last weekend, on a filthily hot day, we marked the 25th anniversary of the devastating fires that claimed the family home and three of our four cats. it didn't claim me or Franz Josef (true and faithful shepherd), L'Empereur des Autres Chiens, as opposed to Kaiser Franz Josef (who was given that name some 150 years previously)...L'Empereur des Autrichiens. or something like that.
something else it didn't claim (miracles do happen, from time to time) had it's beginnings rather earlier.
nearly forty-five years ago, on another stinking hot Saturday my little Grandmother (having worked all week in a factory sewing military uniforms) made her way by tram and foot to the slaughterhouse, where she acquired an enormous bag of slightly bloodied chicken feathers. these she then brought home, sewed into a sturdy cloth bag and then thoroughly washed and aired.
some days later when they were clean, sweet smelling and fluffy, Grandmother tied up her hair in a duster, closed the doors and windows and filled four big pillows -one for each grandchild- in ticking cases she'd sewed herself, on a hand cranked portable sewing machine she lugged from Latvia (but that's another story). in those days my family lived in her house, having just returned from a period in Canada. i well remember sinking my head happily into my new pillow, untroubled (i was five) by the ghosts of those who had given up their lives for my comfort.
i can't remember why my pillow survived the bushfire, but i'm ever so grateful that it was in the car along with the dog on that awful day. i've put my head on it every night (except for those spent sleeping away in helltells) since it was given me and the magic it contains, put there by Grandmother, makes for good dreams. the sturdy ticking has kept all the feathers inside and the daily pillow thumping to refluff it has doubtless been very good therapy (for me, if not the pillow)
it's more than twenty years since Grandmother closed her eyes for the last time, but every time i close mine i still bless her, and not just for my pillow.