ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2009 – Winning Entries
Section 2: “Caring” – Prose
The Brief: Do you see an old couple walking down the road holding hands and smile for the next hour, or does the look of trust in a child’s eyes reward you for your care? Have you ever appreciated the gentle touch or “secret” moment that carers share with the people for whom they care? Write about caring for people.
First Place – Jan Lepherd – Carrington Computer Club for Seniors
© Unconditional Love
I walk through the entry to the Nursing Home and look around for the little lady I have been visiting for some 18 months.
Each week we sit together and I take her back to the days when she was young – a teenager, a bride, a young mother, her cooking expertise, and I can see her memory slowly forming the pictures in her mind of happier days when the whole world was there for her to take in her hands and use. But now she holds my hand and touches my face. If the weather is pleasant we can go for a short walk outdoors to look at and feel the texture of leaves on shrubs and touch the petals of flowers.
Now she is deteriorating, and the memories of youth have faded. She welcomes me with a smile but does not remember my name and as we sit together, she reaches for my hand, gazes at me continually and tells me she loves me, but cannot say anything else. She nurses a doll and constantly touches and cuddles it in her arms, the mothering instinct still being there, unbeknown to her. She cannot walk now; we cannot go outdoors to the beautiful garden, so I draw her eyes to the colours outside and speak of what I see.
Touch is so important to her. All humans need the touch of fellow travellers through this life
and she is no exception. To brush the hair back from her forehead, to gently touch her face when she becomes distressed – probably with a fleeting elusive flash of memory that is gone before she can comprehend what it was – to simply hold hands and look into each other’s face and be close for a short time, all add up to answering the need to be lovingly touched, hugged, and reassured that where she now is in her stage of life, is right for her.
When time comes for me to leave, she becomes upset, and holds both my hands and raises them to her lips. This simple loving gesture is so touching, and makes it hard to leave her, but by my directing her eyes back to her ‘baby’, I gently free my hands so she can pick up the doll from her lap and cradle it in her arms. This brings her comfort. I know that by the time I reach the door she will have forgotten I was ever there; but that is not important.
The time together and the beautiful moving gesture to me, creates a feeling that is indescribable. No matter how old, no matter what state of health we are in, no matter if we cannot communicate by speech, a sincere smile and touch means so much to my friend.
I drive home, dwelling on these things and on the special moment of love given to me. I had gone just to be with her for a while, but she, with her debilitating illness and state of detachment from this world, has given me so much more in return. How blessed I am.
Second Place – Joan Lewis – Computer Pals for Seniors – East Lake Macquarie
Mary stood back from the school gate in the shade of a gum tree. She was aware of the young mothers chatting all around her as they waited for their children. They were stylishly dressed and able to afford far more than Mary could on her old-age pension. Mary knew her thick pale legs, a filigree of blue and red veins, were far better concealed under her calf-length black skirt.
She wondered how Brian must feel having to be reared by his old grandmother. Her thoughts were interrupted by a sea of young faces, mostly red from the heat of the February afternoon.
Brian stood out. At least to Mary he did with his red hair. He was tall for his age, which made him look thinner than most of the others. So much like his dad, she thought and felt thankful that he had his father’s gentle manner and not his mother’s flippancy.
Brian slipped his little clammy hand into Mary’s as they crossed the road and began their short walk home.
“My new shoes hurt a bit today, Nanna,” he confided, “but I didn’t cry, ’cause I’m a big boy now I’m going to school.” Mary gave his hand a squeeze as she agreed he was.
“I just remembered,” Brian said, stopping abruptly and thrusting his hand into his new school case. “We have a note from our teacher because there’s a meeting for mothers at the school on Tuesday. I asked if our Nannas could come instead and she said you could. Will you please come, Nanna?”
He handed her the crumpled slip of paper and she straightened it out to read the time and venue. She dreaded the thought of sitting, so conspicuously old, with all the young mothers. Brian would probably notice it too and feel embarrassed in his own little way. She thought that hopefully by Tuesday she would have found an excuse to decline, but that night as she tucked the blankets around Brian’s little freckled face he reminded her of the note.
