In the dark, the car headlights flashed onto a sign: Bally Cotton. I went back and took a photo of it the next day.
“It was the name of the farm in Ireland Dad’s family came from,” Heidi explained. Her dad’s family had been in Australia for several generations, while as I wrote before her mother had come as a refugee from Austria after World War II.
Her dad, Des, and her mum, Hedy, had met at work, at Commonwealth Bank. Hedy had had to quit her job when she got married. They had lived in a suburb of Sydney while Heidi and her sister Danielle were young, then bought this property and built their dream house. They had had cattle, but then health problems came and most of the land was now leased to a neighboring farmer.
One of the things that binds me with Heidi is that she and I are both supporting aged parents. After visiting the farm, I will never again complain about having to drive 20 minutes to get to my mother’s assisted living facility, where there are no stairs, she gets three meals a day, someone does her laundry and gives her her medications, and she’s got loads of activities to choose from to keep her occupied.
Heidi makes this drive almost every weekend—it takes her four hours with no stops. Danielle lives at the farm full time; it’s hard to imagine Des and Hedy being able to stay there otherwise because services just aren’t available—there aren’t enough home care providers and they would spend all day in their cars if there were.
Everything is a long-distance proposition, like getting groceries, going to the doctor, or getting an oil change. “Blayney’s a dead town,” Heidi said. “It had a movie theatre and a Chinese restaurant when we were kids, but then everything moved to Orange, another half hour away.”
Heidi pulled the car up into the driveway and we began carrying in our gear. It was so dark we had to grope along the brick wall to the back door, which led to a gazebo. Des was eating his supper and Hedy was doing what she had probably always done—cooking, cleaning, washing dishes. They don’t use a dishwasher because it requires too much water.
I had met Hedy in London years ago and it was nice to now meet Des. He’s had some serious health challenges uses a walker but his smile lights up the room. Des and Hedy couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming.
Heidi showed me up to “my” room, which had been hers as a youth. It was full of photos and mementos from high school and college days.
“But where will you sleep?”
“In with Danielle,” she replied.
“Oh you’re kidding! Are you sure? I could happily sleep on the couch. I could never share a bed with my sister—we both have the Restless Legs and we’d be kicking each other over the side all night.”
“Aw, no worries, Annie! We both sleep like the dead.”
The next day was Heidi’s birthday. We all went out for breakfast at a café. When you have a parent who uses a wheelchair, a walker, or just moves slowly, you can’t be impatient or in a hurry. I know this from transporting my own mother, and in my finer moments I think of the slow-motion process as mindfulness practice.
It was a cold, blustery spring day, but pleasant, sitting near a sunny window and reminiscing about Heidi as a child.
Next up for the birthday girl was wine tasting at Phillip Shaw, just outside of Orange. We sat near the fireplace and there wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. They had a needlessly complicated system of characters and numbers which none of us could make any sense of. I bought a bottle of champers for Heidi for her birthday, a bottle of red for Des and Hedy, and a bottle for the friends we would stay with in Melbourne.
We topped off the day with homemade stroganoff and a birthday cake, then turned in early.
Tomorrow we would hit the road again for the eight-hour drive to Melbourne.