I have a young friend who is a very talented writer. Well actually I have a number of young friends who are very talented writers. Natalie has her own column in a weekly community newspaper. Our Narangba. Recently she asked me if she could do a story based on my piece When Life Hands You Lemons and I agreed. Her story was published yesterday …Thank you Natalie Harman.
For Linda Morse.
Forgetting her cat eye reading glasses are hanging from her collar, Belinda squints at the writing prompt to jog her memory. Three prompt challenge: 1. Lemons. 2. Keys. 3. Hair Ties. Re-tucking loose strands from her prematurely grey beehive behind her ears, she unearths a brand-new, forgotten notebook from her just-as-patchy bag. Gilded butterflies are entrapped in covers of the foggiest grey. Under the cover of fiction, she writes in fibre-tip pen: ‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,’ my Gran always said.
Those days she said some crazy things, though. One time she told me that the car wouldn’t start without hair ties, but what she meant was the car wouldn’t start without the keys. She did crazy things too, like putting her car keys in the freezer – why did she do that?
My Gran had lovely hair, until Mum took her to get it cut because Gran wasn’t well enough to look after it herself. As the hair fell to the floor, I remembered how Gran used to wear it in a plait, which pointed at her tie-dyed pants and leather sandals. Mum said this, coupled with the oceanic shirts, made Gran a hippie.
‘The only free love humankind should practice is that of surviving the ’60s,’ Mum would always declare.
My Mum also got angry when her mum told the same stories over and over again, but I didn’t. I loved how Gran loved to tell me stories of her timeless youth. Marching down the streets of Melbourne to protest against the Vietnam War. Lunching at a coffee shop in Carlton called The Bread Stick during her breaks from working at the local university. Lay-bying treasures for her glory box from a pottery shop next door. How her explanation of all this old stuff became another story altogether.
Obviously, my Gran was super smart and funny, but she also cried a lot. These tears weren’t of laughter, but of loss.
The last time I saw Gran in her new house I asked if she still felt lost. She smiled as though she had even forgotten how to smile, and said, ’When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’
Writing this, I finally understand what Gran meant, and I also know she wasn’t crazy, just sick – she had dementia.
Belinda is breaking the lemony rules of writing to make her own lemonade, but this doesn’t matter. What matters is the actuality behind her artifice: a literary game of hide-and-go-seek in which the hider touches her nose to the dusty, dandelion curtain, unaware her shadow betrays her whereabouts.