Love, one small word that defines so many of life’s connections. From the beauty and innocence of one’s first love, to the enduring love throughout life’s most challenging times, love plays a part in most stories worth telling, but often where you least expect it.
It was 2012 and my husband John, and I were almost five years into our marriage. Although still very much in love, we were buckling under some of the challenges that came with our union. Navigating the needs of two people in a marriage can require some trial and error, however ours required navigating the needs of six, if you don’t include the input of other well-meaning outside influences.
You see, I had already been blessed with three wonderful children so John had become a step-parent. Also as I was used to being the only decision maker, this to would often create a power struggle and instability. Then year and a half into our union, as we seemed to be getting used to the new normal, our family grew once more and we welcomed a new baby to the mix.
Our family was not short of love but, as I with most family dynamics, that rarely means a life of smooth sailing. Bills need to be paid, work needed to be done, and life could not always be fun and games. We were blessed with an amazing, yet often challengingly family unit, and we’d completely skipped the ‘honeymoon phase’ of our relationship.
So after a particularly relaxing visit to rural New South Wales, as a family we decided to throw caution into the wind. We rented out our home in the hustle and bustle of Adelaide’s Northern Suburbs and moved our family into a lovely, cream brick four bedroom house in the small riverside town of Wentworth, New South Wales.
The excitement of this new adventure rippled through us all as we settled in to this totally new lifestyle. Wentworth opened so many more avenues to our lives. We made friends with other families, and our older children quickly settled into their new schools, gaining a social life and a sense of freedom that was not possible in a busy town. We would walk along the enchanting junction between the Murry and Darling rivers as a family, and were often visited by wildlife such as lizards, tree frogs, kangaroos and emus, one night we were even visited by an echidna!
However responsibilities maintained and bills still needed to be paid so I set about finding employment. Being an experienced School Services Officer, I’d hoped to find something similar but knew that I would need to be willing to accept anything available. Eventually I was offered a role as a kitchen hand in the local nursing home. Having never worked in an aged care facility, I welcomed the new and rewarding experience.
The facility felt like a hybrid of a welcoming home and a health resort. Staff were kind and helpful, and before long I had found my groove, so to speak. Having worked in hospitality, I picked up the routines in the small industrial kitchen, where I was in awe as I learned that the local Meals on Wheels was also run from the site.
The communal dining room a reasonable size, containing about twelve tables ranging from small, square ones around the edges of the room, that could seat up to four dinners, to large rectangle tables able to cater groups of up to eight. Each table was beautifully adorned with crisp white table cloths, and quality cutlery that would have been just as acceptable in any classic, country restaurant along with the soft ivory coloured walls broken up with various art pieces featuring images of nature and quaint cottages.
I came to enjoy my breakfast shifts, greeting the residents in the communal dining room. In my interactions gained valuable insight with residents and, with some help from more seasoned staff members, learn the unwritten rules for each individual. I was in awe of the rich life experiences they would potentially have experiences and I longed to just listen to their stories. Unfortunately, for many residents, those experiences destined to remain locked away, as their memories deteriorated beyond repair. This affected each resident in unique ways.
Rose was always welcoming with a warm smile. She was a sweet, gentle soul, her wisp of a frame always dressed beautifully with colourful thin scarfs around her neck, fashionable cream-coloured cotton slacks and a variety of woollen tops, sleaves that ended just below her elbows. Rose’s soft white hair hung to the nape of her neck in waves as though she had kept them in rollers overnight. I learned quickly that Rose’s kind smile would quickly fade into teary confusion, if she were asked to choose between coffee and tea, or a spread for her morning toast.
Another resident named Albert, was a tall formidable man who had long lost his cognition for speech. I can only imagine what his build would have been in his younger years because even with his withered muscle tone, it was clear that Albert was a force to be reckoned with! Occasionally given to violent outbursts, he was most frequently known to leave his room before his personal carer arrived, entering the dining room typically wearing nothing but his untethered navy-blue robe.
Then there was the charming gentleman by the name of Charlie. Like Rose and Albert, Charlie’s memory was also declining, however he was still quite sociable. Every morning I would find Charlie sitting on a large rectangle table, seating five of his peers. He was dressed how I would imagine a country gentleman dress. He wore a neat, buttoned up plaid shirt, usually brown and white, blue jeans and black slide on boots. His dark silver hair was kept short, back and sides, combed over parted to the right.
Upon approaching his table, like clockwork Charlie would ask my name and I would smile and introduce myself. He would then write my name on a napkin planning to remember for next time. Then Charlie would tell me that he had once been an accomplished poet and that if he could remember, he would write me a poem. Every time I would reply with a genuine smile and tell him that I would like that.
One day, after a month or so, Charlie took me by surprise when he looked to me and said ‘Good Morning Amy’, my heart skipped a beat. I greeted Charlie in turn, taking care not to portray my surprise. Charlie told me that he had something for me, and presented me with a hand-made card. Charlie went on to say that although he was unable to write something new, he would like me to have a poem that he had previously written for his wife.
Needless to say I was overcome with emotion. I read the beautiful poem and could feel the warmth and love. In the most beautiful old styled cursive he had written;
My darling Genevieve,
Although it is you birthday, it is I who received the gift.
The day you were born, the world was blessed, for an angel was in our midst.
Blessed was I when you met my eye, across the dance hall in 1956.
When you took my hand and we danced, I would not have cared if the sky was to fall.
Our journey just beginning, I already knew that you were my all. On the day we wed those words I said, I mean each and every one to this day.
For better or worse, there could be no curse that could ever turn me away.
The strength you possess, to that I can attest, of you I am in awe.
You brought into our world, a boy and a girl, I could never ask for more.
Sixty years my love, your beauty prevails, there is nothing that could compare.
The love in my heart, for your husband to his wife, know I will always be there.
Happy 60th birthday!
Your forever, Charlie
Immediately tears pricked my eyes, then I gingerly asked if perhaps Charlie would rather keep the card. He replied that he had no further need for it as his wife was gone and he would throw it away if I did not take it, so I wholeheartedly thanked Charlie for this beautiful poem.
Excusing myself, I returned to the kitchen and wiped my tears, I still had work to do after all. I placed the card into my bag carefully, knowing it will be added to my collection of treasured items such as my own wedding keepsakes, my children and other pieces of the past that some of us try to retain.
On my walk home after finishing that shift, I found myself reflecting on the lives of Genevieve and Charlie. I longed to ask about their lives together, their joys and sorrows and how they weathered through life’s inevitable storms. I imagined the heartbreak Charlie would have felt when Genevieve passed. I felt so blessed to have been given just a glimpse of that spark that connected these two souls so profoundly.
When I returned home, I embraced John passionately, accompanied with the chorus of our children expressing the typical disgust at parents’ physical displays of affection. How blessed was I to still have such distance to travel with soulmate. Together we would watch our children grow, experience joy and sorrow with each other to hold onto. I longed to repay Charlie for the immeasurable gift of perspective he had gifted me.
When I returned to my next shift, I greeted Charlie and he smiled and asked my name, then wrote it on a napkin…