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Insurrection November 25, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: London 1821 … ‘A most heinous crime…’

The morning I remember most from my childhood was absolutely glorious. Healing, in fact. My parents’ fight the night before had been their worst ever that I could recall.

I spent a lot of that beautiful morning out on the sand dunes, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and watching the dark people down by the shoreline. I never spoke with them, although given my childish curiosity, it is a wonder.

“They’re not civilised,” my mother told me. It made me wonder if being ‘civilised’ was a good thing. These people seemed to laugh together and work together in a way I didn’t see often in my own home.

My father was always saying, “Don’t tell your mother,” about things we did together, and my mother was always saying, “Don’t tell your father,” about cheques she had to write or letters I had to post for her. I often sat and watched the darkies, and wondered if there was a lot of ‘don’t telling’ going on between them. I certainly never saw any of the yelling and screaming down there that went on between my parents. I wondered what, really, people did to be considered ‘civilised.’

My grandmother in particular was most insistent on things being ‘civilised’. She used to give me lectures about growing up and choosing a husband from ‘good stock’. “None of that riff-raff!” she used to insist. I remember making her very cranky indeed, asking if we came from ‘good stock’. I’m not sure she ever gave me a direct answer to that.

I remember looking up ‘civilise’ in the dictionary when I was at school. It meant: to bring out of a savage, uneducated, or rude state; make civil; elevate in social and private life; enlighten; refine. The darkies didn’t look savage to me, and although they didn’t go to school, they knew a lot about fishing and about conducting their own lives. I had to concede, though, that they held no social standing, and nobody I knew would have considered them enlightened or refined. I couldn’t help feeling, though, that seeing as they’d been here a lot longer than us, that they could help us learn how this land works, rather than trying to make it ‘just like Mother England’ all the time. Even as a child, I knew that the end of Malabar backing onto La Peruse was a far cry from whatever the seemingly ubiquitous Mother England was.

I must have been about nine, the morning I remember so clearly, coming in from my free time on the dunes with my feet all covered sand and clumps of it through the pockets of my sundress and in my hair. Mum, livid, hosed me down, naked in the back yard that day. Maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly. Or maybe it was because it was the last time we saw my Grandmother.

Mum was so angry with me because I’d been in my best dress when I went wandering on the dunes, and she aimed to catch the next bus over to visit her mother. Great Grandma was to be there for afternoon tea too, so we all had to be freshly pressed and neatly dressed. Except Dad of course – he never came to Grandma’s house with us – he usually went to the pub instead, and yelled a lot once we got home.

I was hastily dried off and reclothed in my shaken-out dress and best sandals, and my wet hair was scraped back into two tight braids down my back. Somehow we caught the bus, but Mum was tight-lipped and tense all the way, and wouldn’t put up with any nonsense from my wiggly younger brothers. They had to sit on their bottoms for the entire trip, rather than being up on their knees looking out the window like they usually did.

Grandma’s house was big and made of large stone blocks. It was beautifully cool in summer, and large open fires kept it friendly and warm in winter. The grounds were large and the gardens beautifully kept, and although I don’t ever remember it being mentioned, I’m sure she must have had a gardener, just as she had a cook and a maid. There were extraordinary views out over Sydney Harbour from her house, too, although I never paid much attention to them as a child – they were just there, and taken just as for granted as was everything else about my life.

George and Frank and I were outside on the verandah, drinking lemonade and eating every last morsel from the tray of delicacies that the maid bought out to us, when the voices inside became raised.

“We live there because it’s all we can afford!” Mum asserted, and I gathered, not for the first time.

“Well, if you’d married Grainger Cartright instead of that riff-raff!” my great-grandmother sniffed indignantly.

The boys left their seats and ran off to play in the garden as Grandma sniffed loudly about the humiliation of her only daughter being married to a grave-digger, but I crept closer to the open French doors and strained my ears to hear every little thing. I’d never known before that my dad was considered ‘riff-raff!’

Your grandparents were convicts, for goodness sake!” my mother was saying, and I snapped myself out of momentary consternation about my riff-raff paternity to pay closer heed again. That’s what the answer to her secretly sent letter said.

Mum must have been addressing Great Grandma, because it was she who cried out, “They were not!” in utter outrage.

“I did some checking,” my mother said in a voice that was even and definite, not full of the hurt and despair that usually accompanied such arguments in this house. “Your grandfather came out on a convict ship called the Shipley. It left London in 1821.” She considered that information to be money well spent, but Dad was furious – hence all the previous night’s yelling.

