25 Aug 2013


“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world

the Master calls a butterfly”
Richard Bach
As August and the month of National Family History makes way for our Australian springtime, Good Move is one of my short stories in the collection of family tales published in My Mother’s Harvest book (and ebook).

Leaving behind the cocoon of seventeen years of marriage, it was daunting yet exciting to try on new colours like a liberated butterfly and begin again.

Little Michael and I touched down at Tullamarine airport on a summer’s day in Melbourne. I wondered if the two teenagers of the clan, having made their exodus one week earlier, had not killed each other in the process of setting up our new home. My father was in the terminal to greet us, and as I walked across the tarmac, escorted on the arm of the co-pilot, I felt as if my son and I were arriving home.

Like human batons, we were passed on to another staff member who guided us through the airport to the guest lounge where dad was waiting.

‘Welcome home.’ He smiles, ruffling Mike’s hair. ‘Did you like the plane, Mooshty?’ Michael wriggles free from my arms and climbs aboard the empty trolley his grandfather is wheeling, ready for his next adventure. We scoot along the polished floors to the baggage carousel where my father dives in to scoop up our one and only suitcase as if panning for gold in a flowing stream.

‘Jump off.’ He says to Michael, swinging the red case onto the trolley. He picks up his two-year-old grandson and plonks him on top of the luggage. ‘How’s that?’

Michael’s eyes dance with joy, ‘It’s a giant turtle!’

We swerve this way and that, dad throwing the metal contraption from side to side thrilling his grandson as he dodges human traffic all the way out to his parked Mazda.

Dad guides me to the car and pats my shoulder in his reassuring fatherly way. ‘The kids like their new home.’ He smiles.

His words warm my heart – I am relieved to hear they have survived. I place the seatbelt over my young son and grin. ‘Good boy. We’re nearly there.’ Michael can relax, for a little while at least. He was off duty – there were a new pair of eyes looking out for me.

Michael’s lively chatter fills the air as he spots with great excitement all the different cars and trucks zooming past his window on the freeway as if Christmas had arrived early. ‘Fruck!’ He squeals.

‘What did he say?’ my father asks incredulously.

‘He means truck, dad.’

‘Oh. Good. I thought his brother had taught him a new word.’

Russell cruises by on his bike as my father’s silver car is pulling up beside the kerb.

‘Hey, mum. It’s a cool house.’ He does a u-turn on the quiet road and meets me at the gate. ‘Sharon and I have already chosen our rooms.’

I open Michael’s door and set him free to greet his brother and admire the new bike. ‘So where am I sleeping?’

‘Oh, you’ve got the bedroom at the back of the house.

‘Isn’t there a master bedroom?’

‘Yeah. But I like it.’

‘And where is your little brother’s bedroom?’

‘Right next to yours.’
Sharon and Michael
Sharon and Michael

Half-unpacked boxes with rumpled up newspapers litter the living room, dishes are stacked high in the kitchen sink, punk-rock music thumps out from Russell’s bedroom, Sharon is fussing with  jars and bottles of cosmetics in the bathroom – and I realise I am lucky to have been given any space at all!

‘Michael, don’t keep switching your light on and off, it costs me money’

‘It’s my room,’ he says, ‘I can pay it if you give me the proper money’

Compared to laid-back Narooma, Mornington was a bustling metropolis. As long as I could orientate my senses to the new surroundings, creeping forward step by step, I would eventually find my way around the new neighbourhood. It was a godsend that Mornington had several zebra crossings in Main Street, giving pedestrians right of way to cross the road and so these became my first checkpoints.

Michael enjoyed our shopping jaunts and became highly aware at a very young age that I depended on his eyes for both of us. Strapped into the padded stroller, Michael called out directions as we set off to do our daily shop.

His chirpy voice navigated us safely around our town, the wheels of the stroller shuddering over rough pavement, also helping to define our way to specific places.

I got away with bumping into things as if I were just another sleep-deprived mother distracted by her chatty child.

‘I can do this. I can do this.’ I chant under my breath, lifting Michael from the stroller and shifting him to the navigator seat of a shopping trolley.

We surge forward into the unpredictable human traffic hoping to avoid an accident. I cling fiercely to the handle while wandering in a daze. Thousands of similar looking boxes, tins and packages. How is this vision-impaired shopper going to find anything? The odour of strong chemicals overpowers more subtle food smells.

I rely on my young son who gives me obvious clues among the aisles.

Look, Lollies, Mum!’ We have no difficulty tracking down his favourite foods, Juice. Chippies. Jelly. Ice cream.’

‘Michael. Can you see the canned tomatoes?’ I stop and touch the items on the shelf and narrow down the selection with logical precision. If this is a tin of green peas, the canned tomatoes must be close by. My son watches my hands move from item to item.

‘There!’ Michael points to the diced tomatoes. I kiss his sticky cheek bulging with a lollipop. ‘Good boy.’ One item found, only another two dozen to go.

Some days, my father took us on a shopping raid, scooting around the store with his grandson in the trolley squealing with delight while they spun around the aisles, grabbing packets and tins from the shelves.

‘Juice?’ trills little Michael.

‘That’s your lot, moosh.’ He hands Michael a small orange juice and scans my list. ‘Done.’ He looks proudly at his watch as we wait at the checkout counter. ‘Ha – that took five minutes less than last time.’

I dare not change my mind and take a firm grip of the trolley as we move across the car park, my father dancing a merry jig all the way to his silver car.

Michael and his grandfather sit together looking at a book on the solar system.

“Isn’t it amazing, Michael. To think that our planet is the only one in the solar system with people living on it.”

Michael looks up wide-eyed at his grandfather,

“Oh yeah? What about England?”

A few years later, I accepted the white cane. I learned to venture into the world with confidence and began to see with new eyes and to trust in the world unseen.

Harry and Maribel at St Michael's Mount

Music led me to the creative world of a fine musician and special man. Harry opened his heart and home to Michael and me – sharing the journey, now there are three.

eBOOK: My Mother’s Harvest: a collection of family recipes and short stories

My Mother's Harvest

©  2013 Maribel Steel

1 comment:

Amy Bovaird said...

This post (and short story) reflects your honesty and sense of humor. I loved the quote you used at the beginning! Though your story prompts several questions, it provides a snapshot of your life at that time and reflects your optimistic nature. Bravo, Maribel, for a wonderful story! Would love to read your book, My Mother's Harvest.