Walk in the Cemetery

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Do you occasionally go Goth and take a walk in the cemetery?

It has long been a source of comfort to me when I’m in a depressed mood.

Whether it’s the tranquillity, the otherworldliness or the bees buzzing in the freshly laid flowers, I couldn’t say.  The grass, not quite a lawn, is comfortable to walk on.

I can think melancholy thoughts because I am walking able-bodied through the cemetery, reasonably intact for my age, wearing casual clothes and a sunhat, clutching my water bottle and car keys.

In front of me, the carved headstones, sinking marble slabs and rusty iron railings hold a certain olde worlde charm but tell of sadness and loss and neglect.

It has been several months since my last visit and I notice new gravestones.  It is a hard heart that is not moved by the chisel-etched lettering.  The rows of columbarium niches.  Or newly turned earth.

My gloominess shifts, alternating between being surrounded by absolute endings and ongoing beginnings.  Generations moving forward, carrying the same blood in their veins––until it too drains away.

I chide myself for forgetting to bring flowers when I see a child’s name on a temporary cross.  My memories race to another place, my heart-broken mother lying across the back seat of the car, weeping tears which splash onto the vinyl seating.  Inconsolable grief beyond my young understanding but I knew my brother had gone.

We know death hovers over us for many different reasons.  We ignore, we forestall, but when the time comes we construct memorials to the deceased and monuments to the power of death.

Like my favourite mausoleum.

It had rained in the night, the scent of pungent eucalyptus leaves all around, and I can see the sides of the stone mausoleum are still damp.

Small patches of brown and green mould creep around the edges of a large, tightly sealed wooden door with solid metal hinges and no handle.  Not even a lock.  A firm statement of eternity for those entombed within.  Unless it’s a cenotaph.  Either way, I don’t think anyone will answer my knock.

I see this edifice as an art form of some complexity.  Not knowing anything about it, no name or plaque to give an inkling of tenure, I feel neither fear nor intimidation, and am certainly not in awe of its size and prominence on the hillside.

The roof is domed.  An off-white marble angel stands in prayer on the top, miraculously intact given the damage to smaller, equally virtuous angel statues set around the outer walls.  Lower down, straggly weeds mingle with intricately carved flowers which appear to sprout from the earthworks.

A mosaic frieze, rendered in ceramic tile and glass fragments, encircles all four walls.  Some parts twinkle and glisten, most are dull.  I can never work out if it depicts a religious theme or the life of a prosperous family.  Ah, entwined I think.

The worn stone step beneath the sturdy door looks unsafe and ready to crumble at the slightest shoe pressure.  Clearly not the original bluestone foundation slab.  The breeze picks up and two withered plants on either side of the gravel pathway shiver and shake like baby rattles.

I glance skyward as the afternoon sun is covered by streaks of sombre cloud.  It doesn’t take much imagination to realise this resting place would look forbidding by night.  I am unsettled.  Those dark hours would be a step too far.

After completing my circuit, I gather myself, my mind, my accoutrements and I am ready to acknowledge the towering obelisk stationed at the gate.  Did it sway?  I politely thank its ebony magnificence and amble out to the carpark.

So, why is this cemetery connected to me?  Will I end up here?  Can I conceive of the idea of me ending up here?

I cannot conceive of me ending up here, the thought is unmanageable, bizarre even.

Which is why I like a quiet walk in the cemetery.  I breathe the fresh air and rejoice in the fact that today I can.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Gretchen, I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and Bipolar Scotland, for taking the time to write and submit your work to the writing competition for the 2019 Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. Your contribution to the competition was very much appreciated. Unfortunately, on this occasion, your work was not chosen for our shortlist. Chief Executive, Bipolar Scotland.

