A Love Story
© David Campbell
Winner, 2013 Dunedoo Bush Poetry Festival (Serious Section), Dunedoo NSW.
I found the letter, creased and torn, in Grandma’s writing case,
and took the time to read and mourn, to try and find a trace
of someone who, in death’s dark shade, still meant so very much,
whose love for me would never fade…her voice, her smile, her touch.
She called herself an English rose, a stranger to our land,
who came out here and bravely chose to try to understand
the way we live, and how we thrive, by taking up a post
that meant a battle to survive, that challenged her the most.
She was a teacher, young and fair, in that small outback town,
who wrote in hope, without a care, that she would not back down:
Dear Mother, Father, pray for me, and help me make my way…
to be the best that I can be in working through each day.
It’s twilight now, a blood-red sun has faded in the west,
and truly, when all’s said and done, I feel I have been blessed,
for in this place, I’m not sure why, I have a sense of peace,
as life beneath this southern sky has given me release.
Don’t get me wrong, this land is hard, the climate takes its toll,
and I must watch, be on my guard, and always keep control
of where I go and what I do, for there are dangers here
that back at home I never knew and didn’t need to fear.
But I have seen an awesome sight I still cannot believe…
a miracle of nature’s might, a wonderful reprieve
from many years of searing drought, of heartbreak and despair,
as people fought to conquer doubt through times so hard to bear.
For now the rains have come once more to turn the desert green…
and birds have gathered by the score like nothing I have seen.
The river, fed by storms up north, has overflowed its banks,
and so much joy is pouring forth as townsfolk give their thanks.
For water is the holy grail, the lifeblood of this land,
and people prosper, or they fail, by nature’s wayward hand.
Now I can see such signs of hope, a journey not in vain,
a will to work, a chance to cope, to build a life again.
And I must too, as best I can, for there is further news…
at church there is a nice young man whose smile I can’t refuse.
It’s early days, I know, and yet he fascinates me so;
with all he’s told me since we met, there’s more I want to know.
He has such vision and goodwill for all that he might do,
and I believe he has the skill and strength to see it through.
It may seem strange, from far away, that I should write like this,
but here, I feel, is where I’ll stay…a chance I must not miss.
And that is where the letter ends…I wonder what she meant…
perhaps I see what she intends, but why was it not sent?
I ask my mother, and she sighs: “I’ve not told you before,
but now you need to recognise some things we can’t ignore.
That gentleman she talks about became my Dad, but he
was not the man, as I found out, your grandma thought he’d be.
For she was pregnant when they wed, a full six months along,
and way back then the people said that she was in the wrong.
In that small town it brought disgrace, they called her wicked names,
insulted her…right to her face…and mocked her noble aims.
And so, you see, I’d have to guess she set her pen aside
because of all that fearful stress, the damage to her pride.
She kept the letter to define the symbols of her dream,
and used it as a sort of sign, to help her self-esteem.
For as the years fled quickly by she paid an awful price…
there’s little that might justify her life of sacrifice.
At first my father did his best, but couldn’t quite succeed,
and that soon made him quite depressed, which then, in turn, would lead
to getting drunk, and in a fight he nearly killed a man;
it seemed he could do little right, and nothing went to plan.
His drinking bouts got so much worse…they’d sometimes last for days…
a hell in which he’d scream and curse, and in that drunken haze
he’d take his anger out on Mum, he’d beat her black and blue,
then weep to see what he’d become, and beg to start anew.
But then one day he came at me; Mum yelled to run and hide,
and when she grabbed him I broke free, and got away outside.
The barn was full of bales of hay, so that was where I hid…
I burrowed down, and there I lay, a frightened little kid.
I heard him shouting somewhere near…I don’t know what he said.
I’d never known that sort of fear, and wished that he were dead.
I stayed there for what seemed an age; I simply couldn’t tell
how long he’d be in such a rage, but then a silence fell.
Yet still I waited, crouching there…I didn’t have a choice.
I couldn’t move, I didn’t dare, until I heard Mum’s voice,
and when it came, a quiet word that all was now okay,
it was the sweetest sound I’ve heard…she said he’d gone away.
She said he’d cause us no more pain, we’d seen his last attack,
and I need not fear him again…he wasn’t coming back.
And she was right, for so it proved, yet she would lay no blame…
she stayed right here and never moved, nor ever spoke his name.
I thought it strange that he should leave, just walk away from us;
I found it so hard to believe he’d make such little fuss.
And I admit that, since she died, I simply can’t accept
what we have found, I’m mystified by all that she has kept.
The photographs, their wedding rings, the suit he always wore…
there’s just so many little things…his medals from the war,
tobacco pouch and hunting knife, this letter that she wrote.
All these reminders of his life…just what do they denote?”
My mother pauses, turns away, but I have seen her tears,
and know the words she cannot say, despite the passing years.
That fateful day my mother ran, and Grandma had to choose
between her daughter and her man, and knew what she would lose.
For it would seem she loved him still, despite what he had done,
and so it took great strength of will to end what she’d begun.
We cannot tell what happened here so very long ago,
but now, to me, one thing is clear…it’s best we never know.