“You will come to school, won’t you, Nanna?”
How could she resist those bright blue eyes so full of enthusiasm? “Of course I will, darling,” she found herself saying.
When Brian had fallen asleep, Mary sat alone in her quiet little kitchen and poured herself a cup of tea. She thought of Brian when he had first come to stay with her. His little port held all his possessions and he was so timid – a normal reaction for a three-year-old when the mother he relied on had just walked out and left him. When his father had arrived home from work Brian had been crying alone in his room. Mary remembered the night when Brian’s cries woke her and he said he had dreamed she had left him too. She assured him that would never happen and cuddled him till he slept peacefully.
Tuesday came very quickly for Mary. She pulled her grey hair back into a bun, because she had worn it that way for years. She found two dresses which were reasonably fashionable and settled for the striped one. The vertical stripes would help to slim down her matronly figure. She had no trouble deciding on shoes and bag as she only had the black ones. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, sighed and took a lace handkerchief from the sachet on her dressing table, tipped a few drops of perfume in the corner and picked up her handbag.
The children were still enjoying the lunch-break when Mary arrived, puffing from overweight and exhaustion after walking in the heat of the day. She decided to slip in the back gate of the playground to avoid a grand entrance with all the others at the front.
The playground was teeming with a moving mass of coloured uniforms. The girls in their little check dresses were huddled in groups, some playing games, others happily chasing each other. The boys, in spite of the heat, were showing their prowess on the horizontal bars or shooting with imaginary guns. Above the shrieks of laughter and conversations, Mary heard Brian’s excited voice and saw him running down the path toward her.
“Nanna, Nanna.” By now Mary knew her attempt to arrive inconspicuously was thwarted. Brian was closely followed by three little friends whom he quickly introduced.
“These are my mates, Nanna. This one is Andrew,” Brian said as he grasped the arm of a strongly-built boy who was much shorter than Brian. “And this is Joshua,” he continued. “We just call him Josh, so you can too.” Josh had smiling blue eyes and he nodded approval of Mary being permitted to use this short version. Finally Peter was introduced and stared at her through black-rimmed glasses. All four gathered around Mary as though she represented royalty and Brian explained, “They want me to share you with them today because their mothers are working and can’t come.”
Mary glowed with pride as the four escorted her into the classroom which had been set aside for the meeting. Each boy had a drawing pinned to the board and they all excitedly talked together, proudly indicating which ones were theirs.
Mary was enthusiastic in her praise of each one and when the bell summoned them back to their teacher Mary turned to find a seat in the roomful of mothers.
As the boys walked from the room Andrew turned to Joshua and Mary heard him ask, “Isn’t Brian lucky to have a Nanna who comes to see his drawings at school?” Joshua agreed, “Yeah! I’ll say. I wish my Nan would come.” Not to be left out Peter put in his say, “Me too.”
Brian looked back at Mary and with his head held high he beamed a smile which said so much. Mary fought back the tears that threatened to brim over her red-rimmed eyes. She would not trade this moment for anything in the world.
Third Place – Barry Stephenson – Endeavour Computer Club
© A Dutch Treat
By the end of the war in 1945, Sydneysider Dorothy Em had seen her fair share of ups and downs, she was well attuned to the plight of others.
Dorothy was married in 1925 aged 20, a few years later her first born child was stillborn. Then came the “Great Depression”, during which two healthy daughters were born. The struggle to survive on bread and dripping, rare employment and government sustenance coupons was a depreciating experience and was never forgotten. But better days dawned eventually, the future looked promising and a third child arrived in the late 1930’s.
At about this time her husband’s health detiorated, he was to spend several years in and out of hospital, he had Reynards disease and other problems.
With no income earner, the family was now dependent on meagre sickness benefits, plus whatever Dorothy could earn with her sewing machine. She was again having to scrimp and scrape to survive.
In the near vicinity, a church known as the Church of the New Jerusalem had recently been inaugurated, some of it’s parishoners became aware of Dorothy’s problems and offered her whatever assistance they could reasonably provide. Dorothy saw this as a very generous gesture and in time decided to become a member of that little known church.
