Eight Short Stories
Set in a Tasmanian Apple Orchard
Pick’n Season is an exploration of style. After writing the novel, Dance me, I was puffed with all the ‘she saids’, ‘he pondered’, ‘she exclaimed’. I wanted to try to write a story where there was none of that and little guide as to who was saying what except the context.
I hope you enjoy my experiment.
He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how’ - Nietzsche
Insanity in individuals is rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule – Nietzsche.
What else is love, but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts and experiences otherwise than we do – Nietzsche.
You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star – Nietzsche
I am cold
I am wet
I am hungry
We do they do this to us?
I will survive.
Andrzej, I think of you each an every day my friend. I think of your kind face, your laughter, your relentless optimism and, yes, your forgiveness. It is an example to me, it guides me, and now I have lived a long life, and Andrzej, a good life, you would be proud of me…….yes, I am sure you would be proud of me.
Let me tell you again about my family, my friend, our family.
The British arrived just in time. We had been sorted and selected and I am sure I would have been on one the last trucks to leave the camp, may the souls of those who were taken rest easily. No, I was still in the camp, barely alive, we had not been fed for three days. But you would know all about that. Starvation, dreaming of food, scrabbling for a crumb, drinking foul broth from a filthy metal bowl.
After the camps were liberated we spent nearly a year in another camp gaining our strength. Then they asked us were we would like to go. Most said America, but I had been talking to a soldier who had a sister in Australia, and yes my friend, to a German who had family in a place called Tasmania.
So, I asked to go to Australia.
Andrzej, who knows what life may have had in store for me if I had gone to America, but for me it was a good decision, the best decision, for it was on my journey to Australia that I met Rita. I have talked about Rita before, Andrzej, often, but until now I did not need you to understand. Now, Andrzej I do. Now Andrzej, I need your strength and your smile.
Rita, as you know, was a beautiful young nurse on the ship, the only Jew, and, praise be to God we were one from the start. Not that she let me know at first, she made me work, Andrzej, and I was in turmoil. I could not sleep, I could not eat, I thought about her all the time. Then, I summoned up the courage to ask her to walk with me on the deck. And she agreed! I was in a state of joyous turmoil all that afternoon. What would I say to her? What if she found me boring? what, what, what. She told me later that she was in the same turmoil. All that worry Andrzej. You would not have worried, well, maybe as a man you might have. You would have quoted Benjamin Franklin to me – do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.
It was true happiness, happiness Ghandi understood – happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. For both us, that was true.
We were truly in the sunlight.
We married soon after arriving in Australia, but you know that. I have talked often to you about it. And you always quoted Socrates: By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.
I am not a philosopher, Andrzei.
And the apple orchard. Remember our excitement when we were able to afford our own orchard. After three years of work we had saved up enough for the deposit. Then, how hard we worked, how hard Rita worked, but we were strong and we were determined to have a fine home for our family. Remember Andrzei, remember how hard we worked, and the times I would sit on the verandah and tell you about the troubles of the day, and how it all seemed endless, and you would quote Churchill to me: It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The Chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time. And Ghandi: Whatever you do will be insignificant, but is is very important that you do it. And yes, Seneca: Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body.
Oh how we worked, but it all came together as you said it would.
In some ways it has all been for you Andrzei. Do you remember Viktor Frankl? He would quote Nietzsche to us: He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how’. I had lost my family, and all I had left was you my friend. Then, they took that away and I lost my ‘why’. I wanted to die, I courted death. The guards thought I was crazy and laughed at me. Funny, for the same thing just days before they would have shot me, now they laughed. It was as if a sick joke was being played on me. Oscar Wilde understood: If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you. I think I was crazy Andrzej. I was lost and alone. Then Viktor spoke to me. He made me find a ‘why’. He said that to do otherwise was to betray myself and the memory of my family. No-one survived Andrzej, but you know that. It was you, Andrzej, you. I was determined to survive for you, but you know that also. Now, I need you again.
I know you would quote Socrates to me now, Andrzei: Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity. Was I too proud Andrzej? Was I too happy and content?