“He was crew on that ship!” Great Grandma retorted, as if anything else was completely out of the question.

“I checked that too,” my mother advised. “His crime was insurrection.”

I had no idea what insurrection was, but by the fury provoked in my grandmother and great grandmother, I knew it was considered a most heinous crime indeed.

Not long after that, my mother came to the door and called out into the garden for us to come quickly as we had to leave. Either she didn’t see me, crouching at the doorway, or she chose to ignore me. The boys and I met her at the front door pretty quickly – she’d used a tone we all knew wasn’t worth messing with.

We had to wait ages for the bus to take us home again, and almost nothing was said for the entire journey. We only got seats for the last few stops, and Mum didn’t even tell George off when he climbed up onto a seat in order to pull the cord so the bus would stop at our stop.

Dad wasn’t even drunk when we arrived home. Instead, he greeted us at the front door, and just touched the tops of the boys’ heads and my shoulder as we walked past him, but keeping his eyes locked on Mum’s face. I could feel instantly that the intensity in him was entirely different in nature to anything I knew.

“It didn’t go well, hey love?” he said gently. Dad had never spoken ‘gently’ to Mum in all my living memory.

I turned in the front hallway and saw Mum shake her head. I saw the tears in her eyes too, as she let Dad draw her into his arms. It was a new tenderness between them, and it made the boys and me look at each other in almost horror – we had no idea what it meant, or whether it was good or bad.

“Pop the kettle on, will you love?” Dad said to me over his shoulder. He led mum through to the kitchen and sat her down at the table, and all three of us kids gathered around too – we’d never seen either of them like this.

“I just thought that knowing that you came from good stock, but we came from convict stock way back when … that it might help them … accept you!” Mum wailed as I made a big pot of tea and set out cups for all of us. Frank and George and I weren’t usually allowed to drink tea, but I made ours very milky that evening, and neither of our parents stopped us. It felt like a real communion – a real bonding time – as I remember it.

Dad shook his head sadly. “It’s time to accept it, Esther,” he told Mum firmly. “You can’t be working class, and I can’t be upper class. I married up, and you married down. It’s just a fact of life, love. If we really believe that we’re right together, then we’ve got to make our own class.”

I still remember Mum’s face, tear-stained and lipstick-smeared as it was from being buried in Dad’s shirt, as she looked Dad in the eyes, strong and steady. “I married you because I loved you, Sam. We’ve been through some awful trials, mostly at our own hands, but you’re still the same man underneath it all, and I still love you.”

Dad didn’t miss a beat. “I still love you too, Essie,” he said, his voice all choked and husky, which I’d never seen in my life before.

“Dad,” asked George, bold as brass, “are you riff-raff?”

Frank and I instinctively cringed, and Dad noticed it as he turned to answer, dismay sweeping his face. Maybe he’d never realised before that we were often terrified of his drunken rages.

Mum was already decrying George’s words, but Dad held up his hand to make her stop. He answered George calmly, explaining why Grandma thought he wasn’t good enough for Mum, and promising he would never let her opinion of him affect how he treated us ever again.

I’m not sure I believed him at the time, but soon afterwards he got a job on the railways, and we moved out to a little siding called Minnamooka. The boys and I did School of the Air, and Dad and Mum danced around the kitchen after dinner at night, and taught us how to waltz and sing at the tops of our lungs.

I never once heard, “Don’t tell,” from either of my parents again. Never again did Dad and I go to steal fruit off our neighbours’ trees, or wood from their woodpiles. I never had to keep the writing of a cheque or the posting of a letter secret ever again, either.

It became my own opinion that Mum invested very wisely in obtaining that scurrilous information about her ancestor. Only when Grandma died though, leaving all of her estate to a charity, did we venture back to the city or to her house.

Dad drove us all in the family car, and together we walked all over the estate when it was opened for public inspection, prior to auction. Back in the car and driving to our lodgings for the night, Dad reached across the wide bench seat of the old car and pinched Mum’s knee, making her jump, then giggle. “What’s got you, love?”

Mum had been looking smug. “Oh, I was just thinking about Great-great-great-great Grandpa Smith,” she said. “Perhaps a few of those insurrection genes passed down through the line to me!” She didn’t sound in the least bit dismayed about it, either.

The boys and I were mostly all past our teens by then, and within the next two years we’d all be married. I piped up from in between my brothers in the back seat. “I heard you tell Grandma that’s was the crime he was transported for,” I admitted. “I thought insurrection must be just the most heinous crime imaginable.”

