The page that won me an award

Well, that award was so long ago that the people who ran the contest, the New Zealand Writers’ Association, no longer have a website. Still, a prize is a prize.

I have returned to it because Rhobin Courtright’s topic for August, 2019 is: “Post an excerpt from one of your books dealing with travel and or/vacation.” The problem is, I never go on vacation. I only ever travel to visit family, and in the past, for business reasons. Somehow, the characters in my books copy me.

This page, the opening of Anikó: The stranger who loved me, is about my trip to Hungary, in order to be there for my mother’s last days.

    Budapest, June — July 2000

    I’ve always thought that ‘an aching heart’ was a cliché, a metaphor, a mere turn of phrase. But during my daily visits to my dying mother, I learn that it is an exact description. My heart is where I feel the pain of grief.

    Oh, I don’t cry, even in private. I haven’t cried since childhood. When I am with her, in that antique and under-equipped hospital room, I pretend to be cheerful and optimistic, pretend that of course she’ll get better. We both know that she never will.

    I watch the solid, muscular body of my brother as he bends over her. His ear is almost touching her lips, so he can hear the less-than whisper of her voice. He repeats whatever he thinks she has said, waiting for the nod or shake of her head before bending over again. She is giving instructions, about paying the car insurance on time, about reading the water meter. She lists the names of people to telephone because they should be able to help me with my book about her life. It’s to be my memorial to her, but, even on her deathbed, she is my research officer.

    The thinking part of her brain could still vie with a chess champion. Everything else is dying.


    She has given me hundreds of images. They are her flashbacks, but I can see them.

    I see her as a child, cosseted in a loving family, though one rent by emotion. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she had a holiday in Italy, attended wonderful family parties, learned to play the piano.

    I see her as a young woman, the mother roaming bomb-torn Budapest, risking torture and death for food, and to seek safety for her loved ones. Along devastated streets she pushed my pram, using my blond hair as a disguise. These streets were covered by snow, the rubble of fallen buildings and the gore of victims. The hated yellow star was missing off her coat, and yet a single hostile pre-war acquaintance could have been our death sentence.

    I know she can be hard as a mace and soft as a parachute, daring, imaginative and successful. I feel her pain, when her love deprived her of her child. I share her success against all the odds, as she built a million-dollar export business despite every handicap that prejudice, criminal action and bureaucracy could throw in her way.

    And I see her as an old woman, lovingly caring for the husk her husband had become.

    I have plaited a story from two strands, two strands from opposite sides of the globe, about two people whom circumstances have made into opposites in so many ways: woman and man, a generation apart, religious Jew and unbeliever, one firmly rooted in Europe, the other transplanted and now thoroughly Australian.

    And yet, in that bleak hospital room, we have come together again, for the last time, I and the stranger who loved me.

    Australia, September 2002

    I’d barely escaped paying for excess luggage on the return trip, because my suitcase bulged with documents and ancient photographs. During the weeks of my stay, I’d talked to many people. My mother had spent endless hours before her final illness on laboriously handwriting many pages of remembrance, although arthritis had left her hands awkward and uncoordinated. Yet when I assembled it all, translating faded carbon copies and hurriedly scrawled notes and near-illegible official documents, I found many gaps. For example, I know that she and three other owners of tiny businesses combined to form the seed of her future success, and she gave me a vivid description of the events at the initial meeting. But all I have is a few names, no personalities. I know that seven people were at that meeting. She was the only woman. I’ve had to invent identities for the others, and I want the descendants of those people to know, should they ever read this account, that there is no relationship between my characters and the real people who were there.

    Inevitably, my mother’s memory returned almost exclusively to the two most important periods in her life: the furnace of the Second World War, and the joys of her one real love. But, when I went through my pile of documents, I found high drama in other places. Some of it brought back hazy memories for me, other events were a surprise. A number involved criminal activities. My information about them consists of my mother’s correspondence and papers, and interviews with people many years after the events described. Naturally, I was forced to reconstruct much of what had happened. Therefore, to protect the possibly innocent, and to save myself from the risk of litigation, I have changed names and other pointers to identity where appropriate. The events I have described took place, but many of the people, including the villains, are my own invention.

    This book is a tribute to a remarkable woman who managed the impossible more than once. Her story is worth the telling.

    Bob Rich

    Wombat Hollow, 2002.

    Please comment below. Every commenter will be randomly chosen to get a huge electronic hug.

    Then visit my fellow conspirators in writing about writing, and honour them with a comment, too.
    Connie Vines
    Skye Taylor
    Anne Stenhouse
    A.J. Maguire
    Marie Laval
    Helena Fairfax
    Rhobin L Courtright
    Judith Copek
    Victoria Chatham
    Beverley Bateman
    Diane Bator

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Bob's Books, Rhobin's round robin, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The page that won me an award

  1. Just wonderful, Bob. anne

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ajmaguire says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you for posting it, even if I think you should travel for pleasure at least once. But that might be my wanderer’s heart talking. I love going places.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. judyinboston says:

    Pretty scary. I felt for the mother pushing the pram in such a fraught time. The scene felt authentic and harrowing. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Judy.
      When I was getting hypnotherapy to process my traumas from infancy, I actually re-experienced one of those events. Here is a short quote from “Ascending Spiral,” reporting on the hypno session:

      “…who were your primary carers in your first days?” I told her.
      “Now, close your eyes and fly back… back… feel the blue sky, the power of your wings, and find what you need.”
      I’m in a baby carriage, but uncomfortable, with many lumpy parcels around me. I know Mother is behind, pushing. I see a great cartwheel, not quite horizontal, and slowly spinning. The air smells terrible: the stink of recent explosions and burning and blood.
      “Tell me,” I heard Caroline’s voice somewhere. At first I couldn’t move my lips, but eventually managed a mumble. “Baby. In pram. Big wheel. Spinning. After bombing. Mother.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your writing immediately pulls the reader into the emotions evoked by your powerful writing. You have given your mother an amazing legacy. And your own emotions add to the pull of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Victoria Chatham says:

    Your writing was so powerful I read the post twice. Excellent writing. Now to read the book.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Bob, this is a moving extract, and I can understand why it won you an award. As Rhobin says, your emotions do show through and it’s all the more moving for having them so understated. Your mother has a wonderful legacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rhobin says:

    Oh Bob! Both a sad and a triumphant life’s journey and incipient end. While you don’t mention much about your emotions, they show through. Excellent post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Rhobin. Emotions, me? HA!
      I wrote that before doing 4 days’ continuous therapy for the traumas of my infancy this book describes. That therapy also took me into past lives, which has then unlocked me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Skye-writer says:

    This excerpt draws one in right away and holds on tight. I haven’t yet read the book, but now I need to.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Margaret Goodman says:

    Bob Rich’s book about his mother is a
    page turner, just like all his other books.
    He captures all the drama of her surviving
    the war and her subsequent thriving in
    communist Hungary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Margaret, you are fogging up my glasses. 🙂
      This was the hardest book for me to write. I couldn’t even look at the source materials for 2 years after her death.
      Have a good life, my dear.

      Liked by 1 person

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