My grandfather, Ben, made me a doll’s house when I was small. It was rough. It was perfect. His work-shed at his house in Richmond had aeroplanes flying over it, low enough to warm your hair and fill your ears with engine and wind.
The shed was dark and warm. The carpet made of wood shavings. Small windows. He made me a merry-go-round with horses made steady with a pearl of glue under each tiny hoof, polishing the circles of wood first with sandpaper and finally with felt made fragrant with talk powder.
He was an alcoholic, miserable in the city after a life in the bush. Then the war. There was nobody to ask if men were ok. There was only the bottle.
He always bought me liquorice.
He polished small disks of wood for me. He made them into mirrors. I tided the shed. I shuffled the tools and the wood about, and he looked on uneasily, thanking me, nodding and nodding, needing eucalypts and space and heat and getting only Adelaide.
He nodded and began the doll’s house. I’d always wanted one. He made it properly, with an attic. He must have heard me say it, ‘an attic’, and he made one, a proper one. I would see him sanding and cutting, his shoulders still wearing the war and heavy with poverty and city.
Now he’s gone.
I set it out for my grandsons, and they filled its rooms with new knowledge. They piled all the tiny plates and cups into a front end loader. They set up the kitchen with cupboards and beds. They put a tractor in the garage. They put the bath outside. They put the baby’s cot in the tractor. They continued my grandfather, and may they never know war.
As I walked away from my old life, I wondered if it were true. What my uncle had said. That I was changed and could never lift my head again. So I tried. I lifted it.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
An older lady came in with her husband. He was quiet and he sat looking through the children’s books for a long time. He sat on the cushions for the children and stared at the pages, often he was smiling. She told me that they both loved to read and he was from Latvia. And she described the books she was wanting to read now, they were mostly about the war. She told me that her husband had once been a member of the Latvian Army and had become a displaced person because of this. And that while he was a displaced person he was ordered to go to Siberia and then he would have been shot.
She continued on looking at some books for herself. Her husband, who was much older than her, was now reading Caribbean Tales: An Anthology.
Later, she came out of the back room to continue their story: but luckily he got to come to Australia. He got to come here to live instead of a prisoner of war camp because that’s what they were. But then his wife died. He came to Australia anyway and just ten years ago he married me you see and as I learn his story all I can think is that some people are luckily and some are not.
We went to Latvia two years ago and we went to the War Museum and they asked my husband for permission to record his story, they were passionate to record all of it because they said that much of their history is lost and my husband is a living resource, you see. What happened to him was not very nice. But he has never complained and he has never stopped reading.
I looked at her husband and he is bringing me a book: Australian Working Dog Stories and he says: I really like your Australian kelpies, they are wonderful, beautiful dogs.
Artwork by Jungho Lee