To Have Been Born Here, Or…There?
by Bodwyn Wook
These fat, personable & not always all that LITTLE fellas shown in the picture were very nearly among the Presiding Geniuses at my birth, in Cairns, in Queensland, in Australia; it was a close-run thing, but through no fault of my own I did make it safely back in time to be born, instead, in Albert Lea, in Minnesota, in the Land of the Round Doorknobs.
The man who was to become ‘the old man’ (he was all of twenty-eight then, I think?) had Mom lodged in a house up on pilings in the Port Douglas road out past Palm Cove in 1947-8 whilst he rode up hill & down dale twelve hundred miles to Northward, training for a New Guinea Territorial Policeman; the goal of the new UN mandate was to get the black fellas off headhunting.
Australia had gotten the protectorate from off of a bankrupt England after the Hitler War, and the First War sergeant that trained Pop said of his generation or more of trainees that he, Pop, was ‘the best…of a bad lot!’ Anyway, although a redhead, our dad did NOT take rashes & footrot, and the leeches positively shunned him. So, the two whites, one old, one young & both all full of uplift & condescension would ride on horseback into a new-built village where ‘the niggers’ would put on a feed & show off their new gardens & hen coops & ‘bang the drum’ & so on.
Then, the two whites in grins & all superiority would bugger off.
The Sergeant (I think I remember his name was Coombes) then had the two camp out for a couple of nights & whereat they doubled back; the village was dead empty and ‘you see what it is, eh, them coons have all buggered off to chop off some MORE ‘eads!’ From a return visit to Port Moresby & ‘the scene of the crime’ when I was very small, I have a distant memory of being bounced on chieftain King James’ The Greater’s knee whilst he joked with Pop about ‘makin’ a ‘sam’ich’.
On his last leave before concluding training, Pop & Mom had a gorgeous row in which she said things like “God-damn FOOL!” in her inimitable Eagle Lake, MN, lakese American dialect & told him that he was being had & would NOT be sworn in. Whereupon, Pop said in his inimitable Wool, Dorset, English tones: ‘Fuck that for a laugh, I’m staying on!’
Now from the War, he was blind in his right eye, missing his left hand & forearm, and his right knee was forever stiff in a brace. So, of course, Mom was exactly right about it all in exactly that I-told-you-so way that makes being right so wrong & so harmful for so very many, many folks who just can’t take the load of all that righteousness: the Police Service indeed had rather a number of these semi-mobile crock applicants & being themselves all WW I veterans of Gallipoli, rather than telling these rather gallant WW II-types ‘no’ outright, thought to let them fail for themselves.
Pop, of course, came through it all with flying colours & Sgt Coombes wrote him up as the best cadet he’d trained in a quarter-century. And so, of course, Pop was not sworn in, having been found in leisurely board-proceedings in Sydney meanwhile, and whilst he, himself, was frowsting it in the mountain jungles for eighteen months, to be ‘100 % unfit’ for Territorial Police Service, on a finding of ‘100 % disability’. Mom, meanwhile, had flown home in the Fall of 1948 in a rage & a Constellation with me in her tummy, and Pop followed after in repentance & the New Year & just before I was to be dumped out into this frightful frozen pisshouse of frozen false enthusiasms & vain frozen hopes.
After their row, Mom had stepped out on the porch in the bright morning of the following day after the old man had returned to duty from his last leave, and there, repulsive & smelling of powerful farts was THE house iguanadon sunning on the railing, “just as big as a God-damn DOG!”
Added into her mounting disgust with it all, in the shadowed wet unmowed grass around edges of the sandy yard under the slimy-barked trees, cane toads large & small rolled & squelched in the sour mud like flabby LeTourneau tyres & galumphed & swelled & warked, “and UNDERNEATH the God-damn house were of a bunch of YOUR father’s PET God-damn poison [brown] SNAKES. So, I said to Hell with it and flew back. That God-damn Australia is as bad as…Mississippi!”
And, so, “that was That for all of THAT.”
[all rights revert to original creators
[26 September 2013]