sábado, 21 de agosto de 2010
I Can Jump Puddles is Alan Marshall's story of his childhood – a happy world in which, despite his crippling poliomyelitis, he plays, climbs, fights, swims, rides and laughs.
His world was the Australian countryside early last century: rough-riders, bushmen, farmers and tellers of tall stories – a world held precious by the young Alan.
WHEN my mother lay in the small front room of the weather-board house in which we lived, awaiting the arrival of the midwife to deliver me, she could see tall gums tossing in the wind, and a green hill, and cloud shadows racing across the paddocks, and she said to my father, 'It will be a son; it is a man's day.'
My father bent and looked through the window to where the dark, green barrier of the bush stood facing the cleared paddocks.
'I'll make him a bushman and a runner,' he said with determination. 'By God, I will!'
When the midwife arrived he smiled at her and said, 'I thought the little chap would be running around before you got here, Mrs Torrens.'
'Yes, I should have been here half an hour ago,' said Mrs Torrens brusquely. She was a heavy woman with soft, brown cheeks and an assertive manner. 'There was Ted greasing the gig when he should have had the horse in.' She looked at mother. 'How are you, dear? Have you had any pains yet?'
'While she was speaking,' my mother told me, 'I could smell the myall-wood handle of your father's stockwhip hanging on the end of the bed, and I could see you wheeling it round your head at a gallop like your father.'
Father sat in the kitchen with my sisters while I was being born. Mary and Jane wanted a brother to take to school with them, and father had promised them one called Alan.
When Mrs Torrens brought me out for them to see, I was wrapped in red flannelette, and she placed me in father's arms.
'It was funny looking down on you there,' he said. 'My son . . . There was a lot of things I wanted you to be able to do – ride an' that. I wanted you to have good hands on a horse. Well, that's what I was thinking. Running, of course . . . They reckoned you had good limbs on you. It seemed funny, me holding you there. I kept wondering if you would be like me.'
I had not long started school when I contracted Infantile Paralysis. The epidemic that began in Victoria in the early 1900's moved into the country districts from the more populated areas, striking down children on isolated farms and in bush homes. I was the only victim in Turalla, and the people for miles around heard of my illness with a feeling of dread. They associated the word 'Paralysis' with idiocy, and the query 'Have you heard if his mind is affected?' was asked from many a halted buggy, the driver leaning over the wheel for a yarn with a friend met on the road.
For a few weeks the neighbours drove quickly past our house, looking hurriedly, with a new interest, at the old picket fence, the unbroken colts in the stockyard and my tricycle lying on its side by the chaff house. They called their children in earlier, wrapped them more warmly and gazed at them anxiously when they coughed or sneezed.
'It hits you like a blow from God,' said Mr Carter, the baker, who believed that this was so. He was the Superintendent of the Bible Class and proclaimed in his weekly announcements, as he faced his pupils with a sombre look:
'Next Sunday morning at Divine Service the Rev. Walter Robertson, B.A., will offer up prayers for the speedy recovery of this brave boy sorely stricken with a fell disease. A full attendance is requested.'
Father, after hearing of these words, stood in the street one day tugging at his sandy moustache with a nervous, troubled hand, while he explained to Mr Carter just how I happened to catch the disease.
'They say you breathe the germ in,' he said. 'It's just floating about in the air – everywhere. You never know where it is. It must have been just floating past his nose when he breathed in and that was the end of him. He went down like a pole-axed steer. If he'd been breathing out when that germ passed he'd 've been right.'
He paused, then added sadly, 'Now you're praying for him.'
'The back is made for the burden,' murmured the baker piously. He was an elder of the Church and saw the hand of God behind misfortune. On the other hand he suspected the devil of being behind most of the things people enjoyed.
'It's God's will,' he added with some satisfaction, confident the remark would please the Almighty. He was always quick to seize any opportunity to ingratiate himself with God.
Father snorted his contempt of such a philosophy and said, with some savagery, 'That boy's back was never made for the burden, and, let me tell you, this won't be a burden either. If you want to look for burdens, there's the place to look for them.' And he tapped his head with a brown finger.
Later, standing beside my bed, he asked anxiously, 'Have you got any pains in your legs, Alan?'
'No,' I told him. 'They feel dead.'
'Oh, hell!' he exclaimed, his face stricken.
