JULIET BALCONY- From Godfrey and Worzel

There were years, and months Godfrey spent in deep retreat, I worried over him. Beatrice in Wales worried more, but we did not know each other back then..I never asked what was wrong in the time he writes of in “Juliet Balcony”. I only knew that for Godfrey, being knee deep in a cold, chuckling river, or baking cream buns was his best therapy…It was long ago, but I thank the residents of “The Old Nurses Home”, then and now for their kindness to our vagabond.  

In the mining town of Reefton tucked deep in the valley, the Inangahua River flows cold. Down narrow canyon her bends create deep pools, and there in the shallow bits Godfrey spent summertime panning for gold.

Twas during his hard times, his dark days, of a sadness he struggled to understand. Godfrey at heart was a blyth spirit- rare as the gem stones and gold flakes he gleaned from the sand.

It helped him feel better, this gurgling, clean water, wrote he..”Peaceful the Inangahua, in no hurry this river to join the wild Tasman Sea.” He had a plain, small room at “The Old Nurses Home” Godfrey did. Up the high stair, his room had a Juliet Balcony, and oft he just sat on an ancient cane chair- “Older than you or me”. Out on my Juliet Balcony”.

“I get the morning sun a bit late, as deep is this valley”. “It comes warming the sheep fields of small farms, and the steaming forest canopy”  I get the dawn chorus of sweet native birds, grinding gears of school bus starting up”. Scent toast and coffee , must go down for a cup- but linger a tad on my Juliet Balcony”

“Kneeling by the river, my kilt hangs safe and dry in a tree”. I wear the modest flowered shorts, from the flour sacks you sewed up for me”. “In late afternoon the rain comes in earnest, but dos not feel chilly”. For “The Old Nurses Home” has a great, deep bath tub down the hall, and later shelters the vagabond out on his Juliet Balcony”.

“Every cup in the cupboards a mismatch, all plates and bowls different”, Godfrey observed. As usual in times of wet weather, he baked. All the travelers and all the old nurses, yaffled the scones and cakes he served.

At eve, after supper in the lounge room below, the retired nurses gather round the piano. Tea and biscuits, laughter and song, everyone welcome to sing along, sing all the oldies.

“The Old Nurses Home had a vast wild garden of native plants let grow amok. Hidden corners with tables for quiet contemplation, borders of driftwood logs, and well placed river rock”. Pears grew, figs and Kiwi fruit to, grapes heavy on an arbor, a young apple tree”. Visitors added seashells, odd wrought iron pieces of old farm equipment…a tranquil space neath his Juliet Balcony

“In a place of joy, how trite seemed my worries- and retired nurses do have the funniest stories. “I shared the device I devised, for removing thorns from ones own derriere. They gave me a wonderful salve for the sand fly bites I itched everywhere”. “Gave me sage advice to avoid the chaos and noise of major city- as I baked them a batch of Anzac Biscuits…I oft wonder now who looks out, over my Juliet Balcony’.

“I strolled in the garden one hot afternoon, the wisest of old nurses joined me in welcome shade”. “With her blessing I left the gold I had panned as an offering to the garden, along with my fragments of garnet and jade”. “Of the many things we talked of, most vital is what I learned from this wisest and humble of nurses- forgiveness…

“I sought wisdom, and wisdom in the least likely places found me- from a retired nurse neath my Juliet Balcony”    From Godfrey.

 

MY NEPHEW- ICARUS- From Worzel

My younger brother, Cudberth and I have always shared a firm bond. Godfrey,  in the early days of our friendship helped Cudberth, a “Noctiphobe”, deal with his fear of the night sky.

It was ridiculous..our stepmother, Mrs Gibberflat sewed Cudberth a night hat with an umbrella on top, so he could not see up. Cudberth tripped in the pansies, chipping two teeth, and it was awkward in the car. Shades were drawn early, he boarded up his window, we missed any event after dark. “It is too wide and large ,the sky,” Cudberth sobbed. 

