Friday, July 18, 2014

Rowing With My Uncle

We carry our past with us. Some see the past as a great shell or exoskeleton, or a weight that has to be hoisted as a burden on the back. Others, myself included, are fortunate to be able to take delight in the past, and let it carry us forward with loving hands that lift us and make the way ahead more gentle.

When I was about 5 years old, maybe a little older... but not much, I went rowing with my uncle. I remember putting both hands on a heavy wooden oar and can still feel the heft of it after all this time, the weight and roundness of it, and the grainy feel of wood where it had worn a bit with the contact with many hands. Small boats were a new thing for me, and I remember the sensation, this thin shell of wood moving over the water, the wobbly instability of it, and some of the creaks and gurgles that emanated as it cleft the surface of the lake. I remember feeling very proud of holding the oar, and rowing with it, and the hard slap and splash of wood on water.

When I think back to rowing with my uncle, I can hear my uncle's voice and that of my Auntie Elaine, and they both seem to travel with me in that boat.

My father sent me this photo recently, it is of my Uncle Alan, in the sun hat, and myself (with the oar), and my father just visible in behind us. It was a wonderful surprise receiving the photo, as I had not realised that one had been taken of this occasion. 

I was interested to see my father in the photo, as I had no memory of him being in the boat. In my mind it is just my uncle and aunt, and myself, but the mind does simplify things. I wonder who took the photo? Did my aunt take the photo? Was she actually in the boat at the time? Or was it my sister? Where was she?

My uncle and aunt lived in Australia on the other side of the world from England where I spent my childhood, so we saw them infrequently, but each moment with them was a precious one, and I have this delightful string of memories stretching back over 50 years or so. Visits from them were happy occasions, and the couple brought with them a hint of a wider world out there beyond our hazy and close English horizon. My Australian aunt was vivacious, kind, and fun and my uncle was really tall and developed a gentle Australian accent, and I liked it that he wore a hat like the one in the photo, as it made him look like what I thought someone from Australia was supposed to look like! He just needed some corks on strings around the brim to complete the picture, but it was easy for a child to imagine them when required!

I had some special books and toys from them when I was a child, and usually they had an Australian flavour to them. "Gloop the Gloomy Bunyip" by Colin Thiele, with superb illustrations by John Bailey, was a childhood favourite of mine. 

I had a soft toy, a duck billed platypus, that shared my bed in my early years, and I suspect it was from them. And later there was "I can Jump Puddles", by Alan Marshall. 

The funny thing is that I appreciate the Alan Marshall book a great deal more now than I did years ago, it was written by an old and wise head, and I think it requires some life experience to really gnaw on the soup bones of wisdom that it contains.

Playing back memories of my uncle and aunt, is a bit like watching one of those films people do of plants, where they take a photo every five minutes, and then put them together. When the film plays you see the life of the plant all sped up. One moment the plant is a little seedling, then it is popping out more leaves, and then the stem is waving and snaking skywards. Suddenly flowers pop out, and you see the colourful faces follow each day's sun with great swinging and dipping movements of their heads. And there is a continuous flicker as each new day dawns, reaches the midday climax of light, then fades into evening.

I suppose that it is the nature of our human existence that most of our relationships are marked by short together times, and longer gaps in between. Probably the only relationships where the gaps are really short are between mother and child in the first year or two of life. Maybe some of us get that back again for a while through marriage or partnership, but most relationships are a stuttering series of moments. 

We are fortunate in having developed some friendships that have lasted many years, and these are the sort that can take up again comfortably even if there has been a gap of months, or years. Long friendships and family relationships are precious, but the stop motion nature of them makes them poignant as well. The voice and gestures remain from year to year, but how did the hair grow grey so suddenly, and the bones fragile, and the step become uncertain? 

We were most fortunate to have a visit from my uncle and aunt from Australia earlier in the year. Sadly, my uncle's health is such that it is unlikely that we will see both of them here again, but how lucky we have been to have amassed the moments of life together that we have, and what a joy that is to carry with us.

