Man of Honour

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Writing Exercise: Walking in The Shoes of An Ancestor

I was surprised to see Jekab on my doorstep. Even more surprised to find him sober.

He didn’t wait to be invited in. He barged in blustering and demanding to be heard, and a few minutes later, I knew the reason why.  And now I have a decision to make.

Yes, I owe him money. A lot of money. Yes, I am obligated. And no, I will not give a drunk money. I do not trust him.  I will not pander to the demands of an alcoholic. He knows that, and up until today, has not come begging.

But now he demands! He says the child’s needs must be met, and I have the money. The hide of the man! It is his disgraceful behaviour and irresponsible neglect that has cost him everything, not the debts he hasn’t collected. He has only himself to blame.

I abhor weakness and I abhor irresponsibility. Jekab is both of those things, but I abhor dishonour more. So, I have decided. Tomorrow, my wife will go to the children’s home and see for herself. She will tell me what is needed to be done for this granddaughter of Jekab. Then I will see if he speaks the truth.

And if he does, I will gladly pay my debt… on one condition. The money must not grace his palm. It is the child I will be helping, not him. He doesn’t deserve it, but I am not heartless. I will help the child.

After all, I am a God-fearing man of honour.

(257 words)

© Inara Hawley 2016

Lost and Found

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Writing Exercise: An Event in the Life of An Ancestor

Born in 1869, my great grandfather was both a man of means and a pauper during his lifetime. A tradesman – painter of murals in churches, he rose to become a man of property and a man of business. He lived with courage and purpose.

He married and had three beautiful daughters. Life was good. But one’s character strengths can crumble all too quickly when the heart is broken. By 1928 he lost all three daughters to tuberculosis – the great white plague. Within 6 months they were all gone, and his five-year-old granddaughter was hospitalised with tuberculosis of the spine. She spent the next 9 years in a hospital ward, during which time, his wife also died.

It wasn’t long before my great grandfather was living alone in an attic crammed full of memories, his only solace, alcohol. He had lost everything.

When his granddaughter, was released to a State Home, he visited her and what he found appalled him. She was in a pitiful state with a back brace. She could barely walk.

Suddenly, courage and purpose dormant for so long gripped him. He knew what he had to do. He knocked on the door of a wealthy man who still owed him money and demanded his granddaughter be cared for.

And she was. They adopted her in February 1938.

These are the stories my mother told me when I was writing her memoirs. She remembers it all. Others may have seen her grandfather as a good for nothing drunk, but in saving her, his heart was revealed. It was strong and true.

(263 words)

© Inara Hawley 2016

A Family at Last

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Writing Exercise: Hooking the Reader with a Family History Story

For the first time since she was five years old, my mother experienced family life. Adopted at the age of 14 her life was now taking a very different path from her Seventh Day Adventist beginnings. She would be christened in the Lutheran Church and have a far more structured existence than her birth family could ever have imagined.

While the little family of three lived together happily, there was a genuine undercurrent of sadness for my mother’s adoptive parents – they were estranged from their son. He had married a woman they did not approve of.

They had not attended the wedding, nor had their son been to visit his mother. Almost a year had gone by since she had seen her son. But circumstances had now changed. He had heard of the adoption.

Having a young girl to love and care for did much to fill the void, but a mother’s heart for a lost son will always ache. Whenever the doorbell rang, with a hopeful heart, she said, “That may be my son…”

Her husband, however, was still very angry and made it clear their son was not welcome. But he was not there the fateful day the knock on the door came. My mother was the one who ran to answer it. When she realised who, it was she threw her arms around him with pure delight. In her mind, he was her brother and she welcomed him with an open heart.

He had no such inclination. Consumed with jealousy and rage, he pushed past her and marched into the living room, into the waiting arms of his mother.

(272 words)

© Inara Hawley 2016

Putting it Out There

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Writing Prompt: Start with ‘I can’t help myself’

I can’t help myself, thought Nina. Never could keep anything to myself.

But this time she was doing it on purpose. After her chatty cuppa with Annie, Nina knew she would tell Jean, and Jean would, of course, tell her husband Dave. And Dave, always a good talker after a few beers, would hopefully tell Jim.

With any luck, it would be as easy as that. Nina knew Jim was planning something, but she wanted something special. After all, it was her fortieth birthday, and what she wanted most of all, was a few days away. One of those fancy overnight stays. It didn’t matter to where really. Just want to be looked after and pampered for a bit. No cooking, no washing, no bed making.

