My mother’s name was Yvonne but her sister’s children called her Bom. I believe that name was the gift of her toddler nephew for whom Yvonne was too large a mouthful. That scapegrace nephew entered Bom’s life before she had children of her own. From the first, the two treasured each other with the distinctive closeness of the boy who finds a second mother, and the sister (yet childless) who yearns to mother.
The aunt moved to the country town of Leeton where she promptly hatched a litter of her own, of which I was the second born. From time to time the nephew (it’s time to give him a name: let’s call him Barry) was sent to us in Leeton, where his sojourns were long and wild and wonderful. His parents sent him to us ‘for the country air’, ‘for his asthma’, ‘to recover from the injury when a stake went through his belly’. All understood the true reason: They sent Barry to us when his parents needed respite. Bom would take Barry to her bosom, and he thrived.
In Leeton Barry taught us the Facts of Life. I have found these Facts to be of enduring value. He taught us too, a game called Murder in the Chook House, which I have described fully in my book titled My Father’s Compass. But all wild things must end and eventually Barry would return to Melbourne.
Contrary to all prediction and expectation Barry reached the age of thirteen without being hanged. His family marked the occasion with a barmitzvah celebration in the grounds of their beautiful home. The heavens marked the occasion too, with the mercury reaching 112 degrees. A marquee appeared on the tennis court, glamourous women sprang up like so many flowering shrubs. Barry behaved with mature grace, accepting gifts and tribute without complaint.
Among the adult company present that day one particular beauty stood out. She was a person, someone said reverently, from Channel Nine. We didn’t have TV but I’d heard of Channel Nine. This lady’s job was to be beautiful on television. Today she was being beautiful at Barry’s family home.
I came upon her seated in a shady spot next to my mum. The two were talking. Beauty was admiring a pearl suspended from my mother’s throat.
What a beautiful pearl, Mrs Goldenberg!
Thank you. Daddy found it at the bottom of the sea and brought it home and gave it to me.
How? I mean where..?
Daddy was a pearl diver in Broome.
Yes. He taught us girls – that’s Barry’s mother and me – this poem:
When the first drop of rain
Fell from the clouds
Into the deep blue sea…
Mum’s manner of speaking carressed the words into being. They’d tumble from her and flow sweetly to you. Ready to be embarrassed, I watched TV Lady anxiously. Channel Nine was leaning forward, her red lips parted. I saw the pearls that were her perfect teeth. She leaned and listened and she did not move.
She was tossed, small and wistful, by the waves.
How minute I am in all this immensity, she cried.
And the sea replied: Thy modesty pleaseth me.
I shall make of thee a little drop of light.
Thou shalt be the fairest jewel among jewels…
The TV lady turned slightly to look again at Mum’s pearl pendant.
Thou shalt even rule woman.
Mum stopped, looked up at her companion, smiled:
And a pearl was born.