Lambs in Spring
The humid scorching heat of the sub-tropical climate engulfed us; the sun’s rays tore at our skin with ruthless intensity and sent us kids scurrying towards water, even if it was only to the hose in the back or front yard. Sometimes Mum would pile us into the jeep and head for the primitive baths, set in the river bank at South Grafton, a good three miles from our place.
Don‘t go near the river! was a constant ringing in our ears back home. You’ll drown and no-one will hear your cries! There are bull-routs in the reeds at the water’s edge! The Clarence River was just below our backyard
Water, cool and exhilarating in summer, warm and nurturing in winter. All of us five kids learnt to swim at an early age. We splashed around in the creek on Dad’s bush paddock, where we dipped in amongst the gum trees with their roots spreading out from the banks to give us a foot-hold as we jumped in, scattering the frogs and snakes, then felt the clay bed squelchy beneath our feet.
Many of my early memories, at least the positive ones, are to do with water or furry mammals. Water was the balm that healed and rejuvenated the ailing spirits, at the same time as it purified and soothed the body.
I am sitting in a pink tub on the old wooden table in the kitchen next to the fuel stove. It is dusk. A golden ball of light sinks into the hills to the west. There are horses in the paddock. I can see black horses and white horses. The warm water soothes my body. I splash my hands in it and crow.
Mummy laughs and rubs me all over with Pears soap, pours the water over my dark brown hair that is just like hers. The kitchen is bathed in a soft hazy glow. Mummy is listening for the jeep to pull up at the front gate. I listen too. We will hear him opening the wire gate and driving through into the back yard. There is a peach tree with pink blossoms outside the window. It doesn’t block the view of the field, of the horses.
We are surrounded by horses. Black horses, white horses, bay, dapple, piebald and skewbald. Mummy laughs at the black stallion through the window, as it frisks and plays with the mares. Her laugh is the laugh of a naughty child. I don’t know what she is laughing at.
The kitchen is warm, warm from the heat of the stove and the last rays of the sun dropping in the west. And I sit in the pink tin tub waiting for the sound of Daddy’s footsteps.
For there was a time when my mother held a passion for my father, a time long ago when she listened for the sound of the jeep pulling up outside and his footsteps coming in. A time I remember, now, like from another lifetime, when Mum missed him, not just for keeping us kids in line, but needed him as a lover, when she would listen for his footsteps on the back doorstep as she does now…
He bursts in, eyes twinkling and red-cheeked from a beer at the pub, and goes straight in to me, picking me up in those strong sun-browned arms and calling me his ‘Little Angie-Pangie’, tossing me up into the air and showering me with kisses.
One of my earliest memories is a nurse placing my cold, aching body in a hot tub at the Grafton Base Hospital after an internment of three weeks. The doctor had said, “Put her in hospital or you’ll carry her out in a coffin.” I remember pining for my mother.
When I got better Mum and Dad took me on a trip through the western tablelands on the way to Moree.
I am in the hot spring baths there. I have my Mummy and Daddy all to myself. My two brothers are at the farm with Grandma. My little sister hasn’t been born yet. Mummy and Daddy are holding me up in their warm strong arms: hot waters holding us all up, the three of us, just floating there, on the surface barely a ripple.
On the way back home to Waterview, I spy through the window of our car, a host of tiny snow-flake white lambs dotted all around the fields next to their mothers.
“Daddy, daddy! I wan’ one! Pleease can I have one!”
“What’s the matter? What’s wrong, for crissake?”
“I wanta baby lamb! Daddy, Pleeease can I?”
Mummy laughs. Daddy stops the car and lets me take a closer look, but it does not assuage the terrible want, the aching hole like hunger, like unquenchable thirst. I want to hold it in my arms, not merely drink it in through my eyes. In fact, the stopover makes me want all the more strongly and urgently, and I whine and cry for a lamb for the rest of the trip.
Mum is a bit deaf by this stage. “Just ignore her, Bill,” she says. “She will stop after a while.”