Rita, my wife, how proud I am of her. She helped take your burden, Andrzej. She gave my a ‘why’ to live. A ‘why’ that just keeps on growing. I would have missed all that if I had succumbed to my despair. I owe that to Victor Frankl. I know you find her as beautiful as I do, and she understood that she had to be a wife to both of us. That I could not let you go, you were part of the family and you shared my life with me. She understood. Those beautiful raven curls, that soft white skin and the hazel eyes that invited you to dance with her soul, and her kind hands, and a smile that welcomes every man. But, God knows, she was fiery and every inch and individual. The arguments we had, and you would quote Nietzsche to me: What else is love, but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts and experiences otherwise than we do. She would change her mind on a sixpence and leave me dumbfounded, and you would quote Oscar Wilde: Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Oh, and what an imagination! She built castles in the air and we would then patiently build the foundations after, as Thoreau advised: If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now, put the foundations under them.
When we would fail she would quote Emerson: Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments the better.
And what a life. Our family grew and prospered, Andrzei. Were we too happy Andrzei? Had I too many wants? Should I have heeded Socrates: Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods. I was in heaven with my family, our family Andrzei. Had I sought happiness too greedily as Lao-tzu warned against: Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of happiness.
Remember when Rita travelled to Hobart to buy her first new dress, the first one she had not made herself. She went to Madame Karla’s Boutique and must have tried on all the dresses in the shop. I begged her to buy one, and told her that she looked beautiful in them all. Except that horrid red one, that made her face look blotchy. I wasn’t lying Andrzej, she did look beautiful in them all. I loved her so much that day. Then, remember, she told me that night that she was pregnant with our second child. Churchill was right: All great things are simple.
And how we organised those afternoons of chamber music. Music was in her soul, Andrzej. How she played the cello! You enjoyed those afternoon, I know that.
And Bach, so precise, so glorious, so much genius. Rita said once that he was German as if that tainted the music. German, shmerman I said to her, music is above all that. You would have me miss some of the greatest composers who lived because of a few louts in a moment of history?
Remember the orchestra in the camp Andrzej! Remember Olivier Messiaen and his Quartet for the End of Time. How we sat and wept, and how the guards wept. Music, for that briefest of time, uniting us, banishing the differences. Remember Andrzej.
Alex and Janice came around to welcome us that first day we moved in. They bought a plate of scones and stayed for a cup of tea. Then the next day Ruth and Jack came over. Jack offered to help to re-establish the apple orchard, it had been neglected for so long. His advice proved invaluable. Both Alex and Jack proved to be true friends, friends before whom I could think aloud, as Emerson observed with so much perception as to human foibles. Remember Alex once quoted Emerson to me, I think he tolerated my penchant for quoting great men. We were discussing putting in grape vines, and I was worrying too much, and he said, don’t be too timid and squeamish in your actions. All life is an experiment, the more experiments the better. Oh, how we laughed when I realise that he had turned my own gun on myself. I told him that it was all very well to experiment, but you had always to face the bank manager with your success or failure.
Remember how hard both the families worked to help us that Christmas a hail storm wiped out our harvest. Of course you do, you were there, egging me on, telling me not to despair, and yes, you quoted Mark Twain: It isn’t what a man has that constitutes wealth. No, it is to be satisfied with what one has, that is wealth. And, Andrzei, I had so much wealth, I could not count it except with my tears.
Then, one day I wake up, I have four children, seven grandchildren, an apple orchard, a vineyard that produces the best grapes in Tasmania and, of course, the best wife in the world. It had happened so fast, Andrzej, so fast.
And Benjamin Franklin was right: All would live long, but none would be old.
I remember when Isaac was born. Oh, how proud we were, he was all tight black curls and smiles. You were proud too, I could sense it as you gazed upon this child of our family's love.
I am crippled with grief my friend, but I will remember my darling Isaac, I will.
He was so curious, so prepared to explore and wonder at the world. He would take delight in a yellow daffodil, a red-winged ladybug, a breath of movement that was a stick insect, a marching centipede. Yes, Andrzej, he was one with nature.
Why did nature turn on him, that I do not understand?
And he loved books, remember how he would sit for hours in our library. How he began to organise books on nature so he could identify the flowers and the insects he found.
I was so looking forward to telling him of the things that have informed my life, of taking a grandfather’s right to inform and instruct. I had so much time and love to give.
