Letter #14: 12 December 2014

12 December 2014

G’day Mates,

I know I just sent out a letter on Monday, but Melinda arrived this morning and we’ve had a bit of a catch up and we will be up and at ‘em first thing in the morning for a whirlwind trip to Victoria, The Garden State.  I’ll catch you up on that trip and more with our next letter.

But let me tell about the last few days.  Monday, the family history society had a guest speaker, Mike Feerick, founder of Ireland Reaching Out (http://www.irelandxo.com/).  It’s a very interesting concept, based on the recognition that for all those people who left Ireland, their descendants are all somewhere, and there are groups of people at the parish level searching for those descendants, as well as being available as a resource for descendants to contact if they know the parish.  If you can pinpoint what parish your family came from, there could very likely be an 85 year-old-farmer, not tech savvy, but with a tradition of oral historical knowledge, who just may remember his grandmother telling him about the Roddy family that left for Ohio in the 1850s, but the brother didn’t go, and his great grandchildren are still around.  Irelandxo is just the kind of website to connect people.  I think I might look into how I might get more involved with them when I get home.

Before the speaker, I had a chance to visit with some BBFHS members, including Norelle who had come to my talk in October on the basics of US genealogical research.  She knew she had some distant relatives who had gone to the US, but thought she’d never be able to find anything on them.  She went home after my talk and armed with the resources I mentioned, she dug into records and found names and places and even pictures of her grandmother’s siblings (I think that’s the relationship).  Seems that Grandma was tired of waiting for that boat to America so she went to Australia, and her patient siblings wound up in Boston.  It was really nice to know that someone had gotten something out of my talk.  Made it all worthwhile.

Mark and I went to the beach Monday evening and collected a whole bunch of the light-weight pumice rocks that wash up on the beach.  We brought them home, drilled holes in them, and strung them into a garland for my twig tree.  I also hung a few shells we found.  It’s quite the arty tree, like something from a high-end home magazine.

I continue to be touched by the kindness of people I meet here.  I put out an email to a few friends asking if any of them might have a spare string or two of Christmas lights. Maree came by with a couple of strings and the next day Heather Clarey brought us a couple more.  I just feel so grateful that I have landed in such a welcoming place. Just three short months ago I didn’t know any of them, and now I can send out an email and I’ve got all kinds of friends here to make my world brighter.

Tuesday night Toni was off at work in Bathurst, east of the Blue Mountains, and her ticket to the ballet was going to go unused.  Lucky me, I got to attend in her stead.  Michael, Kath and I drove into Sydney, had a little dinner and then attended The Australian Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”  It was absolutely beautiful.  The young woman who played Clara had such a lovely winsome quality about her.  Principal dance Madeleine Eastoe danced as the Sugarplum Fairy.  She was incredible to watch.  It was beautiful to see the male dancers lift the ballerinas as if they were nothing more than a ten pound sack of flour.  [My guess is that the ballerinas will want to be compared to something other than a sack of flour.  Perhaps a ten pound aerial surveillance drone, … or a ten pound shih tzu?] It was so nice to get another chance to be in that fantastic theatre, and enjoy the scenery of the harbour, complete with a cruise ship departing the port before the production, and then again enjoy the twinkling lights all around the water and the boats and ferries upon it at dusk during the interval.

Wednesday I had a lovely lunch with the committee at BBFHS.  (For my friends at Seattle Genealogical Society, that would be the same as the Board.)  There were eight of us, and many of the women were picking my brain as to what I thought about this and that in Australia and what might be the same about home and what might be different.  I shared one of my observations, that Australia is a country of superlatives.  Everywhere I go, I seem to find something that is the first, the oldest, the biggest, the longest, the deepest… whatever.  As you may recall from our Tassie adventures we ran across a national park that was “one of the first two” national parks in Tasmania.  If you can’t claim “first” then “one of the first two” is one of the two best things!  With any of these first, oldest, biggest things, you always have to keep reading, however.  It might be “the oldest surviving house in NSW” (that was built out of wood… by a red-haired man… named Charles.)  But if you go a mile down the road, you might find “the oldest surviving house in NSW” (that was made of stone… is still in its original location… and has never been [officially] inhabited by wombats.)  As I was describing the peerless nature of Australian braggadocio, Jean began to laugh.  “I have something for you and was going to give it to you later, but with what you’ve just said, here you go.”  I opened the prezzie, (complete with a lovely card, handmade by Jean), Bill Bryson’s Down Under.  Jean read aloud from the description on the back, “It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents and still Australia teems with life – a large portion of it quite deadly.  In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in a very nasty way than anywhere else.”  Yep, the most “-est” country in the world.  I might also mention that among the “-est”s, this may be the kindest country.  Members of BBFHS all have name badges and they wear them to events, including even a lunch of eight people where they all know each other’s names, but that guest from America might not remember all their names, so they put the badges on just to put me at ease.  Nice.

