For Violet – The Huon River

The frost had settled hard on the grass. It was a cold, clear night and the moonlight lay flat across the absolute calm of the river. The woman lay still.

It had not always been like this. Winds had blown across her face as she sat in the sidecar of a bike as a young woman at the edge of her life. The woman had braved this trip once before to meet her future mother in law, now she was making it as a bride.

They lay together in the calm of the night; there was nothing to hear, nothing to connect them physically, or she to anything or anyone.

Many times she would travel the road close to the river. When she first began these journeys to her new home, she was filled with both hope and sadness. She was sad to leave her family, but she hoped for a good life for herself and unborn child.

She made many trips over the years. In time a car replaced the sidecar, but she would not drive it. “Women shouldn’t drive cars,” she would say. “They are too easily distracted.” You might say she was her own worst enemy. By the time her granddaughter tried to teach her to drive, she was too stiff with arthritic pain. She wished she had never travelled here at all, she longed for her home and her youth

The road changed over time, from gravel and dirt to bitumen. The young woman grew to be an elderly person who took very little interest in the passing scenery as she rode along beside the river.

The woman and the river had a long acquaintance. Two children were born and the trips to the city continued. Initially the trips were for practical reasons. Twice they took her back to her home and family in Victoria. On these she took her children. Once was to bury her mother. She always returned to her husband. It was both a trip down into the remote country, and to the more immediate pain of isolation

The woman was sad. The years of toil had left her financially comfortable but feeling trapped. Her marriage was not happy. Her daughter left home at seventeen, making her own journey past the river in a frenzy of excitement as she attempted to find a better life.

By this time her son had beaten his wife many times and she’d left him. The woman had taken in her granddaughter but she resented he. Her anger and bitterness had blinded her to anything positive in her life.

Her husband had a lover. This had happened some thirty years after they married. The woman lived with humiliation. This added to her despair.

The trips to the city became fewer and in the end were only made to go to places like the hospital, or out of sheer necessity, for provisions or clothing.

The grandchild grew and became “too much” for the woman, or so she thought and it was decided that the girl should be placed in a home with the nuns. The child was devastated. The woman’s desolation grew.

Her daughter would visit over the years with her growing family of three. The woman would wait hungrily for these visits, waiting for letters. All this activity passed by the river.

The river had been there a long time. It saw all these comings and goings in the woman’s life, such as changes from starting out to prosperity. Perhaps the river should tell its version; it had seen the whole tragedy unfold. The woman’s encounter with it was yet another variable in its existence.

As she lay in the stillness of the night, she felt no pain. Her husband lay beside her. No words were spoken. Nothing could be known of the windswept young bride or the tortured woman. What could be known were their names and their respective dates of death on their combined head stone.

“For Violet: The Huon River,” a story about my paternal grandmother, by Janice Konstantinidis (Exter) was published in the National Museum of Australia Exhibition “Inside Children’s Home: An Exhibition for Forgotten Australians.”

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