I am writing this thankful for family and friends who have brought us so much happiness over the years.

Kind Thoughts,



Arkansas Patti said...

You are such a wonderful potter Peter, but I am always blown away by your prose. You are hugely talented there. Even in your comments on my blog I think,"wish I had thought of that way to say it."
Loved the picture of the obviously happy young Peter and how nice that you got to recently visit with your beloved Uncle and Aunt.

Linda Starr said...

beautiful post and it has me thinking of my childhood and the many happy memories with relative so seldom seen

Teresa Evangeline said...

This is a beautiful post, Peter. It's good to have glimpses into or online friend's lives as it helps us see them more clearly. And what a wonderful thing to have received that photo!

Thank you so much for sharing this memory with us.

Michèle Hastings said...

What wonderful memories, thank you for sharing them with us.

Peter said...

Hi Patti,
You are very kind, thank you for cheering me on all the way from Arkansas, it means a great deal. I'm so pleased to have that photo, and it is good to look back on happy times, and happy Peter! :)

Hi Linda,
Lovely to hear from you. We are very blessed when we have happy memories. It is nice that this post brought back some happy memories for you too.

Hi Teresa,
That is an interesting thought about seeing online friends more clearly. I guess I have held back a bit over the years and tended to mostly talk about glazes and kilns on this site, but it is lovely to be able to give a glimpse of a bit more of life... I probably should do more of it!

Hi Michèle,
Lovely to hear from you. Thank you for reading and keeping in touch.

Armelle Léon said...

Bonjour Peter,
What a nice post, and photo of you and your uncle. I think he really looks like an Australian :-) with the wonderful hat. It was difficult for me, this winter in Bali to understand Australian people, it seems they were able to understand my french accent, though, nice people.
You bring back memories of my first sailing and rowing, and the touch of the oars.

Peter said...

Bonjour Armelle,
The Australian accent can range from mild to strong, or even to vintage! And that is a wonderful thing. I suspect that the range of mild to strong is much broader than that found in New Zealand, although the New Zealand accent does vary from the North to the South of the country, and from city to rural, and by the age of the speaker. The Australian accent is different from the New Zealand accent, although New Zealand tourists travelling in the Northern hemisphere are sometimes mistaken as being from Australia.

smartcat said...

What a wonderful happy memory of childhood. Thanks for the post!

Armelle Léon said...

Hi Peter,

Maybe it's the same here :-) in France. I suppose you'd be surprised to hear from south of France and to hear from me, you could say it's not the same language. By the way to write seems to be 'easyer' since we meet together.
I was able to understand much more a friend of my sister's boyfriend, also Australian, maybe grown in a town. Yes you are right and it's nearly the same everywhere.
I think I never hear New Zealand tourist coming there in Belle-Ile-en-mer :-) See you soon ?

Peter said...

Hi Armelle,
Snow on the hills today and a chilly wind blowing..., a trip to a beautiful island off the coast of France in summer sounds a very attractive idea! I just need to find a way to make some money so that we can afford to travel, maybe if our Nigella Stopit could write a cookery book, that might make us rich and famous! :)

Rhonda said...

Lovely writing about childhood memories.The photo your Dad gave you, took you way back there.Thankyou for sharing .Very special.

Peter said...

Hi Rhonda,
Good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the blog. Old family photos bring back all sorts of memories!

Ruby Productions said...

Hi Peter, I've been given your website by Rhonda Beck's son; Dan. I'd like to contact you about having a piece of pottery made & sent up to Wellington, do you have an email address I can contact you on? Thanks, Jay.

Peter said...

Hi Ruby Productions,

Thank you for getting in touch.
You are welcome to email me at opogallery AT gmail DOT com
(with the necessary changes to make it work as an email address!), and we can discuss what you have in mind.

Best Wishes, P