WAY BACK IN THE EARLY 1950’S, our family had fallen in love with a friend’s Dachshund , Bismarck….a small dog of great charm and character.
We wanted one, apparently me especially as, to hurry my parents along in this financial commitment, I’d asked for money whenever my siblings were given milkshakes or ice-creams. By the end of summer I offered up my matchbox of coins, no doubt of some small significance back in those days.
We heard the Litter had been born, and went on a cold Autumn day to visit the Breeder, and choose our pup, born in the beautiful isolated town of Emerald, high up in the Dandenong Ranges, where my Great Grandfather’s house….our family holiday house stood.
I could hardly contain my excitement….a pup of my own I was thinking, sitting in the back of the car, hearing the adults talking, gossiping…..drifting back to me.
“She’s been married and divorced three times”……”She lives with a homosexual who breeds Afghan Hounds”…..”a terrible housekeeper …..she lets her bitches whelp on the beautiful antique tapestried chairs”…..”and you know she owns a shrunken head; the museum borrows it from time to time.” All this going over the top of my puppy dreaming, and then turning to look at us kids, “She can’t hear a word, she reads your lips….so you must look directly at her, and speak clearly.”
I remember vividly the first time I saw her emerging from between two farm buildings….a small sturdy Woman surrounded by a pack of dogs, all undulating around her feet like sleek little seals, their long low bodies moving in a wave towards us, yapping shrilly.
My family and friends stood by the car, a stiff, formal little group, waiting politely.
Drawn like a magnet I surged towards her, her farmyard smell reaching me before she did. Eyes enchanted with the pack of hounds, I took her in from the ground up….knee high gumboots covered in mud and reeking of pig shit, work trousers of a coarse hard wearing fabric covered with a practical apron made from a hessian potato sack, a thick hand knitted jumper….and then I was looking into her lovely broad, sunbrowned face, kind eyes, intelligent, smiling. Her brown/iron grey hair parted in the middle, with lovely plaits coiled over her ears. She was the most homely, exotic Woman I had ever seen….. the music of her voice, shrieking to the little hounds in a thick, guttural accent. And me, a small girl coming from a background of buttoned up conservatism and tight perms.
IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT!!!
As my parents explained how I’d saved all summer, she took me in her arms and hugged me tight. Warmth, strength and softness, surrounded by such smells and noise, such vivid life, such joy.
Formalities and introductions completed, we were all invited into her home, to view the litter, (which had indeed been born on finest Tapestry) choose a pup, and have afternoon tea…..
THE AUSTRIAN COUNTESS…..Part 2.
Her name was Henny Marsh, obviously the Count had been her first or second husband.
Having gone through the awkwardness of introductions with the Adults, who considered this Woman with uneasy caution, we were invited into the house, for puppy viewing and afternoon tea. It was a gorgeous, light filled expanse……. floors covered with Persian Rugs, long low tapestry covered Chaise Longes, Glass Cases of gorgeous Chinese Vases, Paintings, Sculptures, Pottery, and everywhere lavish drapes, wall tapestries and furniture collected from all over the World.
The red gold Mother lay in state on a long low tapestry covered couch, her babies all in a row suckling……and one by one, the Countess lifted them handing each of us a pup…..golden red, like their Dam, they looked even more seal like, their heads still round and chubby as their sleek little bodies. The perfect smell of them, their strange smoky breath. We were all equally entranced, forgot our awe at the richness of our surroundings and heads bent, bodies curved protectively over these adorable babies, we sat cradling them to a background of Henny’s voice, strange , wild as geese honking through the skies. She, unable to hear herself, spoke in piercing tones, high, rich, almost operatic in comparison to our flat Australian drawl. She was utterly fascinating!!!
Finally, one perfect male pup was chosen, returned to his Mother, and we all sat down at a beautifully carved table for refreshments. Served on finest china was an assortment of cakes (you’ll find similar in Acland Street, St Kilda), and small cups of very strong Turkish Coffee. The manners of the adults was an education in deception and hypocrisy….as we kids reached for cakes……we were warned by our parent’s friends that “she was dirty, the food would make us sick”, and right there speaking about the Countess as though she wasn’t aware….they pushed European Delicacies under the table, into the eager mouths of the small hounds gathered beneath, whilst smiling up at her, as she brought more food, saying how delicious it all was.
A date was set for puppy collection, and we all headed out into the big beautiful rambling garden, back to the car……the excitement and disappointment was overwhelming…..I didn’t want to leave all those gorgeous little dogs, the tiny chosen one, and I especially didn’t want to leave the Countess…
Everything about her made me feel good…..her simple clothes, her bewitching voice, her animal smell, her capable gentle hands, her way with her dogs………. I wanted to stay forever.
And on the journey home, lulled by the motion of the car, falling into sleep……..
the adults voices drifting back to me….”she’s mixed with royalty, you know……it was Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia who gave her the shrunken head”
MA© Summer 2018
To be continued….#puppy collection #the shrunken head #odd relations with the Museum.