wings and things

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.


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.