10 May 1948 - 14 September 1998
Subject: Annual letter from Rob, son, and Zoë Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 15:01:08 +1000 (EET) Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
It was over seven years ago when Hazel woke me up after her early morning gym session to tell me that, "The winner is Syd-eney," and that Beijing hadn't won the 2000 Games. Now we've been through the experience! If it hadn't been for the children and my memory of my father taking me to the 1956 Games in Melbourne (I remember seeing wrestling at the Exhibition Building, sailing on the Bay, and athletics at the MCG), I doubt I'd have been here. But we're all glad we were here -- as someone wrote, it was like Christmas without having to buy presents.
I took son to see boxing and "football" (soccer), and, the day before Hazel's sister, Pat, went back to England, we all went to see the first morning of athletics at the Main Olympic Stadium. We also saw sailing on the Habour and the two marathons. It was great, and I felt proud to be a Sydneysider really for the first time since I moved here twenty-three years ago. (Previously, I'd felt happy and pleased, but not proud.)
Son chose boxing and soccer -- his team lost second place in a penalty shoot-out this winter, so he (and I) know what it feels like. Zoë took her yellow belt in Taekwondo a few weeks ago, so she was very happy to see a Melbourne woman take out the first Taekwondo medal in any Olympics.
At school, son is doing very well, as is Zoë. She topped her class in a state-wide science-reasoning test, and came in the top 15% in the state. I saw that she'd made four mistakes in the final ten questions, but only one in the first twenty: "You must have been getting tired -- your concentration must have lapsed," I said. "No, Dad," she replied, "I was getting anxious." "Anxious?" "Yes -- all my friends were leaving before me." (!) The first best argument I've come across for having brighter friends! Anyway, Zoë was offered a place (starting in Year 6, in 2002) at Ascham, and academically and artistically strong school for girls -- as I told her after the interview, I think it was more for her intelligent questions than for any of her responses to the headmistress.
Son will be sitting entrance exams to improve his exam technique. Earlier in the year he sat a talent search exam which is basically a set of U.S. 8th Grade tests in English, arithmetic, science, and science reasoning (the Gerric tests). Son performed at the fiftieth percentile in the first three (compared with both the U.S. Year Eight pupils and his Australian peer group -- those Year Fives who took the test last year) and in the top fifteenth percentile in science reasoning. Son has been offered a place at Newington College, a boys-only private school not far from Balmain, to start in 2002 as well -- so February 2002 will be a traumatic time for the three of us.
Both have continued piano lessons, and son went to oracy camp with the school debating team (of which more anon) as well as going to tennis camp over the Olympic break, and is following through with weekly lessons: Tennis was Hazel's favourite sport. Zoë has been working in ceramics, and has made an elephant with vey pretty blue-green glaze, as well as a horse's head. She tells me her two favourite subjects are art and maths (arithmetic). Meanwhile, son is ploughing his way through John Marsden's _Tomorrow_ series, seven books in all. Surprisingly, neither of them has been as excited about the Harry Potter books as I'd have expected.
I've been teaching heavily, but have managed to get a PhD student successfully through his thesis, and have had an anthology I helped edit published by Cambridge U.P., as well as writing three papers since autumn. But life remains lonely, despite friends.
We were in Melbourne on the second anniversary of Hazel's death; it was an opportunity in the week before the Olympics to drive down and back, so that Pat could say goodbye to her friends, and so that the kids could see their grandmother, now in a home. Mum's Alzheimer's had progressed to the point that, in late May, she could no longer stay at home, the only home I remember as young, and Judy and Andy eapidly found her a place in a facility with an Alzheimer's wing.
I went down to Melbourne several times in June and July, helping to clean up the house of twenty years of accumulated rubbish. I don't think Mum had willingly thrown out a single paper or magazine or advertising brochure in that time. Indeed, as the disease progressed, she had used the piles of paper as hiding places, which meant that we had to look through every page for photos, letters, documents, even cash. And the house was full of books, too. Not to mention piles of autumn leaves, which Mum had meant to paint, as she had painted Royal Worcester china as a teenager.
But on the first weekend I came across, first one, then another, and finally the third page of a letter from Hazel to Mum, and over the next few visits we came across two more such letters, dating back to 1988. I have transcribed them onto Hazel's memorial pages -- she wrote well, and her voice comes through.
These discoveries have encouraged me to search for more of her letters. I already had letters from Hazel to Mike Richards & Wendy Wilmoth, to Denise Kraus & Michael Hutchinson, to Judy James, and to Henri Szeps. Since then I have received letters to Steve Cohen & Nancy Clark and a proper trove of letters dating back to 1972 from Christine Friend Eborall in London, which I am in the process of transcribing. I have also received promises of letters, and at least one recipe (for Spanish Frittata, but not yet for Hazel's baked Citrus Surprise).