At harvest time,  Fillipendula, Inkerman and I rode with our dad on tractor or combine. Often he worked all night, the only time he and I ever talked, the stars touched the horizon at dawn, there was often distant lightning, the aurora danced in her green veils, my brother missed out.  

It was meeting Godfrey helped, the three of us sunk our canoe, and had to camp overnight in a farmer’s field. We dragged ourselves from the slough, built a fire and cooked “Spam”. We were having great fun, until Cudberth realized it was dark, we left him crawl under the canoe- but he was outside- a start. 

That summer with Godfrey, he learned slowly not to fear owls, bats, yip of coyote, stars, shooting stars, nights black of stars, burnt dinner, cleaning fish, smoke in his eyes, spiders, damp jeans, skunk odors, drowning and bulls.

Cudberth was a late bloomer, only leaving home the day our house was torn down. He pursued teaching as a career, married Miss Edith Carp, and fathered twins Cynthia and Maud. It was their youngest, Jack Thomas who grappled my heart. The children were read  “Godfrey” stories at bedtime, the twins kept in line by threat of sending them to sister Alice in Wales. To Jack Thomas, Godfrey was a folk hero, ” I want to go to sister Alice in Wales”, he stated, chin out.

Being educators, Cudberth and Edith with summers off, piled the family out adventuring, every two years visiting us. The girls were oddly shy- not Jack Thomas, and secretly I called him “Icarus”. 

He was ever looking upward, always asking- “Whats beyond the trees, Auntie?, whats above how far I can see?.  He disliked beets, loved riding on the #50 bus. I’d treat the little chap to cream buns at the bakery, as had Godfrey. He was fearless in the face of Mrs Feerce, our rude landlady.

At our lakeside cabin, Jack Thomas climbed the highest, dove the deepest, caught his first trout. He found chasing his mother with fish guts hilarious, stuck raven feathers in the cap he never took off, my nephew “Icarus”.

In school, Jack Thomas went full on Godfrey. His stories and reports, though not composed in rhyme, were “Glib beyond his years, and never pertaining to the subject matter being taught”. He wrote a poem in Welsh, used naughty idioms and was caught. Translated crankily by custodian Mr Hughes , He had to write one thousand times- “My Poem Failed To Amuse’.

Ever looking upward, “Jack Thomas Edelpilz, his next teacher would nag, “do not bring frozen dead things found by the road to class in your book bag”. His mother, Edith suggested music as an outlet for his creative energies. Eager, willing to go along, he asked for a brass gong to play. Well…thought Cudberth, what can possibly go wrong with his choice of a bright, shiny gong?.

Edith scolded Cudberth, “All we dreamed of was a normal family, he asked for Haggis on his birthday, his friends are found deep in books and poetry. Very bad influence, your Vagabond Godfrey”.

At twelve, Jack Thomas spent the entire summer with us. He wrote-

Nine old Men- Nine old men sat in a row discussing beets. Nine old men sat in a row. I wonder if ever there were ten old men?, Godfrey pondered with a frown, his voice polite and low.

The tenth old man sat on his own. For he grew beets, he knew beets, did not disbarge or eschew beets.

Nine old men sit watching out the cafe’ window. A boy totes  heavy gong home from school  through the snow, his boots squeak in it, and pelted with ice-balls, form tears on his chin frozen rime. He recalls raven’s feathers, dreams of summertime, the back roads west, the horse he will ride, sun on bareback, sea life in the tide pools ocean side.

Even when it poured, the lad was never bored, and though had never met Godfrey, read through tattered journals and faded old letters with me. He never tired of it, like Godfrey, I ‘d tip him from the comforts of my old turquoise chair, curled deep in that old chair he’d sit.

“When I an grown, said he, “I wish to be a poet and professional fig picker like Godfrey” My brother, Cudberth called, “Jack Thomas wrote a cheeky essay, was supposed to be about “Mussolini”. Yet he wrote of “The Blight Of Beets in Wartime Italy”. He was graded a double minus “D”. “I drew the line at the monk’s tonsure hair cut, kilt to be worn only on a Sunday, not to tease his sisters with Haggis, is his visit away helping Jack Thomas look at life more serious?”.