Dad laughed. “Oh, apparently not,” he chortled. “Wouldn’t trade it for mindless compliance in our life, not for all the money that estate back there will haul in at auction! That charity can keep the lot of it.”

Mum smiled sideways at him. “So, God bless the departure of the good ship Shipley from London in 1821 with Edwin Horatio Smith on board.”

He chuckled again. “And may the crime of insurrection always be alive and well in our family’s genes.”

“Along with hard work and decency,” Mum amended, ever the moderator of all things appropriate in the family. “And only ever for a good cause, of course!”

I just remember that as we drove through the city traffic, we were all smiling broadly, happy with how things had turned out after all.

The boys don’t remember a thing from the house at Malabar, but for me, I’ve only got to close my eyes and it’s all right there. That one day that I remember so well, to my mind, was the day we became civilised. We might never have been civilised enough for Grandma, but in fact, we did just fine.

Resources

  1. Convict Ships to NSW 1801-1849 http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/shipNSW2.html
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The MiNiBaBug November 9, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: “This is what I do at 2:30 in the morning when I can’t sleep.”

 

Our house is an odd shape, I suppose, but it never occurred to me before that it was quite like the house I grew up in. The place that Greg and I bought as newlyweds is an inner city house on a long, narrow block, whereas the place I lived in growing up was a massive block of land on the outskirts of a country town.

Our place is typical of worker’s cottages of the era, and typical of the renovations that were done a few years ago. You walk in the front door, past a bedroom on either side of the long hallway, then past another bedroom on one side, and a bathroom on the other, behind which is the ensuite for the master bedroom. The third bedroom was probably the lounge room when the place was first built. Then you walk into a big lounge room that’s the full width of the house, and through that into an expansive family area with a laundry and galley kitchen down one side. The back wall of that is concertina-style glass doors, opening out fully onto a deck and entertainment area that in the early days housed a kiddy swing off one of the rafters, and a clamshell sand-pit that never seemed to successfully retain its load.

The place we grew up in had the front door opening up into a long wide hallway, too, past rows of bedrooms on either side, then into a lounge room on one side and a dining room on the other, jutting out a bit both sides so that extra stained-glass windows caught extra light. The kitchen and bathroom were just tacked on at the back of the old house.

That place was an odd cross-shape from the top of the old gum tree, and although when we bought it I thought this place was just a long narrow box, it too is an odd cross-shape from above. I don’t need to be up high anywhere to see that, I just know it.

When I was a kid, Mum always kept the bickie tins full. We’d catch the bus into school from the front gate of a morning, and come home to either chilled home-made lemonade in summer, or steaming mugs of sweetened cocoa in winter. Alan and Deirdre and I would always consume at least half a tin of biscuits between us before Mum popped the lid back on and slid the tin back onto the top of the fridge where all those tins lived. She’d then bustle us along to get changed and hurry outside to play, so that we were ready to settle down and do homework by the time Dad was home and she was cooking dinner.

I was a teenager before I realised that Mum worked, just like Dad did, and that she didn’t have time to bake during the daytime. “So when do you make all the bickies, Mum?” I remember asking.

“Oh, while you lot are all asleep,” she said dismissively.

By then, none of us were in bed before midnight, by which time Mum and Dad had both been asleep for a couple of hours, so that didn’t make sense to me.

“Oh, I always did shift-work when I was first nursing,” Mum said, addressing my unspoken consternation. “I think it ruined my sleep patterns. For years, I’ve woken fully up, bright and sparkling, sometime after midnight, and I used to always be really frustrated that I couldn’t get back to sleep. When you kids started coming home from school ravenous, I realised I could put the time to good use with baking. So since then, this is what I do at 2:30 in the morning when I can’t sleep. I get up and bake, and then, for some reason, I can go back to bed and sleep like a baby.”

I wondered if Mum was pregnant when she was first bothered by the sleeplessness.

Vaughn, our first son, was due to be born a week or so hence when I started thinking about all this – I was on maternity leave from my own nursing job again. Brittany and Annabelle were asleep down the hall, and of course Greg was snoring loudly beside me. I wanted to blame him for my sleeplessness, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that baking a batch of biscuits might be just what the doctor ordered in terms of sleep therapy.

As it turned out, I loved it. I was baking, which I’d always loved, I had time to think my own thoughts and be in my own kitchen without anybody else being under foot, and Greg and the girls certainly enjoyed my efforts.

