Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frame by Frame

June and Janet camping at Rakaia, 1937

My mother June Gordon died on July 12th 2008 at the age of 80. She was the last-lived and the longest-lived of the five Frame children. June and Janet were great friends, life-long companions who supported each other through their crises and celebrated each other's joys and successes. They often lived near each other, and though they both occasionally exhibited flashes of sibling rivalry, they never fell out.

At the funeral I said: "You can learn quite a lot about Mum’s life from her famous sister's autobiographical trilogy, but there is one book of Janet Frame’s that will NOT give you any good biographical data about June, and that is the novel Owls Do Cry."

A great challenge Mum faced was to have been widely assumed to have been the character 'Chicks' in that novel. The character is drawn satiricially, even cruelly, of a materialistic, vain and shallow person, actually very unlike Mum - but strangers were willing to believe it was her based on a larger myth about Janet Frame, that her fiction was documentary rather than the creative work of imagination it actually was.

Many details about Chicks/Teresa confirm that she was not solely drawn from June – including her marriage to a local boy – but even so several commentators made ignorant assumptions that for a time cemented in the travesty. Janet said often and emphatically that the portrait of Chicks was not intended to be of her actual sister, and Mum eventually forgave Janet for using enough of the details of her life to mislead people into thinking it was an accurate portrait.

The early tragedies they had experienced had thrown them together in a closeness and a loyalty that never wavered. Janet was always included as a treasured member of our immediate family and I'm deeply grateful to my mother for sharing Janet with me (and me with Janet) and for including me in their friendship.

Janet being supportive at the launch of June's book of poems, August 2003


Unknown said...

Back in 1986, when I was 15, I stayed with your Mum and Dad at a Labour Party Conference in Levin. They were both lovely people Now, 31 years later I am reading Michael King's biography and remembering. I grew up in Stratford and I didn't realize that Janet was there for some of those years - as were you, June and Wilson:-)

Pamela Gordon said...

Oh thanks for the sweet story about my parents! Janet Frame just quietly went about her business, preferring to live anonymously so she could work and socialize in peace, and not many people around her knew *who* she was. She liked it that way, even though this quiet *normal* life she led, did tend to encourage the myth that she was some sort of antisocial recluse. She was very friendly and maybe you even met or chatted to her without even knowing who she was! She was good with people. But she really did try to avoid the fake friends and the superficiality that go with being a celebrity.

Unknown said...

Yes I lived near your teenaged home in Northcote and met Janet at the bus stop where she shared a practical tip: to take coats off while riding the bus.