They’d experienced enough failure, now it was time to experience success.
The Mark Twain Birthday Book that sits amongst my collection of old and treasured books, once belonged to my great grandmother, Ellen Hayward.
This little book proved useful to my great grandmother for remembering birthdays of family and friends, and also for recording family weddings and deaths, and the occasional interesting family event. After Ellen died, her daughter Doris, my grandmother, inherited this little book and added to the record of our family history from her generation. My mother has also added her contributions and handed me the book a few years ago. Likewise, I continue to add to the family record.
I cherish this little book. Every now and then I take it off the shelf, make myself comfy on my lounge with a cuppa, and pour over its pages. Reading through the ebb and flow of generations of my family’s lives always evokes something deep within me.
It’s a sense of belonging, a sense of having been passed the family baton, and a desire to play my part well in running this family race in my generation.
The pages of The Mark Twain Birthday Book are now discoloured and stained with age, and some are no longer attached to the binding. Although in places the ink is fading, the beautiful handwriting is still visible, reminding me of an earlier age when life was not so rushed, and penmanship was a valued craft.
Slipped in between its pages are yellowed newspaper cuttings.
There are records of weddings –
“… the bride was given away by her father and wore a white mousseline
de soire, trimmed with lace and insertion, and an embroidered tulle veil
arranged over a coronet wreath of orange blossoms …” (19 Sept, 1900)
Of births –
” HAYWARD – April 20,1906, to the wife of George W. Hayward, Mildura,
Elswick St., a daughter, Thelma Jean.”
Of deaths –
“HAYWARD, Ellen, November 3, 1954, widow of the late George W. Hayward,
mother of… grandmother of … and great grandmother of …… and Julie..”
One newspaper clipping dated 1944 relating to my uncle is headed “U.S. Awards to Australians”, and reads :
“The War Dept. has announced the award of the Legion of Merit to six
Australians for exceptionally meritorious conduct”.
Amongst this memorabilia there is one very special sheet of notepaper that I delicately open every time and it always moves me to tears.
The edges are frayed in places and the folds deeply imprinted. This page has been opened and closed many times since it was written. There is a poem on the page. Handwritten. The handwriting is beautiful and the author has taken special care in writing each word, spacing them just so. The ink is smudged in places hinting that many tears have fallen on these words over the years.
The poem begins, To Thelma and concludes with from George.
Thelma is the daughter born to my great grandmother in 1906, and George is her brother. Thelma was married to Alan and they lived in a little cottage in Leura, in the Blue Mountains, NSW. They loved their little home, ‘Birdswood Cottage’, with its beautiful garden that they spent hours creating together. Although they had been married for many years they had no children.
Thelma’s life changed forever the day her beloved Alan died. It seems George was moved deeply by his sister’s grief, and put pen to paper and wrote her this beautiful poem.
When sunlight brightened your garden,
With your lover hand in hand,
Came peace and love to this garden,
In a world that seemed so grand.
Now all alone in this garden
As the petals have left the rose,
The sigh of the wind seems to whisper
Like the voice of the one you chose.
You must live again in that garden,
With flowers so sweet and rare
Let thoughts be full of its beauty
And the love you had to share.
The birds may be hushed in the garden,
And the shadows near sunset fall,
With light and joy at the dawning
Come memories that are shared by all.
The birds will awake in your garden,
And their melody tune to the breeze.
His presence will ever be near you,
In the quiet of the murmuring trees.
He will come again in the moonlight
And gently press your hand,
For he’s just ahead in the gloaming
Of that far eternal strand.
Beautiful – isn’t it.
And isn’t it amazing that lives that were lived generations ago, still reach out and impact those of us who follow.
There is a verse in the Bible that I have memorised.
“When David had served God’s purpose in his generation, he fell asleep.” (Acts 13:36)
I have memorised this verse because I realise that God has given me a purpose in my generation and I want to be sure to fulfil it.
One day my children will inherit the Mark Twain Birthday Book, and continue to write our family history within its pages.
I want to be vigilant in sowing good seeds today so that the legacy of my life will be such that their generation, and those following, will enjoy great blessing and be positioned to take all the remarkable opportunities that will arise for them to fulfil their purpose in their own generation.
He shuffled up to our table, coffee in one hand, umbrella and newspaper in the other. I noticed his hands were trembling as he placed first the coffee, then the paper and umbrella down on the table. He slowly removed his backpack and put it on the ground. He sat down on the bench seat opposite us, bent over and pulled an aluminium ashtray from his backpack, then carefully positioned it on the table next to his coffee. Next, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a cigarette – the kind you roll yourself – and lit it up.
I watched him hoping to make eye contact so I could say hello, but he kept his head down as if he was unaware we were there, or he just didn’t care. He wore one of those caps that English gentlemen wear pulled down over his long unkempt hair, making it difficult to see his face.
It was Friday morning and Ross and I had headed down to McDonalds for a late breakfast. We were staying in the city for a couple of days and planned to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship down by Darling Harbour this morning. We proceeded to unwrap our breakfast meal while our mystery table guest unwrapped his newspaper and began reading.
I watched as he puffed away on his cigarette and turned the pages of the paper. His hands were very dirty, his nails long. He wore a gold ring on his third finger.
“Hello,” I said, but there was no response. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
I tried again, louder. “Good morning..”
He lifted his head, slowly turned and caught my eye, nodded, and then went back to scanning his newspaper.
The umbrella. I persisted.
“Do you think it will rain today?”
He looked back at me with bleary grey eyes and said something which I couldn’t quite make out. He had a long beard with overgrown moustache which muffled his words. He turned the pages of his paper and pointed to the weather report. Rain was forecast, he said.
And so a conversation of sorts began. We introduced ourselves, and he told us his name was Ron. He lived around the area, was born here in Sydney, at McMahon’s Point.
“You know where that is?” Ron asked. No, sorry we didn’t.
We respectfully asked if he would like to share our breakfast. He respectfully declined. At first.
I felt incredibly sad for Ron. He looked as though he was probably our age, and I wondered what desperate circumstances had led to his living on the streets, of becoming another “homeless statistic”. Had he lost a wife? Children? He had certainly lost direction, hope, and any sense of self-worth.
Finally it was time for us to leave, time for us to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship. We said goodbye to Ron and walked away from one place of friendship to find another down by the harbour. We spent a long time wandering through the stunning gardens which had been established many years ago as a gesture of friendship between two cultures. The freshness, the beauty, and the peace of this incredibly beautiful place stood in stark contrast to the life of the man with whom we had recently shared a meal.
And all the while, I found myself mulling over a statement I had heard someone make just the week before, a statement I had been pondering over ever since:
“We all have two lives – the one we are living now,
and the unlived life within us.”
It’s a statement about life purpose, about potential.
Over the past week I had been wondering how close the gap between my two lives was.
It’s actually something I’ve wondered about many times throughout the years, always striving for greater clarity of my purpose, always challenged to close the gap between what is, and what can be.
And now I was wondering how wide that gap was for Ron. It seems to me that gap has become a chasm so deep he probably does not think much beyond surviving today. I prayed that he would begin to search for his purpose in life, and for the One who gave him life. I prayed that he would find the way back to believing in himself. I prayed that he would have the courage to step out into his unlived life.
I know it’s not too late for Ron.
I know it’s never too late – for any of us.
Thinking of you today,
where joy, imperfection, and grace abound.
Shalom in the City
Child of God. In Love Wife. Mom. Pastor. Writer-Poet. Feminist.
Looking at love, loss, life and faith
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