Vaughn, as he grew, could eat a batch of biscuits almost entirely unaided, and I started having to do what my mum had done: putting the lid back on the tin as soon as the lemonade or hot chocolates were finished, and shooing the kids off to play before it was time to do homework.

It was never my intention to have a home for our children that was so like the one I grew up in. It’s just happened that way. The funny thing is, I think it took Greg about a decade to figure out how the bickie tins stay magically full all the time. He’s never objected, though, and the kids just think I’m strange. They’ll get over it, though. Who knows? One day the Middle of the Night Baking Bug might just bite them, too.

No Such Address September 21, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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This exercise from my sister Ada: Choose one of the following and go with it:
• your language? • no such address • with all the drowsy stuff • they were a little put off by the way.

This story is quite long, I’m sorry – I got a little carried away, I think.

 

Matilda sighed and stopped outside the gate, resting the weight of her own frame down through the core of her being. She dropped her head backwards and let the rain pour down her face instead of running off the brim of her hat.

She’d been at this for days now, and not only were her feet sore and weary, but her heart was draining of conviction, too.

She wasn’t a young woman, and in that moment she felt fully two or three times her real years. She wasn’t used to trudging around city pavements for days on end. She didn’t much like talking to people at all, let alone stranger after stranger after stranger, and it was demoralising beyond comprehension when every single one so far had shaken their head sadly and said “Sorry,” in one way or another. “Sorry, love.” “Nah. Sorry!” “No my dear, I’m so sorry.”

Matilda realised that the rain was trickling down the inside of her collar and running rivulets down her skin. Dropping her head forward with exhausted frustration, she clamped her hand against her chest and wriggled her aching shoulders to force the fabric of her clothing to soak up the intrusion of the rain into her personal space.

It had started when her mother started to decline, and Matilda rallied the family to see if they could locate some of her past for frail, self-sacrificing Maisie. Of course most of the work was left to Matilda, and only one or two of her own children even showed a spark of interest when she told the family who she’d found to write to this time. Not that it mattered.

A handful of her letters brought responses stating an inability to help, or a refusal based on lack of information. Most of her letters, though, had come back brutally stamped by the Post Office with an accusing finger pointing from right to left: Return to Sender and a box ticked to justify Australia Post’s failure to deliver the letter. Mostly, the checked box indicated that the addressee was Unknown at this Address. The last letter was different. Address Unknown.

Matilda still had the envelope in her handbag, and it had been through a great many hands since its return to her home address. Her Uncle Norm had looked at it several times. “No, love. That’s the right address. I know it. I never went there meself, but I used to address the Christmas cards for Mum when her hands stopped working. For years I did that! She always remembered them at Christmas – it’s where George told her to go to have the baby. With George’s parents. They were good to her too, love. Helped her get on her feet when George was killed in the war.”

Matilda knew she didn’t have another knock-back left in her today. Turning away from the dilapidated house in front of her, she turned and walked across the street and settled herself inside an aging café. Its walls were desperately in need of paint, but its tables were so scrupulously clean that the pattern was all but gone from the green Formica tabletops.

“Take yer coat off before y’sit down, love,” called out a kindly male voice from somewhere behind the counter. A white-haired chap hurried out of the shadows and helped her out of her sopping raincoat and hat. “Oh, y’poor thing! Y’look half drowned!” Twisting his head over his shoulder, he aimed his next utterance towards the kitchen area somewhere. “Lisa! Bring us a bowl of soup and some fresh buttered toast, willya?”

“Oh, that’s very kind,” Matilda said softly. “I’ll just have a coffee, though.”

“No, no, love!” the snowy-haired man insisted, guiding her by the elbow to a table near the heater. “The soup’s the same price, and the coffee’s on the house for drowned rats. Y’look like y’need warming up from the inside.”

Matilda sank gratefully into the chair he’d pulled out for her, and looked up into kindly brown eyes. “Thank you so much. That’s very kind.”

He hovered, frowning at her slightly. “You got arthritis?” he asked, nodding when he saw her agreement pass over her face. “Like me.”

His grand-daughter brought the soup and toast, and Matilda didn’t think she’d ever tasted anything so wonderful in all her life. Snowy, which is what Lisa told Matilda everyone called him, brought her a perfect cappuccino in a large mug, just as she was finishing the last bite of toast.

Somehow, then, they got talking. It wasn’t busy in this weather, Snowy pointed out. It wasn’t good for business, but he liked days like this because you actually got to meet people, rather than just serving them and taking their money.

