I have been to farewell Phil and his family as they are going on a holiday today for two weeks in Vietnam. This will give them a break from the pressure of thinking about and trying to plan for the future. If Phil has only eighteen months to live he wants to be sure of a secure future for his wife and little girl so I know he spends a lot of time wondering how to secure that. He hoped to have some superannuation released to pay off the mortgage but it isn’t possible for anyone to have the funds unless they can prove they have twelve months left to live. This seems so unfair as the last twelve months could be so traumatic. I don’t think I have to spell out just how traumatic that would be. To have the financial side of their life sorted out before twelve months were left surely would allow this little family to be more settled and better able to cope with what is ahead for them…….Further thoughts later.
Last time I wrote I mentioned that I was blessed with good children, so it is understandable that it is hard for me to accept I may lose Phil. His siblings, who live in Melbourne, have been devastated by by the thought of losing him. I wish we were not geographically so far apart. I moved to Brisbane from Melbourne over four years ago and I love living here. It would be good under the circumstances if all my children and my nine grandchildren could be here. There are eight of my grandchildren in Melbourne and one in Brisbane. I have made some good friends who support me but it would be so much better to have family here to support not only me but Phil and his family.
The last three years have had a nightmarish quality. I may lose this son, this son who has been so good to his mother: an example. He, his wife and new baby daughter took me on a three week holiday to Greece for my 70th birthday, eight years ago. We were joined by my daughter and her husband from Melbourne. I will never forget that time in Greece…it was a dream come true.There are many other things I could mention of how my children have cared for me over the years but it would take too much time. I know I have been blessed.
Last time I wrote I mentioned running to escape the fearsome news I had received. I could not believe this was happening to my son. As time went by and he underwent treatment I prayed that he would recover. There is still hope and each day I pray that he will become a cancer survivor and stop being a cancer sufferer. He and his wife and little girl have been on a very painful journey and I really don’t know what to do to help except to be available and to give support and to love them. I have three other children who sadly lost their Father in 1977 when he was 42 years old so we know full well the suffering the loss of a loved one can cause. My daughter lost a special friend last year to a particularly nasty cancer and Judy suffered very much for her friend and the husband. At the time she was learning to cope with the news of her brother…to be continued.
Three years ago my son Phil rang to tell me he has prostate cancer.I was in such a state of shock I can remember rushing out of my 1st floor unit, into the lift where a neighbour was traveling to the ground floor. I blurted out the terrible news and she comforted me. As the lift door opened on the ground floor the neighbour asked me where I was going and I replied,”I don’t know.” I just wanted to run until I was too tired to think. More later.
The Haven.A Short Story by Barbara Falloon © 2012
One definition of a book is; written or printed work bound into a cover. Books mean a lot more than that to me: thoughts and ideas of someone, transferred into words; written with care, to entertain, to educate, to be loved, to provide comfort when one is troubled and to be consulted again and again. The dictionary is a good example of the latter. The only problem is that when I look up a word I am often lured by other words and I forget the one I am looking for.
Anyone who realizes the importance of the printed word and can’t walk past a bookstore may like to share the memories I have from my childhood. It might appeal to those who understand what it is to have a haven in which to read a good book.
In 1940 at the time of the second world war when five years old, I was enrolled in a private book shop called the Old Haven Book Shop, which was owned and operated by a wonderful gentle man. He was less than five feet in height and I thought he was old but he was probably in his forties, with silver hair. When I entered the shop he looked at me over spectacles perched on the end of his aquiline nose. When he smiled his eyes twinkled in his round pink face and I was immediately made to feel welcome. He usually wore a brown three piece suit with chain of a fob watch across the vest. He was softly spoken with a heavy European accent.
This gentle man was so different to any one I had ever seen before and his way of speaking was unusual. The sleepy, insular little town where I lived was made up mainly of descendants of the British. I imagine the arrival of a foreigner, who left a troubled Europe to come so far from familiar things, to a place which was relatively untouched by conflict, was something to be wondered at. Mr. Tersch as he was known must have found a haven, apart from his book shop, in our peaceful little town.
Over the years he guided me through books suitable for a child, until eventually I was considered old enough to make selections from the adult section. He soon discovered that art and music were an interest of mine so he kept aside for me books on those subjects, plus biographies of artists and musicians. When I chose books, he checked the titles and with a reproving glance at me, removed any books he regarded unsuitable. Some people could deem that as interference but I never felt that way. Maybe I missed out on some spicy reading but I prefer to feel that someone was caring for my well-being. Sometimes when I entered the library he stopped whatever he was doing, smiled shyly and with hand raised in greeting, disappeared into the dark recess behind the shop, to emerge with a triumphant grin and an armful of new books for me. The curtained recess behind the shop was intriguing and I longed to see into that mysterious place from which came so many special books.