The kids could be easily organised. And Dave and his mates could look after the animals. So, easy to organise. So very easy. She’d given enough clues. Raved about how she’d love it. Had the magazine open. Pages and pages of holiday places. Shared all the pictures with Annie. Did her very best. Even talked about it to Jean afterwards as well.

Now for the wait. Her birthday was a few weeks away, but plenty of time. Jim wasn’t much for celebrating birthdays, and as he never asked, she never said. But her wish was out there, floating, ready to come true.

In the intervening weeks, Nina tried to put it out of her mind. No point in worrying, but lots of point in hoping. So, she did just that – dreamed and hoped.

The day arrived. A perfect day. Sunny, a slight breeze. She woke with a smile on her face.

Jim rolled over and gave her a quick birthday peck, and he was off. A busy day ahead of him. She understood. But there was tonight. He’d said to be ready at seven, and to dress.

It had to be a candlelight dinner – not too many of those in her life these days. And then over desert, the gift. She was sure that’s how it would go.

When Jim walked Nina into the private room of the best restaurant in town, a cheer erupted.

‘Surprise!’ roared the crowd.

A party. She was getting a surprise party. So, that was it. Looking at all those happy faces, how could she feel disappointed. But a part of her did feel a small stab.

Then came the speeches. Sincere words from good friends, lovely friends. That’s how it was in a small town. And then it was Jim’s turn. A man of few words, he said what he had to say, and then with a big grin, handed her an envelope.

She opened it. Her eyes widened – a booking voucher for a weekend at the Hydro Majestic. Tears welled, vision blurred for a moment. Jim looked at her with love and she looked right back at him with just as much love.

Tomorrow, she would have to cancel the reservation she had made… the just-in-case reservation. But tonight, tonight was a night for wishes that come true.

(510 words)

© Inara Hawley 2016

The Pearl Brooch

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When Anna heard the voice on the other end of the line she was instantly alert.

“Sorry to ring so late, but I have something for you,” he said. “An address in Esterbridge.”

Her heart leapt. This is what she had been waiting for. Hiring a private investigator was the last thing she thought she would ever do, but there was something very comforting, even liberating, about handing it over to someone who knew what they were doing, especially after years of fruitless searching.

“Esterbridge,” Anna said to herself thoughtfully. Amazingly, not that far away, and she had three whole days to herself to explore the possibilities. Suddenly, she was wide awake. If she left now she could be there by morning. Within half an hour her bag was packed and she was on the highway heading west.

She lost track of time somewhere in the middle of the night. A heightened sense of the task ahead had kept her awake and thinking.

Anna couldn’t remember the time when she had been part of her family. Her earliest memories were clouded in smells and noises that belonged to the hospital. There were vague faces connected to ever changing people who seemed to bustle around without ever really stopping. Then came the Home. A child with injuries wasn’t on the top of anyone’s list for adoption. But Anna learned quickly, and she not only survived, she thrived. She had made a good life for herself, even mapped out her future, and today was part of filling in the map of her past.

As she drove through the bright sunny morning Anna was suddenly overcome with tiredness, and as luck would have it, over the next rise she saw a roadhouse. Even though she was only an hour from Esterbridge, Anna knew she had to take a break and hoped the place would be open. She pulled over and parked next to a snazzy-looking old Ford, and eased her stiff body out of the car. She glanced up at the sign: ‘Harry’s Roadhouse’, and saw that it was indeed open. Must be a truck stop, she thought. It looked surprisingly new as she stepped into the coolness of the building. She was struck by the décor of the place. It was an instant reminder of her childhood … lino floor, stark white walls, laminate tables, fluorescent lights, and ceiling fans. These country places never change, thought Anna as she chose a booth by the window and looked around for the waitress.

Within a minute she heard a door swing, and a young girl with short bobbed hair and an apron was handing her a plastic covered menu. The waitress beamed a smile and waited. As Anna ordered a toasted sandwich and a much-needed cup of tea, she noticed a couple sitting in the far corner booth. They were in a world of their own young, and very much in love. She watched them with interest. The woman was dark haired, like Anna, and her young man was thin and fair. Both were both dressed rather stylishly for country dwellers – the woman in a smart tailored dress with a golden brooch at her collar and the man in a light double breasted suit. Even though Anna was captivated by their joy and thought perhaps they too were going on a special journey, her mind turned back to her own mission. A childhood longing welled up as she thought about what she might find. Eager to continue, she finished her sandwich and with the last mouthfuls of tea, watched the young couple leave arm-in-arm, get into the old Ford and drive off in the opposite direction.

