ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2009 – Section 3: “A Special Place” – Prose

ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2009 – Winning Entries

Section 3: “A Special Place” – Prose

Brief: We all have a special place in our memory – a place we can “visit” when we have some time to enjoy our thoughts.

Describe this place and the way you felt when you were there.

First Place – John Clarke – U3A Nepean Blue Mountains

© Ada’s Place

My family often visited a much-loved aunt at her tiny property situated on a bend of the Lachlan River, near Hillston.

Aunt Ada was a self-supporting, going concern in times before saving the planet became an issue. I think she was a greenie without being aware of it. On washing day, waste water flowed down a brick channel and watered a small orchard. I don’t suppose Sunlight Soap scum did much harm to the fruit trees.

She raised poultry, including turkeys, much in demand at Christmas, at a time when a chook in every pot wasn’t as common as today. I remember a hot Christmas Eve when we all helped her dress last minute orders, in a cloud of flying feathers.

Uncle Bill, her other half, kept up a steady supply of fish, some harvested from a possibly illegal fish trap, although I’m not sure of their status on one’s own property.

A Southern Cross windmill pumped household water into a corrugated iron tank on top of a tank stand, a common sight out in the bush. There was a loquat tree, a type of small yellow plum from China, growing beside the tank stand. They were popular in those days because of their tolerance for dry conditions. Nearly every garden seemed to have one. These days they tend to attract fruit fly, not an important issue to small boys.

Ada was one of those kindly, generous, laughter-loving women of the west. She grew up as part of a large farming family and as a young girl had many duties in homestead and paddock. We always looked forward to our visits. She wasn’t rich but her hospitality was legendary.

Our young eyes never registered her work-hardened hands or weather beaten features. It was only when we were older that we became aware of the love and encouragement she had given us so abundantly. I felt honoured to help carry her to her final resting place. Whenever I think of my aunt, I am reminded of our attempt to catch a possum who thought he had a greater claim on her loquat tree than anyone else round the place.

The following piece attempts to capture the evening we tried to remove old possum from the loquat tree.

The Loquat Tree

The loquat tree stands laden and serene, yellow fat fruit shuttered by leaves of tropical green, that nocturnal eyes for many nights have seen.

“That possum comes the same time every year,” says Ada, as we through the moonlight peer.

Possums are alright in their place but we must act before he feeds his face, (as if the tree belongs to us who can’t even lay claim to the air we breathe).

Old possum, striped by moon shafts, ignores our upturned eyes and clasps the moon-fruit in marsupial paws.

With broomstick in hand I climb onto the tank-stand, lured on by boyhood loquat-lust.

Yet all the while I’m glad that possum’s there, thinking to myself, “plenty of fruit to share.”

Still, winter’s jam jars are waiting to be filled, so I must make the broomstick blow while Ada holds the sugar bag to catch our foe.

Below us water glints with lunar beams, in starry breathless air and I am lost to all but what we share, the warm still night and the river’s cosmic stream.

Urgent voices hiss me back – “quick John, before he spoils more fruit, don’t crouch there like some gormless young galoot!”

Reluctantly I make a mighty swipe and possum, loquats, leaves swirl down in flight.

“He’s in the bag!” but faster than her hands can close it, old possum’s climbing safe and free, looking disdainfully down from windmill’s height, as Ada’s laughter fills the velvet night.

Second Place – Joan Stott – Computer Pals for Seniors – Ku-ring-gai

© I Babble on the Pebbles

I close my eyes. They ache. Then I smile as I remember a little girl many years ago and a question she often asked.

“Are you asleep, Aunty?”

“No dear, just resting my eyes,” was the usual reply.

This brings back happy memories of the special place where I spent some of my school holidays, the quiet picturesque English village as yet untouched by busloads of enthusiastic tourists. There were just the villagers and a few evacuees like my Aunt and Uncle who had been bombed out of their homes in the towns and a few visitors like me.

I can see the trio, walking down the hill. No, I would be running on ahead, over the bridge and round the corner.

“Boo!” I would cry, jumping out from behind a tree as they caught up to me.

I would skip happily along the pavement, past the Cotswold stone cottages towards the village store where Uncle bought his morning paper. I see a lady’s bicycle with a wicker basket on the front, parked in the gutter, its pedal pressed hard against the kerb. Aunty would go shopping, probably for some more knitting wool while Uncle and I walked across the village green towards the river and the wooden bench where he sat to read his paper.

I always picture it in springtime when the warmth of the sun has brought new life after the cold, cheerless English winter. Fluffy clouds drift across a pale blue sky and the air is clean and fresh with the fragrance of the spring flowers, the sticky buds are showing on the horse-chestnut trees, the daffodils and crocuses are growing haphazardly on the village green and the brightness of the new growth on the willow trees stretch down towards the water.

