My Family History

Surrounded by piles of photos, prints and digital, and indebted with family facts and stories, I struggle to shape it into a sensible narrative.

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Curating the family history is a challenging exercise and yet I am enthusiastic to weave it together for prosperity and for anyone who might someday wonder.

This is something that has interested me for many years and I have been on some previous fact finding missions that revealed things we didn’t know. I love to find out about our origins and the lives of our ancestors. I can name three ships that brought different branches of the family to Australia: The Hampshire, The Shand, and The Niagara. I love to see the photos of ancestors to spot the family resemblances that crop up unexpectedly.

Not a ‘scrap-booker’ by nature I think that ultimately a hand crafted personal creative book would be a beautiful result. In the meantime I have begun to do a simple storyboard using PowerPoint to set out my narrative. There are obvious important gaps that need to be filled somehow.

So I think about others in the family who have compiled remarkable genealogies that are relevant and interesting to my story. One of my father’s cousins has passed away now and I wonder where that wealth of knowledge is now. Another cousin of my husbands father must be very old now if not also passed away – where is her lovely story and impressive pedigree charts now? Another – my cousin is contactable, but that branch of the family story is well documented already, so not as pressing.

Some of the old photos are gorgeous but without captions the identities are a mystery. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ but also presents many questions; such a who, where, when, why.

This historic photo for example is of the family of Smiths who lived in Portland Victoria Australia. One of the boys is my paternal grandfather.

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Family members who knew them previously identified the others in the photo. A scribble on the back of a print states that this photo was taken in 1920 in Portland, just prior to the family being ‘separated’. The father and mother of this family are not in the photograph because they had both passed away. I know the story and it is a tragic tale that I will include in my personal family history when the time comes.

Meanwhile my investigations continue and I try to wrangle this precious pile of pictures into something interesting and useful.

Live & Local

IMG_7833It has been a busy week for me as I have organised the local events to celebrate National Library Week.

We kicked off the week with the Sydney Writers Festival.

This year’s Sydney Writers Festival was live-streamed across the country, and it was my job to liaise with the organisers to have it broadcast at Frankston Library.

The quality of the live stream was excellent and it really felt as though you had front row seats in Sydney. Andrea Louise Thomas was the MC for our local event and she had prepared questions for audience discussion after each talk.

IMG_0446I was fortunate to enjoy these wonderful sessions on the Friday:

The ‘live and local’ sessions continued on the Saturday and Sunday, at the library, and these were very much appreciated by those that attended.

National Simultaneous Storytime was celebrated with much hat wearing fun by lots of children who took part at our libraries. We also offered video versions on our Facebook page.

IMG_7848The current Miles Franklin Award winning author Sofie Laguna spoke eloquently to an eager crowd mid-week; The Eye of the Sheep a source of much discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7842A local pianist Yani played our old possum-painted plunka during two lunchtime periods. She competed bravely against dodgy piano keys, seagulls, crows, traffic noise, wind and rain. I sat contentedly listening to her imperfect renditions of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and others.

We conclude our busy week with a live music concert with Sympatico.

A competition is yet to be concluded. We posed the question: ‘When was the first free library provided in Frankston?’ The answer is on display in our libraries.

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On being dismantled

“Yes!” I exclaimed as I drove along the freeway to work one morning. Julie Piatt had just said some enlightening words:

“You’ve got to rise to a different level, and start defining what’s going on with you. This is my sacred moment! This is my opportunity. Bless ‘them’ for giving me this opportunity. I’m not going to waste it. I’m not going to lose this moment. Let me take it and ingest it with all of my being, so that I extract the nectar of life.”

cover170x170 I was hearing these words from the podcast Divine Throughline and Srimati’s words rang clear and true for me. She described the experience of being ‘dismantled’ in life. Her experience was one of financial collapse and the struggles she faced in dealing with that. But she emphasized that the same dismantling can occur with relationships, health, etc.

The word ‘dismantling’ accurately describes the feeling that I have been experiencing over these past few years since my parents died. They were the foundation of my identity – positively and negatively. As outgoing people they regularly did the talking for their reserved eldest child. My identity in this world was shaped and supported by their description of me. I saw myself through their eyes. Their supporting framework for me existed for 55 years and now it is gone.

Other notions of my character and personality emerged, were well lived, and then outlived: capable and interested student, competitive swimmer and netballer, designer, wife, mother…

It was my identity as a mother where I found confidence, connection, meaning, competence, and unconditional love. There is nothing new in this, but for me, as someone without confidence, this formed a strong identity for me. I loved, nurtured, helped, supported, and communicated to these new beings who I was responsible for, with the constant help from my husband – their father. These were/are my favourite people in the whole world. I loved seeing the world through the eyes of a mother, sharing life experiences with them.

