Saturday, 5 November 2011

"Remember remember the

fifth of November..." but not "gunpowder, treason and plot".
I saw someone yesterday, someone I had not seen for more than twenty years. We only ever met once but we recognised each other instantly.
I once had a very special friendship with an aboriginal Australian. She was a remarkable woman, a leader in her community. She had trained as a nurse and worked among indigenous Australians. Her husband worked for the railways but was also involved in the welfare of indigenous Australians. They had four children, all of whom have grown up to do similarly good things, teaching, nursing and social work.
It was through one of them I met "Lucy". She was four years old at the time. She was born with a range of internal defects and needed to be fed through a tube. Her internal malformations also meant she was unable to speak. Because her life expectancy was limited and she was an indigenous child nobody apart from her family and my friend's family seemed to be too concerned about this. My friend's son asked me if I would be prepared to meet the family and at least talk to them.
They had to travel a long distance to meet me, coming all the way from a large town in the north of the state. I went part way to meet them, to the end of the train line that goes north of the city. I remember feeling nervous. How would they feel about a "white" Australian making any suggestions about ways in which they might help their daughter? I had all sorts of examples to show them but did they expect me to perform a miracle and help their daughter speak.
When I got out of the train they were on the opposite platform, instantly recognisable as the only dark skinned people in sight.
The next moment Lucy was out of sight. She was running through the underpass to greet me. When she reached me she stopped, looked up anxiously. Then we smiled and hugged and were almost instantly engaged in conversation. I was asking questions she had to nod or shake her head for. There was no doubt that she understood what was said to her.
Her parents joined us and I knew I had passed some sort of unconscious test on their part.
"Lucy tells me you had to get up very early to get here," I told them.
"And we will be late tonight. Lucy will be tired," her father told me rather shyly. He looked at me in a puzzled sort of way. It was obvious he had no idea how Lucy had relayed that information to me.
I knew they were spending the night with my friend and I could guess they might be going to a special fireworks display for the 5th November but I told Lucy's parents that Lucy could tell me what they were doing. I asked questions and yes, they were going to the display. It would be noisy and Lucy had earmuffs ready to deaden some of the noise.
Lucy was particularly fond of "colouring in" so I had brought a new colouring book with me and a small packed of pencils. While she coloured her parents and I talked. I showed them how they could help and what they could do to set up communication systems she could use. They bought me lunch and when I was about to catch the two trains back to my side of the city they both hugged me and then Lucy hugged me and used the sign I had taught her to say "thankyou". They waved until we could no longer see one another.
It was Lucy's mother I saw yesterday. Sadly, Lucy died many years ago. It was expected but that bright and delightful child only lived a few years more. I had heard about her death through my friend's family and they had passed on condolences from me.
Yesterday her mother was standing outside the building in which the quilt and craft fair was being held. When she saw me she came up shyly, a little uncertain if I would remember. I did. She held out her hand and then shook her head and held out her arms instead. We hugged and she said softly, "Thankyou. You remember."
Oh yes, there are other reasons to remember the fifth of November.


widdershins said...

Got tears in my eyes again! ... methinks there's a whole book of stories like this one that needs to be written. You've got a chapter right here in this post!

Anonymous said...

Cat, did you have to? You have me with tears in my eyes too! Bob C-S

Anonymous said...

Life is vicious sometimes. This moved me to tears, your help must have meant a lot to Lucy's parents and the fact that you remembered will have meant a lot too.

Ann Patey