Meredith Cornell, 43, has been reunited with husband Darren, and children Phoebe and Scott, after spending over half-an-hour in quiet, well-deserved solitude in Ulmarra’s iconic bookshop last Sunday afternoon.
Mrs Cornell was reported missing soon after 12.30pm local time, when son Scott declared his appetite sufficiently ravenous for lunch to be pushed immediately to the top of the family’s itinerary, only to find his mother not at his disposal.
“We’d been down the river and seen the Pelicans an’ that,” recalled a still-shaken Scott Cornell, 13. “We’d checked out the Gallery that had all that cool stuff, and we were cruisin’ up the street and Mum just peeled off at some stage an’ then I was like ‘where’s Mum?’ an’ Phoebe was like, ‘I dunno, stupid’, an’ Dad was just like starin’ into space and I’m like ‘but I’m hungry’ an’ that…”
A search party – poorly co-ordinated by husband Darren and even more poorly executed by himself and the two children – failed to turn up any sign of the beloved matriarch, prompting grave fears, not so much for her wellbeing, but rather that they might miss the cut-off time for lunch meals in the picturesque riverfront gardens of the Ulmarra Hotel.
For her part, Mrs Cornell alleges she shared her plans to detour into the bookshop on numerous occasions.
As she recalls wearily: “I told them, ‘I’m just ducking into the bookshop for a bit, I’ll catch you up’… I’m not sure how much more explicit I could have been, really.
Mind you, I did spend a fair bit longer in there than anticipated.
On entry to the labyrinthine shop on the corner of Coldstream and River streets, Mrs Cornell reports experiencing an immediate and overwhelming sense of calmness and curiosity, surrounded at every turn by books of all shapes, sizes and vintages, arranged alphabetically and categorised by genre – a magical metropolis of book-lined avenues and thoroughfares, with miniature high-rise towers of paperbacks and hardcovers – a constellation of creativity, every book containing a universe within. The stuff of a book-lover’s dreams.
Oblivious to her beloved family’s inept search and rescue efforts, we can reveal Meredith Cornell pressed her way deeper into the shop’s deceptively cavernous interior, taking great pleasure in plucking promising paperbacks, notable novels, beguiling biographies, intriguing imprints and vintage volumes from shelves as she went along, opening pages at random, and wistfully taking herself into the world of the author for a paragraph or two.
And when she’d settled on a dozen promising selections, so began the pleasurable torture of deciding what to buy, and what to leave behind. She’d intended to allow herself only one or two purchases, but considering the abundance on offer – not to mention how many books had been written by her favourite authors over the last decade or so, (while the corresponding years of parenting hadn’t left her much reading time) – she allowed herself to buy half a dozen.
Fortified by retail therapy of the best, literary kind, she stepped back out into the warm sunshine of a gorgeous winter Saturday in Ulmarra and immediately into the outstretched arms of her family who seemed disproportionately relieved to see her.
We can report that the reunited Cornell family proceeded immediately to the Ulmarra Hotel and happily devoured a leisurely lunch, while taking in the vista that lay before them: the shining Clarence looking glassy and blue; Eastern Water Dragons doing their mini-dinosaur impersonations on the grassy riverbank; a pair of Sea Eagles circling on high, and the Ulmarra Ferry diligently back-and-forthing downriver. Sublime.
And as the family decided that, yes, dessert was definitely a just reward given their tireless search-and-rescue efforts for their wayward mother, Meredith Cornell looked down at her books, and thought fondly of the quiet joy of that stolen half hour, alone with her thoughts in the bookshop.
And she thought even more fondly of the moment husband Darren had walked in to the bookshop, looking for her, when she’d been in there for only 10 minutes.
How with a smile and a nod of understanding, he wordlessly turned around, walked back out telling the kids in the doorway, “Nup, she’s not in there, maybe she’s gone down the street a bit.”
Ulmarra was a bit special like that.