At some time on January 8, 1946, at St Andrews Hospital in East Melbourne, Yvonne Mayer Goldenberg (nee Coleman) gave birth to her second child, a son. The precise hour of the child’s birth is no longer known. St Andrews Hospital no longer exists and, sadly for this son, neither does Yvonne. Since the moment (unspecified) of his birth, that child has enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with Time.
The temporal relationship was subjected to distorting stress even before the child was born. Although Myer Goldenberg delivered hundreds of other people’s babies every year in the Leeton District Hospital he determined his own children would be delivered by obstetric specialists in Melbourne. Two weeks before the second babe was due Myer drove Yvonne to Melbourne, dropped her at his parents’ house and returned to his patients in Leeton. Once Nature had taken its course he would return to meet the baby. Yvonne came into labour at night. Her father-in-law, Joseph Hyman Goldenberg, an excitable man and an erratic driver, bundled Yvonne into the car and raced towards East Melbourne. Joseph Hyman had no obstetric ambitions of his own: emphatically he did not wish to get down and bloody with Yvonne. He drove anxiously. In those days doctors erected a red light outside their medical premises to inform the passing trade. At every red light Joseph Hyman slowed to ask Yvonne, Should we stop here? Are you sure the baby is not coming? The pair passed from East St Kilda to Fitzroy Street, where red lights abounded: doctors were not the only practitioners with red lights. In this manner, slowing and accelerating by turns, the two proceeded to St Andrews where the child was born.
The parents named the child Adrian*.
The baby was blessed with two distinct exemplars in the matter of Time. Myer Goldenberg was a stickler for punctuality. He tried to stickle his wife, but Mum wasn’t sticklish. So unpunctual was Mum, so indifferent to Time’s pursuit, Dad claimed: Yvonne can’t tell the time. Mum’s riposte became famous: I can tell the time, I just don’t approve of it.
I took after Mum.
When I was nine years old I decided to become wealthy. Mum offered to pay me to shine shoes at one penny a shoe. Dad had about four pairs, Mum twice that number. I polished and I banked the proceeds. After shining two thousand, four hundred shoes I had accumulated ten pounds in my Commonwealth Bank account. I withdrew that sum and I bought a wristwatch. With that purchase I won my chance for mastery over Time.
I won it and I blew it.
School and life offered challenges, adult tasks, endless opportunity for a dysnumerate adolescent to strain his brain with numbers. Tomorrow always appealed. Later was better than now. Soon, Dad, soon.
After taking up middle distance running in my ‘teens I became interested in my pulse rate. I discovered my heart beat precisely sixty times a minute. I spent many lessons with my right index finger pulp resting over my left radial artery, counting the wrist minutes to the end of class.
My father had the impressive ability to awaken from sleep at a designated hour. He’d pack the boat at nine in the evening, we’d all climb into our bunks, and we’d sleep until the roar and throb of the marine engine told us Dad had awakened, as he’d planned, with the turn of the tide. Such a skill seemed to me mystical. I know it now to be physiological, supported by a time-swollen prostate, the older man’s alarm clock.
Dad was always awake. I’d awaken and wonder why I had; or, more precisely, why now? And go back to sleep. I came to realise I could estimate the passing of time with remarkable accuracy. Let us say I heard the News on the ABC at seven AM and then went about my business through the day until mid-afternoon. I found I could stand still, rehearse the movements and actions of the intervening time, and calculate the hour. I’d say, I reckon it must be about four, or maybe a bit after. We’d hail someone wearing a watch who’d confirm it was five minutes after Four.
Curiously Time stalked me. I never chased it; it wasn’t particularly interesting to me. Now, at threescore years and ten I have discovered a new skill, equally unexpected: ask me when someone died, when someone else married or divorced or when she published her second-last book, I’ll declare, five or six years ago. Or, the Easter before last – and I’ll be right. Time has slipped through my hands. I never gripped it firmly but I have felt its mass, I can weigh it in my mind and give you the quantum of time that has passed.
Of course my time with Time is limited. The psalm I recite every shabbat reminds me: the days of our years are threescore and ten…I’ve had my threescore and ten. I’ve spent them and enjoyed them. I have seen much, I have loved many. Many are the books I have read, many the teachers who showed me their light. But what of my books unread, my books unwritten? What of the cracks in my world I was going to fix? What of the love I owe and never paid? Happily my psalm offers an extension: but with heroic effort, eighty years…
At medical school I came across a novel and striking notion: senescence proceeds from birth, hand in hand with growth. The processes continue. Like a plucked fruit I ripen and I decay. In the house at night you can hear me snoring. In a coffee shop the other day I sipped my cappuccino while peeking at the attractive barrista. My thigh felt suddenly hot. I turned from the young woman and saw my cup held on its side, coffee streaming onto my flesh. I realised I have come to a stage where I can no longer perve and drink coffee at the same time. On the anniversary of my birth the grandchildren celebrated me. One wrote: Saba, I love you more than mangoes. Another, We will put you in a Home.
