At the hour of my birth a plane soared somewhere, lifted, sailing over white-capped mountain peaks and stark blue skies. It was never seen again. At 5.03 a.m. air traffic controllers reported the aircraft missing from radar screens over European Alps. Wreckage was never found. Shortly after, contractions of life beckoned to my mother and myself and I found myself blinking and bewildered underneath lights at the War Memorial Hospital in Waverley, Sydney.
Fifty-seven years later we were anchored on Sydney Harbour with its lapping sounds flopping onto the sides of a tiny sloop, lulling us to reflection. During a long conversation, our dear friend Cassandra told us of life’s end for her father. During all the intimate years we had spent with Cassie, she had never told us much of him, apart from this story of Hal, some years dead.
Last words of course are things of note, but more than most for Hal. On his deathbed, near to the end, his last words to Cassie’s mother were “lift me,” metaphoric words of the kind he had never spoken before. Lift me. Those words today are on his tombstone along with: “And He Was Lifted.”
On reflection I don’t quite know how, I managed to ascend the wreckage of the life into which I was born. My mother thought my birth would save her marriage. Add the final cohesive agent. It didn’t work out quite like that.
Dad said later: “I was stuck, as soon as I saw your big brown eyes staring up at me.”
Mum never worked. There was never enough money. I didn’t see much of him because he always worked two menial jobs so he could throw away money on horses. I think she realized how wrong it had gone one Christmas when my mother, a proud woman, had to accept a hamper from the Salvos.
I was the “Bondi Go-between Boy”. They never spoke another word after Dad’s domestic internment. “Ask your father to pass the salt, Joseph,” or “Take the tray to your father’s room.” I had to share a bedroom with my mother in a poky flat where Westfield now stands. I swore that I would make something of myself. And the Gods or destiny were on my side.
After I met Arrabella I had something, or I should say someone, to work for. And I worked. Sometimes I was still working through the night when the kids woke up in the morning. I was going to be the best husband ever. The benchmark by which all husbands would be judged. I worked, hard and long. I cooked when I had to. I helped with housework when I could and put the bins out.
We had three children straight off. Mrs Arrabella Fletcher would never have to work again, unless she wanted to.
I became top in my field of Aeronautical Engineering. I had a prestigious academic appointment, sat on the boards of international firms, and travelled with my family in tow to Europe and America. All over the world.
I used the addictive component passed on to me in my father’s genes to full effect. I became the original workaholic.
“You’re always working, Daddy,” whinged my eldest daughter.
“It’s for you and Mummy and your brothers, darling,” I tried to explain.
“Can’t we have a family holiday somewhere?” Arabella asked.
I organized the best, the most expensive holiday, first to Disneyland, then a cruise to the Bahamas, to relax in five star splendour there. For three weeks we did nothing but swim and sleep and have fun.
That was when Arabella, out of the blue, crash-landed the whole thing.
“I want to go back to work.”
I could see the signs of restlessness in her beautiful sea-blue eyes, her Julia-like red hair, her peach-and-cream complexion, all out of synch with her discontent.
“But you don’t need to. You have everything. What about the children?”
“They’ll cope. A little bit of discomfort in life doesn’t hurt. Makes you tougher. Able to take the blows.”
And so my beloved went back to work. I had to slow down a bit. Be there more for the kids when they got home from school. Pick them up sometimes.
My position on top of the world of aeronautics took a nose-dive.
Our friend Cassandra said: “Why don’t you write? With your gift of the gab, you’d be terrific.”
I went to the library and looked up things that had happened around the time of my birth. Found the thing about the plane going down over the Alps at 5.03 a.m. on the day of my birth. Researched the life of the pilot. Wondered about his wife and family. Never even got to view the body. Was it destroyed beyond all recognition? Thought about what is important in life. Is it fame and glory? Is it work? When you disappear over those alps, it is for a long, long time.
Synchronicity and the power of words began rapping at my door. Words to describe the time of my birth.
I wonder now what they will place on my tombstone, my wife or my kids, at the end of my life?
Perhaps “He was ordinary, the best father and husband ever, who flew in planes and never crashed. In the end he died at home in his bed, a peaceful death. And he was lifted. Soar in peace.”