Here's a little story by Jan Orman (me) that asks you to read between its lines to get to the truth:
I saw you in the obituaries today. Excellent photo – taken at the best time of your life. A little after I knew you I think, just as the newly greying temples were distinguishing your face. A little bit before you were someone important enough to have his obituary in the Herald.
I haven’t been looking for you there. You have not been on my mind much at all these last years. I just read the obituaries as a pastime and today, right out of the blue, there you were.
When I was young, at high school perhaps, clock radios were new. Mine jolted me awake at 8.15 with the news of who had died overnight and whose funeral could be attended that day. I was fascinated by the scant details about people’s lives I gleaned from the announcements. I filled in the gaps as best I could with extra imaginings and waited breathlessly when I heard a surname I recognised to see if the children or grandchildren that survived lovingly were anybody I knew. Country towns are small worlds. I got a hit at least once a week.
My childhood habit evolved into the regular reading of the obits in the Herald over breakfast - after Column Eight and before the crossword. I like the stories I can find amongst the shadows in the spaces between the lines. I don’t see anybody I know very often in the Herald – Sydney is a big town and I don’t come from here – so you jumped right off the page at me this morning.
Good to see you, it’s been a long time! Interesting to see you as the world sees you.
You must have got that OA only a few years after you moved Jenna and the kids back to the city. (Funny that I didn’t hear about it.) I remember how that commute to the city began to get you down. Jenna, never keen on being there was fed up with being a “single parent in a one horse town” while you stayed such long hours in the lab. At least if you all lived near the University, I’d heard her say more than once, the commute would not cut even more time off the little that was available to you to spend with the family. Of course, inner city living wasn't going to be the beach side idyll you’d planned for your kids to have growing up, but something had to give. It was either the beach or the marriage.
I did admire you for being prepared to make the compromise and I see from what I read in the paper that it was worthwhile in terms of your career. Jenna must have stayed with you too though I'm sorry to see she predeceased you.
I always thought your family had so much style. I was really jealous of those great names your kids had - Daniella, Serge, Izzy. So much nicer than the boring old Margaret I got stuck with. And who is Jesse anyway? Did you have another child after you left town? He must have been quite a tail-ender! I remember that little Izzy was already eight when you left. What happened to Jenna’s return to her career? Was that her part of the bargain? Did young Jesse mean you got your way about that after all?
It was interesting to read about your research. No wonder you never talked about it at home. No-one in our town would have understood anyway. Immune complexes, immunotherapy – WTF! The locals were all pretty nonplussed by the fact that you got a degree with first class honours in Medicine and then didn't ever see a patient in your life. People were always telling incredulous stories about asking your advice about their health issues at barbeques or on the golf course and your saying you didn't know anything about that sort of thing. “I thought he was a doctor,” they’d say. "Not that kind," Mum would respond.
My mother was always so strange about you. Do you know she tried to stop me from playing cricket when she found out you were the under 12s coach? She liked the idea of a girls’ cricket team coached by my friend Dani's dad but didn't realise that Dani's dad was you. She nearly had a heart attack when she dropped me off at training that first day. I don’t think she knew you’d come home. I watched her melt down then pull herself together to tell me calmly that she’d known you at Uni, that you'd studied medicine together, but she never did say why that was a bad thing. I just assumed she hadn't liked you, or she'd been jealous of your first class honours. I know she struggled a bit to get through after she took that year off to have me.
Did you know my Dad? Mum says he died in a car accident visiting his family in Germany when she was only just pregnant with me. She doesn't talk about him. She hasn't even got any photos to show me. It’s almost as though he didn't exist. She says she never told him she was pregnant because she didn't want to tie him down. Mum’s own family pretty much ditched her when she got pregnant, so she really did do it all on her own. It was always just Mum and me.
That’s why I loved it when you lived in our town. Your Dani and I were such good friends! Do you remember that our birthdays were only a few weeks apart? Jenna and Mum must have got pregnant at very nearly the same time.
It never mattered that Jenna was a bit cold to me - I figured it was just her rich city ways - because you always paid me special attention when I was at your place and Serge and Izzie were the closest thing I ever had to a little brother and sister. I was devastated when you left town and very sad when I lost contact with Dani after your sabbatical. Our friendship didn't ever recover from that separation. She didn't seem to want to know me.
I was astounded to see in the paper that your Mum is still alive. She must be in her nineties by now. I remember her from when she came to stay that Christmas. I liked her a lot. She’d sit with Dani and I on the front verandah after dinner in the long summer evenings and tell us family stories – stories about her childhood in the mountains and the time Thunderbolt came to stay. She was so funny, we’d laugh til we ached and then she’d make us tell her stories about our lives. We’d make up terrible lies about the things we’d done and the famous people we’d met and we’d all laugh some more. She didn't mind that we were making fun of her. I think she liked it that we thought her truth was so outrageous. She was really funny the way she kept saying how much alike she thought Dani and I were.
I did hear that you came to my mother’s funeral. I didn't see you but other people told me you were there. I was touched that you’d come, but didn't quite understand why you did it after all these years. I know you were at uni together but I didn't think you knew each other very well. I suppose you knew she never found another man she could have a relationship with. She said she couldn't find anyone as nice as my Dad so she was happy to be on her own. She worked in that practice til she was so sick she couldn't work anymore and died two weeks later. The whole town came to her funeral. She had looked after all of them at one time or another. They all loved her. It was very hard for me when she died. I don’t have anybody else really.
I noticed they made a mistake in your obituary. They said your mother was called Margaret. Didn't everyone call her Peggy?