One of the best things about the internet and all our fast and far-flung communication these days is that you get to meet great people you otherwise might never have crossed paths with. Today’s intrepid Reflector is one such person – Linda Visman.

I can’t even remember how it is we actually met – online, that is – but I had the lovely pleasure of meeting her for realz at a library event at Lake Macquarie a few weeks ago. Linda is a writer, reader and blogger herself, and she’s a big-hearted woman, generous in spirit and mind.

And here she is answering our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I am the middle child of the five children (two boys and three girls) who lived beyond birth. I was born of working class parents in Oswaldtwistle, a cotton town in Lancashire, northern England, sixty-eight years ago – though I am sure there’s a mistake in the number there; I don’t feel that old!

I am a mother, grandmother, wife to my second, wonderful husband of eleven years and a lover of books. I am a former teacher of all levels and ages; the people I have taught in a formal sense range from four years old to eighty-three. And I am also a writer, after finally discovering, about ten or eleven years ago that I could write stories as well as uni assignments (thanks to hubby for encouraging me in that!).

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

My family went through many hard times when I was young. We were poor, Dad worked hard to build our own house, then almost died of polio. I had to deal with a religion that created lots of guilt through my never being good enough. But there was always something I could do that allowed me to escape into different worlds. You guessed it – I was an avid reader. I can’t remember how often I would be so totally immersed in a book that I wouldn’t hear my mother calling me to do something. She got annoyed, but she understood – reading was also her pleasure.

What does home mean for you?

Even though I was born in England and have always had an unrequited desire to go back for a visit there, I love my adopted country where I have lived for over sixty-two years. Australia is and will always be my home. I can live and have lived in a wide range of locations, climates, geographical areas, towns – but not cities. I have been fortunate to get to know many lovely places in my journey through life, as well as many lovely people.

Because I have lived in so many places in my life, I have come to see home as being the place I am comfortable in with the people I love. It is where I am relaxed and happy and can do the things that interest me. My home now is with my husband in a lakeside village where others come for holidays. We have made this house our own, surrounded by trees and birds that make it really feel alive.

It is the place I have now lived in for the second-longest period in my life – twelve years. We have many friends around us who enrich our lives, and great country and gorgeous lake to visit and to sail on. It is also the base from where we set out to visit our far-flung family: my five sons, my husband’s three children and their families; our total of seven siblings, and some of our friends. We love travelling to see them all, but it is extra special when we come back to this home of ours.

Lake Macquarie

What makes you smile?

There are many things that make me smile, but particularly the following:

  • Seeing my grandchildren at play. I love when they want me to be with them;
  • a beautiful sunset (I rarely see sunrises J);
  • the beauty and grandeur of nature and its power awe me, but it is the little things in it that make me smile: the sound of the possums as they race across our galvanised iron roof at night; a flower blooming in a dead area; a pelican gliding in to land on the lake and putting down its feet to brake;
  • memories of my times teaching in remote area schools in the Northern Territory;
  • the sound of children playing – anywhere and at any time, but especially with an animal;
  • the thought of how fortunate I am in my life, even though we are not well off financially;
  • I even smile when I make a comment on a well-written post on Facebook or a blog, and I have to include a smiley face to show that.

I think those who do not smile much have very sad lives. I love the feeling when your mouth widens in pleasure, your cheeks and eyes crinkle and a wonderful feeling of joy envelops you.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

When my children were still young (my eldest was fourteen), my marriage broke up – partly from incompatibility and partly from my falling in love with someone else. I had to leave him but, through circumstances I could do nothing about, I also had to leave my children behind. That was the hardest and worst thing I have done in my life.

The following years taught me how one decision could change lives so much – not just my own, but also those of others. The courts, so conservative then, refused to give me custody of my five beautiful and innocent children and I had to go through years of limited contact not knowing how that would affect my long-term relationship with them.

I have been extremely fortunate that in the end our relationships, both individual and as a family, are strong, loving and accepting. It could so easily have been terribly different.

Holland boys Maimuru 1982

Who or what is the love of your life?

That’s a hard one, because the love of your life can change over time. My children and their families, though, will also be my greatest love. That will never change. The love of my life for almost twenty years was a woman I met at a bible study group when I was thirty-six. She became my partner and we embarked together on a life of love, and loss of our children, a life that was at times insecure, at others stable, full of challenge and adventure and, in the end, loss.

Now, my wonderfully loving and supportive husband of over eleven years is my rock, my mentor and my soul-mate. Our relationship may not have the physical passion of our younger selves, but I am older and more settled now. We share a deep, honest, trusting and more mature love than we might have if we were young. Our love is full of respect for each other and free from the need to impress.

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

My dad went through WWII as a fighter pilot, and Mum as a munitions worker and worried wife. Dad first applied for assisted passage to Australia in 1947, but it wasn’t until January 1954 that he was successful. We left England for Australia that February, and this opened up possibilities and opportunities we’d never have had. Our lives changed beyond measure.

People tell me I’ve had an interesting life, and I agree. For a start, my working class Catholic childhood taught me both positive and negative lessons, but also gave me a real appreciation of where I came from and what my parents, grandparents and those before them went through that resulted in my even being in this world. It has given me an appreciation for history and a strong dislike for institutionalised religion.

I have been fortunate that decisions I made that seemed wrong to many at the time have actually given me a greater experience of the world and of people in both a personal sense and a more balanced perspective on life. I have learned what fear of those who are different or who do not conform means – from both the receiving end and from working with Indigenous Australians in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. From my dad, I have learned the value of living with an attitude of gratitude.

I have discovered just how important family is; circumstances could have led them to deny me, or me to deny some of them, but didn’t. I have discovered how wonderful it is to have children who are good people of whom I can be proud, and who are carrying on a legacy of love and care for their world and its inhabitants. I have discovered the destructive nature of hate and the redemptive nature of forgiveness through my personal relationships and through observation of the past and of the world around me.

So I suppose I can say that past experiences, my history and background have worked, with my own efforts and insights, to give me more understanding and acceptance of people, and also a strong sense of what is wrong with our political, economic, social and religious systems, and the need to change them for the benefit of all. It’s also made me aware that, being an introvert, I need to retreat from the world at times and renew myself.

Thank you so much, Linda, for sharing this glimpse of you with us, and with such honesty and warmth. Cheers to a long and fruitful friendship in words!

For those who’d like to find out more about Linda and her writing, you can browse her wonderful blog here.