wings and things

Imagined conversation 43

Me: I think my favourite camellia is dead, dead, dead! I’m devastated! I keep hoping it will come back to life but, even with all this rain, there are no flowers flowering!

Anthony: Yes and I hate to break this to you, Jules, but it is definitely dead.

Me: Are you sure?

Anthony: You really don’t have a clue about gardening do you. Now that I have a more objective view of things, I can see this quite clearly.

Me: But all of the other camellia trees are fine! It’s just that special one – my camellia, the one I bought from that lady, Bonnie, from The Vision Splendid Gardens in 1998 at an exorbitant price because it had to be dug out of the ground.

Anthony: The thing is, Jules, plants need water, especially in the summer, especially in Australia.

Me: Yes, I know that, Ants. I’m not a moron! Anyway, it’s winter now.

Anthony: Preceded by summer?

Me: Well, duhh.

Anthony: What you do is you get the hose, position it against the trunk of the tree, turn the tap on and hey presto. On very hot days, leave the hose on for longer.

Me: Patronising bastard.

Anthony: It’s not rocket science.

Me: What? Since when do you use expressions like that?

Anthony: Somebody I knew used to say that a lot.

Me: Yeah, but I don’t water anything anymore because when I turn the tap on, the pump pumps and it uses electricity and I’m trying to be conservative which, by the way, was something you, yourself, encouraged.

Anthony: There are always exceptions, Jules. I watered your camellia religiously every summer, while you were at work, before I went into the nursing home.

Me: So how come it survived without you watering it for six years.

Anthony: Ming did it.

Me: Oh! Actually, you’re right – I remember him doing it. It was during one of his following-in-your-footsteps phases.

Anthony: Don’t be sad about it, Jules.

Me: But I am, Ants. I loved that camellia so much – its incredible, ballerina-like flower, the story about how we convinced Bonnie to sell it to us and the way her workmen secretly gave us three trees because they thought Bonnie had ripped me off.

Anthony: It’s not dead, Jules.

Me: And I used to bring you the best of its flowers when you were in the nursing home and, after you died, I took them to your grave.

Anthony: Are you listening?

Me: Yes?

Anthony: I nicked it.

Me: What?

Anthony: The camellia died so Bonnie and I figured out how to get it here without you noticing, then we planted it, and now it’s flourishing.

Me: What?

Anthony: Your camellia is here, Jules.

Me: What?

Anthony: Stop saying “what?”

Me: I beg your pardon?

Anthony: That’s better.

Me: If you were here, I would punch you gently on the nose but oh, Ants, I am so relieved that it’s okay – the tree, I mean. Thank you so much. I am going to miss it but it’s good to know it’s in good hands. I’m sorry I don’t have green thumbs like you.

Anthony: My thumbs are now a heavenly shade of emerald and….

Me: Okay, I get the picture.

Anthony: Good.




There’s ‘a Julie’ in the mirror.

There is something beautiful about the fact that sometimes Anthony will see the same camellias I picked for him days ago as today’s – new and fresh.


The other day, as I was leaving Ants to come home, he spotted my reflection in his wardrobe mirror. (His armchair is in one corner of the room and, if he turns his head to the right, he can see himself in this mirror).

Anthony: There’s a Julie over there.

Me: (turning to face myself in this mirror) Yes, that’s me … actually that’s US in the mirror.

Anthony: Oh, of course.

Me: You idiot!
(Don’t be alarmed; Anthony quite likes a bit of gentle verbal abuse now and then).

Apart from the visual hallucinations (often of cats which is weird because Anthony doesn’t like cats), there is also a certain amount of visual confusion lately. Ants’ view to the left is through a window overlooking a lawned area where he often sees cattle; the newsreaders and/or characters on television are sometimes mistaken for real people to whom Anthony will often respond verbally; his walker can become a lawnmower; the staff going up and down the hallway are ‘kids’ or ‘teachers’ or long-deceased relatives; and the blanket on his knees (lately a source of enormous confusion as the day progresses) is unrecognisable to him as a blanket until ….

Me: Will you stop pushing the blanket off! I thought you were cold, Ants!

Anthony: It’s just … I don’t know what this is, Jules.

Me: It’s a blanket, to keep you warm, so I’m going to put it back on your lap and put your hands under it and, if you move, I will bop you!

Anthony: You’re beautiful when you’re angry.

Me: Argh!

This particular blanket has a tartan pattern and a fringe, and is one of ours from home. Other rugs and blankets (particularly those with patterns of any kind) can really confuse Anthony, but I have only recently realised this. For example, if the pattern is one of flowers, Ants might see these as real flowers and want to touch or rearrange them.

