I was in the middle of decorating one of my ceramic bowls when the phone rang. ‘Hello,’ I said.
‘Is that you Doreen?’ this pleasant voice enquired, to which I of course answered in the affirmative. ‘This is Elwyn Scott,’ was the seeming nonchalant reply, ‘Do you remember me?’
‘Good God, Elwyn!’ I remember saying in my shocked state, ‘of course I remember you!’ How could I forget his Texan drawl? As he politely asked my mother if he could take my sister Joan to the movies? She was seventeen, blonde, slim and good looking with an engaging smile. I was two years younger, on the cusp of adulthood...because this was war-time, and you grew up quickly in those days. But I was just an onlooker in the romance stakes. In our home, my sister had the floor to herself. Elwyn was nineteen, an older man.
I always thought of him as Elwyn Fay Scott. He had a twin brother called Delwyn Ray Scott. Perhaps there was an ‘e’ on ‘Fay’ and ‘Ray’. Did his mother hope for a girl? I had never asked that question, but I remembered him as being quite charming to a young, dark haired teenager who considered herself plain and un-noticeable.
‘It’s been a while, sixty years or so I reckon...’ And I ultimately heard his story. I remembered he had been a sailor on the submarine tender USS Sperry which was based in Brisbane for some time during World War II. During this period, he had come to know my sister and thus the whole family that consisted of Joan and me and Mum and our seven-year old sister. Our father had been conscripted into the Civil Construction Corps (CCC), and was away building army camps. Our mother held the fort at home at Greenslopes.
When the Sperry eventually left Brisbane for the Northern war zone, Elwyn promised to write; and for three long years there were regular, long epistles between Greenslopes and the US Fleet. A large studio portrait of him in naval uniform adorned the picture rail in our lounge room, and we became used to his rather decorative handwriting on the air mail letters. Occasionally, a parcel would arrive from the United States. It was always an item of dress jewellery for Joan, always beautiful, and always very attractive to us in wartime Brisbane where jewellery was hardly ever seen in the shops except in second hand stores. Food and clothing were strictly rationed.
Joan would muse about Elwyn’s return after the war, but it never happened. He was demobbed back in the States, and the letters dwindled. Of course they did. Mum figured all along that this would happen and was never too worried that her beloved eldest daughter would sail as a war-bride to the USA.
‘How on earth did you find me?’ I asked him. After all, I had married and changed residences a few times. He had married, naturally, and their adult son had been sent to Canberra as some sort of military envoy. Elwyn and his wife had visited, and on one occasion had met an older friend of the son’s. She hailed from Brisbane, from Greenslopes no less! Did she perchance know the Wendt girls? Oh yes, she knew of them, not personally, but had followed their activities in the press. They were well known and their trips abroad and their nuptials were duly reported. Their father Harry was also newsworthy, being the first one to introduce electricity to the farming district where they originally lived. His death was reported along with a photo of him with Doreen and Joan...the latter ‘now deceased’...and this was sent to Elwyn by his contact.
‘I was very distressed to learn of Joan’s death,’ he told me during our long conversation, ‘She was mah angel...’ He still did not say ‘my’ I noticed, recalling those long gone times, but ‘mah’. ‘She gave me hope during the black times of the war, something to cling to, to look forward to... when death was looking us in the face. Yessir, Joan was indeed mah angel!’
Australia seemed a long way away after the war. For a time, he went to Saudi Arabia in the construction industry, being grateful for a good living in tough times. He had had a good marriage, but last year his dear wife had been knocked down and killed by a speeding car in his home town in Texas. He was devastated and was finding it difficult to lift his depression.
His daughter-in-law was continually saying, ‘Dad...have you contacted Doreen yet?’ She knew the story, and had followed, with him, my activities in the art world. They knew I was the proprietor of an art gallery in rural Queensland, but it was the publicity I received on being accepted into University when in my seventies that clinched the deal. He was sure it was I, and the accompanying story and photo proved it. So he plucked up courage and phoned.
He phoned several times for a chat, saying it was very inexpensive to phone from the US....about two cents a minute. I sent him one of my books, Barefoot in Logan Village, about our childhood in that little rural hamlet where our father had a dairy farm, as had his father and grandfather before him. Elwyn was thrilled to receive it, he said, and was surprised that we came from humble country stock as he had. On noting my recent picture on the back cover, he remarked that I hadn’t changed much, that I was still the pretty young girl that he remembered. Still charming! We exchanged Christmas cards, his handwriting being just as it was when he was so young. Then there was no reply, and I let the matter rest.