I know I quote great men too much, but, Andrzej, they are great men and their wisdom is to be heeded.
As he grew up Plato would have said to him: You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.
Plato would have chided him at times saying: Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.
Einstein would have given him his values, the values of a genius, telling him: The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life, cheerfully, have been kindness, beauty and truth. The trite subjects of human efforts, possessions, outward success, luxury have always seemed to me contemptible. Einstein would have reminded him that 'truth is what stands the test of experience'.
He would have devoured education, Andrzei, devoured books. Books, Thoreau reminds us, 'are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill'.
Remember it was one of the first acts of the Nazi’s to destroy books. That should have warned the world.
I would have told him not to be afraid of his passions, his uniqueness, his individuality, that how no less a man than Bertrand Russell said: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
But now I cannot, Andrzej, and I moan under my pain.
I held Rita last night, held her all the night as she wept.
Remember his first birthday, Andrzei. The chocolate cake that Rita baked and the rich mocha icing and the single red candle. Remember how Abraham and Avner helped him blow out the candle. I wonder what they all wished for the child. Remember his first steps Andrzei! Oh, how proud we were as he tottered about in the garden. Even then, even then he picked a flower and sat down to inspect the petals and gaze at the ants. Even then.
And his first day at school. Remember how proud we all were as he posed for a photograph in his new school uniform. How Rita gave him his first dictionary to take to school. How he smiled with that shy, hesitant smile of his, his face fresh, his mind ready for the adventure of learning, of being with teachers.
Remember his grades, Andrzei! Always top of the class, always. What he could have been, Andrzei, what he could have been.
But, we must not forget Sarah.
She was a difficult birth.
She reflected the superlative degree of comparison so well enunciated in the opening of A tale of two cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
Yes, she was full of contradictions. She is not to be judged against ordinary standards. She would read Pooh bear and talk about being a child with the wisdom of an adult. She would play in a faery garden and come home to read Alice in Wonderland, the original version. She was so strong in her character and yet so soft. She would laugh out loud, and then weep. She would run and skip and tumble and then sit pensively, totally still, observing. She would dance like a ballerina and then plod like a policeman. She would dress like a girl and play like a tom-boy. She would challenge Isaac and then hug and smother him in kisses. Impulsive one minute and then pensive.
Oh, she is a delight!
So impatient with the world, and yet with the wisdom to be still and await destiny.
Do you remember her first birthday, Andrzei. That white dress with the red ribbon around her waist, the silver tiara in her hair, the silver shoes. How she sparkled, how she sparkled. And her first day at school, holding Isaacs hand and standing straight and proud in her new school uniform. And the first ballet lesson in her pink leotards and white tutu . She had a different mind to Isaac, but it was his equal in so many ways. She, also, is top of her year, each year. It is the library, Andrzei. So much wisdom at their fingertips. And the children’s books that Rita has collected over a generation. It is all there to open their minds. For her it was be as Mark Twain observed on education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.
Neitzsche would understand her, would encourage her, he would say that you need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing start.
And Lao-tzu: The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world. She is so soft, Andrzej, yet she will overcome the hardness of her brother’s death. She will overcome the meaness, and harness in the world and she will triumph. Just as we triumphed Andrzei.
Remember how the philosophers would gather around at night and discus high philosophy, the human spirit, human virtue. Remember how they gave us hope, something, be it ever so fragile to cling too.
And how they talked of the third Reich quoting Homer: It was built against the will of the immortal gods, and so it did not last long. And Plato, who said that ignorance is the root and stem of every evil. And Nietzsche, who observed that insanity in individuals is rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. They must have been insane, how else can it be explained?
Of Samuel Johnson: It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust. Oh, how we learned to suffer and be patient.
Yet, it was not till I read the wise sayings of Ghandi that I came to understand true tolerance and forgiveness. He exhorted us not to lose faith in humanity: Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. He understood mankind when he said that the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attitude of the strong.
He understood that ultimately we can only be responsible for change in ourselves, telling us that, you must be the change you want to see in the world.
I have tried to live by all those things, but it has not been enough.
Am I the accursed of God or one of the chosen people? It is so hard to believe that now Andrzej, so hard.
Stay with me, sit with me a while longer, I have yet to finish weeping for my lost grandchild.