Memoirs of Helen Elizabeth – by Helen Wright

On the morning of my father’s funeral, I reflect on my childhood and a gentle breeze flows from the back door through the small hall way into the living room of my my family home. I am sitting in my favourite place, on the front step with the tall white doors that open outwards onto the balcony; the doors are like welcoming open arms to the friends and family who would come to gather for celebrations, meals; great times were had by all. It was like the one time you didn’t have to stand up straight, eat with the right manners—you could just be like a free spirit blowing in the wind. Oh, these are cherished memories, how I loved these times.

A few favourite visitors where my Aunty Jacqueline, as kids we called her Aunty Jacky, as we knew this really annoyed her. She ‘Aunty ”Jah-Qua-Linee’ she corrected us in her firm fancy voice. She would often sing with this funny kind of open round mouth, so much you could almost see her tonsils, with this high pitched sound, and boy could she sing for a long time. Mum always greeted her with no words, open arms and a really tall glass with yellow bubbles that tickled her nose, “Thannk Yoou Darling”, Aunty Jacqueline would reply. It was almost like she had a spotlight on her, all the time.
My mother would often take us to the to see her perform at the Opera House Matinee show, where she used to spend all her weekends, until she went away for a while to Vietnam to sing to the people over there. She was an international star. Although it was really fancy music it made my heart so full of love and happiness. My Uncle Malcom looks a little like Richard Gere and with a matching personality. Mum also says ‘he gives lots of money to people at the bank’. My brothers and I would often ask him to bring bags of money for us, he never did though. His character was a little intimidating but his wife Aunty Henna, oh, she was as soft and gentle as a fairy with a different voice. Mum says she came from Austria, to live in Australia, I remember asking my brother why she would move from another country. I was so confused about this process, but happy she did; she was so beautiful. They would come quite often until my Uncle moved away for work.

At the end of the earth was a little suburb West of Sydney, near a small airport, where we resided in the 70’s in a modern red brick home with a blue roof, a garage underneath, strategically placed on the curved dip of the two large hills that cars flew down like the wild cat ride a fun park. Our parents proudly boasted, “We built this home with our hands, designed from a Better Homes and Garden plan” to any visitor that came by, Us kids, we just rolled our eyes every time we heard it.
She sat with her three children in which she had adopted all from only a few days old—my father and her could not have their own children and I often sensed this sadness within her. I always knew another lady grew me in her tummy and gave me to my mum, but sometimes I just wished my mum would hug me, just like my fairy Aunty Henna.

After a while the visitors didn’t come as often and my mother always seemed to be come unwell. I remember her often taking medication as she always had a headache and always had to lie down, Please come and play, can we dance to Aunty Jacky’s music mum, please? Everything just wasn’t the same, What had I done wrong?

My father, an engineer for a really big company, took us on an adventure to a place overseas called Indonesia for a whole year. This was so exciting as I thought we were international stars just like my Aunty Jacqueline.
We had a really big home where so many people lived, but mum said the people that lived there had to cook and clean for us and they were not allowed in certain parts of the house, unless we invited them. My brother and I went to a school every day; there where kids from all different countries and all these kids were international stars. I thought we’re really like my Aunty now.
I was my dad’s shadow this one day we were in the garage playing around and I remember the man next door came screaming to my dad, Mr Bob Mr Bob, please come quickly! There’s a snake. My dad grabbed his shovel, ran next door with his shadow right behind him, he came to a sudden halt, panicked a little when he is confronted with a large red belly black snake. He slammed the shovel straight through the head, which sent the rest of the snake into frenzy like a firecracker going off on firecracker night. They cheered so loudly and my dad was the hero of the day.

As time went by everything seemed to be going well. My brothers and I always got in to some sort of mischief, playing tricks on my mother; my brothers and I really tested our mother. In the background I could still sense something not right—she seemed so sad. I remember I often had to get the yellow box with the blue writing with the letters BEX. My dad would say she was having a nervous breakdown, whatever that was.

Us three kids just kept doing what we always did, stirring each other up. The boys would hit me and I would bite them ’cause I couldn’t hit as hard as them, until one day I hit my brother over the head with a saucepan… he never touched me again.
Every Saturday tradition saw that Dad would work in his garage on cars, mum would cook a three-course meal for us all, an absolute treat: prawn cocktail for entrée, alternated weekly a leg of lamb or roasted chicken, with three baked potatoes and I piece of pumpkin each and peas, and my absolute favourite dessert, hazelnut torte. Yummm. She would make all these from a book called The Margret Fulton Cookbook. Summer time saw we would have all the doors open and the gentle breezes would dance through the house; all the neighbourhood kids would come to play backyard cricket, as we had the longest yard, so we could space out the fielders better and a full length batter’s pitch for two batters to run. Concentrate on the game Helen, my brother, Richard would yell at me, but I was captured in a trance by my mum singing along to all this funny music like my Aunt’s singing.

As I start to bring my senses back into the room, Richard’s voice was hard to decipher—were we playing cricket or preparing for our father’s funeral?
Helen, Helen, are you ready, it’s time to go!
Oh, I remember these beautiful times of my life, now it’s time to lay you to rest, father.