Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Musical Memoires

We complete the magical jangle in the choir. You and I, pristinely attired in our royal blue and white school uniform, arrange our brightly coloured glockenspiels with anticipation. Considering that Ronnie and I must have been asleep when the angels were handing out harmonious vocal cords, then we are even more grateful of having the honour of our involvement. My little brother, Rueben is quietly scanning the crowded hall for my black haired braided face. He hopes, crossing his small fingers, for the wish to come true. With utter passion, I can imagine him inwardly praying for our group to win.
“Everything counts on this”. This thought floats above me, like a pink-lilac bubble. It hovers over me, suspended and shared, just like the bubble-gum I used to blow, before bursting the sickly sweet gunk over my braced mouth. To my practical and no nonsense natured mother’s dismay, this used to result in my little brother chortling uproariously until he broke wind or wet himself. However, it was worth reciprocating the sharp sting on my wrist from her firm hand and her even sharper tongue just to bring an up sided expression to his normally confused and anxious face.
My mother was the most treasured gold nugget in the whole of New Zealand despite her strict and orderly manner. Before Angela, three years my senior, came along, followed by myself and Rueben, Rueben, Mum had been a full time Senior Ward Nurse. Her meticulous and somewhat domineering manner had not been ironed out, just because her offspring had halted her career. This part of her persona remained with her, but I cannot complain, as I feel certain that she made us stronger. Josephina Hillcroft was right there behind him, holding on to his reins, which must have appeared slightly odd on a child of that age. Now, I must not let this bubble of opportunity pop, I instruct my eleven year old conscience.
So, here we all out, Dare the Dynamics from Blue Ridge High, assembled in this competition, awaiting the accolade that everybody has been painstakingly practising for since January 1973. Ronnie Walters’s endearingly dimpled chin is raised and his hands poised with readiness. I can’t help noticing how the golden shaft of sunlight is streaming onto his freckled and suntanned face like a spotlight. My knees tremble and my throat feels like a pebble is lodged in there, as I remind myself to breathe deeply. A sea of glassy eyes gazes at me, watchful and expectant. My furrowed brow is full of concentration, as my fizzy rush of adrenalin is tempered by my higher self.
“Be calm and carry on”. Suddenly, I spot Uncle Tom, as Mrs Winterbourne clears the way for him with a goldfish expression, as she dutifully scuttles towards the side of the red brocade curtains. My heart is then in my mouth as he steps on to the podium facing us, our bated breathed group. He was meant to be convalescing from shingles for another few days. Apparently, Posy his adopted daughter had been the guilty contagion, as we had all endured the chicken pox several years previously. With typical green eyed jealousy, I had bemoaned to her of the fact that she should have been in quarantine, because we needed Uncle Tom for this very evening. With calculative retort from her acid voice below her buttercup topped head, she informed me that he was not my Uncle Tom, and I had no real aunts or uncles.
“You don’t deserve any anyway Judy. And what sort of name is that for a girl, and where was Punch today?” She paused for a moment for me to witness her curled tongue to rudely protrude from her ten year old mouth. Considering I had addressed her as Rosie Posey, I suppose this quip was richly deserved for me, and before she skipped away back towards the cottage, two evenings’ before the concert, she called out with a most painfully sharp witted and wicked comment.
“You’d better go back home Judith Hillcroft to play nursemaid to that sad excuse for a brother. Oh and good luck for Thursday. I hope you lose with flying colours.” And before I could run after her in anger, Auntie May had appeared from behind the hedge, gripping her ear, as she was unceremoniously escorted back towards their cottage.
My addled mind was then whizzed back to the present, as Uncle Tom arranged his composure, as he displayed his trusty square jawed stance, and with a brief toothy grin and an acorn hued twinkle in his intelligent eyes. Our rather pale faced mentor is today wearing his trusted pea-green tweed jacket, despite the sultry warm air pouring into the hall. Only a few of us are aware that this is his lucky item of clothing, and I am now buzzing with the determination to deliver. He then began to raise his hands with majesty and delightfully calm control. The spicy aroma of his classic aftershave permeates in front of us, thankfully masking Mrs Winterborne’s overpowering stench of parma-violet toilette water.
How could this ever be complete without you, Uncle Tom? I had wondered with admiration to myself. Two weeks ago, before he was confined to his cottage with his illness, he phoned at my parents’ house, just so that he could speak to me.
“I’ll be laid up Judy-joy, for a while, so if I can’t make next month’s concert, then just remember this, my little ray of sunshine. Without you and Ronnie on the glockie, the choir will be as lost as sheep out of a pen. You must lead them, just as you always do, little one. I know you all can nail it. Just focus on the sounds at the carousel we went to last weekend. Just imagine yourself riding the golden mare, and bobbing up and down with the music, with the entire choir following you and Ronnie. Become part of that music, dissolve in it, and forget everything else. That’s all Judy. Promise me that.”
“I promise”, I pledged to him with a watery voice, before we bid each other good evening, as Rueben watched me with awe, his face once again creased in confusion. Gripping his trusted and damp comfort blanket, he clumsily manoeuvred his walking frame, with his eight years of struggle for survival, most poignant in my memory of that evening. Then, remembering dear Uncle Tom’s earnest warm words, which he shared with me, I prepare myself. All of the tumultuous gnawing in both my head and tummy dissipated, and discarded like unwanted ghosts into the ventilated evening air.
Ronnie and I then begin, after what seems like hours, as we tinkle the metal bars into life.