During the war her husband’s health improved, being unskilled his earnings were modest, however family life resumed some normality and the fourth of her eventual five children was born.
Months after wars end, the afforementioned church received a letter from the minister of a similar congregation in Holland, basically it explained that the surviving members of his congregation were near starvation, could food parcels possibly be sent, a list of names and addresses was attached.
After choosing a name and address at random Dorothy responded promptly, into a strong cardboard box she packed tinned food, powdered milk, cocoa, rolled oats,dried fruit and anything edible that might survive in a ship crossing the equator. The weight of everything was carefully considered, due to shipping costs. A letter giving details of her address and family situation was included in the parcel before it was wrapped in calico and stitched tightly together.
Many weeks later an air letter arrived bearing Dutch stamps and written in good english. The sender, Annie, firstly expressed her gratitude for the food parcel, then gave details of her husband, two young sons and the trials of surviving in war torn Holland, these details brought tears to the eyes of her benefactor’s family.
Predictably, food parcels were then despatced at regular intervals, as were the letters from Holland. In one early parcel a small jar of peanut butter was included, the response from Annie was full of superlatives for this wonderfull delicacy, because the existence of such delightful treats were all but forgotten.
Realising that simple luxuries could do much to lift the morale, the next food parcel contained two cakes of Cashmere Bouquet soap and two pairs of stockings. The letter that came in response was pure ecstacy, the squeals of delight should have been heard from The Hague to Hobart.
Food parcels continued to be sent for years, letters and photos were exchanged, with the correspondence continuing till the end of Dorothy’s life.
Though Annie was never to meet the woman who had cared about her in her time of great distress, she did eventually manage to visit Australia to meet Dorothy’s children.
Annie is 94 now but still sends Xmas and birthday cards to all of the children. She is a treasured friend, getting to meet her was a real Dutch Treat.
Special Mention – George Conyngham – U3A Nepean Blue Mountains
© The Lolly
He came running across the playground towards me. I couldn’t think why. Did I look like someone he knew or did he intend to help me in some way. This I thought was most unlikely. So I composed myself and stood ready for the bump of the speeding juvenile who knew not where he was going. My mistake!
I admit it freely. I discovered later, that he was carrying out his duty in respect to a stranger in the playground. It still is called courtesy. Somebody had thought it advisable that the pupils should take care of visitors before they got killed, although a custom not often thought of nowadays. He had been chosen. Scruffy Billy – I thought.
The wildly travelling locomotive skidded to a halt perfectly in front of me. A face half- smiling and half wary looked up at me. Now I’m very tall, so it was some look up. A youngish hesitant voice said:
” Would ya like a lolly. I’m supposed to look after anyone strange who comes into the playground.”
Did I really look strange? What could I say; ‘No thank you.’, well I couldn’t. Especially since he already had one hand in his pocket. Before I could really say anything, out it came, his hand that is. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was offering me a wonderful gift. His treasure…
The hand came forward, opened . What a sight – tiny little, pill like, dust covered, pink and black discs, more than likely stuck together by who knows what. I was about to decline gracefully when I looked into his eyes. Now there are lots and lots of human beings who not only dislike children, but hate them. I’m a border line case. At least I thought I was, but when I began to see that certain look begin to change, I crumbled, no I didn’t, I cared, and cared and cared. What to do?
“Thank you, young man.” I said. Actually it took nearly all my manhood to stop from blubbering. Taking one, I think it was one, I said:
“You won’t mind if I don’t eat it right away; what would the principal think if I arrived sucking one of those beauties. Hmm?” Then I opened my coat and put it very carefully, into my best shirt’s pocket. Just for him.
It was worth it. Glee! Joy! Call it what you will. He nearly burst! And I cared.
You might think that I was influenced, yes I was but, I was changed. It so happened, unbeknown to me, that this pupil Scruffy Billy, was the trouble for which I had been called to this school to discuss. He didn’t know and neither did I. I cared, it’s my job to care, his teacher had cared and so did the Principal. Maybe it’s their job to care.
I just hope that you care too!
After all! All Carers are very valuable people.