They say, it’s best when there are no heavy goodbyes. Brings a drama to things, that are best dealt with strongly. It’s the British stiff upper lip. You soldier on, never mind what your bloody feelings tell you.
Up until this week, I hadn’t wrote in years. I mean, not really. Sure there were scripts, short films, plays… but not in prose nor poetry, which were my first loves.
And as I put my thoughts down into the written form, I couldn’t help but feel robbed. It was like seeing your first girlfriend, all grown up, and feeling that bittersweet pang of love, like being stabbed with a fuzzy dagger. What could have been if you had of stuck together?
At 29, all I have is now. The rest has been stripped from me. The transient nature of life, reveals itself more and more each and everyday, which is why I’m reluctant to collect more material objects. I give it all up, willingly and freely. That is it right now.
I mean, fuck. How many of us take writing for grant writing for granted? We do it everyday, in our phones, in emails, on screenplays, on government forms and other pieces of paper that need our signatures.
Writing however… few people write.
Harry Marsh, or as I knew him… Poppy Marsh, my grandfather. He was a man who had more character & warmth in his wrinkled smile, than what could be collected in an entire playground’s afternoon… at least that’s how I remembered him.
This man is my biggest influence, in ways I’m still trying to understand.
I still wear his polyester security jackets and his shirts. Some, still smell like him, others, I have to search for his familiar scent, and others still, you would never know he ever wore them. The scent just evaporates, like everything else on this world eventually does.
It’s a cruel suffering, to go through thousands of whole days, where back breaking work unfolds around you on the wharf.
Unload shipping containers, in rain, hail and heat, experiencing the kind of honest work, grunt work that feeds your family and sustains you. It’s the kind of work that sees a pot of beer brought to your lips, as you try to forget the weariness. It’s the kind of work that doesn’t exist any more. Just in an vapor, imagined by your grandson, two generations later. Hell… the worksite has been raised and leveled to create apartment buildings.
Yet — I’ve had days like that in those jackets. I appreciate the plastic outer layer, as it does its job breaking the chilling wind. It’s comforting enough that I can will 10 hours of work out, in relative comfort.
Yet it’s the art, and now the poetry, that puts a stop to all before I can really get going in a career.
And that is what separates most grandchildren from their grandfathers. The times are different. The motivations are different. The influences are different. I have no idea what my grandfather’s grandfather was like, but I’m absolutely certain, that the link between them was as different, as mine was with my Poppy.
If you dig into that jacket’s pocket now, frayed and broken from the years as it may be — where fluff, lint and the inner lining poke out if I’m careless — there usually will lay a printed script. And that printed script is difference in between us.
My hands carry a pen, and nimbly dash across a keyboard to create art. His held a wooden rifle, in wartime, or the gristle and bloody skull fragments of friend in Holland or unloaded containers down at the docks to feed a family in post-war Australia.
I’m not blind when it comes to matters like this. Any man’s pain that he accumulates for the growth & betterment of his family, will always be appreciated by myself.
I detest blind idolization of the military, and to some, my grandfather was no hero, but he was my hero. A flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless.
He could warm an entire room, with nothing but warm beer in his belly, regailing people with jokes and humour, entertaining them for hours on end, or — he could bring upon such piss-soaked drama, that people shuddered and cringed, casting pity his way in a run for the exit.
The men and women who cared about him, who really knew who he was deep down inside, usually brought him home to bed to sober up.
Wars are cruelest, after the enemy has been conquered.
Way before PTSD had been coined, there were no feelings to be discussed. There was no catharsis to be had with your therapist.
No. You were shown your way to the bar, and handed a beer bottle for your troubles, for your nightmares. And you were nudged to drink. It was all implied. All alluded to. All the men had a secret pact to numb themselves when the shit got too much.
Either that, or they blew their brains out.
But above all else — there were no feelings to be spoken about.
It was accepted to have a fist fights with a mate, in the RSL, over a pool game gone sour, as a way of coping with the stiff, overwhelming anxiety, wreaking havoc in your body.
I never saw my grandfather in a state like that. Only the aftereffects of it.
When I would become a man however, as I grew up, I started to see how my grandfather’s choices affected the rest of the family. These clues, were gold, in understanding my own psyche, and that of the rest of the family. Grandchildren are shielded and tinted from the flaws of their grandparents. You only rarely see their bad side.
My mother and her siblings saw another man. A more complicated man — one to be feared, obeyed and even rebelled against.
For my grandmother, she saw a puzzle to be solved. Something to be tolerated and bemoaned. Something to be placated and kept whole for the greater good.
And it worked.
By the time I came around, I only saw a vitamin swallowing, cycling health nut, who loved the occasional Newcastle Brown Ale (which explains my own thirst for dark ale), shared his stash of Cadbury chocolate with me (a habit too, which I could not kick), and only become a drunken chap at Christmas time (when family fighting and drama was tolerated… perhaps even a national sport).
When you enlist in a war, because your friends, your friends brothers, and your own brother — Norman die, you have a choice. A calling. It alters your life in imperceptible ways. Rather than living the life as a son of a coal miner, you become a Royal Marine. You live the bulk of your life in foreign country — Australia, yet never lose an ounce of strength in your thick Geordie accent. This is a struggle most men unknowingly go through in their life. Making a choice, which cannot be undone. Making a choice, so widespanning in it’s effects, that you can never shed break it’s wake.
At your wake, Poppy, they placed Engelbert Humperdinck’s — The Last Waltz, which I would never have selected in my own musical tastes… yet here I am at 2:50am, playing it, thinking of you as my heart aches.
Perhaps this song had great meaning for you & Nan. I won’t know. It’s too painful for me to ask her. This is the cowardice that our family suffers cruelly from. The lack of drive to initiate a loving conversation. Another thing I inherited.
And that song, followed me throughout the days following your funeral. I researched the lyrics, discovered who sang it and the title of the song… then played it on my phone through the radioin my beat up Honda Civic, crying my eyes out, in such a deep pain, that all I could do was drive, hit repeat, and cry some more.
Some things are a matter of duty (like this writing), and others are a matter of survival (like those tears).
It couldn’t be helped. Even at 28, you most likely wouldn’t have allowed those tears to flow (but I was there when you cried and embraced Uncle Darryl after so many years of not seeing him).
But my tears, were the tears of a child. The grandson you sculpted, and in whose hands you shoved chocolates, Slade’s soft drinks and other sugared treats.
We’re so alike in many ways. And so different in others.
Which is why I’m not a man of my word, nor a strong, tough man. I’m a man of my emotions.
Which is why I lied when I said it was best, that there were no heavy goodbyes.
Yours was the heaviest of all. That’s how I knew I loved you Pop.