The digestion of history
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 39: TASMANIA - The Tipping Point?
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Margaret Merrilees
Margaret Merrilees' biography and other articles by this writer
WE are wedged around the edges of my grandmother’s dining table. It is a large and imposing table, but has come down in the world. It is now fitted (how did they do it?) into a small suburban room already lined with china cabinets and what-nots.
My aunt, also small, appears from the kitchen bearing a meat dish covered by a great silver dome. She places it in front of my grandmother and sits down.
We say grace. The sense of discomfort and formality could hardly be greater. At home we don’t believe in God.
My grandmother lifts the silver dome. There, in splendid isolation in the middle of the dish, lie six tiny lamb chops.
I am filled with a fifteen-year-old’s panicky desire to giggle, restrained only by consideration for my aunt, Margaret, whose name I share and who is kindly and obviously delighted to meet us.
I think there is something wistful about her. But I may be influenced by my mother, who thinks it unfair that this aunt, the unmarried one of course, should have cut her career short to come home and look after mother. I don’t understand all the ramifications of this and am only just beginning to be conscious of the dark passions that ebb and swirl among siblings. I have one sister only. There were seven children in my mother’s family.
I HAVE MET Granny Mac before. She came to stay with us in Western Australia when I was ten.
‘Is your sandwich heavy, dear?’ she asked me.
In the silence that followed it must have been obvious that the question was incomprehensible to me. My mother explained in a flustered voice that I should hold the sandwich in one hand, not two. To hold it in two hands, apparently, was to betray my enthusiasm for it in an unladylike way.
It seemed to me more a question of keeping the contents from falling out, which would surely be even less ladylike. But I did as I was told, quelled by my mother’s embarrassment.
During Granny Mac’s stay a snake, a dugite, five or six feet long, drowned in the well. Our father wanted us to hold it up for a photo, but it was already beginning to smell and neither my sister nor I would touch it. Granny Mac moved forward and picked it up herself, face well-schooled in showing nothing. She is immortalised in the photo, her dignity uncompromised either by the length of snake she is holding or by her two wussy granddaughters, barefoot and sun-bleached, skulking shame-faced beside her.
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