We were sitting in the Over 50’s Club, having a cup of tea when Elsie Morgan brought out photos of her recent trip. As we glossed over them, Dorrie Thompson let out a big sigh. “You lucky old bugger,” she exclaimed. “I’ve never been past the Gold Coast. And that holiday was ten years ago.”
There was a chorus from most of us that we, too, had never done anything as exciting as an overseas trip. Suddenly Hilda’s strident voice rang out. “Come on you lot,” she said. “You may not have been overseas, but I’m sure you’ve achieved other things in your life.”
“No, not me” came back the chorus. “Just dull and boring.”
“What you lot need is a course on building up your self-esteem and acquiring some confidence in your behaviour.”
Hilda had been a teacher for many years and was always learning new things. Now she was offering to pass on some of her knowledge to us if we promised to attend her class once a week for six weeks.
Twelve of us agreed. After all, what had we to lose? To our surprise and Hilda’s delight, two male members of the club said they would be in on it too. Tom Webster, a small quiet man, recently retired, who had been brought along by his wife Marcia, and big Frank Ballinger, a widower of many years, who always had a joke at the drop of a hat.
At the first class, Hilda explained that each of us falls into one of four categories: sanguine, melancholic, choleric or phlegmatic. Now, being a choleric puts you in the class of ‘do-ers’ and ‘achievers’ by being assertive and aggressive. “Let’s write a list then,” Hilda a choleric told us. (Being choleric also means bossy, demanding of others and deciding for others, so we were never asked or invited to do anything. We were simply told.) “A list of some of our achievements.”
We sat there, pens poised, our minds a blank. “Now come along,” Hilda commanded. “How many of you have raised a child?”
Twelve hands went up. “Surely then, to raise a child to adulthood is one of life’s great achievements.”
Although tall and willowy, looking as though a good gust of wind would blow her away, Hilda’s voice is strong and vibrant, and despite her irascible demeanour, her eyes always seemed to have a twinkle, and the corners of her mouth would turn upwards, like the ‘Have a Nice Day’ buttons.
“Yes, you raise them and then look what happens” wailed Carol Tait.
“All right Carole,” Hilda came back at her. “Tell us how you are feeling at this moment.”
Carole looked down for a moment, then it all poured out. She quite realised, she told us, that today many homes required two incomes to keep it going, so when her daughter Sandra decided to go back to work Carole agreed to look after the two young children. That was no problem, but then Sandra began wanting to leave them on a Friday or Saturday night, so she and Tony could go out together. The final straw came when Carole was asked to have the children for a weekend. “I told Sandra if she wanted children she should stay home and look after them, and that I had my own life to lead,” she finished in tears.
“I see,” said Hilda. “And how do you feel about it now?”
“Well, I guess I feel I’ve let Sandra down. I did promise to look after the children for her.”
“So now you’re feeling guilty.” Hilda again came back.
“I suppose so. But I didn’t say I’d have the children at the weekend as well.”
“Then why are you feeling guilty, Carole, if you feel the decision you made was the correct one. Isn’t it Sandra who should be feeling guilty for over-imposing on you?” The look of relief that flooded over Carole’s face affected us all, and we felt like a bunch of twerps, with tears in our eyes, and some overflowing down our cheeks.
Suddenly Cathy Burnett spoke up. Cathy is an attractive woman, fiftyish, with a good figure and goes to the hairdressers once a fortnight. “Well, I’m in a rut and I’m sick to death of it,” she spoke angrily.
That’s fine,” replied Hilda. “You’re being honest with yourself. Now tell us why you feel you are in a rut.”
After some hesitation, Cathy spoke up. “Up until a few years ago, Les and I used to go to the RSL club or somewhere like that at the weekend, for a night out. Now all he wants to do is sit in front of the telly and watch the rotten football, or whatever sport is on.”
We stared at Cathy is amazement. We always thought she and Les were a great couple. But come to think of it, we hadn’t seen much of him lately.
“Have you spoken to him about it?” Hilda wanted to know.
“What’s the use. He just doesn’t want to make the effort to get dressed up.”
“Carole made a decision to tell Sandra just how she felt. Why don’t you make a decision for yourself today, Cathy?”
“How can I do that?” demanded Cathy. “Get dressed up and tell him he’s got to take me out!”
Hilda smiled her button smile. “Well, that will do for starters,” she said.
We stared at Hilda, then at Cathy, and saw the look of determination register on her face.
This class is going to be real great, I thought. Set yourselves goals, Hilda urged us, but be realistic. Each week we recited six times, ‘If it has to be – It’s up to Me’.
One week we felt like we were back at school when Hilda had asked us to bring along something to prove that at some time we had been an achiever. It was like ‘Bring and Tell’ in Grade 1.
We had all known each other for quite a number of years, but on that day we found out just how little we did know. Cathy brought along a cup she and Les had won at a ballroom dancing competition. No wonder she loved to get dressed up and have a night out, we agreed.
Brenda brought along a certificate to show she had won first prize at the RNA Show for her sponge cakes. To prove she had not lost her touch, she brought along a beautiful light fluffy sponge for our morning tea.
With some reluctance, Tom showed us a cup, one of many he had won with his racing pigeons. This had been his hobby for many years, he told us, but as the neighbourhood grew, with more houses and an increase in the volume of traffic, he had given away his birds.
We knew that Peg had been a nurse, and we often consulted her about our aches and pains, but what a surprise we had when she showed us a photo of herself with a group of smiling young Aborigines, taken when she had worked for ten years as a nursing sister at a mission station.
All that buff Frank brought to show was a pair of cycling shoes. These, he told us, were the shoes he wore when he won a marathon race in Sydney just after the war. A fall from his cycle just after had forced him to give up his career as a racing cyclist.
By the end of that particular session, we viewed each other with greater respect.
“You see”, Hilda concluded at the end of that session, “you have all been achievers at some time in your lives, so you must make a legend of yourself in your own minds, and believe in yourselves”. Talking amongst ourselves over our cup of tea and Brenda’s sponge cake, we all agreed that at some time we had ‘Been There and Done That’. No matter that we weren’t there now. After all, who wants to stay in the same place all their life, we argued. There comes a time when one has to move on.
During the fifth week, I told them how after being married for 24 years, I was suddenly widowed. I remarried six years later, but after eight years of marriage, I was again widowed, leaving me with the feeling I had brought bad luck to my husbands. Now I was almost afraid to speak to a man, let alone form a friendship.
With a serious look on her face, Hilda stared at me. “To lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness, “she misquoted Oscar Wilde. “Is this how you feel?” she carried on amid the general laughter.
“Something like that” I replied, lowering my head.
“And how are you going to rid yourself of that feeling of guilt?” Hilda asked her regular question.
“Go out and find myself another man” I suggested sarcastically.
“Well done,” Hilda enthused. “And we’ll all help you find one, won’t we?”
‘Yes, yes’, they chorused. Suddenly I found myself laughing with them. Had I really been taking myself too seriously?
At the end of the six weeks, we really felt different within ourselves and Frank had asked me out to dinner.
We had learned not only to communicate our feelings to others, but also to become an active listener, and not to be so critical of others.
With this new-found confidence, Carole, Cathy, Peg Milton and I, armed with passports, airline tickets and a great itinerary, set forth on a fabulous three-week tour of South-East Asia.
Hilda has now begun a French for Beginners class, and next year we are off to conquer Europe. If the men want to come with us, so much the better, but it’s up to them.
Bon jour, monsieur. Je m’appele Patricia. Comprenez vous Anglaise?
By Patricia Daly