Reading At The Farm

When I was 13 and 14-years-old I spent many school holidays at my aunt and uncle’s farm at Mudgegonga in the foothills of Victoria’s ski fields.
The farm was just a couple of paddocks with a squat weatherboard, a few fruit trees and the occasional clutch of mournful cows.
The house was once a post office. From its front door, which was never used, a narrow hallway opened onto three bedrooms with moth-eaten carpet and rickety beds with sagging mattresses. At the end of the hallway another door opened onto a courtyard flanked by an L-shaped verandah, its long end backing onto the living area and a small, lean-to kitchen. The shorter side ended abruptly at the door of an outside bathroom, reached at a run in mid-winter and prone to frozen pipes.
Aunt Joan and Uncle Frank had no children and welcomed their dozens of nieces and nephews with open but absent-minded arms. They provided space for our sleeping bags but didn’t fuss. They didn’t tell us what to do or when to go to bed. We probably packed our own towels and I know Mum sent me there with casseroles and bolognaise sauce.
At 13 I didn’t care about décor or outside plumbing. I spent hours in the living room reading, curled up on the couch or an armchair in front of the open fire. I remember how the room felt, but not what it contained.
There was no television, I know that. At night I sat shoulder-to-shoulder around the dining table with uncles and aunts, cousins and neighbours, learning how to play Five Hundred and Euchre. Time was meaningless.
I helped cook and chop wood, a little. But mostly I read.
Aunt Joan had a horse, Boris, timid and tall. But despite years of devouring British pony club books and dreaming of dressage and jumping ribands won on palomino ponies, I’d never really been interested in riding. I preferred my horses on the page.
Sometimes the cousins and I played quoits, or went on long rambling walks up the hill behind the house, collecting mushrooms or picking quinces to feed to the cows. Local boys would visit on their motorbikes and take us out, pillion, to their bush hut where they drank beer and shot rabbits.
Now I have my own farm, my own piece of paradise within cooee of the same mountain range, only mine’s at the northern most fringe with no chance of snow.
Generally my adult life doesn’t allow me to get lost in a novel. I don’t have the luxury of padding to the sofa in my pyjamas to pick up my book in the morning, continuing where I left off the night before without even making tea. But today I did just that. I read chapter after chapter in front of the fire, then more in the afternoon on the front lawn, engrossed by the flaws and foibles of characters in The Goldfinch.
The sweet, sweet indulgence of just one more log on the fire and one more chapter of a very fat novel took me back to my youth.
Happy days.

Angela Bensted Bw 1x1
Angela Bensted is a Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.
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