A family of ducklings waddle along the path after their mother as she leads them into the River for a swim.

My mother used to call the river her ‘babbling brook’ and would often recite, just as she did in school some years before, “The Brook, by Alfred LORD Tennyson,” with the emphasis on LORD. But she was right, the shallow, clear water does babble over the bed of pretty coloured pebbles as it flows idly through the village under two or was it three narrow hump-backed foot- bridges.

It was a special place and still is in my memory, a place where I felt safe and secure and free. I was on holiday with my special Aunt and Uncle, safe from the bombing in my home town, Coventry and shielded from the dark news of the war. I was free from the regimentation of my boarding school, free from walking in crocodile formation, church twice on Sundays and being woken up by the sound of a bell. This was bliss and I had a friend called Cecily who lived on a farm on the outskirts of the village. What a delight for a city girl.

We had the model village to explore too where the quaint stone cottages barely reached our waists. It was an exact working copy of the main village, even to the waterwheel at the end of the village where the wooden blades scooped up the water and spilt it over the other side like a waterfall and where there was an even smaller model of the model village itself. The church bell rang every day calling the model villagers to church and the organ played inside the church. We ran down the miniature roads, we followed the miniature river and we stood on the miniature bridge and were queens of all we surveyed.

Twenty five years later I introduced my young sons to my special place on their first visit to England. They ran down the miniature roads and followed the miniature river and stood on the miniature bridge and I took their photo.

Only this time we were tourists, visiting tourist’s sights, many of which were new and I brought home some souvenirs, place mats and tea towels.

But the village was still special, for tourist’s sights may come but my mother’s babbling brook goes on for ever.

“Are you awake, Joan, or just resting your eyes?” My husband’s voice brings me back to the present. “You were smiling.”

“I was miles away,” I answer, “I was wandering around – Bourton on the Water.

Third Place – Connie Vallis – Computer Pals for Seniors – The Hills

© The Cottage

So many places are special to me. Like our comfy old family dwelling which we staunchly built more than fifty years ago. As the saying goes, there is no place like home. This morning I awoke in the same old bedroom in the same old house, and I cuddled and kissed the same loveable, sexy, caring old husband. Everything is special here – everything unique. Every day is a bonus too.

But when I was a kid, there were other special places too. Like a visit to Sydney’s ‘Luna Park’, for a birthday treat. Or in the warm summer months, a ferry trip across the harbour for a picnic and swim at picturesque Manly. Or in the winter months, a steam train ride to the blue mountains where, if we were lucky we’d get to play in the snow.

And as a teenager there were special places too. One I recall being the local dance hall, where each Wednesday and Friday nights, my friends and I would flitter, flirt and jitterbug the night away. Then on Saturday night it was off to the flicks. No Televisions or Computers back in those days.

Inevitably, however, at another unforgettable place, I fell head over heels in love with my Keith. And on May 31st, 1952, we married. The hotel we shared on that first night was clean, cheap, and somewhat shabby. But to us it was enchanting – a truly special place.

Then along came our four kids. And another special place became the delightful coastal camping area at North Narrabeen in Sydney, where each boxing day for many years, we’d pitch a large tent to be enjoyed for the next four weeks.

All special places – such fun to recall. Each tucked away safely in my crowded old mind.

But now that I am older I have discovered yet another. One entirely different from those gone by. Unlike ‘Luna Park’, here there are no merry – go – rounds, no huge slippery dips, no haunted houses, and no dance floor on which to trip the light fantastic. (Heaven forbid with my total knee replacements).

It’s not built from canvas like our great big tent, but of painted weatherboards and a red tin roof. Yet in modern day jargon, it is absolutely cool.

Want to know more? Well let me explain. This special place I now fondly enjoy is known to most as simply ‘The Cottage’, but is actually the venue of a fantastic club. My local branch of ‘Computer Pals for Seniors’.

From outside it appears significantly unimportant. Yet as I walk through the door, I am instantly impressed, impishly likening myself to the fictitious ‘Dr Who’, as with much anticipation, he enters his ancient telephone box – come spaceship – to be transported to another planet, another world.

As once inside this little old cottage, I too am transported. Not to another planet, but definitely to another world, a healthy, intriguing, stimulating world filled with mateship, warmth and hospitality.

Essentially it is an increasingly talented, captivating world, so jam packed with computer technology it constantly obliges my ever inquisitive mind. Here I am never bored, never alone. It satisfies my needs, and hopefully the needs of others.