None of these visual hallucinations/misrecognitions currently cause Anthony undue distress, especially when I am with him. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder what he might be ‘seeing’ when I’m not there. When I think about this too much, I get worried, so I mostly try not to think about it for the sake of my own peace of mind. After all he is in good care.

But I just wish I could somehow leave myself in that wardrobe mirror so that whenever Anthony glanced to the right I’d be there….


…. like the camellias.



Blogs can be like those really difficult jigsaws that it might take you years to complete but, at the end, you can’t quite complete because of all the missing pieces. You know exactly what those missing pieces look like, and how they are shaped, but you have to accept that they have probably been gobbled up by the vacuum cleaner, then used to make a bird’s nest; they’re gone but not gone.

Some time ago, I paid a small amount to have my blog converted to book-like format so that I could print it out. The reason I did this was not so that I could admire my clumsy, incoherent handiwork, but so that I could re-shape it into some sort of coherent story about Parkinson’s disease.

Okay, so the PDF conversion meant that it would print from 2011 to now rather than backwards-in-time. Because each year consisted of hundreds of pages, I ended up with seven PDF files and happily printed out one and a half of these files until my printer

Well, after weeks of wrestling with/ coaxing/ swearing at /wanting to OBLITERATE/ and finally giving up on, my uncooperative printer, I came to my senses and put all of the files onto a usb and took it into a print shop. Half an hour later


Now, hopefully, within nearly 3,000 pages of blog words and images – a jigsaw of thoughts and emotions spanning nearly four years – I will find something that is worth editing into a useful and publishable book.




I used to miss the Anthony of the past terribly – the robust, energetic, boisterous, fun-loving Anthony with the loud laugh – and I still do of course. But lately, I’ve begun to realize that I also miss (and much more-so) the Anthony of now, the Anthony who still IS. In our mutual acceptance of the way things are now – his Parkinson’s disease, the nursing home, our forced “illness separation”, and even the increasing confusion and hallucinations that accompany his dementia, I now find myself anticipating my daily visits to the nursing home with what would, months ago, have seemed an impossible excitement.

The strange thing is that the feeling of obligation to visit Anthony for his sake, has been subsumed under a desire to visit him for my sake. The contentment of these long afternoons together, punctuated here and there by volunteer work, is something I never expected to happen. Okay, so boredom, apathy and fatigue are definitely risk factors here but I’m learning how to counteract the former two by coming up with new ideas whenever something begins to become tedious (like watching episodes of Neighbours!) The latter – fatigue – has been solved by this sudden flu which means I’ve been lolling on my bed for three days reading novels and resting, not allowed to go to the nursing home in case I’m contagious. So Ming and my mother have been visiting Anthony – wonderful creatures they are!

But I miss him so much! I have become so accustomed to these afternoons, this routine – the joy of his smile at the sight of freshly picked camellias (and me), playing the card game “Memory” with him and other residents, eating olives and blue cheese with him, or giving him a piece of my latest cake, helping him with his lunch and sometimes dinner too, watching television or a dvd, combing his hair with the metal comb he always loved that I only just found (and he is thrilled!) And so on. Tiny morsels of pleasure, once overlooked, now savored, now treasured. I have never looked at a camellia the way I do now – never! I have never noticed so acutely the beauty of a white peacock feather nestled in the arms of an avocado tree’s blossoms, a tree that is still providing us with plenty of fruit!

I don’t want to sound soppy and sentimental and goopy, but I do think Anthony and I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have found such a mighty love and I sometimes wonder whether this is why we are both now coping so well with what IS. Actually no, it’s not coping, accepting, persevering, or any other stolid adjective. Instead, a wonderfully weird happiness.

Resilience: Anthony has always had this and now it is as if he has gifted it to me.



The end of winter

Here in Australia we are two days away from spring after a very wet winter. Monday is the first day of spring and I am going to celebrate but I’m not sure how yet. Perhaps I will buy another camellia tree like this one from which I take flowers in to Anthony every second day.

photo (3)

The other day I gave one each to the two women I play cards with during my volunteering hours. Gift-giving rules are very strict at the nursing home but I figure flowers can’t do anyone any harm, although Nat would prefer the chilli-garlic olives I used to bring in until reprimanded (risk of choking etc.)

Ming and Fran 2
Ming and Fran

And here is Ming with his little second-hand car, ‘Fran’. He has named her ‘Fran’ after the character in the comedy series Black Books, one of our favourites. As it happens, I am about to take this series into the nursing home to play on Anthony’s new DVD player. I took The IT Crowd in a couple of weeks ago and, even though Anthony slept through some of the two episodes I played, he woke up with a bit of a smile every time I guffawed, which was often.

