I just sat there in disbelief. “So what did you say?” I asked eventually. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how me sitting with Gar in the hospital for those last few days before she died, all those years ago, had been twisted into a murder mystery.

“I just told him to stop being ridiculous,” Anthony said

I was shocked and disturbed by this extraordinary accusation but I also found it fascinating and, yes, well, almost funny. Anthony read my mind and grinned. “Well, did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Conspire with Dr X to euthanize Mum.”

“I think I might have told you, Ants!”

As we ate our roast chicken, one or another of us kept exploding into fits of nervous laughter but eventually we calmed down. “Mum would be rolling in her grave,” Anthony said.

“It’s all pretty sad though, isn’t it,” I said, remembering how profoundly the experience of holding Gar’s hand when she died had affected me.

And yes, of course these sorts of accusations were very sad but they were also very interesting and, strangely, very funny.

I’m pretty sure Gar, too, would be laughing….


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Chapter 55: Gar’s death [1979]

Several months after my dad died, so did Gar, my future mother-in-law, Anthony’s beloved mother.

By that time, I had begun my nursing training at St John of God’s hospital in Subiaco, Perth, and was also working part-time in a nearby nursing home; I was 200 kms away but I somehow got the week off when Gar died. I had kept in touch with this mother and son because I loved them – simple.

I didn’t have a car so my mother, on her way to work as a teacher, would drop me off at the hospital where Gar was, then pick me up on her way home. I sat and talked to Gar every day, for around a week while her pneumonia turned deadly. When family members visited, I would remove myself from the situation in order to give them privacy. Once the family members left, I would return to hold her hand until my mother picked me up.

On top of her pneumonia, Gar had also suffered a stroke, so she was mostly unable to speak coherently. She was incredibly restless and frustrated so the staff would restrain her in her bed until I arrived. Extraordinarily (in today’s context), I was allowed to provide and light her cigarettes.

Needless to say, it was a difficult week but I listened to her attempts to speak and sometimes pure sentences emerged in amongst her frustrated garble and “Look after Anthony” was one of these and I promised her a yes.


Chapter 54: Mingy! [January 5, 1994]

It was a terribly difficult birth but finally, after about 48 hours of Ming trying to stay put, he emerged, looking a bit like a giant frog. He was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen!

As soon as Anthony saw that this giant frog was his son, he held him in his arms and then abruptly left, pleading exhaustion and cow-milking obligations. It was 2am.

OMG he wasn’t a giant frog at all; he was our little boy! Ming!

And in that moment of recognition, I understood all of the mysteries of the world.

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Chapter 53: First date [1978]

It wasn’t a date per se but it was memorable nevertheless. Anthony had decided to take me out for dinner as a way of saying goodbye before I left for the strange Bible college in Sydney.

I had never been taken out for dinner before so I was very nervous and shy. When Anthony picked me up from my parents’ house, I was a bit nonplussed to see him looking rather dapper in his dressed-to-go-out clothes as I was so accustomed to seeing him in his dairy farmer attire – black football shorts and t-shirt.

I tried, and succeeded, not to swoon as he opened the passenger door of his beautifully polished car (I think it was the Torana A9X but it might have been the Holden GT- another story). We talked all the way to the restaurant in an adjacent town, Bunbury, but I have no recollection of what we talked about because, as well as the age gap, we had absolutely nothing in common.

At the time, Bunbury didn’t have that many restaurants but Eagle Towers had a reputation for their cuisine, so that’s where Anthony took me. The restaurant was a very old house and its conversion to an eating venue had included keeping the rather heavy decor – thick, red carpet and rather dramatic wallpaper in a black and white swirly pattern; it was almost brothel-like but of course I didn’t know what a brothel looked like then, and still don’t.

I remember how delicious the food was but I have no recollection of what we ate. It was probably dhufish which was very popular at the time. Anthony ordered a half bottle of champagne which I thought was terribly exciting. And, to finish off, we had Irish coffee which was also very exciting.

It would be so good if I could remember more details about this wonderful evening and I may, in fact, have misremembered some of the details about the decor, the food, our conversation, because none of those things really mattered. What mattered is/was how Anthony and I consolidated our connection as friends. The romance was just there, tentatively peeking through, but waiting in the wings. I already knew that I loved him with all my heart, but he didn’t. Or maybe he did but wouldn’t acknowledge it because I was so young.

I didn’t want to leave Eagle Towers; I wanted to stay there forever with Anthony but eventually it came time to pay the bill. As I stood beside my handsome best friend, I felt an extraordinary sense of well-being until the waitress gave him the bill and he was $5 short. That kind of discrepancy wouldn’t matter these days but, as the meal only came to $45, it was significant. Anthony was very embarrassed and I didn’t have any cash so we found ourselves in a bit of an awkward situation.

Somehow Anthony resolved things and we laughed all the way home to my parents’ house.

This is one of my favourite memories!


Chapter 52: Part of the furniture [2021]

Two years ago I sold the house and land to the dairy farmers whose farm adjoined ours and bought the little cottage I now live in. They are wonderful people and, like Anthony did, they love dairy farming. Packing up the house and farm was a nightmare of a job but they gave me a couple of months after the sale to do so and finally, on the 1st of January, 2020, I moved into my cottage with the two dogs, Jack and Pip.

The cottage was built as a kit home in 1994 and, despite being so tiny, most of Anthony’s favourite pieces of antique furniture fit snugly in. The grandfather clock, the sideboard in which I found wads of money hidden, a china cabinet, the dining room table and chairs and the old armchairs seem now to have always been here.