Here is where I don various caps, predominantly as a trainer of one-on-one basics. It is a special place to teach, a special place to learn. A unique place to mingle and make friends! A place completely manned by generous volunteers – office staff, trainers, advance course presenters, creators of teaching manuals, technicians, caterings, cleaners, and even gardeners. The list goes on and on.

In this extra special place there are many rooms, two containing projectors, screens, and several up to date, state of the art desk top computers, twenty two in all. Eighteen are dual booted with XP and Vista. Six more computers are located elsewhere. Also available are two lap tops. During any one basic training session, at least thirty students can be comfortably accommodated. Several advanced courses are presented as well, with a session enrolment of around fifteen students.

Computer Care and Maintenance, Internet, Advanced internet, EBay, Power Point, Advanced Microsoft Word, Publisher, Digital Camera, Microsoft Story Book, Digital Video editing are just some of the twenty nine courses now on offer. I have personally attended around fifteen of these.

During each visit to my special place ‘The Cottage’ or ‘Computer Pals for Seniors’, I am many times richly rewarded, especially as I observe my students’ trepidations slowly but surely begin to dissipate, as eventually they come to grips with the bewildering, and ever advancing world of computer technology.

Student Liz is a recent example. As is often the case, her kids had offered her some minimal help in becoming acquainted with her computer, eventually leaving her to fumble and bumble her way around alone.

‘They’re so impatient’, she’d said with concern, as we sat together for her very first lesson. ‘Both so hard to follow, each unable to understand why I find their instructions so difficult to grasp. ’

Ah…yes …been down that path.

But recently Liz arrived at my special place, extremely thrilled and bursting with pride – delightedly displaying her latest achievement. A colourful invitation for her daughter’s twenty first birthday, one she had beautifully designed and created on her now companionable PC, using many of the skills she’d recently acquired.

And then there’s Bill, another keen student, initially nervous and absolutely apprehensive. Now best friends with his home computer, and having mastered the programme, ‘Microsoft Word’, he is busy creating the story of his life. No mean feat for a man in his eighties.

Like I said – this is one special place.

So come on all you seniors out there. Live for today – not for yesterday. The world abounds with bits and bobs, things to do, and special places. Just follow that yellow brick road – they’re easy to find.

Special Mention – Peg Mortimer – Berri Senior Citizens Computer Club

© My Sewing Room

My special place would have to be my sewing room, although it has to make-do as a spare bedroom when my sister comes to stay. There is a bed in one corner with a bedside table and a reading lamp but apart from that it is a veritable gold mine of fascinating bits and pieces all waiting to be used for trimming or tacking, lengthening or shortening; some have been waiting for years!

Those small lengths of elastic that “might come in handy” have probably lost their elasticity but they might – just might – be useful to tie up something – so we won’t throw them out. There is that pretty piece of shot silk – pinkish-mauve that I unroll and ponder over. What can I make with that? I’ll think about it. Meanwhile roll it up again carefully.

Those slacks now; why did I buy slacks that were too long for me? A horrid job, shortening slacks, and anyway I really don’t like the colour much –pale pink. Oh no, I’ll just put them aside to give away. Now there is my special basket full of zips which no-one uses now, and bias binding, every colour of the rainbow plus a few extras. Well they might be handy too – one day – for something.

Here are the laces, all neatly kept together. Edging lace, insertion lace, frilly lace and the stretch lace I bought to fix some undies. Then I changed my mind and bought new ones. However, I’m sure it will come in handy one day. Wind it up again. Gracious me, there are those bras. I have to alter. Too tight across my back. I’ll have to use the sewing machine to do that job. Next week – yes, next week I’ll make a special effort.

A box of bright cotton sewing reels catches my eye. Many colours, but of course when you want a particular match you usually have to buy another one. Still, they do come in handy – did I say that before? Tins of pins, some with heads on them, safety pins too and needles with big and small eyes. Oh yes – scissors – several pairs, curved or straight and “pinking shears” – one must have a pair of them.

Now to my embroidery basket with the magnifying thingamy that I wore around my neck when I worked that wretched cross-stitch years ago. Never again! But a magnifying glass is always a good thing to have in the cupboard. It can stay. Here are my embroidery threads and that pretty oval d’oyley I once worked. All done except for crocheting around the edge. I must find my crochet hooks, finish that off and give it to my friend Amy for her birthday. She likes quaint old things and that will surely fit the bill.

Talking of which, at the top of the cupboard, put away gently, are some very old garments, There is the long christening robe first worn by great-Uncle Will in the late eighteen-hundreds and by numerous babies since. There are hand made baby clothes, small gowns and tiny bibs and bonnets, heirloom items folded between tissue paper.

