And how I’m interested in meeting people of all kinds so I can interview them for my articles? Well, this weekend I met an incredible couple who have such an amazing story to tell that I think I could write it six – eight different ways and sell it to that many magazines too (at least).
These are the ‘Salt of the Earth’ people that I’m talking about. People that have battled so much adversity in their lives that you wonder how they are still even standing upright. But they don’t talk about that much. No, at their home you are made to feel part of the family (it makes my place seem quiet) and there is so much warmth and laughter ringing out that you never want to leave.
Margaret wrapped me into her warm embrace the moment I stepped out of my car. What a relief; this is the first time I have ever ventured away from home on my own (my children are all still in shock) for a whole weekend and, even though it is only an hour from home, all kinds of fears were creeping in. What if they are axe murderers or they try to drug me or worse still, they just don’t like me (it does happen from time to time :)) and then I’m left with crippling anxiety in my room on my own for a whole 30 hours. What if, what if, what if… damn the what ifs, it’s time for change !
In a previous life Margaret was a school principal and Tom was in construction and building surveying. They bought this land here in Alexandra, Victoria, Australia back in ’98 with the intention of building a B ‘n B but, well, one thing led to another and here they are all of these years later with a country haven called Fawcett Farmstay which does a massive turnover of guests who get to stay in one of the three charming cottages they have built (or in the main house like me).
Margaret and Tom were married in 1966 (do the math, it’s a long time) and have endured intolerable obstacles that make your toes curl – you come away wondering how two people can be so giving, sharing, positive and humorous after what they have been through. Chief among the difficulties is Tom’s health; he has been told to say goodbye to his family and enjoy his last days more than once by the medical profession and so, as you can imagine, they have both learnt to grab each and every moment of their lives and live it to the fullest without reservation. Tom jokes that the first time he was told of his impending death the first cottage was delivered to the new land in Alexandra and he decided that he just didn’t have time to die! The next time he was told to say goodbye his first grandchild was born and he promised the tiny newborn (photos to follow) that he would be sticking around for a while yet and be the best grandfather yet.
Margaret had to learn to embrace her almost-widowhood as well and built up a big network. She has friends she has met in Alex that visit virtually every day to check in on her. She calls them her ‘Guardian Angels’ as they often help her to get the cottages ready for new guests. But the truth is that Fawcett Farmstay is actually a veritable Half-Way House. It has an ‘open door’ philosophy and there is a constant coming and going of people from all over the world. Some come to help and some come to be helped.
Margaret and Tom have fostered children for 16 years (sigh, I know, they really are that incredible) and I had the privilege of meeting their foster son who they have parented full time for the entire 16 years – as well as their own two boys. You see, Tom comes from a family of 22 siblings. Yes, you read that right! When asked if they were Irish catholic he jokingly replies, “no, just sloppy Protestants.” And Margaret comes from a family of six kids, two of which were adopted, so it seemed only natural that they would want to increase their family size. She also talks of being a ‘problem solver,’ and there may also be, mixed in there somewhere, a philosophy of wanting to pay-it-forward.
Over the 16 years that they have been on this land they have hosted over 600 backpackers. I met two of them when I was there who are working toward getting their second year visas. They are French and unfortunately the language barrier meant that I couldn’t glean as much information from them as I would have liked but still, it was lovely to listen to their beautiful accents, even if understanding what was being said was sketchy. Margaret and Tom have so many stories to tell about the backpackers that they have hosted that it took up virtually the whole evening I was there, while dining on roast pork in front of the roaring coonara (fireplace). They search for helpers via Workaway and HelpX which are two websites that can take you all over the world and indeed Workaway is how I came to find about this Farmstay.
There are many articles I would like to write about this couple and their experiences and I have a feeling I may be going back there very soon. I asked them if I could come back seasonally as well to re-photograph the changing landscape and of course the response was a resounding yes.
Margaret emailed me last night to ask if I got home ok. That’s why I call people like this ‘Salt of the Earth’ people; they are decent, country people who care about other people and just keep on smiling no matter what life throws at them. True role models for all of us.
Foster son Dylan (top left) and first grandson and parents.
When the women gather in the kitchen all kinds of secrets are told some of which I was privy too: forbidden babies raised as parents own children or adopted, nursing training and shananigans that took place decades ago between women that have been friends since kindergarten.