Down to the Cemetery
2009 © Kid Sam

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Come back from the mirror it distracts your thoughts
Take off your dark glasses leave them on the floor
Turn off the television and put down the phone and
Burn the magazines you read when you’re alone

Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down

In the dead out of the city there’s a place I know that
Everyone ignores and people never go
All streets lead there so we’ll find our way
And when we get there you do not have to be afraid

They’re diggin’ our graves but while they work
Let’s laugh at them cause all of it is so absurd
Let’s go dancin’ there above the dead
Oh let’s celebrate that we’re not yet

Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go…

Hold my breath feel that it is warm
But it is temporary baby it will soon be gone
Take a handful of dust and throw it in the air what
You once were you will be again

So when we’re gone let’s two graves together
By the tree that rises tall and brave
And those who are still livin’ out their birth we’ll go
Dancin’ over our small patch of earth

Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down to the cemetery
Let’s go down.

https://www.letssingit.com/kid-sam-lyrics-down-to-the-cemetery-k1f7vtz

 

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

A Friend Pops Up 24 Years Later

Have you received an email, text message, Facebook request or card in the letterbox which made you wince?  Me too.  And it was today.  I guess I should be grateful that the sender did not phone me.  I would have spluttered my way through the conversation and tried to weasel out of giving this person any information about myself since I last saw them 24 years ago.

Do I feel annoyed, upset or beguiled by their surprise appearance on Facebook?  I’m not sure.  First, I wondered what prompted this bolt-from-the-blue contact.  Second, I wrote down our backstory to get my head straight:

We worked together before our children were born, she was going into a new marriage and I was leaving an old one.  This woman’s role was administration manager or something like that, she did a lot of accounts and moaned about the way forms were filled incorrectly.  She had a corner office with a big desk and spent a lot of time talking to staff in an over-friendly, mocking way that unpopular people have when they are trying to be popular.Wedding 13

As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I became part of her bridal party.  I succumbed to pressure and involuntarily became a bridesmaid.  Her friend or her sister was matron-of-honour and I think there may have been another bridesmaid but maybe I replaced someone who wasn’t up to task.  Anyhow, I remember the gown fittings, the diamanté jewellery, the shoes, the bouquets, the whole rigmarole was exhausting.  On the Big Day I had professional make-up applied (trowelled on) and I thought it looked hideous.  My hair was whooshed back and I felt as stiff as a Barbie doll.  A close-up photograph of me doesn’t look too bad – gosh, I was young.

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Now, dear reader, I was in a relationship with an army sergeant at the time and the wedding photographer was an ex-boyfriend.  I don’t remember feeling tense about them being in the same ballroom.  Maybe I blotted out that part of the evening.  I do remember my ex-boyfriend wilfully snapping a photo of me dancing with my new partner.  I’m not a dancer.  It was an okay wedding ceremony with theme colours of pink and maroon which were quite tastefully done.  As befits the centre of attention, the bride played her part but the groom was a bit quiet, e.g. rather inanimate character.  Predictably over the intervening years, the cake, food, groomsmen and speeches left no impression.

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Not long after the Big Day, I resigned from the corporation where we both worked and I started another life.  I briefly met the woman in question about two years later outside a local video store (remember videos, overnight rental, tape jams?) and she was with her husband and six months pregnant.  From what Facebook will let me see, she has a couple of children now.  With no family news or information, she perceptively called me ‘Stranger’, asked me if I was still living in the same place and did I want to meet up?  Why, and why now?  Truth must be told; I was uncomfortable around the woman.  She had the knack of grating on me, especially when she initiated ‘jokes’ with co-workers.

A long-time friend, a dear person who lives in the countryside, says he has been contacted by various ‘friends’ he hasn’t seen in years and feels they are freeloading in their desire to drop in on his rural idyll, taking advantage of a convenient escape to the country.  I, too, have had similar occurrences in suburbia but I tell people that I do not entertain at home and we don’t have a spare bed.  And that is true enough, depending on the visitor.  With this mystery reappearance of a workmate (as opposed to friend) who made no contact with me after the wedding, much to my relief, and now wants to buddy up as if 24 years is no time at all – I don’t get it.

Is she divorced?  Is she retiring?  Is she thinking kind thoughts about me?  Or is she bored with her life and Facebooking randoms from her past?  Another truthful moment; I don’t think we would have one single thing in common.  Possibly she has changed, possibly I’m anti-social, possibly infinite variables.