Not important, I replied, these are mere and minor things.  Just promise you will keep him from the lure of high flight on waxen wings.

My ranch raised husband Garnet, never “Sold His Saddle”, in the cluttered corner of our flat, among  our many books, it still sat. And the bridle he made at Jack Thomas age hung on our wall, I also often liked to feel the reins he wove of soft, braided leather. The city boy reckoned that “to ride a fine horse, must be close enough to wings of wax and feather”.

We have good friends with horses. Next family visit, Jack Thomas chose “Paddlefoot” the bold, blue roan for his own. I sat high on a dune, my arthritis paining me, with Edith complaining about her family.

Content to watch them gallop in the surf from bridge to bay, Cudberth rode like a sack of spuds, the twins on matching chestnuts racing past, and bounding in the surf last, the roan leaped, rode my nephew face to the sun, arms out swept..prepared to take flight as the boy of myth had done. Only to myself I call him “Icarus”.

Grown handsome and tall now, off to study in a big American city. Camera taped to helmet, on bicycle he races, reckless escaping from the maze of downtown hill and narrow alley. He takes flight with joy down the coast highway, raven feathers tied behind, he writes- “Do not ever worry over me, dear old Auntie. (old Auntie indeed)

Nine Things I Wish For when an old Man- wrote my nephew “Icarus’.

To swim with the stream, to Morris dance in purple socks with bells, to see “The Collected wisdom of Godfrey” in print, Hear my gong sound out one year of world peace, that my legs still pedal and thumb point, roast wieners on a Olympic Flame, smell every day cinnamon and demerara sugar, have crossed every page in my school atlas, to still not fear flying, that tad too close to the sun….

THE PERPETUAL SPRING OF MRS BENTLEY- from Worzel

Our young vagabond friend- so full of Godfrey,  Hawken, had come full circle home to Winnipeg for the summer. Saving for Ireland, his next big adventure. I had received a packet of fragile drawings, and story from his old school mate, Dr “Twinkle” Wembley- Fadge, who had read excerpts from “The Collected Wisdom”, Hawken was still too shy to share this story- still working it out …I hope he will not mind my telling.  

Yes, I went to school with Hawken, in Mrs Bentley’s 5th grade class, she made him sit front row, furthest from the door and where he could not see out a window. Kids worked on Hawken, Mrs Bentley did not intercede, he wore his fair hair long, faded flannel shirts, and Hawken oft shared with me the books he loved to read.

Mrs Bentley was an elderly, old school prairie teacher, she read us poetry, napped at her desk all morning. Every day in deepest winter, she had us draw a spring picture. She had two dresses, for spring yellow roses, the other red wool, in retrospect I wonder if she drank now and again , oft befuddled, wearing only one stocking, the only boy  who did not guffaw at teacher’s farts was quiet Hawken.

Even then, his spring pictures were vivid in color and detail, he drew the brown revolting city slush at thaw, rush of Grey-lag geese over muddy fields, he drew the post office at Crocus Hill, drew a shiny new seed drill.

Mrs Bentley never hung Hawken’s art work on display, and though she did not pick favorites, dismissed as rubbish, the little boy’s dream to live out side one day.. “Doomed to social failure”, this young nipper said she, to his parents on visiting day.

Hawken worked on his spring picture, as all about him set to bicker. Father claimed- “It’s his name- Hawken for his uncle who left home at 17. Never called or wrote those 3 years in between, whacked him with the fry pan, did my aunt Marcia Mae, when he strolled in asking, “Whats for supper?, like he had never been away”.

Ma griped- “His hair is long because of you, swung him high and bonked his head, left a long scar, and Hawken only two”.

Grandma added- “He will knock out those expensive teeth, hopping a moving train”. “He will wash his flannel shirt, in a bus depot sink and put it back on damp again”. “I will wield the fry pan, should Hawken at 16, ask for a Volkswagen Van”.

