Getting ready to turn four

For Amy on her 4th birthday, October 13, 2014

Amy reading

One day, after lunch, I went out onto the balcony. Amy followed. Taking charge, she showed me which was my broom, and which was hers. Then we started sweeping companionably together.

After a while Amy stopped me. She pointed to a white frangipani flower that had fallen onto the terracotta tiles and made it clear that this was to be our central rubbish collection point. All of our swept-up leaves, twigs, dust and charcoal fragments were to be brought together there, nowhere else.

We swept and chatted, inspected the pot plants and chatted. Then we weeded and chatted. She pointed to a space to the left of the kettle barbecue and suggested putting a new pot plant there. I explained that this spot had to be kept free, so that I could stand there whenever I wanted to check on any food that was cooking on the grill. Picking up a discarded, hanging pot, with lots of old paperbark bunched up on its side, Amy indicated a place above where it could be hung up again.

I sat down on a chair. Amy put her broom away as well. Then, that hot Saturday afternoon, as heat waves shimmered on the bitumen road running past the the barge landing below, she began the longest continuous speech I have ever heard her make. Honestly, I should have recorded it. I swear it went on for half an hour. It was about her forthcoming birthday and my role in ensuring that it would be a great event.

Having already told a few people at the Parap market that morning that she was almote four, I guess this must have prompted her to begin thinking about the arrangements for her birthday in four months time,  and what I needed to do to help her celebrate it appropriately.

She told me that her party would be held at Lake Alexander. I would be bringing her a big salad with ‘batil’ (basil) from the balcony, together with tome (‘some’) carrot, tomato, lettut and muttroom. On the way I was to pick some daisies and sunflowers for her.

Birthday presents would be no problem, because she knew what she wanted. First of all, a fairy drett (‘dress’) with new wings, because the ones on the old one were a bit weak and kept falling down, and a printett drett (‘princess dress’).

In addition to the drett  with new pink wings I would give her black leggings with white kwar (‘squares’) and red hearts on them. They would mean, “I love you”.

Amy then described the difference between a fairy dress and as princess dress at length. She explained that the printett drett  was long and white, with blue, blue, blue here and white, white there. It had two frangipani flowers—one for each shoulder. There were some other flowers near the hem. Roses, daisies, sunflowers … I don’t remember which.

“You’re almote atleep (‘almost asleep’)”, Amy said.

It was true! I had begun to feel like nodding off. Long descriptions of dresses tend to have a narcoleptic effect on me.

“Come on! Get up!”, she ordered. Obediently, I did so. Taking control of me like a junior yoga teacher, she picked up each of my hands in turn and showed me how to hold them. One had to be parallel to my legs; the other was to be at right angles. She instructed me to keep my knees together, then commanded me to bend my body sideways and slowly. Almost theatrically, I brought one hand up on command, and draped it over my head, so that it touched the other shoulder.

“You’ve got it!”, Amy exclaimed enthusiastically.

Four months later, Amy is celebrating her birthday with family and friends at Lake Alexander, while I am in Melbourne keeping my ill, elderly mother company.  Amy’s actual birthday is tomorrow. To help her celebrate I have put together a virtual salad, a posy of flowers, and other fanciful presents.

I really hope Amy likes all these pretend things:
The salad with basil; sunflowers, daisies, picked on my way,
A pretend fairy dress, with reliable new wings,
Imaginary black leggings, whose red hearts say…

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 2.51.44 pmScreen Shot 2014-10-12 at 2.12.51 pmpink wingsScreen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.22.28 pm

“I love you”! Happy Birthday, Amy! 

From your Grandad

PS I am still on the hunt for a virtual printett drett that resembles the amazing one Amy was describing as I dosed off that day in June. I haven’t had much luck so far. The real ones seem quite drab by comparison.


Brian Devlin
October 12, 2014


New button (new eye) and an arm stitched back on

For Jennifer Maree, my daughter, on her birthday


It is as if Kylie can see again, thanks to Grandma’s
Deft restitution: buttoning an eye back in place once more.
She has brought to that rag doll the marvellous gift of sight.
Her blistered fingers now baste the socket, while Amy, almost four,

Watches.  Who would have thought that she, this child,
Could impute any courage to that stuffed cotton body
And placid face. Amy knows how brave Kylie has been
To suffer the needle’s thrusts without a cry, so she

Cradles her, and croons, earning the love of her rag doll’s heart.
All this patchworking and seaming stirs her mother’s memory
of that other, larger doll, her parents’ gift from Italy,
Sebino Patatina with the bouffant hair who, years later, would also be

Dragged from our closed-up home one Christmas, then set upon
By ruffians, maddened by vaporous fumes strong enough
To drive a car. Vintage Patatina, so sadly maimed that day, became
Legless.  Quite a pair: Kylie, almost losing an arm, her tough

Continental sister almost broken apart. Fortunately,
A grandma’s darning has relieved the rag doll’s plight,
First filling one space above the nose with a button. Laboriously
She now stitches away the other old wrong, and sets it right.

All power to those darning fingers and to the child’s dreaming mind,
Channeling imagined life into her soft downy toy! Down here, no longer apart,
Even her great-grandmother smiles at the absurd strangeness, that a mix of vision
And kindness could bring such magic to a rag doll’s heart.