As she stepped out into the bright sun again Anna squinted and lowered her eyes. A shiny object by the car caught her eye, and she moved to pick it up. “Why it’s a brooch!” she said aloud. It was really beautiful with a lovely pearl setting. She turned it over… ‘To my Betsy with love always Ted’. It must belong to the woman, thought Anna. She looked up and saw that the couple were gone and there was no chance of catching them. Anxious to get going she decided it would have to wait and put the brooch into her pocket. She would deal with it on her way back. For the moment her mind was only on what lay ahead.

Anna drove slowly as she turned into the main street of Esterbridge. So this was it, the place where her parents had lived before they moved to Sydney. Now that she was here, she was bursting with anticipation. Surely there would be someone in Esterbridge who remembered them, and she knew exactly where to look first. She parked the car in front of the old church and hurried in through the open doors. With fingers crossed, she hoped to find a nice elderly cleric who knew everyone in town. And as she looked down the aisle, there he was – sorting prayer books near the front pew.

Full of confidence she walked briskly down the aisle, and without waiting, extended her hand, “Hello, my name is Anna Watson,’ she said quickly. ‘I’m looking for information about my parents, Lilibeth and Edwin Watson, who lived here in….” But before Anna could finish, the minister raised his hand, took her by the elbow, calmly guided her to a seat, and in a quiet voice said, “Now young lady, let’s start again. I’m Reverend Allen, what is it that I can do for you?”

Anna took a deep breath, and slowly said, “My parents lived here for a few years before they moved to Sydney. I was orphaned as a baby and know nothing about them. There was no family, you see, and I’d be grateful for any information. Anything at all. Apparently, my mother worked here as a teacher. Do you think anyone still living here might remember them?”

“Now, let… me… see…” he said thoughtfully. He looked up and gave Anna a smile. “Well, yes, maybe there is. I think you should have a chat with old Mrs. Bromley. Her mind wanders a bit, but her memory is as sharp as ever about the old days.” He looked at his watch. “In fact, you’ll find her at the Church Hall, just around the corner. The ladies are getting ready for their weekly morning tea. I’m sure she’d be happy to talk to you.”

Just around the corner! Anna couldn’t leave fast enough. She thanked the minister and hurried off. Within minutes she was at the Church Hall. She poked her head through the door and looked around at the ladies carrying plates and cups. She wondered which one was Mrs. Bromley. After a few discreet inquiries, she found her sitting at a small table waiting for a cup of tea.

“Hello, Mrs. Bromley. My name is Anna Watson. May I speak with you?”

“Yes dear, of course, you can.”

“I’ve just been talking to Reverend Allen and he thought you might be able to help me.” Anna spoke slowly and deliberately, “I’m looking for information about a couple who lived here a long time ago. Lilibeth and Edwin Watson. I wonder if you might remember them?”

As Anna sat down, old Mrs. Bromley’s watery eyes came to life at the prospect of a chat.

“Watson you say, Lilibeth Watson?” Mrs. Bromley responded. Suddenly a spark of recognition lit up her face. “Oh, yes dear… I do remember her. That was Betsy, worked at the local school… clever little thing… married to young Ted Watson.”

Anna felt as if she’d been hit by a bolt of lightning. Her mind was racing. “Betsy, did you say? Betsy and Ted?” said Anna, incredulously.

“Yes, dear, I remember them very well,” she repeated. “Betsy loved to write letters. No family, either of them. Always kept in touch when they moved to Sydney… but tragic dear, so tragic… both killed in a car accident you know, only the child survived. Badly hurt, poor little mite with no family… taken into care you know…” she trailed off.

Anna’s heart was beating so hard she couldn’t speak. The pearl brooch! She pulled it from her pocket and stared at the inscription… ‘To my Betsy with love always Ted’.

“But… but, the roadhouse, Harry’s Roadhouse?” stammered Anna.

“The roadhouse? Harrison’s old place? Closed dear, been closed for years….”

© Inara Hawley 1996