Don was born in Sydney in 1936, grew up in Newcastle, became a teacher, and began teaching in the Australian bush in 1955. Of no previous Christian denomination, he became an Anglican in 1961, an Anglican priest in 1969, and a Roman Catholic priest in 2000. He has worked with Mother Teresa’s Brothers in Calcutta and Saigon. Don also has a degree in Social Sciences from Waikato University and was manager of the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society’s hostel in Hamilton for young men released from borstal at Waikeria. Throughout the 1980s he was Auckland City Missioner. Don is now allegedly retired and extremely busy.
My Auntie Lillian was more my mother than my mother, and vice versa. Lillian’s home was more my home than my home. I had no siblings except Barbara, Lillian’s daughter, who was my first cousin, only three weeks older. We considered one another twins and could never wait to be together again, once I returned to Newcastle, a hundred miles north of Sydney, where I had to leave her.
Lillian used to give us exciting holiday adventures, such as a visit across the harbour to the Sydney Zoo (Taronga Park), with rides on Jessie the elephant followed by lunch featuring Lillian’s great, tasty sandwiches.
She often took us to Bondi Beach where we would swim and have lunch with more of those lovely sandwiches and just as lovely cakes.
She would hug me and kiss me, as she did Barbara, as though I were her son.
Lillian was always angry with Uncle Arthur when he came home late from work tipsy and cheerful, but Barb and I were always pleased to see him.
Lillian took us to see the movie Pinocchio at the State Cinema, and twice to see Bambi in which Barbara and I cried both times and still wanted more. She took us for picnics at intriguing Vaucluse House which had been the home of W.C. Wentworth, an early explorer in Australia.
Lillian believed me when I told her I had seen the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio fly slowly past my bedroom window, and no one else believed me. I was six at the time and had the mumps.
Don completed the first stage of the life writing course in January 2017 and has written quite a lot of memoir since. This year’s new course on memoir and biography is helping him sharpen his focus, increase his awareness, and expand more competently the memoir-writing he has begun. Don feels encouraged by Deborah’s insights and that of other participants.
I had travelled 1,000 kilometres by train from Melbourne to Newcastle to visit my mother who had been admitted there to the Mater Hospital in Waratah.
She was very ill, more ill than I had ever seen her. It was late in the day, the doctors had gone home and there was no-one around able to explain to me the name or nature of her illness. But other patients in the ten-bed ward told me that she would often call out loudly, ‘Oh God, let me go!’
I had never heard her pray, and knew nothing about her religious beliefs, but I believe that her cry was from the heart, a prayer if ever there was one. Intermittently, it rattled the other patients and prevented or interrupted their sleep.
We greeted one another, both of us tired, she from her pain and sleeplessness, I from my long journey. My mother and I had never had anything much to talk about at the best of times, so this was difficult for both of us. We would speak, but not say anything that mattered.
Out of the blue, she said. ‘I love you, Donald.’ I couldn’t believe she’d said it; she had never done so before. I mumbled back something like, ‘I love you too, Mum.’ As I left I promised to return next morning. It was night.
As I drove out of the hospital carpark I muttered, ‘too late, Mum.’
The phone rang at about 6.30 next morning. Edna, my mother, had died.
Nowadays, I think that perhaps it was not ‘too late’ after all. She had just squeezed it in. So had I.
Don has been much encouraged by family and friends to write his story. Allegedly retired some three and a half years ago, he has now made more time to try doing it. So he’s participating in Deborah’s 2017 Life Writing course and this is his first formal effort.
I never cared that I was a teenager. Teenagers hadn’t been ‘invented’ in my day. I was simply who I was, and stuff happened. However, having just turned thirteen and being about a year younger than everyone else in my class, I was the only boy in our group who didn’t have a girlfriend. So a girlfriend was arranged.
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