Matilda told him why she was out on such a wet and blustery day, and so far from home. Her mother was dying. She’d always been a fragile sort of person, probably shouldn’t have lived at birth, except for her fighting spirit, Maisie’s mother had always told her.

“Her parents met during the first war,” Matilda told Snowy. “George got permission to marry, but soon after he went with the Lighthorse. Gertie found she was pregnant, and somehow she ended up living with George’s parents in the city here, and that’s where Maisie, my mother, was born. They lived with George’s parents for nearly a decade, I believe, before Gertie remarried and they moved up to Uralla. They had more children of course, and Mum doesn’t really know what happened to her grandparents who lived around these parts. She just remembers being happy with them.”

Snowy nodded understandingly. “Communication in the old days wasn’t as good as it is now,” he reminded her. “Even in the sixties, phone calls were expensive. And telegrams – remember those?” he laughed. “‘ARRIVING PM TRAIN SAT’ and all in capitals, of course. Gosh, y’had to be able to decipher the cryptic in those days!”

“Yes,” agreed Maisie. “I think Mum would just like to see, one last time, the place where she was born. My Uncle Norm was Gertie’s youngest child with her second husband, so he doesn’t know a lot about her life before his father came along, but he insists he remembers the address correctly. I’ve written to the local council, I’ve written to all the Pendleburys in Tempe from the phone book, but nobody’s ever heard of George Lionheart Pendlebury.”

Snowy scrunched up his eyes at her, almost suspiciously. “Lionheart? That’s an odd middle name!”

“Mum says she thinks they were related to Richard the Lionheart, way back.” “What’s the address?” Matilda thought she caught a trace of accusation in Snowy’s voice, but she was too tired to trust her own sensibilities, or to really care. “That you’re looking for,” he clarified when she hesitated in answering.

She rifled through her bag and pulled out the now-worn letter that had been in so many hands, just in this one day. Handing it across the table, she recited, “24 Pendlebury Lane, Tempe. Apparently there’s no such address.”

“Huh,” Snowy said, holding the letter with both hands and nodding absently at it, his mouth slightly agape. “Huh,” he said again. When he looked up at Matilda again, she thought his eyes were moist. He cleared his throat. “Pendlebury Lane was renamed back in the fifties,” he said. “Apparently it was considered more appropriate to honour local dignitaries, no matter how unscrupulous they were, rather than real, honest people.”

Matilda caught the note of pique in his tone, and didn’t respond.

Again, Snowy cleared his throat before speaking. “The numbers were redone in the seventies.” He left Lisa to deal with the new customers that came through the door, shaking off their umbrellas in the doorway.

This time, Matilda felt her own disappointment. She’d been going to knock on a door across the road. She’d heard today that there was a possibility that the street had been renamed, but she’d never dreamt it had been renumbered, too.

“I suppose I’ll have to doorknock the length of the street.” She sighed. “That will have to be tomorrow. I’m too done in today.”

Snowy shook his head, and this time there was no doubt that his eyes were moist. “You probably didn’t notice,” he said, his voice unsteady. “The shop here is called the Lionheart Café. Now, we’re 27 Rutherford Street, but back when your mum was born, it was 24 Pendlebury Lane.” He held out his hand, to shake hers as if they were just meeting. “I’d been your second cousin,” he said with a wobbly smile. “Or something like that. Snowdon Lionheart Pendlebury Jones – that’s my name. Snowy Jones. My mother used to talk about Gertie and Maisie all the time. My mum was George’s little sister. Your mum lived out the back here with them all.”

Her own features flooded with emotion, and Matilda slowly lifted her hand to mechanically, disbelievingly connect with Snowy’s.

“Mum! Mum, you’ll never guess what!” she cried into her mobile phone an hour later as she hurried to the train. Uncle Norm was holding the phone to Maisie’s ear. “We’re bringing you to Sydney!”

Multiflorabundance August 24, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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My big sister in Western Australia and I both have an interest in writing, and to my delight, she has suggested we do a trans-continental writing exercise each week. Nothing like having some impetus to get to do the practice you’re longing to do!

This week we chose the letter M and each suggested three words, so that we had to weave six words altogether into our story. Our words were: multitude, myopic, memories, mystery, multiflora, mentor.

This is my effort – please tell me what you think. It took about 20 minutes.

 

Ali clutched her canteen-bought sandwich and bottle of orange juice and battled her way through the incoming hungry hordes back out into the fresh air and sunshine. The multitude only dispersed somewhat when she reached the courtyard, and she was well down the path to her favourite grove of trees on the university campus before she felt like she was all clear of their pressing and pushing.