In Time there will be time ample for sleep. For now I sleep less, as if to waste no moment of the light. I hear less but I appear to miss little. Deafness is my censor, filtering out much noise, admitting much signal. I taste Time and it remains fresh and sweet. It passes, slipping away, slipping, like a breath. New times will follow and, like all times, they will pass into memory, after that into a memory of memory, and finally into forgetting.
I can feel Time passing by weightlessly. Time as quantum wields no heft, bears no moment: somewhere I have a wristwatch, capable of measuring time. I have set it aside: I just don’t approve of it.
*The parents named their new baby Adrian. Years later my mother showed me the notice she and my father placed in ‘The Murrumbidgee Irrigator’: Myer and Yvonne Goldenberg are pleased to announce the birth in Melbourne of their second son, Adrian.
Over the following ten days of her confinement, Yvonne received a stream of visitors, all of whom asked the name of the newborn, and all of whom vomited. Presently their friends Ben and Ethel visited, bringing with them their son, Howard. After the vomiting my father looked at my mother, my mother looked at my father, they both turned to Ben and Ethel, asked did they mind, and Adrian became Howard. Baby Adrian was not consulted.
Happy special birthday Howie. I will be celebrating my big 40 on the 9 March! Don’t stop what you do.
How wonderful to receive this!
I am working for a week in a little outback town – lovely surprise to wake up to your greeting
I miss you and your bunch of little rodents
But I will never forget the pleasure of your friendship
I hope number forty brings you the joy – and the peace of mind – you deserve
Wonderful tale and congratulations on the three score years and ten. Never before have I read about someone starting with one name on the birth certificate and then it being changed. My mother always said they thought of calling me Gillian. It was only when I got my birth certificate as a young adult I discovered I had been registered as Gillian. I never found out why my name was changed to Patricia but it was my mother’s second name.
Again you have struck a chord.
Gallivanting gran Gillian
You are one in a million
Posing as bmpermie
Your reflections stir me
To wonder and ponder
Are you Gillian or Patricia
I dunno whichyouare
But which and whomever
A name’s but a label
And if you keep reading
I’ll write while I’m able
Thankly and warmly , old Tried and True
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Happy Birthday, lovely tale. Has the wonderfully named Murrumbidgee Irrigator done as well as you?
Thank you my custard friend
Like that old man river
The Murrumbidgee flows
On,through Rapids and slows
Unlike me and my liver
Which a friend dubbed ‘The Irritator’
, scarce thrives
But it survives
With a staff now of two
And an office chick;all true
All this is in leeton, town of my seeding:
The river flows, the crop grows
And my mind goes, in times of repose
To those places and faces
That knew me and my soul still knows
Enjoyed and happy birthday to you
Emil dee vee zed one
Thank you for writing
And for the greeting
Your moniker intrigues
I’m not entirely sure if you don’t look more like an Adrian than a Howard. Here’s wishing you good health and happiness for the next decade and all the rest to follow.
As you offer an opinion on my appearance I confess the Adrians of this world are keen to reclaim me but the Howards won’t let me go
Did you ever meet a howard you didn’t like?
I never did
(Although there were some I had to work harder to like)
I liked them all
Until John Howard and the Tampa
I nearly chucked it in then, tempted to return to the congenital, congenial, placental, still innocent Adrian
Who does Russell look like?
Love those secret names, I found out my birth name twenty three years after the event, I believe it was inspired by a character in a romance novel, though I’m not entirely sure of the book, the name was Venetia.
Bonne Anniversaire my friend!
Claire, light, in Arabic, Nour
Venetia is rarer
But you remain fair
And as Claire
Thank you for sharing your secret ineffable, effable name
To recall the unfair t s Eliot and old possum’s practical book of cats
And TheNaming of Cats
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Your secret is safe with me ‘Adrian!
So, would you have made a good Adrian?
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I AM a good Adrian
A secret Adrian
You might have seen the wall of stone I built in ancient Britain
I conquered and occupied Judea
Every Ad you see is a coded abbreviated Adrian
I have created the past and present environments
I keep a low profile, content these last three score years and ten, to be known humbly as howard
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Loved this one! May your next 50 years be filled with joy, good health, fulfillment and peace!
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I love YOU