Sofia Mella writes impractical travel tips, inexpert sports and social commentary and indulgent confessional memoir. She also writes sexually explicit romance novels, has lots of tattoos but is quite a pussy and enjoys lounging on her surfboard in calm waters, smoking medicinal herbs. Follow her on Twitter @sofiaforever For navel gazing see sofiamella.blogspot.com
Significant others – I’ve had a few. I’m what talk show hosts call a serial monogamist. When you don’t have a father, I guess you seek to identify who he might have been via love relationships. We all have patterns of attraction, social and scientific, and mine has always been a bit of a mystery.
The photos of my father show a big, gregarious Italian, obviously the life of the party, with a confident swagger, a guitar and a cigarette dangling carelessly from his meaty lips. More photos capture my parents, frozen in the seventies, mouths open mid-laugh, surrounded by friends, bottles of Chianti and Siamese cats. Mama was so pretty. Papa was so foreign.
“Your father knew a little about a lot,” my mother told me. She thought he was an asshole.
My grandfather thought worse. A man who abandoned his responsibilities was intolerable to Poppa. Funny then that faded Polaroids show my father and grandfather, arms round each other laughing, maybe even singing. The grandfather I knew tended to hum Oh Danny Boy, not burst into passionate theatrics with earthy Italians.
“Everyone loved Ricky,” said Aunty Bev. She didn’t hold grudges, but did think he was mad to have left me.
I never heard his voice. I have nothing of my own to attribute to him. Weird that that man in the photos, obviously hung over from last night’s party, is my father. Was. Is? He’s dead now.
What I want from a man is to know every thought. Every murmur of their soul. But with each passing year my lover becomes stranger and stranger. With so many unknowables, life is a process of shelving what’s unimportant, and relaxing the importance of other things. The “who am I” question can’t be answered by a family tree. And there is huge freedom in that.
Pat Scriven lives in Auckland. When Pat was a child her mother described her as having been ‘inoculated with a gramophone needle’. Even so, at seventeen, Pat decided that she had nothing worthwhile to say − the beginning of chronic writer’s block. Deborah’s Art and Craft of Memoir at the Creative Hub has helped to shift this and get the literary juices flowing.
I watch them surreptitiously from the mineral pool. A petite woman dressed in pink is seated at a white plastic table with a young man in a wheelchair with a head rest. He looks about seventeen. He writhes restlessly. Cerebral palsy.
She unpacks a plastic container from a black nylon tote bag, removes the lid and attempts to feed him something on a spoon. After a few misses she puts the spoon down. Dipping her fingers into the white bowl she shapes a ball of food and pops it between his lips. This time it stays put and does not fall onto the table. His whole body is involved in chewing and swallowing. He roars after each mouthful. She gives him another ball. When he finally spits an offering, she packs the spoon inside the plastic container and returns it to the bag. She unfolds a pink flannel and wipes his face.
“Would you like a swim now?” she asks. He responds with a groan. His hands twitch.
“There are your togs then,” she says, placing a rolled towel in his lap. She grasps the handles of the wheelchair, swings it round with practised vigour and heads purposefully toward the ladies’ changing room.
They are in there for a very long time. I ponder the physical stamina and patient perseverance required to help him into his swimming gear.
When they emerge she waves to a bear like man who climbs out of the far end of the pool and strides toward them dripping water. He gathers up the slender, tortured, white body of his son, carries him down the steps and floats him gently in the welcoming warm water. I hear gurgles of pleasure.
Margaret Farrell is an Aucklander. She has taken an opportunistic approach to employment in response to an itinerant lifestyle, and the rapidly changing norms of the workplace. She is a mother and grandmother, and hopes to record cherished experiences for any family member who might be interested.
Our first real home was a squarish, brick house, on the main road, looking out to beautiful Pirongia at the back. Four children, two parents, and occasional family refugees lived in that house.
Inside the front door, was a hatch, so that the telephone (our number was 23) could be reached either from the entrance, or from our parents’ bedroom. To the left of the front door were the living room, dining room and kitchen. In the evenings, we listened to the radio – “It’s in the Bag”, comes to mind – played scrabble and patience. We kept these rooms warm but oh, how grim it was on winter nights to leave this haven, and rush, clutching a hot water bottle, into the freezing bedrooms, the icy beds with their creaky wire-wove bases, piled with heavy blankets. Boots, the cat, sometimes acted as an extra heat source until discovered and put out for the night, along with Billy, the dog.
When our grandmother died, her room became Marion’s, and John had a bedroom to himself, though I do remember three of us all in it together, having measles or mumps. Helen and I shared a cuckoo clock, and a painting of jugs done by our sainted aunt, Winifred. The craters of the full moon, from our window, looked like two rabbits sitting at a table.
A huge gum tree was cut down in our neighbours’ paddock, and became our main playground for a year until it was chopped up for firewood. We strode along the trunk, and created small territories amongst its fallen limbs. We also scaled fences, slid down the lawsoniana branches, got chased by bulls. At the bottom of the paddock, we scooped up tadpoles, and brought them home to become frogs on the kitchen windowsill.