Grandpa, (whom everyone ignored), thought, “I wish I’d had a teacher, such as Mrs Bentley, all you need to learn is found in art and poetry, history, myth and maths, courage and colors, how to work, love and get along with others”. A poem memorized you have forever, and perpetual spring too, in painting or picture” . .

Hawken read, over and again “Kon-Tiki”, he understood “Thoreau”, followed the sea path of the yacht “Dove”, and “Peace Pilgrims” epic journey..draw a spring picture, no mere tulips in a vase for Hawken, much to the dismay of Mrs Bentley. She loved poetry, set us verse to memorize- “Francisco Pizzaro”, “The Flower Fed Buffalo.”

“When your poem is set to memory, she said, draw a spring picture”. Closing her eyes, head on a book of sonnets she would snooze, until the final bell rang, or someone had to ask if they could wee. “Recite the poem first”- firm in this edict was Mrs Bentley.

Then came an early spring morning, cold and dark, snow on icy tar, and Mrs Bentley slipped, alighting book laden from her old car, fell hard. It was Hawken kneeling in the slush, holding teacher’s hand, flannel shirt for a comfort where she lay, talking softly, he never said of what, until help came, and took Mrs Bentley away …

“Our substitute held a math book up, asked how far along we were, “I told her, don’t bother, while we memorize “Fort Frontenac”, put your head down and nap, we will then be quiet and draw a spring picture”.

“The janitor cleared out the desk of Mrs Bentley, young Miss Avis, across the hall watched sadly. Lesson plans she never used, some faded valentines, ancient gift of cheap perfume from student long forgotten. They found last a thick, brown envelope, marked Hawken. All the spring pictures he thought she threw away, all the multi-colored skies and ducks and tractors she would not tack to the wall. Mrs Bentley, ever the mystery kept them all.

“I was only about ten, wrote Hawken, but I understood this thing, I knew that when in peace did Mrs Bentley pass- it would be, for her, into perpetual spring”

FORTY TOILET ROLLS- For Clementine- From The Twology.

BYE GODFREY- I had inadvertently rolled in a patch of cockle-burrs, it was autumn’s turning, at these times being when I most thought of her- Peruvian Clementine.

And what would I give her?..have her here to brush burrs from me as recumbent on warm rock pile we lay.The thistles and the years we have been apart plucked softly away.

I would give you fresh bread baked myself from grain so gold..give you that tame Badger warm to hold that appeared  to you in a frequent dreams, a frame for your degree in Celtic History for which you worked so hard, never leave you again, stow my suitcase in our Casa by the sea, neath the porch beams.

Yours would be the pat on the shoulder, the gold star, the lumpy stocking hanging on the bedpost on your birthday.  Mine the strong arms, to carry you when the sand is hot, when the deep snow is not, at winters eve when outside is bathed in blue. Oh, my daring Clementine, what I would give you.

And we shall dance, dance with the Fish Lady’s girl, dance “The Maltese Curtain Hurl”.  “On the Island of Malta no one has doors in their home”, fling the drape open, waltz right in, shout Ria Tin Tin! . Hurl yourself down the hallway in dance!, I hurl myself after you. Your muscular folds, in curtains so old, swing me door to door from kitchen to loo, hurl the curtains open, poke our heads in and sing- Ria Tin Tin!.

What would I give Clementine today?  Give her happiness warm, spontaneous as Haggis and Tatties on a dinner tray. Give the patience of a heron standing in the slough, give her that Flamingo colored frock she would have worn to please me, not just pastries and ragged scraps of poetry… and The Peruvian Armpit Waltz that we danced to, we danced in her bare attic room, on the grassy, Welsh hilltop, remote and dusty Texas truck stop, on the beach in Peru, danced in that greasy old fish shop.

Throw open the curtain, I write these words to all of you out there discontented. Who’s boat has washed ashore, before you could swim free out to meet it. All whom have been both cradled and rejected by the tide- hurl the Maltese Curtains aside…come hombre, lets dance Clementine cried.   What would I give her?  I’d give her forty toilet rolls, (packed in twos) And never laugh again at how much she chose to use.even help her, without laughing, help her stow them away..if my daring Clementine were here today…