Every single day I am filled with an almost effervescent joy at having found this cottage. It sits on a battle-axe block so isn’t visible from the road and it faces a little pocket of forest beyond which is a park. There are beautiful wild birds of every type constantly at my bird feeders at the front and the back yard is big enough for the dogs to play in although I am sure they miss their rabbit hunting days.

One of the very best things about living here is that Ming has bought his own, much bigger, house and it is just around the corner. We found his house online so didn’t realise how close it was to mine until the day we first had a look at it. If I go through the little forest and up a short path via the park I am on his road. On that day, the real estate agent laughed and asked Ming did he really want to live so close to his mother. But he and I are delighted!

Other than the occasional pang of nostalgia, I don’t miss the farm at all. Without Anthony there it had long ceased to feel like home anyway, whereas this little cottage absolutely does. There is something about the way I have placed our beautiful furniture that is reminiscent of the farm house and this gives me such a sense of comfort, and a sense of Anthony’s presence.

I thought it was only me who felt the Anthonyness of my little cottage but one friend, on visiting me here for the first time, walked in, looked around in a kind of disbelief, then said, “Anthony is here!”

Yes he is. Part of the furniture. No wonder I am so happy.


Chapter 51: Integrity [1999?]

The reason I have chosen to reference the unpleasant situation Anthony and I experienced during the first years of our marriage is because of how Anthony handled it. His enormous capacity to forgive, his generosity, and his unwavering desire to keep everyone happy is something I admire even more now with the benefit of hindsight. Forgiveness didn’t come as easily to me because it was extremely difficult to witness the breaking of his heart. Also, I wanted him to fight back but he wouldn’t. When I look back I am both amazed and proud; I had a husband with incredible integrity.

Dissolving a business partnership (especially, it seems, when it comes to farms) is almost like a divorce. Anthony didn’t want to do this at all but his brother insisted. I wonder now why it was even necessary; we could have been one, slightly bigger, happy family, with the addition of me and, later, of Ming.

With the assistance of a single lawyer, Anthony and his brother eventually reached an agreement about the division of land and so on and the dissolution was signed. As I was packing up after selling the farm a couple of years ago, I found the empty bottle of expensive champagne he and I had consumed that evening. On the label I had written “Dissolution day!!!” and the date. I threw it in the rubbish because it no longer had any significance and that is why I am not quite sure of the date.

Anthony never, ever, reciprocated the animosity – not once – but as his health declined in so many dramatic ways, I did wonder if he had internalised his stress and grief at the situation. I was much more feisty and vociferous, but his sad, silent emotional pain had a profound effect on me and I became extremely protective of him.

It is very easy to romanticise the character of a loved one who has died but, in the context of the situation above, I can honestly say that Anthony’s behaviour was faultless. Anthony did forgiveness with the ease in which a child does a cartwheel.



Chapter 50: To no avail [1993-2021]

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 happy. Perhaps the brother’s abrupt exit from the house was due to a sick cow? 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 the next day 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 remained so for many years because I didn’t understand how her encouraging smile to me on that wonderful day had transmogrified into silence.

A few weeks ago I contacted the oldest daughter asking her the why? question. She is a lovely person but our conversation was fraught and we are no longer the teenage friends we were. She gave me some insights into her parents’ point of view that actually fascinated me.

Of course I am not silly enough now to not realise how 56-year-old Anthony was their financial security, but I certainly didn’t realise it back then. 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, and investments. It was almost as if I had to be paid for – like a dowry situation.

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. The loss of this very productive partner was a terrible blow to them financially. Apparently they were also worried that I would somehow come between the brothers and the irony that this happened, despite the fact that I didn’t instigate this, still meant that I was blamed for the ensuing rift. Then there was the fact that they disapproved that Anthony’s romantic relationship with me began before his other girlfriend had skedaddled. So, yes, I can see my in-laws’ point of view, but it was their financial anxiety that was at the forefront of the cold war with us that began the day after we announced our engagement.

I was strangely relieved to hear from their daughter about why I have been so despised for so long, and it made a lot of sense, pragmatically, but no sense whatsoever, emotionally. Anthony was always very reluctant to tell me about his younger brother’s ferocious attempts to regain Anthony’s side of the farm after we were married but eventually my naive, newlywed self launched into lioness mode and I became a mathematician of sorts. Anthony’s younger brother was in significant debt to the farm but Anthony was in the opposite position so he very generously overlooked much of this debt. As a result, what should have been a very simple half-and-half division of assets, became a very complicated dissolution journey that lasted eight years.

When Anthony forgave much of his younger brother’s debt to the farm, and when he forgave this same brother and sister-in-law for the way they had treated me, I wanted to shake him out of his complacency. I wanted him to to tell them how much they had hurt him, but he would never do that. I am not so reticent; from the moment we announced our engagement to this family we loved so much, everything went to hell. Ants and I tried to make peace for years, to no avail.

This brother/sister-in-law are pretty elderly now so I think it is best for me to let them go and I have already learned how to forgive them for the way they mistreated my wonderful husband. Nevertheless, I have once again extended the olive branch via the daughter and their response is silence. I tried, genuinely, for Anthony’s sake, for posterity, to make peace; we could have had such fun together and they could have bonded with Ming; they still could.

I have, like Anthony would have, offered to let bygones by bygones, to let all of the horribleness sleep, to make peace …

To no avail.


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.