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Am I tempted?  Sure, I’m tempted.  I could click Accept or Decline on that Messenger button.  Click Accept and, hey presto, all will be revealed.  Also, it would expose a lot of stuff I don’t want to remember very closely.  Then there’s the difficulty of worming my way out of it.  I don’t want an added extra to my social life right now.  As previously posted, I am cutting back on my social media.  I want to move forward…write and relax…my way…I guess I could just say ‘hello’ and not get involved…I guess…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

N.B. Apologies to friends and followers who would like a Comment box.

Daydreaming

Daydreaming is my addiction.  “Well, if one’s going to daydream, one might as well make it a good one, don’t you suppose?” says Danielle Paige.

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Federation style

My biggest vice is the real estate section in Brisbane News or weekend supplements.  I drool over million-dollar homes, daydreaming how I would rearrange the décor, or daydream about refurbishing an old mansion.  Of course, I enjoy daydreaming about being effortlessly rich, benevolent, eccentric and having a chauffeur to drive me everywhere.  Until Lily Amis reminds me “Daydreaming is a way of escaping from reality. But you can’t avoid the reality forever! Sooner or later you have to wake up and face it!”

Still, my mind wanders no matter what, usually while doing domestic tasks.  My focus regularly trails away into the realms of daydream when I am reading, writing or watching a movie.  As Neil Gaiman says “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

A cautionary note comes from Jasper Fforde who says “My mind wanders terribly.  I’m not wholly annoyed by my daydreaming as it has been of immense use to me as regards imaginative thought, but it doesn’t help when it comes to concentration.  And writing needs concentration – lots of it.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 

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Warehouse Loft

P.S. Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) a 20th century architect said “Une maison est une machine-à-habiter” or “A house is a machine for living in”.

Balcony Muse

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Balcony View

As I sit on our small balcony with the French doors open behind me, I can see a front view over the trees, over the shallow valley and up the opposite hillside.  Roof tops gleam here and there and a council bus grinds its way up the steep incline of a street still named ‘lane” from way back when it took farm traffic up and over the hill.

To my right are the wooden chamfer boards which line the house, in this instance making the wall of our home office, or, as it was nicknamed many years ago, The Den.  To the left is an open view over rooftops and trees and I’m right in line with a big fluffy white cloud.  This cloud is probably bigger than an ocean liner.  It is floating slowly through the blue sky.

To the side I hear the roar of a jet engine and a shiny aerodynamic form cruises past, heading towards the fluffy cloud.  For the first time, I wonder what it must be like for the pilot, drawn inexorably into this massive expanse of whiteness.  From experience I know that clouds can be bumpy rides but the unspeakable horror of something else flying into it from the other direction…nah, that’s not possible in this day and age…

The plane gets smaller and smaller until the sun glints off a tiny silver speck.  I wait for it to be swallowed by the white cloud when, ever so gracefully, it curves away and downward, heading for the airport and out of my view.

I jump as suddenly a screeching white cockatoo cuts across my line of vision.  It is closer but follows the same flight path as the jet.  Still screeching to scare both friends and enemies, the cockatoo turns and mirrors the same downward arc, disappearing from sight.

Perhaps a philosophical parallel could be made, a bit of literary prose penned to suit the occasion.  However, it is just an illustration of everyday life and I can still hear the highway rumble, the neighbour’s dog barking and the postman on a small motorbike with squeaky brakes.  Nothing magical, no cheque in the mail, just suburban routine.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Cockatoo

Apple Queen

CARTOON GIRL EATING AN APPLE
Crunch Munch

My childhood nickname was “Apple Queen”.  In later years, I have wondered why I wasn’t called “Apple Princess” but I think it may have had something to do with the name of a variety of apple at that time.  One of my mother’s favourite early black and white photographs of me, taken in my grandparents’ long driveway at Hampton, Victoria, illustrates my love of apples.  I have a Granny Smith apple in each hand, possibly from a homegrown tree.  I was about four years old and, by the look on my face, quite serious about the art of eating apples.