Thursday Mark and I were invited to lunch at Barbara and Warren Wimble’s house.  Barbara leads the monthly history walks for BBFHS.  I’m trying to figure how I can bring this idea back to Seattle – the lack of extensive public transportation options may be a bit of a hurdle to overcome, but I’m kicking around some ideas.  Anyway, Barbara invited us to a lovely lunch. They are quite well traveled, and it was nice to hear their stories about America and Ireland.  She fixed us a delicious Irish pie.

I had to make a choice for Thursday night.  It was the last week for trivia at Woolooware golf club and also the BBFHS Christmas party.  I didn’t think I could go to both, so since in October and November I’d skipped trivia for history, I chose the quiz this time.  But at my lunch with the genealogists on Wednesday, when someone mentioned “See you tomorrow night,” I sheepishly had to admit that I wasn’t going to be able to make it. “What?!!!! You have to come!” Oh, how nice to be wanted…  Let’s see, trivia starts at 6:30, the Christmas party at 7:30.  If I went to trivia, the questions might be wrapped up by 8:30 and I could make a mad dash a few miles down the road and catch the tail end of the party.  So I had a plan.  And that’s just how it unfolded.  It was nice that all in the core group were able to make it.  Cheryl on our team is just one of the sweetest people and her work schedule has meant that she’s missed the last few weeks so I was glad she made it. Trivia group

We had a great round one – shared the top score of 14 (out of 17) with a couple of teams.  We answered our round two questions, and then wrapped it up with the special bonus round.  Each week there is a 3-question bonus around. Each teammate kicks in a gold coin.  I have yet to see a winning answer sheet amongst all the teams since I’ve been attending.  The trivia host has collected all that money, donated some to charity (and he was still soliciting suggestions from the players for worthy causes to share in the bounty) and was able to award a top prize for the bonus round of $1,000 and $100 each for second and third place.  Cash money, not bar credit.  But for a grand, three measly questions just isn’t enough so the year-end bonus round was seven questions, among them “In what Christmas carol does Fanny Bright appear?”  Anyone???  Well the deal that I’d made with my teammates was that I could share in any winnings if I stuck around for all the questions, so I said my goodbyes just after we turned in our answer sheets, and made my way to Tradies in a torrential downpour. (I just heard on the news tonight that we’re breaking rainfall records.)

The BBFHS party was still on when I arrived, and they were in the middle of their trivia quiz!  When they were done, Jean invited me up and presented me with another gift, The Shire, a recently-released book about my adopted home by the president of the local historical society.  I’m really looking forward to reading it.  In another odd coincidence, my friend, Marilyn, was telling me about the cover photo – a sepia image of two boys wading, with toy boats in the water at their feet.  Marilyn knew a bit about who the boys were and where they had lived, in a house at Lilli Pilli just opposite the water.  A month or so ago when Mark and I were geocaching we went to Lilli Pilli.  We didn’t find the cache there but I did take a picture of a beautiful old home, just a classic piece of Australiana.  It is the only house down here that I’ve taken a picture of, but it was so charming and I indulged in a brief fantasy that someday, just maybe, I might come back and buy that house.  I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, but my dream house is the very same house that those two little boys grew up in.  It felt a little eerie that of all the houses in the Shire, the only one I’ve take a picture of had such a direct connection with the gift bestowed by my new genealogy friends.

Sometime during my second party, I got a text from Cheryl.  I glanced at my phone and she’d texted that we took fourth place at the quiz.  [For those keeping track, she’s referring here to the night’s first quiz, not the second.  Keep up!  There’ll be a quiz later.]  Since our quiz host had mentioned there’d be several prizes, I thought maybe there might be a bottle of wine or something for fourth.  Not too shabby for playing a game.  It wasn’t until I got home a while later that I read the full text.  Yeah, fourth in the main quiz… but we tied for first in the bonus round.  My team won 500 quid!  Speaking of not too shabby!!!!  I had a hard time getting to sleep last night I was so excited.

And today I got an even better prize.  Miss Melinda arrived, a little late, Mer and Melindabut none the worse for the wear.  So nice to see my baby again after such a long time.  She’s getting unpacked and repacked for our Victorian adventures.  A full report will be coming your way next week.

Until then,

Mary [and [just barely] Mark]

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