Ruth comes from a large and complex Australian family. She met her life partner, a New Zealander, during a student visit to China during the Cultural Revolution, fifty years ago. The road taken thereafter has been full, stimulating and rewarding. Ruth is writing a memoire reflecting on a life well lived.
I was born third in a litter of seven. To be fair, the litter took twenty years to assemble, and before the last was born, the two oldest had already fled. There are no stories of my birth. Instead, a harrowing event when I was three and dying from pneumonia, became my true birth. The often repeated story of my fraility defined who I became in my parents’ eyes: the runt of the litter and not very bright. It is all relative of course, but hot on the heels of a brilliant older sister and an outrageous brother who demanded my parents’ attention, I felt there was not much hope for me.
My saving grace was that I was also seen as the “pretty little one”, the family pet. I wasn’t meant to be clever, just good. I soon discovered that there were many roles to play practising my “goodness”. I found a particular niche by becoming my mother’s little helper - especially to the three youngest boys. After all, I was named Bonita, daughter of a good woman.
The last of the litter was the only one with a “real” birth story. The only one, my mother said, who was born while she was conscious and not under the influence of “laughing gas”. And that only happened because he emerged in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital. Ever after it became a dramatic moment to pass a particular curve in the road where my father had called out to the driver to stop. Although no blame was attached, I wondered if it was my fault. She had awakened me in the middle of night to find her shoes – and to mind the younger children. Foggy with sleep, I couldn’t respond adequately. I had no idea where her shoes might be. She wandered from room to room trying to find them herself. She wouldn’t leave the house without them until it was almost too late.
They called him Jonnie Risk. I assumed it was because of his risky birth. In fact, it was our Scottish grandmother’s family name. We’d never heard of it before. The last of the litter was only one who received a name with such gravitas. It didn’t suit him. In fact, it was I who became the ultimate risk taker in the family.
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