My little wedding dress too – little because the waist measures eighteen inches around. It is made of marquisette, a material used as centre curtaining. At WW11’s end when I married my soldier boy I had no coupons which were needed for dress material. However my Aunt’s wedding dress had an elegant train edged with nine-inch wide fine lace and she most generously cut it off for me to use on my wedding dress, so it really did look dainty – and still does.

On a lower shelf are ancient knitting books with complicated patterns for just about everything from baby clothes to gloves, caps, bed-socks and bed jackets. There is even a pattern for knee-warmers. Perhaps I should try that one! Gardening books too. Now they don’t date. Gardening advice is always good if you can find what you are looking for, especially how to deal with bugs and things. Here is a tip on “white fly” – what to do and so on. I’ve never come across a white fly but if I do I’ll just look it up in the book. There is a lot more useful information too, so the books go back, all neatly stacked up.

Then I come across that beautiful length of embroidered broderie anglaise destined to become a summer dress for my little daughter. Well, she’s married now with three lovely sons so no use for that – well, not yet – but there might be a grand-daughter one day!

I put it back, folded with care. It could come in handy.

Special Mention – Lynton Bradford – Anglican Retirement Village Computer Club – Castle Hill

© The Fig Tree

At night it was pitch dark, no electric lights, no neighbours nearby, just the faint, distant sounds of waves crashing endlessly on the rocky shore and on starry nights the black shadow of a huge Fig Tree blotted out half the sky.

These were among my savoured memories of this special place. It had no modern amenities, no electricity, running water, sewerage, telephone, transport of any kind or any of the conveniences which a young boy would expect in the late 1930s. Why then do I retain such fond memories of this home, when the other places were so much more comfortable?

The name “Charlton” was rarely used; letters were addressed simply as “Boat Harbour, Gerringong, NSW”. It was the only house in this depression between the rolling green hills, leading down to Boat Harbour and the nearest houses were almost a kilometre away, perched on the ridges of the hills surrounding this valley.

I lived with my great aunt Grace Watkins, after whom my mother was named. “Charlton” was her family home, built and added to by her father Frederick, as his family of 13 grew. It had never been the subject of any council approvals. In fact there were no councils in the area when this home was started around the mid 1800s. Frederick built many fine structures during his life as a builder in the area, including the Catholic Church, but this house was certainly no fine example of a builder’s skill. There were confusing and varied styles of construction in this wood and corrugated iron house.

The oldest room was the bathroom, but in my time it was never used as such. It was of split slab construction, which had shrunk over the previous 80 years, so that there was now a clear view of the back yard through the gaps. With the lack of privacy and the breezes through the wall, it was the last place to consider taking a bath. We opted for the kitchen, where there was the fuel stove to warm the room and a round galvanised iron tub requiring many trips to the spring some 100 metres away to fill to a depth of about two inches. Two baths a week were considered more than ample considering the effort required.

I spent many happy hours exploring the rocks around the bay close to the house. We considered it our little harbour as few other people came down to it in those days. You could always catch a fish or two to save the long walk to the shops.

My friend Stewart and his sister lived about three kilometres away across the fields and we had many adventures together. We “helped” round up the cows for milking, rode on horses and generally had a great time. I suspect his father may not have considered our help particularly useful.

It was a hard but rewarding life at Boat Harbour. The chores included collecting wood for the big fire places, fowls to feed, eggs to collect and walking up to the town for milk and supplies.

A large mantel radio used a car battery which had to be taken to the local garage about two kilometres away for charging. It was my job to drag it uphill in my billy cart with many stops on the way, then collecting it the next day. Consequently the radio was only used to listen to the news once or twice a week.

The lounge room was heavily curtained and so dark you could not read even in broad daylight. There was an organ with pump pedals which was the only real luxury in the house.

The beds had mattresses of duck feathers, so deep you sank almost from view, a huge mosquito net draped from the steel and brass canopy over the bed head. Each room had its china wash basin and water jug, and of course a potty under the bed.

The dunny pan needed emptying about once a month. A deep hole was dug in the vegetable garden and, to avoid digging it up again there was a plan of rotation. Of course the dunny paper was cut up newspapers or magazines. With luck you could read up on stories by assembling the cut sections while contemplating. However more often than not, essential parts of stories were not to be found.

The original dunny was very fragile after 90 years and was tied to a large peppercorn tree with fencing wire. Unfortunately the peppercorn blew down in a gale and took the dunny with it, so a new one was built.

I had a fox terrier called ‘Tinker’ and we went everywhere together, exploring the rocks and sea shore, also rabbit hunting, but never caught anything as I recall.

