Tag Archives: My Life stories

The House Where Milkshakes Came From – Memoir


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Now run-down and abandoned, I visited the house that milkshakes came from two weeks ago when I was in PNG. A woman squatter ran out to my car and asked me why I was taking pictures. Lost in my memories, I ignored her.

The House Where Milkshakes Came From (Draft Chapter) – Memoir JK.Leahy©

We climbed the steps together –  mother and I.  This house was where we got the money for the milkshake. I will soon have strawberry milkshake. It would be made in a tall silver cup that became sweaty with the cold liquid. With the straw, I would suck and burst the milky strawberry bubbles in the froth at the top of the cup. This routine happened once a month. It was the time when I went to Top Town (Lae City) with Mother and drank strawberry milkshake while I sat on my stool in the milk bar and imagined I was somewhere else – only for a half hour or less, until I finished.

There were a few routines like that between Mother and I. Another routine was buying a new dress once a year, at Christmas, so we could dress up and sing carols while we watched Jesus being born in the manger at Ampo Lutheran church.

Our thongs were slapping on the varnish steps as we climbed. We were loud. The steps jiggled and jingled to our rhythm. I saw our dashing reflections, like fleeting shadows on the clean wooden steps. We were early so the steps had no muddy prints on them. While I pretended to laugh with Mother, I was nervous. The milkshakes tasted divine and nothing like I had ever imagined, but I felt we always needed to pass a test before I could have the milkshake. Mother never let me have sweets – any sweets. She said the milk in the milkshake was good for my teeth and bones.

I grabbed her arm as we reached the top and saw that the two white doors were opened. They are the Lae welfare offices. Aunty Amet sat with her back to the door. The Welfare house was busy today. Other people walked up and down the wide corridor, but she remained undisturbed at her desk. Aunty Amet was a senior welfare officer and was probably busy with another ‘case’, I had thought. She wore a white cotton blouse and a floral skirt. Mr Knoll was in the other room and his face was turned away too. Thank goodness, he did not see me, I told myself.

“Here she is!” I heard a loud singsong voice and turned to see who was giving me away. It was Aunty Hebei. Mr Knoll would know I was here. Miss Hebei looked a million dollars with her curly black hair rolled up in a bundle above her caramel face. Her skin was polished and glistened with touch of sunlight that entered the office. She was like a picture of a famous person. I remember thinking, if I had been older than my seven years, I would have asked her what she put on her face, and her skin. To me, she was closest to being a misus, white woman. She smelled nice, dressed very nice, spoke very good English and she was so beautiful. I knew she was not tall but her shoes made her look so tall. I could never stand on the shoes as tall as hers, but I admired how easy she stood and walked in those shoes – a large piece of wood with pretty straps that covered her delicate feet with painted toe nails.

I liked Aunty Hebei as much as I liked Aunty Amet. Only Aunty Amet was related to us, but mother insisted I called them both “aunty”.  These two women looked after my welfare case.

“Hello”, I mumbled quietly to Miss Hebei and slided on the varnish floors to the comforts of my mum’s side. I was afraid to hold a conversation with her, because she spoke so well. I could not trust my English and I preferred to watch her from the distance while she talked to my mother. She sat at her desk and smoked her cigarette daintily, and caring about where she dropped the ashes. She puffed and while staining the end of the smoke with blood lipstick, she blew white puffs into the air, only to fall back on her like a blanket of mystery. Many times, I thought, Aunty Hebei really was from a foreign exotic place.

“Are you seeing Mr Knoll or Amet?” Miss Hebei asked, with one side of her face smiling – knowing we would visit them both. Her lipstick, a deep red rose colour glistened against her perfect white teeth and her very short green silky skirt moved with her shapely body as she turned away and glided in her very high heels to Aunty Amet’s office.

“Guess who is here?”, she said leaning into the door. Aunty Amet turns to the door and breaks into a wide smile. She is very beautiful even without make-up. I asked my mother once and she told me that Aunty Amet was related to us through mother’s father – my grandfather Kauc. Aunty Amet hugged me and ushered mother and I into her office.