He was a lean man with bowed legs and narrow hips, the result of years in the saddle, for he was a horsebreaker who had come down to Victoria from outback Queensland.
'It was the kids,' he used to say. 'There's no schools outback. Only for them, by cripes, I'd never have left.'
He had a bushman's face, brown and lined, with sharp blue eyes embedded in the wrinkles that came from the glare of saltbush plains.
A drover mate of his, who called in to see him one day, exclaimed, as father crossed the yard to greet him, 'By cripes, Bill, you still walk like a bloody emu!'
His walk was light and mincing, and he always looked at the ground ahead of him as he walked, a habit he attributed to the fact that he came from 'snake country'.
Sometimes, when he had a few drinks in, he would ride into the yard on some half-broken colt and go rearing and plunging amongst the feed boxes, gig shafts, and the remains of old wheels, scattering the squawking fowls and giving high, larrikin yells:
'Wild cattle and no brands! Let them ring! Ho, there!'
Then he would rein the horse back on its haunches and, snatching off his broad-brimmed hat, would swing it round in some mock acknowledgment of applause while he bowed towards the kitchen door where mother generally stood with a little smile upon her face, a smile that was a mixture of amusement, love and concern.
Father was fond of horses, not because they were the means by which he earned his living, but because of some beauty he saw in them. He liked studying a well-built horse. He would walk round it slowly, his head on one side, looking carefully at every feature, running his hands down its front legs, feeling for swellings or scars that would show it had been down.
'You want a horse with good, strong bone, and plenty of daylight under him,' he used to say, 'one that stands over a lot of ground.'
He thought horses were like human beings.
'Yes, it's a fact,' he had said. 'I've seen them. Some horses sulk if you as much as touch 'em with a whip. So do some kids . . . Box their ears and they won't talk to you for days. They hold it against you. They can't forget, see! By hell, it's true of horses too! Use the whip on some of them and you make a jib. Look at the chestnut mare of Old Stumpy Dick's. She's tough in the mouth. And I mouthed her, mind you. It just shows you . . . It's in her like in Stumpy. Whoever mouthed him made a proper mess of it. He still owes me a quid on that job. Well, let it go . . . He's got nothing.'
His father had been a red-headed Yorkshireman, a shepherd, who had migrated to Australia at the beginning of the '40's. He married an Irish girl who arrived at the new colony in the same year. They say he strode onto the wharf when a ship laden with Irish girls seeking work as domestics arrived in the colony.
'Which one of you will marry me, now?' he called out to the girls lining the rail. 'Who'll take a chance with me?'
One strong, blue-eyed colleen with black hair and broad hands eyed him speculatively for a moment, then called back, 'I'm willing. I'll marry you.'
She lowered herself over the ship's side, and he caught her on the wharf. He took the bundle she carried and they walked away together, his hand on her shoulder as if he were guiding her.
Father was the youngest of four children and inherited the temperament of his Irish mother.
'When I was a kid,' he told me once, 'I caught a teamster fair behind the ear with a paddy melon – if the juice gets into your eyes it can blind you, you know. Well, this fellow went sort of half cranky and came at me with a waddy. I made for our hut yelling, 'Mum!' This bloke meant business, mind you – by hell, he did! I had nothing left when I reached the hut. I was done. But mum had seen me coming and there she was waiting with a kettle of boiling water swinging easy in her hand. 'Keep back,' she said. 'This is boiling. Come any closer and I'll let you have it in the face.' By hell! it stopped him. She just stood there with me clinging to her skirts and watched him till he went away.'
Father was earning his own living at twelve. His education had been limited to a few months' schooling under a drunken teacher to whom each child attending the slab hut that served as a school, paid half a crown a week.
After he started work he drifted round from station to station, horsebreaking or droving. His youth and early manhood were spent in the outback areas of New South Wales and Queensland, and it was these areas that furnished the material for all his yarns. Because of his tales, the saltbush plains and red sandhills of the outback were closer to me than the green country where I was born and grew to manhood.
'There's something in the back country,' he once told me. 'You're satisfied out there. You get on a pine ridge and light a fire . ..'
He stopped and sat thinking, looking at me in a troubled way. After a while he said, 'We'll have to think up some way to stop your crutches sinking into the sand outback. Yes, we'll get you up there some day.'
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 18:32