So if you have a letter, note, or postcard from Hazel, I'd really like a copy of it. (If, for reasons of confidentiality, you'd rather I didn't publish the communication on the Internet, please let me know and I'll hold the copies in confidence for son and Zoë, when older.) If you have any recipes in Hazel's hand, I'd like copies of those too.
It's ironic that I'm asking people if they have letters or cards from Hazel, since she was definitely not a hoarder. In fact, when I found a postcard I'd sent her from a conference trip overseas in the waste paper basket, and wondered aloud why she'd thrown it out while there were up to twenty cards in the slats of the wardrobe doors, she replied that I should realise that she didn't keep cards on the basis of who has sent them, but because of the design on the cover. Not sentimental, was Hazel.
A few weeks ago we (Judy and Andy and I) sold the old family home in Melbourne as auction. The neighbours applauded, not, I hope, at the departure of the Markses from the street after fifty years, but because the price was heartening. When we visited Mum in September, at one point in the garden she addressed Zoë by name, at which point I advised Zoë to remember the event, since it is likely to be one of the last times, given Mum's mental deterioration. More recently, she asked Judy whether she'd spoken to "Robert" lately -- thereupon Judy rang us up. but we were across the street and missed the call.
The kids and I went up to the mountain house for the day, and I found that there was no hot water. I arranged for a repair person to come first thing on Monday morning, which meant that I would be away on a Sunday night (the week later). Zoë quickly agreed to spend the night at a friend's, but son wanted to stay at home by himself, overnight. (For two months he has had a latch key, and takes himself home after school, to do his homework and piano, and to go to tennis at 5 on Mondays.) After some discussion and having had Hugh and Jenyne, our neighbours, to keep and eye on son, I agreed. I left him at Hugh & Jenyne's for dinner and drove up. I spoke to him a couple of times that evening and in the morning, before he left for school. But son spoke to several people and characterised his night as a "test" -- for himself, not from me, so there were some adults to reassure: "Safer in a locke house with the phone next to his bed than in a tent in the back garden and me upstairs inside the locked house."
Son has just been a member (an illustrious member) of the winning Inner West Primary School Year 5/6 Debating Trophy. I video'd the Semi (That childhood is the best time of our lives), the Final (That money can buy you anything), and the Grand Final (That it's better to be part of the crowd) -- son second speaker for the affirmative.
Zoë has been promoted to a Sixer (Grey Six) in the 1st Balmain Cubs Scouts, now coed. Son turned eleven in April and left soon after. I haven't let down the side: I had my debut at a concert of the Stephen Vincent Choir (which Hazel had helped start in our front room on Monday evenings four years ago) at its Spring performance. The choir sang the Vivaldi "Gloria", the orchestra played the Albinoni Adagio, two contralto soloists (hello, Christine) sang Poulenc and Debussy in the original, and then I gave a rendition of "The Green-Eyed Dragon with the Thirteen Tails" (please email me if you'd like a copy of the sheet music for this), which was very well received, possibly becuase the audience could understand the words, and amused, not, I think, because of my voice. I'm now considering my next piece: a G&S patter song? a Tom Lehrer song? I'm leaning towards Flanders & Swan's "Have some madiera, m'dear." We shall see.
I'm typing this at a table in the main hall at Barrington Guest House, where a group of us have been coming for almost twenty years in early December. The kids are feeding rosellas, or chasing wallabies, or playing Diplomacy, or riding horses, or playing tennis. The adults are reading, jogging, bushwalking, or playing Scrabble. (Is "hider" a word?) I had intended to send this out in October, and now it's December, two weeks after Zoë's tenth birthday party. (She turns ten on Christmas Day; did I say that she now wears a size 12A bra?) In six days the kids and I fly out to meet Pera, a god-mother of the kids', in New York for Christmas and New Year, followed by a couple of weeks in Palo Alto, when we hope to see many of our friends. The prospect of snow again excites them.
So this has become an end-of-year letter as well as an anniversary-of- Hazel's-death letter. Perhaps it's just as well. I'm not sure that H would approve of the web site (the anecdote about post cards above), but she would approve of getting on with life. We talk about her, and her memory remains strong for us all. And life continues.
Merry Christmas. A Happy New Year. Health and Happiness in '01P.S. After typing the above on a laptop, I found eleven letters that Hazel had written on her laptop from June 1993 to May 1995. They have been added to the web page of her writing at:
Rob (Bob) & son & Zoë
Please feel free to email me, Robert.
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Last Updated 26 December 2000