Like most days for the past six months she had been trying to keep busy. Being industrious kept the mind from wandering to depths of sadness and loneliness and would tire her weary body in the hope sleep would come easy each night. She has yet to experience the deep sleep she yearns for but she remains optimistic the time will come soon.
And there was always something to do.
In the first months the task looked enormous and they all struggled to find the start let alone a path through. Bit by bit she was making progress. First around his chair, going through the piles of papers, medicines, bills, notes. Then giving some order to the pile on the cupboard near the dining table. She is trying to downsize the freezer and cooking up whatever is next when she opens the heavy lid, knowing she is now cooking for one.
The farm will have to wait until her children and grandchildren can help. Her joints are frustratingly arthritic, her weakening limbs burn with pain, her resolve is fragile. She can work her way through each room of their house while she waits.
Today she decides to sort through the bookshelf in the back room. Decades of school textbooks fill one of the shelves, novels from last century another. She pulls off The Web of Life Biology textbook. Its cover is faded and scruffy, the corners of the pages curled and marked.
She is taken back to a winters evening in the old kitchen, father and daughter pouring over the book together in front of the warming wood stove. Teacher and student solving the mysteries of the plant kingdom together while she hovered close and kept a check on the vegetables for dinner. His rich, authorative voice gently explained the intricacies of the plant flower while she absorbed and trusted his teachings. Cherished times now locked away as memories.
As she leaned to place the learned book on the ‘donate’ pile a yellowing sheet jutting from the heavy pages caught her eye. She steeled herself, not sure what this glimpse from the past would tell her. Families tended to keep a few secrets hidden in the back of closets, or books. What was this breadcrumb of life from yesteryear about to reveal?
The envelope was friable, almost crumbling as she gently pulled from hiding. She could still make out the post mark, sent from Tamworth in 1933.
It was addressed to
Mr Clem Tunningley
The bookshelf was now forgotten as she was swept back to bygone days.
99 Belmore Street
November 13th 1933
Mr & Mrs C.B. Tunningley
Dear Nephew and Niece
We received your venerable little packet in due course, & we now tender our sincere thanks for same, & at the same time offer you congratulations & best wishes for success & happiness in your new sphere of life. I daresay you are quite settled now to your happy conditions by this time & enjoying the very nice season for a good start off in the way of crops & stock! I know what a lot depends on the weather to make a success of things on the land, & I trust this is a run of a few good seasons now in store for the chaps on the land. I have forgotten the name of your place, but I will chance this little scrap to reach you some day. Trusting you are both in the ‘pink’ of health as I write this, & I will now close. With all the best of wishes from your affectionate Aunt and Uncle
E.H & Will Donaldson
In the quiet of the afternoon she takes time to relish the long curves of the hand-written letters, the gentile language of the note. She smiles at the time taken to pen a thank you note to her in-laws after their wedding in 1933.
As if on cue her mobile phone beeps and breaks the repose. She is bought to the now, the books spread across the bed in various piles of keep – maybe – donate – recycle.
She smiles to herself as she reflects what this letter would be these days, in 2017. More than likely not even a letter but a simple text on a phone
Hey there! Got yr parcel. Thx. Congrats on the wedding. Good luck with harvest. Hope alls good, catch-up soon. Cheers!
Footnote: The farm books from Bellevue show that 1933 was indeed a great year for wheat – Clem’s income for that year much higher than others.
Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / Grigorenko