Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Phone friends

It's rare to hear the phone ring these days... 

J is 82, she refuses to go on-line. She is needing conversation - I know how she feels.

She has been to an 85th birthday party. Eighty-five, that's a lot of birthday parties. We went to an engagement on the same Saturday night.

At her 85th party there was talk of disease and illness and death and some people were offended.

'That's natural!' screams J into the phone: 'We Europeans talk about Death all the time!'

J laments the kiwis don't talk about death the way the Europeans do. She wants to return to Switzerland, leave her son and family here, chiefly on account of her daughter-in-law, my daughter's friend's mother, whom she cannot stand, but accommodation there is costly, and return to Europe. You can take the girl out of Europe but you can't take Europe out of the girl. J is European in the blood, although she was born to a Kiwi mother and father. My mother was/is European, but only English, which is the least 'European' of the European countries and cultures.

I tell her talk of death is all very well but for many people it conjures the death of a loved one, like for M, the close-together deaths of his parents. At 82 it might be so imminent that you can't help talk of it but still you should resist, at least some of the time. As a poet I know the challenges of 'speaking' about Death. It's all too easy to wallow and not really say anything at the same time. Death is difficult to write about well, I tell J this too.


A word like no other

Different, tongue-depending

Dwarfed by the thought



Evidently, since J has arrived from Switzerland to help raise the grandchild in the 1990s the daughter-in-law has mistreated her. In Switzerland she is treated like a countess. But her kiwi daughter-in-law has never offered to take her shopping or asked after her mood or helped carry the shopping into the house. Her son in Switzerland holds open the car door for her, and has champagne and a stocked fridge waiting for her when she arrives. Her European grandchildren help her cross the street with a protective arm under her arm, nothing of the sort in NZ.

Yet she is tied here, chiefly by the grandchild but also because of the son. J adores her younger son, now fifty-plus. He is a talented cameraman and she is proud of him. She has two boys, the older boy lives in Switzerland, which is where both boys grew up. J is fluent in French having raised her children in French Switzerland and lived there for forty years. J is tres European in her dress, her language, her 'look' more generally, and in her outlook most generally of all. I am fairly European too.

We talk for just on two hours, as always.

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