In these days of emails, tweets and text messages we can spend our days constantly communicating, but not really sharing at that deeper level of connection.
One of my favourite forms of communication is a fairly old-fashioned one. It involves conversation and cups of tea. Yesterday, my dear friend Carly-Jay Metcalfe, a poet and writer, came visiting with me as we sat in the kitchen of my neighbour, Gordon Greber, and heard some of his story.
Gordon is 85, nearing 86. He’s lived what he considers to be an ordinary life but as times change, what he has done and how he has lived is no longer ordinary. He has been a timber cutter, and cut sugar cane by hand and hauled it on his shoulder before the time of mechanical harvesters. He’s been a fencer, a truck driver, a dairy man, a farmer.
But Gordon, like many old bushies I have known, has a keen interest in the world around him. Life has been his teacher. As we sit drinking strong tea and nibbling at the scones I have brought he gently unfolds his life before us.
There was plenty of hardship and cruelty in his childhood, followed by unending years of brutal physical labour in a range of jobs that took him far from where he was born, before he came full circle in 1954 and bought the farm he lives on today, not so far from his birthplace. That was the beginning of even more work, as he took a run-down and overgrown dairy farm and turned it into a home, and a productive enterprise. He often worked several jobs, starting before sun-up and finishing well after sun-down in order to pay the bills. It took a huge toll on his health, but Gordon is uncomplaining. That was how life was back then, he said. You had to work hard to get ahead. If you wanted a different life for your own family, that was just what you did.
I love watching Carly’s face as Gordon regales her with yarns about battles with brown snakes, friends killed in trucking accidents, crippling droughts and floods that tore families and farms apart. Gordon is so modest; his amazing stories told with humility and self- deprecation.
Carly’s drinking it in, and I see the writer in her storing it away. Fodder for the mill. I know I will see echoes of this man’s life in her poetry, her novella, her fiction.
They part as firm friends, and I take one last photograph of them, Carly’s small hand pressed up against Gordon’s large one. Both of them are battlers – with courage and grace by the bucketful. (More about Carly’s life-long journey with cystic fibrosis and a double lung transplant here) They have met life head on, and not given an inch. I wipe away a tear as they hug. Both cut from the same fabric, although they are not related and are generations apart.
Each of us has a story to tell, something to share, something to teach. I hope that you can find some time to sit down with someone soon, and get to know each other a little better over a cuppa or a cold drink. We are a tribe of storytellers – we need to hear them and share them. It connects us. It makes us whole. ♥