The girl’s feeling a little blue today. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the weather or the onset of the cold or too much time to think. I miss my mum. She was remarkable in a very ordinary way. She was one of those well-spoken private school girls whose parents went to great lengths to ensure she had a good education. The only daughter of Welsh parents, simply because my Nana was RH negative and lost two subsequent children before there was a post-natal treatment for this rare blood group. I’ve inherited the strain but these days, it’s a simple injection after the birth of your first child and all is well. I only found out this fact as a young mother myself, my Nana never said anything about losing a full-term baby and a nine month old. How devastating that must have been for her. I miscarried my first pregnancy and was unconsolable until I realised it happens to 75% of women.
My mum was the daughter of a conscientious objector, a simple but gruff man who just wanted his slippers ready when he got home and tea on the table. Her mother also worked but wasn’t the slipper-grabbing kind. She was a flapper, an Auntie Mame, a party girl to whom routine, organisation and dinner at 6 meant nothing. I think this is the reason my own mum was so ‘straight’ and sensible.
They lived in Manchester, the hub of industrialisation and major target during the war. Mum was evacuated to Wales for safety where she lived with her Grandfather, a grocery store owner who dealt in the black market and her Uncle Donald, the “Crunchy Pickles” magnate. Avid Welsh Evangelists who attended Horeb every Sunday, cleansed their souls, then proceeded to operate illegally during the war years.
Her Grandfather’s black market trade wasn’t as we know it today, not guns or drugs, but flour, butter, sugar, sweets and nylons. Apparently he kept the profits of his activities under the bed in an old leather suitcase.
After the war, she trained as a nurse at Withenshaw hospital in Cheshire where she met my Dad while he was visiting a sick relative. She also contracted tuberculosis, nursing sickly children. She had half her lung removed just weeks after getting married and spent the first two years of her married life in hospital.
After her recovery she had four children, me, the eldest, a son, another son and many years later an unexpected but very welcome daughter. We lived well in a nice house on quarter of an acre overlooking a golf course with a country aspect. We didn’t know it but things were getting tough and so when my Dad was offered a position in Bombay or Melbourne, they thought about their options. She would never have lived in India, although I often wonder what I would have been liked raised there and attending boarding school in England. We chose Australia and became ten pound poms – Australia offered assisted passages to migrants in the 60s and early 70’s to bolster their small population. After six weeks on a small cruise liner and separated by 12,000 miles, we landed in Wooloomooloo and spent a few weeks in Sydney before driving to our Melbourne home.
I remember her being incredibly homesick. For two or three years, she cried regularly, missing her beloved Mammy and Daddy and feeling isolated in this strange country that had a term for the English – “Whingeing Poms” because we always complained that the sausages weren’t as tasty, the bacon wasn’t as good as Danish, the furniture was badly made, the shops were shit and the people were unwelcoming. I guess we suffered much like any other migrant family as the waves of different nationalities came into this very multicultural domain. Australia is a nation of poms, spiks, wogs, chinks and curry munchers to the older Aussie Generations. It’s currently the Islamic Lebanese and Somalis that are bearing the brunt of racist venom but next year it will be some other wave of migrants.
After two years in Melbourne, my father was transferred to much more expensive Sydney. They lost money on the sale of their house and had to stretch to buy a modest but comfortable newish home in the North Western Suburbs of Sydney. It was hotter, more humid and she used to feel exhausted in the heat. As the family grew we moved onto acreage and that’s where I find myself now. Living next door to the paternal/maternal home, now occupied by BabyBro.
As we grew, being a stay-at-home mum began to bore her and she became tetchy. She decided to complete her Midwifery certificate and went back to nursing full time. Shifts and all. It was difficult with four kids ranging from 6 to 18 but she was determined and thank God she did. She won an academic prize for her achievement and began working at our local hospital. She was a wonderful midwife and now has a Maternity Ward named after her. Funnily she refused to be present during the birth of all our children, too much tension. She would book us in, take our observations then retreat home and hang by the phone but it was like having our own childcare nurse at our disposal. Poor BabySis had her babies much later and didn’t benefit from her nurturing during that time of life.
She was tough, a disciplinarian and a back-of-the-leg smacker, usually involving wet rubber gloves, but always sentimental and emotionally physical. A hug from her was so intense, you had to prize yourself away, it always felt like the last she would ever bestow. When you were sick, a bed was made up on the lounge with a little table, fizzy drink, some teen magazines and always vegemite soldier boys or in my case baby desserts and ice cream as I was a chronic sufferer of tonsillitis until I had the bastards removed in my 20s.
She liked to work evenings, it gave her the opportunity to taste the day then go to work at 2.00pm – 10.00pm. My Dad used to pick her up (to keep him off the whiskey) but this proved fatal in 1992 when one Wednesday, he went for his usual sojourn to the hospital, just a 10 minute ride from us. He was involved in a head-on collision with a four wheel drive returning from the scene of a murder. Obscure? Bizarre? Fantastic? Absolutely mind-numbing. The protagonist had engineered an ‘accident’ after murdering an ex-girlfriend and dumping her body to give himself an alibi but hadn’t banked on his victim having just half a lung. She died within hours. My father was never the same and we didn’t pursue the issue through the courts - it was all too sudden and too painful. We were told by the police that he was sentenced to 9 years jail on a plea bargain, she was 62 years old and that bastard is now free to wonder the earth.
I still see her fleeting past my kitchen window in her white uniform. She used to come in at 10.00pm occasionally to have a ‘wind down’ chat and a cup of tea before going home to bed. We had private, intimate chats, she helped me enormously with routine, children, relationships, housekeeping, economising and whilst she could turn the mood of the room sour with a single look, she could also cause an eruption of laughter with a well placed joke or naïve action.
I don’t know why I miss her today particularly but I do. She was everything I aspire to be, lively, well-travelled, well-read, gossipy, grouchy, well disciplined, caring and incredibly supportive, although sometimes so naïve it was embarrassing. Upon meeting the parents of one of my brother’s friends (who’s real name she never knew), she smiled boldly, outstretched her hand and said “Oh, pleased to meet you, you must be Wanker’s parents”. Once the faux pas was explained she shrank with embarrassment having no idea that the kid’s real name wasn’t Wanker or even worse what the word wanker meant.
On another drunken after-dinner occasion, we were playing charades. She stood bolt upright, nominated a film, passed wind then fled to the kitchen at speed. Of course, the movie was “Gone with the Wind”. It was so out of character for her to fart that we all rolled on the floor in laughter, tears streaming. It took hours for us to compose ourselves.
I hope she knew that I loved and valued her because I rarely told her. She would be gutted to know that I don’t even visit her little plot at Castlebrook Cemetary. My memories of her are so alive, I can’t bare looking at that pathetic little stone which simply says “Much Loved”. My Dad is now parked next to her after his battle with Cancer in 2002 but that’s another post.
This is just a potted tribute to one of the most important influences on my life.
I love you cariad.