“Yesterday”, the choir commences, singing with mellow and honey combed notes. With increased gusto we then continue flawlessly, as we live, feel and breathe the words and notes into our metal bars.
“All my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.”
Our almost deliriously spirited choir’s voices fill the room with vigour, as our chimes and clangs complement the undertones with pure synchronised magic. Only after we finish and remove our instruments from their harnesses, do I allow an errant tear to drip down onto one of the purple bars.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now, as I glance at Ronnie, as he wanders into the living room, clutching a tray of tea, my reverie is broken. The last half hour, after my strong medication caused my afflicted mind and body into almost soporific oblivion, I gaze with oozing fondness at my husband. The opiate which masks the pain from my op after chemo has finally won the second round of battle. In fact, only yesterday morning, we’d received the tearful and liberating news that I’d been diagnosed as cancer free.
Unfortunately, Ruebin cannot be here to raise a toast to our wonderful and touching news, as his rare congenital illness, which stunted both his mental and physical development, and resulted in him losing his short fight against this condition in his twelfth year, just three springs after our pivotal school concert. This was undoubtedly an extremely bitter pill to swallow for all our family. Mum only survived another two years after the loss of her only son.
Dad, therefore had to begin working from home, changing career as a journalist to become a writer, which incidentally he became very good at. His eight novels, etched graciously in gold lettering now grace the bookshelves in the study. I am proud to state that John A Hillcroft had consequently, been nominated the most outstanding author of Ghost Story publications. Although, previously, in the background he had since Rueben’s death become very much in the forefront with my elder sister, Angela sacrificing her college course, which she managed to return to later, in order that she could help look after Dad and I.
Dad met lilting voiced and County Mayo born Kerry two years later, whom he lived with before getting hitched. Free spirited and alarmingly spontaneous, dressed in floaty bohemian dresses, she complements my father as the other half of a contented and interesting couple, most refreshingly. Now both in their eighties, the still animated pair live in a warden controlled apartment ten minutes away from our house. They will not be able to join us this afternoon, but we will film our outing, take pictures and upload them onto a disc, for them to appreciate when we visit them tomorrow, Easter Sunday.

I hope God will be looking down on us and smiling with pride, as he witnesses us in our celebrations of my saving grace, that I have won the fight, for now, that is, at least. This evening we will light 2 candles in the church, one for Rueben and one for Mum. I hope this makes up for us not being able to attend the Sunday Service, as I am not physically or emotionally strong enough to sit or stand for long periods in the draughty church with the hard seats, and withstand the sea of eyes at St Saviours.