This was a good home.
Rosemary Barrett is reconstructing a life without formal work, which allows time for gardening, foraging, providing food, conversations and connections. She has found recently through memoir writing, that the family stories that flit through her mind can have a voice and she aspires to be a family historian.
Farm life did not prepare me for being a teen, for understanding the sexual act. My father was quiet and shy. My mother was brought up to be a Victorian daughter and didn’t know about periods, sex or babies until it happened. When this mother of mine sat me down in the garden and told me about ‘periods’, I ran away. Somehow I had got to thirteen on a farm, surrounded by sex, my menstruating mother, pregnant cats, pigs and cows without hearing a thing about periods. And that they would go on for years and years, disgusting! I guess mum wanted to tell me before someone else at secondary school told me. My best friend had hers but mine didn’t start for years and I thought I was a freak. Agony. I actually longed for it to come.
Bras and breasts didn’t appear either. They had no place on my lean body. When the bra did, it wasn’t a normal bra and didn’t look the same as the others. I didn’t need bras, still don’t but changing for physical education in a singlet was not cool. And falsies – was I the only one wearing them, push your finger in and the dent stayed.
I was quite wild actually. My horse was my ally and my legs were strong. I grew up riding bareback. I loved nothing better than being down the farm, on the horse, using the tractor, managing the animals, helping with haymaking, feeding out, working as part of a team, being one of the guys.
School was a trial. I survived by being the clown. I was immature and easily intimidated. We rock’n rolled in the toilets and went to Crusaders at lunchtime. I learned the violin and played badly in the school orchestra. We were all girls of course.
And boys. I just got helpless crushes on them. I was not considered attractive. I could never, never talk about these feelings. They had no words. To have them exposed would invite deep shame. But I did write, about my horse, our holidays, my surroundings, the seasons. I wrote passionately and at length about those things.
Jocelyn is a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a booklover and fledgling writer of memoirs. She has loved every moment of Deborah’s course on The Art and Craft of Memoir and will feel very bereft when it is over.
Cliched it may sound, but I think I became a grown-up when my first infant, a very rounded and hearty girl weighing almost ten pounds, was put into my arms. At that moment of meeting, my settled, familiar world was profoundly shaken. Suddenly I realized the passionate attachment I felt towards this newborn child, with her black hedgehog hair and blank unfocussed gaze, was the same fierce devotion my parents had felt for me, their firstborn.
They had been, once, young and full of hope, with their lives stretching joyfully in front of them. The mistakes they had made in parenting me - and in the turbulence and self-absorption of my teenage years I felt they had made plenty - had been errors of omission, human mistakes. They had tried their best. And I too would try my best and make mistakes.
It was hard to reconcile the balding, myopic, defeated father I knew with the handsome, debonair and confident man who smiled down so proudly at me in those long ago baby photos. And my mother - what a beauty she had been. It was the sorrow of years that had clouded her eyes, made her mouth turn down and her sighs so frequent.
Soon my daughter would judge me as harshly as I had judged my parents. Would she, in time, forgive my faults just as I was beginning to forgive those of my parents?
There would be many stumbles along the way, but on that night in Tauranga hospital aching, tired and triumphant, with my daughter snuffling beside me in her Perspex crib, I had taken my first steps to grown-uphood.
Rob is contentedly self-employed. He works part-time hours from his home office, which allows him to play Dad in the mornings and afternoons to his delightful five year-old son. He has been interested for some time in documenting his experiences, both the amusing and the bruising, following an accident, at age fifteen, that left him a tetraplegic and is finding the Art and Craft of Memoir course encouraging and motivating.
My earliest memories date from my fourth year. My world then, was limited mostly to my immediate family and the physical boundaries of our home; my three elder siblings, our mother, and the house and section.
Our property was one-quarter acre. The back yard stretched to eternity with a flat open area for kicking balls and practising cartwheels, that fell gently away to a vegetable garden crowded with fruit trees: plum, peach, crab-apple, grapefruit, lemon and mandarin. Grape vines sprawled over wire-mesh and iron-pipe supports that divided the two spaces, one for play, the other for provision. In a back corner, a sturdy concrete block incinerator sat, connected to the house by a broken concrete path. This, my kingdom, was surrounded by hedges, with hidden, dappled, hollows, where I made my secret hideaways.
The house was plain and plaster clad, with a grey hat of corrugated iron. I call it plain now but to a four-year-old boy, it was anything but. My favourite feature was the space joining the storage area at the top of the linen closet to the broom cupboard. I could wriggle up into this odd little corridor and, by reassembling the tongue and groove boards beneath me that served as a false ceiling, disappear. The crude crayon drawings I made up there by torchlight are probably still there.
I remember my big sisters rehabilitating injured birds and constructing flying foxes for our scowling cat, while my brother, twelve years my senior, was either coming or going on his silver Yamaha. I learnt Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris, sitting on my mother’s lap at the piano. But, most vividly, I remember the textured glass of the folding doors in our lounge that I was playing next to the day my father left.
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