The strange phenomenon in which Anthony sometimes thinks that what is happening on the television screen is happening in his room comes and goes. I only discovered this by accident one evening months ago when I rang him and he asked me to pick him up from Burekup (a nearby town) from an Aboriginal ceremony. At first I thought this was him hallucinating (a Parkinson’s disease symptom) but then I heard the background noise of his television which turned out to be a documentary about an Aboriginal ceremony; I could even hear the chanting! Now that we are watching Midsomer Murders every weekday afternoon from 3.30 – 5pm (another one of Anthony’s favourites, mainly because of the English countryside, the classic cars and the big old houses – not the murders), I sometimes worry that he will get scared. But seeing as this is probably the most benign ever of murder shows, it never happens and anyway he can no longer follow plots. I have gotten into the habit of checking the television guide before I leave every night and leaving the television on a channel that isn’t going to be showing a horror movie, or something like that. Ironically, this is usually the ABC news station.

Well, I better get going!


Love story 90 – My camellia tree

I think we have over 20 camellia trees here – it is too rainy for me to go out and count them so it’s on my long list of ‘things to do’. Anthony planted most of them when he and his mother and brother first came here (he was 21 I think so it was before I was born and that’s why I don’t necessarily know all the details).

After we got married, he started planting more – I’m not quite sure why and, not being the least bit interested in gardening, I didn’t take much notice. But one day, on one of his rare days off from milking the cows, Anthony coaxed me to hop in the ute and drive one hour north to a camellia nursery called Heavenly Gardens. Booooooring, I thought, as I strapped little toddler Ming into his car seat, but I resigned myself.

When we got there, we were greeted by the owner, an ancient looking woman, almost bent double with a back condition, like an upside down L. She and one of the men who worked there, showed us through forests of camellias while I tried to allay my own boredom by allaying Ming’s. Then, all of a sudden, I saw it, a tree in full flower, each one like a ballerina. It was nothing like any of the camellias we had at home; it was much more beautiful and it was really unusual. My interest sparked, I inquired about it but the elderly woman said it was the only one she had, it was very rare and it was definitely not for sale. Her off-sider pointed out to me that it was planted in the ground and well established so there was no way she would sell it to me.

It came time for morning tea and the elderly woman and her off-sider welcomed us into a shed to share tea and cake and we sat down together while Ming vroomed around the shed with a pretend car. I said to the elderly woman that I was not a gardener but I really loved the tree and, with a twinkle in her eye, she told me that the boys would have to dig it out of the ground, and that she really didn’t want to sell it. “I wouldn’t take anything less than $350,” she murmured, looking into the distance nonchalantly.

“It’s a deal!” I exclaimed. Anthony, who was sitting next to me, had overheard this little exchange and pinched me on the bum, whispering, “Are you crazy? It’s only worth $50 at most. Nobody pays $350 for a camellia.”

But already, the elderly woman had somehow signalled her troops and three men, including her off-sider (who later told us he was a nephew), were walking away from the shed with shovels in their hands. My heart did a grin flip! I pulled my money out of my back pocket and gave it to the elderly woman who smiled softly at me. Anthony sighed and hurried down to fetch the ute. Then he helped the men load the tree on and I shook hands with nephew who told us to drive out and around the side of the nursery. He had a mysterious expression on his face.

Well, we drove around and he loaded three more potted camellias onto the ute. They weren’t the same as my tree but they were still lovely. The nephew said, “The old girl really ripped you off, so this is to make up for it. She won’t know.”

Not long after, we heard that the elderly woman had died and that Heavenly Gardens had closed down. By this time Anthony had planted my tree for me and look at it now – 16 years later!

I am going to pick some now and take them into Anthony at the nursing lodge.


Flower power

Anthony was/is crazy about flowers and we have dozens of rose trees and camellia trees and all sorts of other flowering things in the garden. The trouble is (a) he isn’t home anymore and he’s the one who tended to all of these gardening shenanigans; and (b) I loathe gardening.

Don’t get me wrong – I love gardens and flowers and trees and all of that, but I just wish they didn’t need so much help. The camellias are my favourites because they just thrive anyway, but the roses – oh the roses!

My beautiful friend, CB, has come over several times in order to teach me/help me to prune the roses and we have made a bit of headway but only because she does most of the work while I drink my coffee or struggle to find the stupid secater/scissor things (see, I can’t even spell the secatooooor word!) Nevertheless, she is very patient with my procrastinating ways.

Since I now really want to grow sunflowers, I realize that I must first prove to CB that I can prune those bloody roses and prove to her that I am a newly-fledged gardener. So tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, I am going to do it – yes! I have to do this before she comes over and sees that I haven’t done it.

I plan to invite her over on Friday afternoon to see the pruned roses and to get sunflower advice because she knows all about this gardening thing. That is one of the many reasons I adore her.

Here are a few pictures of the camellias that do not need anything except the occasional glance of appreciation!