Helle

 

“I had a girlfriend in Denmark”…apologies to Danish author Karen Blixen and for similarities to the first line from the movie, “Out of Africa”.

Helle was a truly magnificent woman. She was striking to look at; a physically strong and powerfully built woman in her mid-twenties, with a very gentle and loving nature. I met her when an old friend of mine who had married a Danish girl visited me for a weekend with Helle in tow. Helle ended up remaining with me for a couple of weeks after my friends had left. She then got a job fruit picking at an apple orchard a short distance away and stayed in a caravan on the farm where she worked. I remember she brought me home some special apples once that she had picked from a tree she had discovered had particularly sweet fruit. She was always doing sweet things like that- pardon the pun. She explained that she would randomly taste the fruit of different trees and every now and then, come across a tree that stood out as very special for producing such sweetness. I thought to myself that this was a good metaphor for how I felt about Helle.

Helle was extremely considerate and caring but perhaps because of that, found it difficult to commit herself to a single relationship. She had been hurt badly in the past and she had taken herself to a tattoo parlor to get a small bird tattooed on her ankle as a reminder “to stay free”. This was decades before tattoos on women became fashionable. It is somewhat ironic that she was so elusive, because I naively felt at the time that she was the one woman I had ever met that I could stay with forever; she was just so tranquil and undemanding to be around and she had such a beautiful, tender quality. Helle had relationships with both men and women and was still unsure about her sexuality. The painful break-up that precipitated the tattoo was with a man back in Denmark. It seems an oxymoron, but I believe her relative promiscuity and lack of commitment to a single relationship was probably a result of hyposensitivity. I think that it was a classic case of a defense mechanism to shield from emotional disappointment. Then again, Scandinavian attitudes towards sex and relationships seemed much more liberal than Australian ones in those days.

The house Helle and I were staying in was a large, cold house on the edge of town that was on an acre or so of land dotted with trees and shrubs. I was sharing the house with two male flat mates, a teacher and an auto electrician, who were very impressed with Helle. One time I came home from work to see one of them chatting to Hella while she was sunbathing topless on the front lawn. He was embarrassed as I approached but Helle thought nothing of it. We had a very small hot water service which regularly ran out of hot water at morning shower times, so Helle  and I would shower together before I left for work. The guys were very jealous. I was in heaven- or should I say Valhalla.

Helle moved to Sydney but we stayed in touch. I was visiting with my parents when I arranged with Hele to take her to a first grade rugby league match. I was going to the game with my father anyway, and she had never been to a live game. I thought that she might find it interesting. The poor girl was traumatized. We sat on the grass quite near the action and Helle shuddered every time players were tackled in our vicinity. She could not believe how violent the sport was nor could she believe that I had once played the game. Helle’s English was excellent but sometimes her accent and the way she expressed herself was amusing. Danish people find it very difficult to pronounce the letter “V”. Sometimes, Helle got her idioms wrong. Danes have similar but slightly different expressions. Of course, sayings, proverbs and figures of speech usually make no literal, linguistic sense at all and are very easy for foreigners to mess up. While we were watching the rugby league match, Helle told me that: “the wiolence of this sport gives me chicken skin”. After I almost choked and had stopped laughing, I explained that we say “goose bumps” in English.

I have a Ry Cooder LP record that is entitled “Chicken Skin Music”. It is a great album of traditional blues and old-time country music. The LP features the Mexican musician, Flaco Jiménez, on a few Tex-Mex inspired country songs. Flaco Jiménez was considered the best piano accordion player in the world at the time (if you ever get to listen to the album, make sure you check out the track, “He’ll Have to Go”, for a magnificent piano accordion performance- guaranteed to give you “chicken skin”). I never understood or appreciated the title of that album until Helle came up with that lyrical comment at the football. Now, every time I listen to that record I think of Helle.

After the football match I drove her to the house where she was staying. A good looking guy greeted her at the door with a kiss and a warm embrace; her new lover. That was that.

Helle wrote me a warm and beautiful message on a scrap of cardboard before she left my house on her way to Sydney that I still have. I keep it in a paperback copy of the famous William Wharton novel, “Birdy”, that she gave me as a going away present. I reciprocated much later by writing a song she had inspired and sending it to her in Denmark. She was living in a female commune that grew their own “wedgetables”. Helle wrote back and told me that she had pinned a line from the song above her bed.

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