After some discussions with her, mother told me we would leave, but we needed to see Mr Knoll.

“Oh No!” I thought to myself, he would inspect my teeth and I have been chewing betel nut. I said goodbye to Aunty Amet and turned to my mother. “Tan-ning – Let’s go?” I asked mother in Bukawac and pulled her arm.

“Mr Knoll would be upset if we don’t see him, and besides, he already knows we are here,” mother said.

We crossed the wide timber corridor to Mr Knoll’s office.

“Freda!” he calls my mother with authority, as if he is making a roll call.

“Yes,” my mother says and breaks into a shy giggle.

“Mr Knoll yu orait?” she asks and keeps smiling.

Amet em tokim yu – tete, ino gat liklik wan siling? (Has Amet told you, today there isn’t a one shilling or we have not received the money). Mr Knoll has perfect pidgin, and the standard one could expect from an ex-kiap. He had worked for many years in many parts of PNG. He was originally from Germany.

I saw his expression and I knew, the milkshake money did not come. I watched mother’s eyes drop and she pretended the news was fine. I felt sad for her. No strawberry milkshake in that tall silver cup for me and we will have a longer walk back to the village. I felt sad.

“Em tokim mi na em orait” Mother replied – that Aunty Amet did tell her and it was fine.

Now, it was my turn. Mr Knoll turned his attention to me and stared at me, his blue-gray eyes checking every inch of my face. His face, red from sunburnt emphasised his large red mole on his top left lip. His silver hair was a sharp contrast and brushed with a curved blade across his brow.

“Come!” He spoke softly. How are you darling?” he said and tilted his head downwards with an inquisitive frown so his eyes got even bigger. He beckoned with his finger to go to him.

“Mi orait”, I smiled.

“English please”, he said sternly and tapped his knees for me to sit. He interviewed me about my life in the last month; since the last welfare visit. Then, he ordered me to open my mouth for the dental check.

 

 

Burning Out – Short Story


Here is a draft of a potential chapter. I may use it in the memoir, but the story was prompted by Isabel D’Avila Winter in my creative writing workshop last week for the biggest lie I have ever told. I have not shared any memoir pieces lately, because I have not been writing much, but here it is for my readers who enjoy the memoir stories on Tribalmysticstories.

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Kerosine/oil lattern: Public Domain image.

Burning Out – A short story

© JLeahy – Memoir series

The Chinese kerosene lamp burnt low. It was close to me and I smelt the kerosene cut into floral smells from the freshly washed bed sheet. In a continuous dance, its golden-yellow flame peaked in a steady poise and melted into the dark head of the small metal lamp. The lamp was barely taller than my school ruler but it gave enough light for me to see the print. The flame in the round clear glass, size of an orange, outlined the specs of paprika stains on the lamp. At the same time, the flame threw a soft orange ambiance under my sheet and even around the room.

If I moved too quickly, I could knock the lamp over and burn myself because the lamp was partially under the sheet, and next to my book I was reading. This was my private and peaceful space where I read my books. This was also against Mother’s rules.

Having a lamp to myself was a luxury I rarely had in a noisy, crowded house. My mother and I had a small room about three by three metres and my older uncle (of two uncles) and his wife shared another larger room with their five children. My grandmother and aunty shared the last one. My younger uncle was away at the University of Technology, about 20 minutes from my village. My uncle was the first man from our village to go to university.

It was a house where everyone knew everything that was going on. My family had this one Chinese lantern to use as an inside lamp and one Coleman lamp as the outside lamp. Both lamps burnt on ‘kero’ as the villagers referred to kerosene. Fire was the main source of light and there was a torch, which hardly had batteries because no one could afford them. The torch was mostly used for travelling between the village houses. It was also used to visit my aunts and uncles or for going to the pit toilet away from our house – not for reading or using as a room light. If we left the village to fish or camp, the Coleman and the torch came with us.

