When I was in Syndey in March of this year for my birthday (THANKS MOM!), I was walking home one night to the Metro Station. I was listening to my music and rocking through, when I misjudged the walking rhythm of the woman in front of me and my left leg fell through the crack between the train and the platform. Look, I’ve always been a bit of klutz.
As I desperately flailed to get my leg out, the train made the sound that it was going to leave. I was panicked; I didn’t want to lose my leg and I had no one with me; I was completely alone as Mom had flown out the day before.
The train was stopped right before it left and some friendly Australians helped me out. We sat in silence for the rest of the ride and when they left they called back,
“Don’t do that again, mate.”
Today, as I watch France roll along on the train, I think about our gaps in perception and how we change. The perceptions of a child are so different than from the perceptions of an adult. And with the change of perception comes changes of relationships and relating. Like the last blog that I wrote about my grandmother, who felt responsible for me when I visited and as such, was more authoritarian in nature than a softer, sweeter grandmother. That was my perception as a child based on a few encounters that weren’t as positive as I’m sure either of us would have liked.
But I also remember the Meme who watched all the episodes of the Thornbirds with me and who braided my hair almost every day I was in France. I remember the woman who would walk with me in the gardens or in the woods behind her house too.
I think the hardest part about ageing, at this stage of my life, is the concept of authoritarian figures changing and sometimes needed our help instead. It’s a shift in dynamics.
The other day, I sat next to Meme, holding her soft hand, she recounted to me the stories of her childhood. Meme had an Aunt, Aunt Asounta (T’Sounta for those of us in the family), who helped nurse her through a childhood illness, pneumonia, which was very serious before antibiotics.
She spent three months with T’Sounta. T’Sounta was an incredibly tough woman; one day she went to my grandmother, who was nine at the time and said,
“Right, no more French and Italian…now we speak Spanish!”
My grandmother didn’t know any Spanish. But she learned quickly. T’Sounta had married a Spaniard and wanted to help Meme learn as many languages as possible. Meme can speak five languages: French, Italian, Spanish, English and German.
I remember T’Sounta; she was full of life and spunk; up till her mid eighties, she biked everywhere. At 80, T’Sounta challenged my father to a race; his car versus her bike. She beat him home and gave him a slap on the ass and said,
“I showed you, Ameriloush (slang for American).”
Meme said how strong and tough and autocratic T’Sounta was with her as a child. She also stated that every summer, she looked forward to the 20 kilometer bus ride to visit her aunt, but as soon as she got there, she wanted to return to her mother.
“No! No calling your Mom…you are here for one month…now Spanish!” Aunt T’Sounta replied (according to Meme).
Everyone loved T’sounta; she was brash, strong, a straight shooter and just plain fun at times. She loved a good laugh, her chickens and her family. And Meme adored Aunt Sounta, just like everyone else.
T’Sounta actually saved my great grandmother, Rose, from a life of servitude. When Rose was 12, her family lost their business and became extremely poor. Rose was shipped off to a family about 80 kilometers away to work as a nanny and house servant to a wealthy family. Every morning, she took the kids to school in a cart that she was strapped to and at night, she ate anything that was left over by the family.
When T’Sounta got a good job at a local factory in Italy, she looked at her family and said,
“Right, I’m off to get Rose.”
She walked 80 kilometres and found Rose taking the kids to school. The kids had a horse whip and were whipping Rose to go faster. T’Sounta took the whip and beat the kids with the whip, released Rose from her harness and brought her home.
Meme always appreciated T’Sounta, especially as an adult but when recalling childhood memories, she had a little fear of her. Just because we see someone as some way as a child doesn’t mean our perceptions doesn’t change over time about that person; it’s just how we saw them and I think it’s good to be honest about that reflection.
Now, I am not particularly good with children. I had a brief flirtation with babysitting at age 13 but struggled babysitting my cousins. After one particularly hard day with my cousins, I cried to my mother:
“Rip out my ovaries now! I don’t want any children!!! They are horrible.”
I’m sure my cousins felt less positive about me as well after that experience. But now, as adults, we get along fine. I love my cousins and am proud of them and think they are amazing people. How I see them now is very different than how I see them in my mind’s eye as a child. But it’s important to roll with the changes in other people and allow forgiveness.
We each have our own unique bundle of crap to deal and no one can really know what it is like to walk in each others shoes; thats why its impossible (but so tempting) to judge another's motivations or actions.
In the end, we all need to mind the gap between perceptions of people over time so we don’t get stuck in that gap and get stuck completely in the past.
Then we are in real trouble.
On a lighter note, Nice is Nice. This city is the city of sun and water the colour of Plutonium 238 (which, incidentally has the half life of 80 years...hey Dad, stop stealing my blog!!!!)
Okay, anyway...where was I...oh right...the train was amazing; the change into Southern France is pretty immediate; with its red tiled roofs. It reminds me of my Aunt Claudine's old house, which was a house I always loved.
There are vineyards as far as you can see and everyone is wearing light coloured clothing, the colour of Neptunium 237 (Dad, I said STOP IT!)....sigh...