You wouldn’t think changing a hotel’s name would cause such a stir.
I knew that even if I lived to 100 I’d never be a local, but I hadn’t counted on becoming the town pariah in my old age. Not that I care.
I can thank Kenneth’s sister’s son, Derek for the name.
“These scones are fully sick Aunt Jean,” he said to me while tucking in to some afternoon tea after football training.
Well, I saw red. I had him by the ear, before he could stutter out an explanation.
“It…it…it…just means they’re totally awesome.”
The things they come up with. You have to laugh. But the name grew on me. I suppose you could say it was a bit of an ‘up yours’ to the ladies of the CWA. They wouldn’t have me on the committee because I’m from east of the Divide. Not that they said so, but I knew.
The ‘Settlers Rest’ was Kenneth’s first love. And his last. You’d think it’d been in the family for generations, not knocked up in the sixties, the way he carried on about it.
He’ll be turning in his grave now. I’m counting on him getting over it before we meet again.
“The traveling salesmen, that’s our market,” he’d say. “They know a quality hotel when they see one.”
“Move with the times Kenneth,” I’d say. I’d show him the young people in the street with beads in their hair and bags on their backs. Christ knows what they saw in this town. Australiana, I suppose. “We need to get some of them in here. That’s the market of the future.”
“Dirty troublemakers, the lot of them.” Kenneth would say, banging the jugs down on the bar. “Scare off our clientele.”
I always thought they looked nice though. I’d see them down at IGA, pondering over groceries in their foreign accents. It made me wonder what supermarkets were like where they came from, that they seemed to find ours so strange.
Kenneth’s mother hasn’t spoken to me since the sign went up. Her loss.
I’m quite proud of it, especially the smiling Buddha that Derek painted. He said that’s what they like and it seems to’ve worked. He’s a pretty talented kid, though his mother doesn’t think so.
Kenneth was wrong about one thing. The traveling salesmen love my backpackers, particularly the girls. Dear little things they are, with their pierced noses and threadbare clothes. They probably like it here because I remind them of their grandmothers.
I’ve been run off my feet since I got into Lonely Planet. Try Jean’s traditional Australian cooking, it said. Seems that not only are they exotic to me, I am exotic to them.
My scones are their favorite.
“Is this a spashal Orstaylian recipe ma’am?” a lovely American boy asked me.
Got me thinking. I wouldn’t mind seeing a place where they don’t make scones. What do ladies bring to cake stalls in those countries?
If I close my eyes I can picture them leaping out of a Cadillac in sunglasses and high heels with a plate of Pecan Pie in America. I can see them skiing down through the pine trees holding a steaming Apple Strudel in Austria. But what do the mothers do in Japan when the school needs to raise money? Hold a sushi stall?
I asked one of the young Japanese girls.
“Yes, yes, sushi,” she smiled and nodded.
I’m not sure that we understood each other. The idea that there might be completely different ways of doing things wouldn’t leave me alone. Night after night I worried about it. If it wasn’t supermarkets in Sweden or petrol stations in Peru, it was toilets in Tokyo or ice-cream in Indonesia.
Eventually I knew I’d have to find out for myself.
I’ve sewn the Australian flag on my new backpack and I’m counting down the days.
I can hear Kenneth turning in his grave right now.
This short story was a winner in the ABC Regional Short Story Competition in 2005 and was read on ABC Radio National.