She didn’t mind university life unduly. She was making friends slowly, but she still thought her father was completely myopic in his insistence that she needed a degree behind her before she followed any of her dreams.

Even she knew, though, that the number of her wild and fanciful dreams had dissipated – more and more, the further she aged away from her childhood. She was here now because really, she had nothing better to do.

All morning, all through the boring lecture on the psychology of persuasion, one word had been going through Ali’s mind. Multiflora. It was an odd word to have parading through your mind, when really, you should be contemplating the vagaries of Maslow and Jung. Ali knew where the word came from: Auntie Pearl.

Auntie Pearl was her father’s great aunt, and she’d been one hundred and two years old when she died a couple of years back. The woman had been a national treasure as far as Ali’s family was concerned. A maiden aunt, she had actively coaxed and coached Ali’s dad’s generation of cousins through their awkward years, and they all referred to her fondly as Our Mentor.

Her heart flooding with memories as she chewed her sandwich and sipped her juice, Ali savoured the peace from under her favourite tree in the grove. It was a beautiful place, really – a wide variety of trees planted higgledy-piggledy, with some fruit-bearing, some bearing wildly coloured flowers and some purely ornamental.

Multiflora. Multiflora, multiflora, multiflora. They were the last words Auntie Pearl spoke from her deathbed. “Poor dear’s losing her mind,” Ali’s mum had said sadly.

For herself, though, Ali knew that wasn’t true. Auntie Pearl’s mind was as sharp as it had ever been, and Ali knew, somewhere in the depths of her being, that the old dear was saying that word purposefully, and directly to her. What she meant by it though, was still a mystery.

Ali knew that the word actually meant plants that were characterised by many single, relatively small flowers. That’s not what Auntie Pearl was saying to her, though. One of her fondest memories of the old lady was flower arranging, and that was an activity that always caused the Auntie Pearl to mutter multiflora under her breath while she worked. She’d take barren twigs and ostentatious leaves, and weave them into magnificent creations that would wow the whole family. In that context, Auntie Pearl had spoken to Ali about making sure that her life had diversity woven through it – vivid colours and heady scents, but also structure and form.

From her sacred position beneath the tree, Ali looked upwards, past the fruit trees that were in blossom, beyond the massive pines that marked the university fenceline, and to the towering city skyline beyond.

It was odd, the sensation that took place within her as she looked. Scrunching up her empty sandwich bag and holding it with her empty juice bottle on her lap, Ali held them there while somewhere in her depths a coin dislodged from a place where it had been stuck for many years, and rattled its way down to the depths of her soul. It almost felt like she was one of those Sambo money-boxes that her father had from his childhood, where you put a coin into Sambo’s hand and lifted it so that he swallowed the coin, which then sat with its companions in his depths until you had enough to buy your treasure.

Ali looked at the skyline. You’ve got to have form and structure – it’s the backbone of life. She looked at the trees. You can only be one species – not a plum tree one week and a banksia the next. She looked more closely at the trees. They all had trunks. Structure. They all did their one thing, but they did a variety of things on the way to doing their one thing. Diversity. The fruit trees were bare, then budded and blossomed and finally bore fruit – they certainly weren’t boring in what they did or what they produced. At the base of the trees grew flowers, and they too had a structure and process before they went wild with abandon.

Glancing at her watch, Ali realised she’d have to rush to get to her next lecture. As she ran along the pathways of the university to the lecture hall, though, she understood what her father had been getting at. When you’re young, it’s important to concentrate on building a strong core – you can’t choose what your natural giftings are, or what background you’re born to, but you can make sure that you build the core of your life strong and true, so that in future, whatever fruit or flowers you produce will be magnificent. And you can surround yourself with interesting people and do fascinating things so that life is never dull.

Ali slid into her student seat in the lecture hall next to a couple of her new friends, smiling broadly at them. The lecturer entered and took his place at the podium, and Ali took out her books to take notes. Across the top of her page she wrote multiflorabundant and smiled. Auntie Pearl would be proud. Maybe her dad would be too.

“What’s that?” her nearest seated friend hissed, pointing at the word and frowning.

“That’s what my life’s going to be,” Ali hissed back, smiling broadly, before concentrating on the lecturer’s words. She had to squeeze all the goodness out of this lecture and every other that would come for the rest of her life. It was all part of the fertilizer that would build the strong core for her multiflorabundance.