I knew I was using the 20 cents kerosene up but I was solving a mystery with Nancy Drew. I liked being a detective myself.

“Ampom” mother called and without saying, I knew she called me for dinner. She used one of my names that meant, light-skinned.

“Ok” I said, without moving.

In the village, kero sellers would buy wholesale in 44-gallon drums in Lae City and retail the kerosene to us in re-cycled wine or spirit bottles – charging 20 cents per bottle. It eventually became 50 cents and then a $1. That was in 1970s. Wholesalers bought kero from service stations and general stores. My cousin and I would take our bottle, a clear Vodka re-cycled bottle, and I did not remember which of my uncles drank the Vodka – to any village retailer for kero. We stood there while they pumped the kerb into our bottle but there was a special technique where the boys in the village mastered. The pump would be pressed a couple of times and stopped. The air would push the blue liquid from the drum through the transparent pump into our re-cycled bottle. You have to stop the pump quickly or it sprayed the kero everywhere. I always thought it was cool and I wanted to have a go at pumping the kero this way.

At home, every night, once the kero was put into our Coleman lamp and some in the Chinese lamp – my family gathered in our blackened old kitchen and ate their dinner.

The floor was uneven and with the weathered timber leaving gaps in between, we dropped the bones of chickens and pork to the village dogs and pigs, which fought over it. Sometimes the fights would become too aggressive and the animals would run into the fragile posts so it felt like the kitchen would drop off the side of the main house. My cousins and I would get scolded for dropping our scraps down the timber gaps. Tonight, my family were only a few metres away from me separated by a couple of walls. I turned the lantern wick higher for more light. I adjusted my bed.

Most of the kapok had fallen out or shrivelled in my pillow so I tucked some clothes under it and raised my head. I reached up with my book and turned the pages.

I knew Mother would place my food on the bench top, near the hot teapot, so it will stay warm. Sometimes grandma would place the covered food at the fireplace and they both would insist I go out and eat before bed. Both mother and daughter always respected my reading and schoolwork, but sometimes, my mother would agitate me with her calling. On this night, I wanted to finish my book.

“Ampom!” Mother called.

“Yes” I answered, annoyed.

“Come and eat”.

“I will”.

“Come now, the food is getting cold.”

“I am coming soon”. I turned to the next page and read faster. This was not fun, but I tried to go as fast as I could without skipping any pages.

A few minutes later, mother called again and I could tell she was getting angry. I was not ready to eat. I did not answer. I removed and turned the wick on the Chinese lamp so low, the room became dark. I shut my eyes and put Nancy Drew away. I was annoyed at my mother. I was hungry but only to find out what had happened in the story.

“Ampom!” I heard mother yell. I did not answer her.

Mother rose from the floor in the kitchen, and I heard her march to our bedroom.

She opened the door by pushing hard against the grating sand on the floor. The door did not have a lock. I had shut my eyes and twisted my body into an awkward position and pretended I was asleep.

Mother started calling my name and sat down and tried to shake me. I did not move.

“Ampom!, Ampom!,”

Mother lifted my shoulders and my head rolled back as if I was unconscious or dead. I was supposed to pretend I was asleep, but somehow, the idea of being dead entered my head – so I went with it.

“Ampom, tisa, tisa” – Mother begged in Bukawa for me to wake up.

“Giuc – Giuc!” mother started calling her sister. My aunt was shocked by the tone of my mother’s voice and tried to ask my mother what was going on. There was no time for mother to explain. By now my mother became hysterical and started calling her own mother for help because she thought I was dead.

In minutes – everyone rushed into the small space on my bed and started pulling my hair and calling all my four names. They would throw cold water on me next to try to wake me.

I finally ‘woke’ up to the relief of my mother – who was already crying. I told Mother I lied and I was pretending to be asleep and she did not believe me. I told her; I only wanted to have some peace and quiet – and even some light to read my book. Being a nurse, she was not convinced so she gave me a thorough check up; feeling the temple, checking the eye-balls, checking the ear and the throat. And then, I had no choice but to go outside and eat.