My last visit to “Charlton” was shortly before Gwen and I became engaged. The place was much the same and Grace Watkins appeared to be the same aged elderly woman I knew some 12 years earlier.

During this visit, Gwen and I walked some distance out to a headland overlooking the sea. A warm spring rain appeared from nowhere and having no shelter we slowly walked home arm in arm arriving back drenched to the skin.

We changed into clothes retrieved by Aunty Grace from an ancient, huge trunk. I think my trousers and braces probably belonged to my great grandfather.

Another day in this special place which will never be forgotten.

Unfortunately the home is gone now, burnt by squatters after Grace died. Gerringong is now an “in place“. Many houses fill Boat Harbour almost to the waters edge. The only remaining landmark is the great Moreton Bay Fig tree, now some 80 meters across, planted by great grandfather some time in the mid 1800s in the corner of the vegetable garden, no doubt nourished throughout its life by the buried “treasure” in the garden.

Special Mention – Iris Meek – Launceston Computer Group

© The Kitchen Table

Preamble: The year is 1944, WW2 is still in progress, rationing is widespread and life goes on around the kitchen table.

It is still dark when the chief rises from his bed to build the fire and fill the big kettles with water from the tank outside ready for morning use.

Now he sets a breadboard and a large teacup and saucer on me; cuts some thick slices of bread and toasts it in front of the now glowing embers, before dipping most of it in the steaming tea he has brewed so that he can savour it. He then heads to work on his bicycle.

Now the boss comes out from the bedroom, puts a saucepan on me and proceeds to make oatmeal porridge for everyone.

While this cooks she places a cloth on me and sets out china and cutlery, sugar and milk before calling the clan.

They rush to me to eat and drink while the boss cuts lunches at one end of me.

When all is quiet she sits down and rests her elbows on me while she has a soothing cuppa.

Now she takes away the cloth to shake the remains of the meal from it and sets a large tin dish down on me, which she fills with the used dishes and hot water to wash up.

When this task is completed Auntie brings out the baby, so a blanket and large fluffy towel on which is laid a baby bath are placed on top of me. Soon baby is bathed, powdered and dressed and popped into a pram.

Now they scrub me down with a hard brush and sandsoap and when dry, cover me with cooking ingredients ready to make cakes and pastries, which are rolled out on my surface.

Such lovely aromas are coming from the hot kitchen range, some for morning tea!

If it is bottling season I groan under the weight of the preserving pans and dishes and at other times they use me as a sewing bench.

Uncle has brought scrap pieces of material used to line rubber tyres and after it has had the stiffening material soaked out it is washed and dried.

Then a thick cloth is put on me ready for pressing with a flat iron, which has been heated on the “range” or hob. After this cloth is taken away they cut and sew pillowslips, cot sheets and handkerchiefs from the fabric which substitutes for the rationed materials.

Oh! They have packed the machine away and a fresh cloth is covering my nakedness.

Its afternoon tea time (Auntie calls it crib) and happy chattering people sit around me.

The task of shaking, washing up and drying begins all over again before the boss starts preparing vegetables, meat and puddings for dinner.

When they are placed in the various pots and pans, some go into the oven to bake.

Children come home from school with books to cover. Brown paper is spread over me and the books neatly covered with clagged corners to keep them neat.

Now the children can do the sums the teacher has set for homework, while quietly seated on the form between the back wall and me.

When they have finished the boss lays out an old sheet and the silverware from the dresser drawer and asks the children to clean the cutlery with Silvo. When this is done the dish of hot soapy water lands on me again and the traces of polish washed away.

Sometimes the churn is brought in and the children take turns on the handle to change the cream to butter. Then it is washed and patted down, weighed and shaped for use or sale.

When all this is cleaned away I am again dressed for dinner (or tea time as most of the people here refer to the meal).

Once again I am weighed down with cloth, food and china and surrounded by happy, hungry people who love to sit around me reviewing their day.

When all are sated, most go into the lounge (or front room) to relax and listen to the radio, while a few stay behind to clear me of cloth and food and start washing-up all over again.

Later a dish is placed on a towel and grubby little bodies sponged before bedtime.

When all is quiet, the chief brings out the mirror from the big dressing table and props it on top of me. Then he gets his razor and sharpens it on a strop before lathering up to shave.

Next the boss returns from hearing childrens’ prayers to clean up, make supper and by the light of the oil lamp has a quick read of the notices in the paper…hoping for good news of local men at war.

Supper over, washing up done and everything cleared away.

Ah me! Peace at last…..

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ASCCA Creative Writing Competition 2009 – Section 3: “A Special Place” – Poetry

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