Sparking joy, turning back time

Living in Tokyo for a week taught me that you can live comfortably with a lot less stuff.  In Australia, for example, our living room is the epicentre of activity throughout daylight hours but redundant once we trudge off to our bedrooms. In Tokyo, once the day was cleared away, we rolled out our futons. The living room became the bedroom.

This spacial awareness was renewed by a New York Times article on Marie Kondo. Ms Kondo is a declutterer who recommends you look at each of your possessions and ask, “does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, you get rid of the item.

In a burst of enthusiasm over summer I began throwing stuff away with a ruthlessness that would have been inconceivable without the ‘spark joy’ philosophy. As an author who stores scraps and detritus that might one day inspire a story, Ms Kondo’s guidance that paper never sparks joy was truly liberating.

As I shredded, I found a bag of cards from my 21st birthday. I paused the paper cull to flick through them. Then sat cross-legged on the floor and began reading them properly.

This personal time capsule contained friends, family and acquaintances from a decade long gone. There was an ex-girlfriend and a couple of unrequited crushes who all still own a piece of my heart.

There were names I didn’t remember. Not even a little bit. That felt wrong.

There were friendships that have endured all manner of change and challenge – and flourished – and those that have fallen by the wayside.

There were assessments of my young character and prayers for my future conduct. I hope I’ve lived up to at least some of them.

There was the name of a family member who died tragically the following year, leaving a wound that may never heal.

Best of all, there were faces I’d not so much forgotten but hadn’t considered for a long time. It’s International Women’s Day today and the perfect time to remember one of those faces, the amazing Ivy.

Ivy was a widow who lived on a sheep farm run by her son and his family. She hired me to tackle jobs she didn’t want to burden her busy son with — mainly mowing, pruning and splitting wood.

This fiercely independent, funny woman  particularly wanted me to prune a cyprus hedge that ran along her driveway for several hundred metres. When I arrived on the designated morning, Ivy was nowhere to be seen but I could hear the snapping of pruning shears.

Following the sound through her cottage garden I discovered 80-something Ivy wedged between a wire fence and the corner of the hedge, pruning with gusto. When I asked her why she hadn’t waited for me, she replied that there was a thorny japonica in that corner and she didn’t want me getting scratched.

It took me several days to prune the hedge and Ivy would insist on me stopping for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. Her cinnamon teacake and strong cuppa combos remain unsurpassed.

I always felt bad stopping work to eat cake but came to realise Ivy was paying me for companionship as much as gardening grunt-work. Looking back, I wish I’d sat and listened to more of her stories, rather than rushing back out to earn a few extra dollars.

We lost contact as my university studies became more demanding and I found full-time work. I learned Ivy had passed away and didn’t attend her funeral but, every time I pass her driveway (and that hedge,) it puts a smile on my face.

Her 21st birthday card is signed, ‘kind thoughts from friend Ivy’.

On International Women’s Day, in the freshly minted Year of the Ram,  I salute Ivy who befriended a boy 60 years her junior, made him laugh, protected him from thorns and made pots of tea full of smiles and stories. Thank you.


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