I promise you God, that I will visit your house soon, just as soon as I am able to, and continue the charity work called Rueben’s Appeal. Ronnie will also help me, and has promised to continue his support for Ovarian Cancer too. Incidentally, it was his idea to sponsor our concert towards Rueben’s charity. Such maturity in a boy of twelve is very rare, and I can honestly declare that in all those long, long years he has been my most solid rock of stability.
Looking in the cheval antique mirror, bequeathed from my late Uncle Tom and Auntie May, I thought I saw him again. Uncle Tom sported the warmest smile, which reflected the welcome relief, as I nostalgically conjured up this mental image. My guardian angel, along with Ronnie, my children, Zack, Zoe and Angel had been the main driving force to spur me on through this challenge from living hell, and I thought of them too.
Zack and his wife Jenna with my six year old twin grandchildren, Thomasina and Libby, as well as Zoe and her expanding bump along with her partner Kai were due to arrive two hours later for a last minute celebration picnic lunch at Blue Ridge Brook. Angel, the last fledgling to have flow the nest for a gap year in Tanzania, has been home with us for the last three months, cutting her working holiday short, by staying with us and being at close hand all the while. She has been a godsend, not that my other two offspring have not been lacking in support in between school runs, work, and antenatal classes. With only one month to go before her due date Zoe has decided on the name of her unborn child already. Rueben, if he is a boy and Ruby if she is a girl.

“Still comely”, I quietly appraise myself, as I gaze at my sparingly lined face, after Tom had returned back into his other, pain free world. My mind then returns back with fondness, to the day the choir joined together, April 12th 1973, over forty years ago. After being rightfully awarded the Bronze South West New Zealand Choir medal, we burnt our bridges, or at least I did with regards to Posy.
In fact the very next day, after our debut performance, which had been televised on the local TV Station, and which resulted in the Blue Ridge Observer Press captivating our school grounds and our group, Posy apologised profusely. Although somewhat instigated by Uncle Tom and Auntie May, the white flag was honoured by me with newly found maturity, and we actually hugged each other, and she shed some heartfelt tears of remorse.

Not long after this, it transpired that Tom and May were soon to become my real Auntie and Uncle. Thomas Hughes-Barton, both the Head Principal of our school, and my Mother’s half-brother, had finally decided to tie the knot. Therefore they would soon, no longer be living in sin, and Posy, May’s natural daughter, would officially be adopted by her step-father. Consequently, our friendship flourished, as she became a very companionable but highly spirited cousin. She now lives two streets away from the cul-de-sac bungalow which Ronnie and I dwell in.
After never marrying or having children, Posy inherited the grand multi bedroomed house where my Uncle and Aunt resided in, before they passed away over ten years ago. Posy, my sole cousin, as well as best and lifelong friend, is also joining in with our celebrations, along with her long term and twice divorced partner, Miles.

Displayed proudly in the glass cabinet, with our school photo mounted next to it, I swivel my head back to my precious and iron-willed husband. Snuggled in between this memento and 1970s photograph, are the heart shaped collages of pictures which are framed with pride for me to admire all our children and two grandchildren. If you look to the right of the display cabinet, you can also see the miniature of Posy, next to the blue ornamental vase, and all our family degree certificates laminated underneath. Ronnie’s PHD for Music, which resulted in him aspiring into Elmbrook University’s leading lecturer of Music, and chiefly the piano for many years; my First and Masters for English Lit and Drama, which successfully assisted me on my way to become a script writer for several significant plays, and Posy’ paediatric counselling certificate is graced next to the green and whiteToby Jug.
I will now stop there with this description , as my legs begin to buckle underneath me, as Ronnie rescues me from my wobbling spell, supporting me gently from behind, as he steadily steers me towards the settee.
He is now seated next to me on the red leather sofa in the sunny living room. He takes my shaking hand in his with his strong but gentle spatula like grip. His breath is warm and his butterfly touch healing as he speaks, ever so softly next to my silk scarfed head.
“Judith Walters, (nee Hillcroft), we complete the magical jangle in the choir”.

The copyright of this post belongs to Deborah Stokes 1 May 2015

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