It’s the second Friday which means it’s Darby day, whose life story I have been posting on this website for her as part of the Elder Stories program I started for Wesley Do Care. It is one of the gifts I give myself.
I drive to her place from Mornington, in Victoria, Australia and I wonder what surprises she has for me today. As I walk to her front door, I marvel at spring in her beautiful garden which she has tendered with loving care.
I ring the bell and after a while, at 93 years young with thick wavy white hair, she comes to the door puffing, the symptom of her lifelong battle with respiratory ailments which could have taken her five or more times during her incredibly long and full life.
People have commented after reading her stories, all written by her alone, that they can’t believe she has survived all she has. We walk to the little section of the dining room which is one of her spaces in the home she shares with her youngest son and his family, and sit down. “How are you?” I ask. She sits next to me and with a very frustrated look in her eyes and brow, she pauses, takes a deep breath, then tells me all the problems she’s been having with her computer. “It won’t start”. We discuss the options for getting it fixed. So far she has written 18 stories with a total readership of over 72,000 but she can’t write more until her computer is working again.
We chat about the garden, the family visiting here from England then she tells me a story about her great grandchild who was jealous of her cousin getting one of Darby’s packaging foam paintings, saying recently, “Darby, I want a painting of my horse, will you do that for me please?” Darby explains that during the war in England where she grew up, nothing went to waste, most things were rationed, from 1 real egg per person every 2 weeks to stockings, and that packaging foam was not a bad surface for her style of paintings. She attends art classes on Mondays and I have seen at least a dozen of her very good produce.
I say to her, “You have already written about many of your life’s adventures. Where do you think your desire for adventure came from?“ She replies after some considered thought, ”Well, I think the formation of my younger years was so poor, mentally, that I think it was a kick back to it. I think I resented it and I was determined to go and be. Let’s face it, and it doesn’t worry me, I think it did me good as a matter of fact that I used to get strapped, and all that sort of thing, but it wasn’t very nice, but I don’t think it hurt me. It made me very determined and that determination got me through leukemia.”
“I think the formation of my younger years was so poor, mentally, that I think it was a kick back to it. I think I resented it and I was determined to go and be... It made me very determined and that determination got me through leukemia.”
The fact that Darby survived leukemia is a testament to her resilience. We count how many times she cheated death and counting illnesses alone, we reach about 8. Then there is the car accident, the near taking of her own life, the exploding of a Doodlebug outside the hospital near where she lay, burying her in dirt, all long before feeling the whoosh of a German bullet as it picked up the cardigan she wore before she was grabbed on the other shoulder and thereby saved by the man from Bristol Woolworth's.
I have come to know Darby as a true all-rounder, a great sport, a great sportswoman with a heart of gold, an artist, a volunteer teacher, gardener, poet, a budding novelist and a great contributor to society and the lives of those lucky enough to have known her at any particular time of her life so far. This is an abridged description of Darby, the daughter of a cruel father and a mother who “did her best”.
Her ready smile and laugh belie all the terrible hardships she has known. I ask her what it was like having children. She replies that no one ever told her what it would be like, because it just wasn’t discussed. She knew that her mother had had 2 Caesareans and she couldn’t have anymore. Darby went into a nursing home to have her first child and asked if they were going to do that to her too. The nurse said “Don’t you know? NO, we’re not”. No one had told her that one had to be unable to have children to warrant a Caesarean. “No, you don’t need a Caesarean, there’s nothing wrong with you”. Darby’s own mother gave birth to Darby while she had rheumatic fever. Darby knew where babies came from because of gardening, which she says sounds stupid, but people said, “Oh you had 4 children, you’re alright”, and she said “Yes, it was pollination”.
I was clarifying something about the next story to be posted which I proofread first. I ask Darby about her adopted son and she replies “Bryan brought him home. A very poor sick boy with a dreadful cold, it was terrible, and when I asked Bryan why he did that he said “There’s nobody at his house, his mother won’t be home until the early hours of the morning, he’s got no one there”, so I said “Get him upstairs and into your pyjamas and into your bed, I’ll make the bed up for you to sleep, … you’d better go down and tell his mother where he is in the morning”, so he went down and came back with a case and I said “What’s that?” and he said “She said, that’s alright, you can keep him” and she’s put his things in the case. Well, I don’t know whether she meant for me to keep him forever, but I did. He didn’t go home again. If she only meant me to keep him while he was sick, why didn’t she come up to ask? She never came near us, I never met that woman. He turned out OK though, actually very successful. Maybe it’s a failing of mine but I never take offence with people, so the fact that I didn’t ever meet his mother didn’t worry me. If someone says something I don’t like, I say oh well, and let it go. I can’t bear animosity to people”.
I suspect that is one of the secrets of Darby’s longevity, not taking things to heart. She says “I think it’s because I see everyone as a friend, and when they do things that do not bear resemblance to a friend, I think oh, that’s sad, I wanted to be a friend with you, oh that’s sad. I don’t look at it and think Oh, fancy doing or saying that … I just think oh you’ve gone and spoilt the opportunity. It’s just a different way of looking at things”.
It’s not only the sparkle in her eye which sets her apart, there’s something else about Darby. She has also been personally driven to get it down on paper. Yes, there may be many who have survived abuse from a cruel father, World War II in England, leukemia amongst other killer diseases and the explosion of a doodle bug too close for comfort after giving birth to her fourth child, who adopted yet another child and raised him along with her own four, because he had no family at his own house, who was asked to play netball for England and who had a loving husband … but Darby is at least one we know about because it’s in her own words in black and white. Her writing voice is clear, entertaining and incredibly descriptive.
I consider it an absolute privilege to be involved in helping her continue her life story. I can hardly wait for the next installment, which may well be longer – it’s the next 60 years’ worth and she hasn’t even got on the ship to Australia yet! Who knows, her story could be destined for greatness, if it ever gets published which is Darby’s goal. Lord knows it should. It has everything. There’s one thing for sure, though, I’m thrilled to be a part of her first audience.
Thank you Darby, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2010 by Susan Young and Story of My Life