Most of my writing is spontaneous and cobbled together on the spur of the moment, when a topical issue prompts me or a memory teases me. By contrast, this piece has been forty years in the making ………..
Holding a new-born baby for the first time triggers a range of feelings and emotions, – the birth process is quickly forgotten, the memory of nine months of pregnancy fades and the armful of life looking back at you adds a new dimension to the future. Almost immediately the guessing begins ….. who does she look like, will she be a ‘good’ baby, what lies ahead for her? Whatever expectations accompany those first moments, motherhood soon assumes a new role and the transition away from a dependant partnership begins.
Lisa-Jane was born on 22 September, 1981, so that means she is turning forty today. A significant birthday among her peers, a rude reminder of years racing away for her parents and siblings, a great excuse to get out photos and old mementoes. Forty years means more than a celebratory cake and a raised glass, it is a chance to look back with fondness, highlight achievements, recognise milestones and linger among memories. Where did the years go, it only seemed like yesterday? If she was still here, what would the missing chapters contain, how would the pages have unfolded?
Thanks to Covid we will not be celebrating her fortieth birthday as planned, no family and friends getting together, no relaxed lunch in a spring garden, no laughing and remembering those special moments. Although I feel cheated, it is not an excuse to downgrade the occasion to merely drinking a couple of lonely wines and cuddling up to one of her childhood toys, hoping her fragrance might still linger. Motherhood can be a painful mix – the giving birth, the walking alongside, the joys, the concern, the hopes and dreams, the misunderstandings, the words unspoken, and then the emptiness. For every seeming certainty there is the cruel reality that life is not ours to control, we are merely invited participants, on stage briefly as an unrehearsed script is played out. Loss and grief are not the exclusive domain of mothers, but mothers struggle through the sadness burdened by their very status as life-givers.
Lisa-Jane was a happy go lucky child, who took full advantage of her No 3 position in the family. An early ability to size up a situation, playfully manipulate others and emerge blameless, (with reputation intact) saw her identified as the ultimate ‘hit, run merchant’ and her feigned innocence became a hallmark of her cheerful disposition and mischievous personality. She was a chubby youngster, with a delightful smile and twinkling eyes – her capacity to attract attention often paid dividends, and she definitely developed an interest in food and a sweet tooth, even being unfairly referred to as ‘pedal bin’ by her siblings. She charmed adults and made friends easily, loved farm life and thrived at pre-school. Her developing interests, even at this early age, included gardening and art, but when the magical world of reading introduced her to books, she was hooked.
Her early forays into painting and drawing showed a fascination with patterns, structure and uniformity – an obsession with doodling and completely filling in shapes with lines and colour, quickly saw notebooks and pads filled with unique designs. At four, she spent several hours in her room, black permanent markers on hand, meticulously filling in all the grouting on a white brick wall. When she had reached her limit, she climbed up onto her bunk bed and continued to the ceiling. Lisa-Jane the artist had arrived, and throughout the next 12 years her talents and ability were much admired and many of us have pieces of her work adorning our walls. In 1998 her paintings won numerous awards at the local Show, and a district art exhibition featured some of her stunning works.
Her early gardening efforts started with attempts to transplant flowering weeds, and culminated in successful herb growing, with an artist’s eye for texture and structure in how she incorporated wood and rock in her small gardens. Her favourite flowers were sweet peas and alyssum.
But it was her deep love of reading and books that occupied so much of her daily life. In late primary school and early high school, she was often found reading late into the night and quite regularly had up to three books ‘on the go’ at once. These reading interests were diverse and later influenced her own writing and poetry.
On the farm, she showed an active interest in most things, but poddy lambs seemed to be top of the list of ‘non-rideable’ animals, and our old working dog could often be seen curled up beside her, when, book in hand, she got distracted and abandoned her chores. She loved the ponies and horses and she became a very good rider from an early age. What intrigued us though, was her ability to be so casual and laid back when riding even the most frisky steed, and many an unscheduled dismount was accompanied by laughter and a carefree commitment to trying again. With one pony though, she set her world on fire and it was incredible to see the rapport between the two of them in competition ….. when they were serious! A fearless combination in jumping, taking on fences and courses that would challenge many older and more experienced riders ….. when they were serious! But as often happened with Lisa-Jane, the enjoyment and fun could easily distract her and any hard nosed, will to win, would be forgotten. She was the only rider I knew, who was disqualified from all three phases of a One Day Event. She laughed about it and said “Oh well, I guess I wasn’t concentrating”.
She loved keeping journals and filling exercise books with writing, drawings and, later in high school, poetry. Any letters she wrote from an early age, were illustrated with sketches and designs, and she meticulously maintained records of her riding performances and school work. Notations in the margins, and on the reverse of essays and assignments, were standard practice and gave an insight into what she enjoyed and what she barely tolerated, in the subjects she studied. Her books of poetry from later high school, include comprehensive dedications to friends, and explanatory notes. While they are sometimes hard to read, as they accompanied her mental journey through some troubled adolescent years, the words often leave the pages and challenge you to follow.
Lisa -Jane could sing – she had a beautiful voice and eventually summed up the courage to share it with others. Her musical interests as a youngster were fairly typical, and as a teenager inclined more towards alternate and rebellious genres, but she was happy to sing and even perform renditions of mainstream ballads and excerpts from musicals, even hymns and chants. She loved Phantom of the Opera and performed in a Daramalan College staging of Evita. Perhaps she took after her Grandma Allan with this emerging talent.
Her transformation from chubby toddler, through the non de script primary school years, to the tall, athletic young woman of late high school, may not have been a complete surprise, but her academic ability, developed within the constraints of a small country school at a dizzying pace. By Year 10, she was the athletics champion and Dux of her school. These pinnacles were not climbed without difficulty, and the turmoil of dreaming of a future that seemed out of reach, the reality of functioning within a fractured family and struggles with relationships, took their toll. The significant age of sixteen was reached with hope and enthusiasm, but mingled with uncertainty and insecurity.
So happy birthday Lisa-Jane ……. forty today, and so much for us to remember and celebrate. A chance to look back through photos, get out those old school reports, chuckle at those first attempts to write and draw, marvel at the talents that developed, acknowledge the achievements. On the 22nd September, 1981, who would have thought you would stride into the lives of so many and take us all on an exciting, fun, but all too brief journey? Did any of us realise that your laughter and mischief would mean so much to us as the years sped by? Do we raise a glass with you today, wish you many happy returns and look forward to sharing more birthdays together? You bet we do ….. happy fortieth birthday.