“I wan’ one… I wan’ one…”
“Here, have a lolly to suck on…” and Mum reaches in to the back and tries to stick it in my mouth.
“I wan’ one!” my voice slobbery now, as well as whining, through the dribbles from the sticky crunchy peppermint stuck to my teeth.
For once my father, who rarely gives in to our pleadings for things, seems to consider the possibility.
“When I have time, I’ll make enquiries. Just give us some peace will you, Anne?”
“Really, Bill? Hope it’s not like the calf that you kept in the wash-house when Billy was born. Poohed all over the floor, it did, I stepped in it, for God’s sake, trying to wash dirty nappies.” Her voice is rising now.
“Don’t you start whingeing, for crissake, Leena! I can’t take anymore of this, while I’m driving.”
I wonder, now, whether it touched a chord in him, something to do with his secret yearnings. “All I ever wanted was a mate to share my life with,” he told me much later on.
When the woolly creature arrived in the back of his ‘ute, however, it was not the tiny buttercup of the inland trip, but quite a sturdy beast, already able to look after itself
I never quite got used to it, before it outgrew me, and it never understood my need to nurse and to cuddle, my skin against its soft wooliness.
After a while, it would run up the steps, through the house, hooves clicking over the linoleum covered floor of the hallway, down the back steps and into the backyard, looking for richer pickings.
Mum didn’t like animals all that much: “Animals on the outside, people inside!” was her motto, and “Wash your hands before eating, after touching dogs, cats and horses!” This time, however, she said:
“Look, how cute that is! The way it comes through the house like that, must tell ‘em all about it across the road.”
It was a talking-piece for her for a long while. She was on the point of contacting the Daily Examiner for a write-up on it, when the tide turned for my ‘lamb’. The beast had grown into a heavy brute that knocked myself and my brothers over. It butted through our paling fence down the back, and found its way into the neighbours’ yards. The Paines next door rang for us to come and retrieve it.
In the end Dad had to sell it, and the day the ‘ute came to pick it up and take it to the saleyards, I was not overly disappointed. The thought that it might end up at the butcher’s, however, never entered my mind.
Dad, who was no better at poetry than he was at singing, made up a nursery rhyme based on Mary Had a Little Lamb
Anne Anne had a little lamb
Which grew to be a big fat ram,
It chased and butted the kids around,
Until they were lying all over the ground.
Father said it could not be,
So we killed the ram and had it for tea.
When I first started writing copiously in the seventies, I did so from a therapeutic point of view. I was writing in a journal daily. For two whole years, I kept a dream book, in which I wrote down every dream I’d had the night before. A couple of the dreams turned out to be prophetic, at least after-the-event, on re-reading through my Dream Book later on. Then I would analyse the emotionally significant ones. This, along with immersing myself in ‘depth’ psychological therapies, set me on a path of self-development that was ongoing and unstoppable.
Was it also part of my Scorpio star sign, a water sign, that I felt a strong need to dive down into the depths of my psyche in an effort to find causes and truths most would prefer to ignore or to keep hidden? Perhaps, if I’d known the consequences of such a psychodynamic approach that I’d set out on, I would have pulled back from it in fright. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone these days. Nonetheless, I am pleased, after the event, that I chose this pathway, because of the spiritual benefits it brought me: in my case a reprieve from mental ‘dis-ease’. I am sure that, if I had not journeyed down into the depths to find myself back then, I wouldn’t have had the experience of “grace descending” that occurred in my forties and fifties. I am convinced that I would still be taking medication, or seeing cognitive behaviour therapists (CBT is the psychological approach used today in Anglo countries), to keep me afloat from depression, which seems to have taken root during childhood, in my case.
One of the problems with this type of outpouring, is that the stories tend to lack structure. And the writer is often too close to the story to be able to edit it into shape. Focus is another problem; our lives are vast and it is difficult to know what to leave out and what to retain. As I progressed on my journey as a writer, I wished more and more to be able to become a better writer.