The library, small by present standards, was enough to serve the residents of the small bayside town in which I lived. The shop, protected by a wide verandah, was cool and dark, lit by a single light bulb. There was that delightful musty odour of old books. It was quiet except for the tinkle of a brass bell, activated by the opening and closing of the front door as book borrowers came and went. The pleasure and delight of being able to choose from the selection of children’s picture books is still with me. I remember how I made my selections quickly then had to wait until my parents had selected books. There was a small bench in a corner where I sat, hugging my books, taking in the atmosphere, enjoying the sight of books lined up inviting inspection. I struggled with a conflict of emotions, wanting to stay in this place and impatient to go home to curl up in a quiet place to read; to experience the delight in opening a new book to step into another life. Even though encouraged by my mother to read, I resented being jolted back to reality when often she said, ‘Get your nose out of that book and go out and get some fresh air.’
At a small table, in front of a recess to the back of the shop, the librarian kept records of his clients on index cards in a box and he used a date stamp with ink pad. The latter so impressed me I made a library (with shoe box containing index cards and a rough homemade date stamp and inkpad) in my play area under the stairs. Books borrowed from the shelves at home made up some of the library and I made some out of paper, binding them and sewing the spines with a darning needle and thread. I spent hours as a librarian, happily stamping books and cards for imaginary clients.
We seldom spoke, because he was reserved as but we communicated through books. Although no doubt he treated all his members in the same manner, his concern for me made me feel special. I did not realise until later in my life what a great influence he had on my intellectual growth and I wonder if I had never known him, would I love books so much? Who can tell?
When I reached the end of a book, I often felt I had lived the story and there was a sense of loss when I finished the last page, rather like saying goodbye to a much loved friend. Books were also an escape from the less than desirable home life. There seemed to be safety inside the covers. If there was a threat from a character in a book it could simply be closed and the danger was gone, which was not possible in real life.
It still pains me terribly when I think of the time, when we moved to a new house, a tea chest of treasured books was mistakenly sent to the tip instead of a box of rubbish, never to be seen again. There were many classic books which I had hoped to pass on to my children.
I remained a member until, at the age of 22, I left my home town to live the roving life of a Navy wife. When I returned years later I was distressed to discover, The Old Haven Book Shop was no longer there. The council had built a grand new library next to the town hall. The novelty and competition of such a place would be too much for a small business to survive. Everyone said how great the municipal library was but to me it wasn’t the same as that peaceful book shop with that special gentleman and all those old precious, printed words bound into covers.
It is said that memory can play tricks on one but not in this case. My children had never known he librarian but not long ago, one of my sons, also a book lover, told me he saw a man at the local shopping centre, who must be the librarian I had talked so much about. It didn’t seem possible that he would still be alive. A few weeks later when we were at the same shops, my son pointed to a tiny man and exclaimed jubilantly, ‘Look, there he is. Isn’t that the librarian?’ There he was and apart from having aged, he was exactly as I had described him, the even to the brown, three piece suit. When we approached him, he lifted his hat and bowed slightly, as a gentleman would. After introductions were completed, I mentioned that all my family had been members of his book club. Maybe he was being polite when he said he remembered the family name. Is it possible after forty years? Later my son said. ‘I knew it was him from your description. It was wonderful to see him. A lovely memory of yours has come to life for me.’ It pleased me that I could share a part of my childhood with one of my children.
Recently this wonderful man was honoured by an article in a local newspaper. The story was told of how he came to settle in Australia all those years ago. I also learned that he is over ninety years old. It would be comforting to know if there are other people whose lives were touched by him and who could tell him they found his shop a haven.
Terminal cancer is not a phrase anyone likes to hear especially when applied to a lovely young man I gave birth to 52 years ago.Phil makes me so proud when I read his blogs.I am learning to come to terms with what I did not want to accept. It hasn’t been easy as at first I didn’t know how to cope or what to say to Phil and his lovely wife and of course looking at his daughter nearly broke my heart. She now knows the prognosis and has taken the news very well as far as we can tell but really who can tell how a child’s mind works to digest such terrible news.I have to be strong but it is so difficult to put on a smile when I feel as if my heart will break when I look at my son and his family. I also have to put aside such thoughts as it isn’t all about me.