I still am.  One sits next to me as I type.  If I need a snack, a lunch box filler or fruit for a picnic, I grab an apple.  Drool has formed in the corners of my mouth when I’ve looked at apples with sultanas and honey.  Strudel, pies, pureed or skewered on a kebab, the texture and essence of apples is never lost. That crisp, sweet smell pervades my senses, particularly when I walk into a room and get a whiff of that fruity fragrance.  Immediately I want to chomp my teeth into the cool, smooth skin, break through that thin protective layer to taste its juicy flesh.  That first crunch is like no other sound.  The sound reverberates through my jaw as I munch the apple into cider and swallow.

Granny Smith Apple
Apple Green

In my haste to eat an apple, I have been known to choke on a piece but it has never put me off.  My mother could devour a whole apple, pips and all, but that’s not my style.  I denude the apple to the core then toss the remains into the garden for some foraging creature to finish off.

I have a vivid memory of apple blossom and then tiny green and red striped apples forming on a tree we had in our backyard at Mount Waverley, Victoria.  Picking them too soon, I recall my disappointment at their unripe, bitter flavour.  Just recently I have read that apples are helpful to asthma sufferers and, since I am a life-long asthmatic, I wondered if instinct might have played a part in my voracious consumption.  It certainly had nothing to do with Adam or Eve.

Occasionally, I am asked about my favourite variety and I answer “Any.  As long as it’s not bruised.”  Apples creep into my salads, my sauces and, thanks to a friend, into my hamburger mince.  To me, a dessert isn’t a proper dessert unless it contains apples.  Imagine a world without apple pie and ice-cream!  My father liked cloves cooked into apple pies and that’s the only time I didn’t like my mother’s cooking.  To this day I don’t know why the odd flavouring of clove is meant to enhance cooked apples.

Pink Lady Apples
Pink Lady

The very shape of an apple is pleasing to me, even the logo on my laptop.  During my teenage years, I collected ornaments in the shape of apples.  Two examples may have survived.  A red china apple made in two halves, the bottom half containing candle wax.  The other apple made of hand-blown glass, with a glass leaf, which contains layers of coloured sands from Cooloola Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Baby daughters are now being named Apple; it’s something I didn’t think of at the time and I’m hoping it’s after the apple blossom fruit rather than the corporation.  My fruit bowl is really an apple bowl with other fruit scattered around for effect.  Sometimes toffee apples will creep into the mix and I treat them with caution.  Hard red toffee and my teeth don’t work well together but I never let that stop me.

Happy torta di mele!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Apple Pie
Home Bake

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‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout

Mother Daughter
Mother and Daughter

Hmm . . . a puzzling book.  Good, then it dissolves into vignettes.

It is a book which sometimes comes back to me in flashes.  I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it.

Lucy has an extended stay in hospital.  I found the mother-daughter part of the story made me think.  We all relate to our own personal experiences and I definitely got twinges when I related my mother’s attitude to Lucy’s mother – although my relationship was different.  I didn’t like her father, troubled but not nice.

Much of Lucy’s early family life came out in tiny bits here and there.  The trickle affect showed the reader the cruel hardship of her earlier life. Is that why Lucy was estranged?  Why was she locked in the old car?

It was interesting how Lucy loved her kind doctor, she got no real love or compassion from her father or her husband.  The author Sarah Payne was a great character, I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more.  I liked her comment after that cutting PTSD remark “…And anyone who uses their training to put someone down that way – well, that person is just a big old piece of crap.”

After Lucy came out of hospital, the story took on the quality of snapshots as though author Elizabeth Strout saw or heard something and jotted it down then couldn’t quite flesh it out but wanted to use it anyway.  There are very human insights but we don’t even know what Lucy wrote in her books.

Lucy’s relationship with her grown-up daughters was rather superficial but I liked the unnerving chapter about her brother, and also when she is bothered by the fact that friend Jeremy may have been the dying AIDS patient she saw in hospital.

The marble statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in the Metropolitan Museum of Art fascinated Lucy but I couldn’t understand why.  It’s graphic but to me just shows the agony of imprisonment.

Overall, I guess I’d give this book three out of five stars because I’m not poetic enough to read between the lines!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ugolino and Sons Statue NYC
Ugolino and His Sons