They flew from the nest as confident, independent, capable, and happy adults to find their own way in life. A success story. And while my parents were still part of this world, they continued to hold up my fragile ivory tower.

But then I was ‘benched’ as Julie Piatt describes in her podcast. Much of what I knew to be my identity was removed through relationships that were now gone or had failed, and this was not ever my intention. Piece by piece my identity has been stripped away. Of course I am grateful for those that remain.

“This is your soul saying “Get on your knees and I’m going to bring you down and your ego is not going to like this. I’m going to take you down to your core and reveal to you who you really are which is so much more beautiful that any personality or any ego, ever was.”

She says to allow ourselves some time and then you have to pick yourself up and rise to a different level. This is my sacred moment. She goes on to advise that we must do the things we love, everyday, whatever that might be; to be open to the miracle, and to see life through the lens of abundance and gratitude. I try and it is easy because I have so much to be grateful for.

Tell me

A realization struck me as I sat in the audience listening to Doctor Bruce Wells talk about happiness: I am living my life aligned to my passions and values. My employed work is to plan and organize library related events for the interest and benefit of our local community. It is a privileged position and while, in general, library work does align with my values associated with ethics, morals, and liberty, Dr. Wells made me realize that for me there is something deeper.

 

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Dr Bruce Wells at Frankston Library 16 April 2016

I love reading and books. I love being exposed to new ideas. I love to imagine other worlds and lives that exist between the pages. I love being told a good story. I love feeding my hunger for exploration and discovery. I love sitting at home in a comfortable chair absorbed in the latest good read. Working in a library, invites, supports and encourages others to read a good book and learn new things.

But it is my work that takes this one step further. What good are books full of treasured stories if they sit idly waiting on shelves gathering dust? What makes people pick it off the shelf and open the cover? It relies too heavily on serendipity. Library staff create displays and programs to highlight and celebrate books and themes in order to help people see what they don’t always know is there. (I read ebooks too and I am well aware of the new consumer habits associated with obtaining ebooks, but for this post I am focussing on our public libraries and print books. Many people don’t know that you can borrow an ebook for free from a public library; but that’s a whole other post).

But I go one step further. I invite authors to come along and speak at our library. What better way to bring books to life than to have the author there before you, in the flesh, to tell you more about their ideas?

Being told stories is a cherished human activity that goes back before books. Campfire stories are still a favourite thing to do when we can. The popularity of TED Talks is no surprise. We all love to hear something interesting. Then we might follow up this interest by exploring more on the topic.

So my realization was that I am able to share my own love of reading, books, and storytelling, by inviting authors to come and speak in person at our library. Local people can enjoy hearing stories told, and the writing craft explained, by the authors themselves. Books are thus brought to life. It is a true privilege for me to be in this position to be able to bring about this unique alchemy.

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Ali MC and Abe Nouk at Frankston Library 19 March 2016

These are the authors that I have organized speaking events for over the past year:

And these are the events that are coming up soon:

The Treasure Box

The pink and silver striped tin held lollies: chocolate cubed violet crumbles, or perhaps colourfully striped liquorice all-sorts. But that was not the reason I was drawn to my grandmother’s cabinet. There were interesting treasures behind the locked glass doors; bright objects that caught the eye of a small girl.

I remember the Toby mugs of varying sizes, stern faces, coloured coats, white stockings, buckled black shoes, and handles on their backs. Also elegant porcelain ladies with full skirts feathered with lace folds. A Japanese fan that revealed a pretty painted scene when unlatched. The family of small black elephants with white tusks always proved to be safe play things for children. Tea sets; elegant glasses; crystal bowls; decorated plates; and small decorated boxes that could hold hidden treasure, but when opened revealed – nothing.

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The thing that always attracted me the most was a beautiful silver coloured tea set. It was modern in design in comparison to the other objects held in the cabinet. But I didn’t know anything about that then. My grandmother told me that I could have it when I grew up. This embarrassed me, as my appreciation of her things was just that, and so while I continued to admire her treasures, I stopped declaring this.

My mother inherited this cabinet minus many of the treasures within. My grandmother did indeed give me the silver tea set for a significant birthday. And over the years I have collected my own treasures. These things have been in boxes for the last 2 ½ years and it is only now that I am able to unpack them and put them into my grandmother’s cabinet that I inherited from my mother.

