I had a vision today of my latter years when an ambulance arrived in my street. There was no siren to indicate its arrival, but somehow I knew there was something worth watching, so I got up off the couch and headed to the balcony for a peak. Damn, the phone rang, and so I didn’t really get to see which house they’d gone into and whether or not they’d taken someone away. In my neighbourhood, it could have been everything from a drug overdose to a heart-attack.
It might even have been an older person returning home from a stay in hospital, I thought. And that’s when I had visions of my latter years, sitting on the balcony looking down the street, keeping an eye on the events of my neighbourhood. I had visions of my mum and granny who were inveterate “ambulance watchers”. My granny, in particular, would sit at the front window watching the world go by.
But that was a long time ago, as it’s now more than 20 years since mum died. And it was also a different time and place, when women didn’t work (except during the war), when they made their own house dresses, when lunch was called dinner, and dinner was called tea, when they didn’t re-marry after the death of their husbands, and when people died within just a few years of retirement. In some ways, there’s a certain Ruth Park quality about it all.
Odd then, that I should go from being raised in a fairly basic working class environment in a mid-sized country town, to living a fairly middle-class environment in the inner city. But although I’ve changed and although Surry Hills has changed, there’s still a “Poor Man’s Orange” element about the place.
Down the road, for example, there’s a couple of older women who remind me of mum and granny in some ways. I first noticed them about ten years ago, soon after moving into my street. Like mum and granny, I’d often see them sitting on the front steps, watching the world go by. I could never decide at the time, and I still don’t know, if they’re two old friends, a lesbian couple, or maybe a couple of sisters. While at the time they were old, now they’re OLD, relying on walking frames to get about. And while ten years ago they’d respond with a “good morning and a smile”, they now to seem a little afraid when you say hello, possibly finding life a little more hard-going and fearful with the passing of time.
Despite the change, they still spend a fair bit of time watching the world go by, especially in the mornings during winter, as the sun warms their bones. Although I can’t be 100% sure, I’m pretty sure they’d have also been peering out the window today, wondering what was going on with the ambulance.