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My mother collected small elephant figurines. I don’t know why. Perhaps this love grew after the time she spent in Thailand. She had many of different styles, colours, materials, and sizes. At her wake my father said to offer them around to the people there. So I placed them all onto a tray and went around offering them like a plate of sandwiches. And almost everyone would say, “No I can’t take that one. That is the nicest one and everyone will want it.” People were drawn to the different elephants and almost all of them found new homes and a memento of my mother.

It is interesting to me the value that we place on objects. Why do we do that? Sentimental reasons and nostalgia count for a lot. What might have value in the market place might not be valued by me at all. I became an Industrial Designer because I appreciate well-designed good quality objects. Once I saw the ugly cheap plastic reality of mass production I bailed from this career path, not wanting to add to the already drowning plastic fantastic universe. “Form follows function” is the dictum of Industrial Design. And yet how many ways can we construct a chair? Or a tea pot? What do we actually need in our lives?

I cherish the memory of admiring the objects in my grandmother’s cabinet. It was a pure delight not yet tarnished with notions of monetary value, possession, greed, or competition. It was a small girl’s wonder that is precious in itself.

Sprucing Up the Library with Kevin Hennah

Kevin Hennah is like a comedy act for Librarians. He is funny, sarcastic, and knows how to provoke his audience. He regularly sprouts comments like:

If I have to hear the word ‘makerspace’ one more time…

And:

The Internet has moved the goal posts, yet many libraries keep kicking in the same direction.

And:

If you have RFID, why do you still have this Titanic circulation desk?

I enjoyed his workshop that reiterated concepts that I had heard before:

  • Ditch Dewey in preference for genre collections.
  • Create boutique style collections.
  • Use face-out displays of books.
  • Adopt clear signage.
  • Use ‘library’ as the strong brand that it is. Don’t adopt new names such as ‘Learning Centre’ or ‘Community Hub’ or ‘LINC’.
  • Weed, weed and weed.
  • Make space for seating for customers.
  • Ditch the pin-board displays in favour of screens, QR codes, and quick pick displays.
  • Blame Kevin.

 

It’s not about me

When I sat in the ECU holding the hand of my dying mother, it wasn’t about me. It was about being there for her, to be a loving daughter, to be a physical presence for another soul, my mother, as she passed reluctantly from this Earth.

When I helped my father when he visited my mother in her final days, I was there for him, to support him in his grief, to provide his transport, to cook his meals, to talk with the doctors, as he struggled, losing his lifetime companion. It was not about me.

When my husband and I resigned from good jobs, sold our home and most of our personal possessions, in order to be there to care for my father as he declined into ill health, it wasn’t about me. It was to be there for him at 1am and 3am and 5am 24/7, responding to his needs, helping him stagger to the toilet, giving him medicine to ease his pain. As I tried to allow him the space and dignity he deserved as his body failed him, lifting him when he fell, keeping him clean and comfortable, it was all about him, never about me.

When I had to oversee the Will as Executor, to deal with their much-loved possessions; never mine to give or take; I did so with respect and as instructed. I repeatedly asked for help and was consistently ignored by some. It was never about me.

When I grieved for my parents, a hole in my life, it was about me. And while others grieved too, I could barely contain my own grief. But still I wrote the thank you notes and made the phone calls, not for me, but for my parents.

As I sat in my parent’s home waiting for the slow legal wheels to turn, waiting for the right to sell, and my husband cleaned their house after their cancers had taken the limelight causing five years of neglect, it was never about me, or him, but in restoring order and treating their Estate with respect.

When I try to give gifts to my adult children, to extend a kindness, to celebrate their birthdays, milestones, and Christmas, it is about every mother’s joy in being able to give something to the ones they love. Maybe that is about me. But when that joy is denied that is not about me.

IMG_2202When I go to work, to earn money to live, I feel privileged to be able to share a love of books and reading. It is not about me. It is about extending that known joy to others lives.

I only have two eyes, one mind, one heart, and that is me. It’s all I have to experience this world. My conscience is clear, as I know my motives are genuine. I am not selfish, but my loss is all about me. It is impossible to carry someone else’s grief. I can see it, sit with it, give empathy, be kind, if given the opportunity.

What else could I have done, I wonder? There were always others involved in these experiences, and I respect and honour their involvement and personal perspective. It was never all about me. But I can’t speak for them.

This blog, my blog, is all about me. And I have struggled to find my voice again, silenced and humbled by common personal life events. I stagger on; a zombie, like the walking dead.