Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Five Longest Years

One of the most visited posts on this blog is "When an old man dies a library burns down" and even now more than three years after I wrote it people still visit.  Google those words and my blog appears as number one in the rankings for the phrase which is interesting for me if not for anyone else.  But the sentiments the words express are one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place, so that one day, my kids and their kids may know a bit about me through what I write.   

Woody Allen said that some people seek immortality by creating great works of art or writing great literature, he preferred to achieve immortality by not dying.   But for me this is no yearning for immortality.  It is more about the frustrations I have had as I've grown older about not asking my ancestors questions when I had the chance to.  So here hopefully lie some of the pages from the library that is me that may survive that inevitable burning down.  And in the first follow up to Deb's story let me fill in some of the gaps.

We moved to Box Hill South when I was around 18 months old.  It was a time when we still had an outdoor dunny and a potty under the bed for those night time wees that sometimes were needed.  We didn't have any electricity to the toilet so a night time visit needed a torch and most of the time it didn't work.  Far safer to use the potty because there was always plenty of spiders around as well.

The roads weren't made and the gutters were open ditches full of interesting things to collect and look at.  In spring and summer the grass grew head high and there were all sorts of caterpillars, butterflies and moths living in the tufts.   The water in the drains also had weird red worm like things waving in the current like little sea anenomes, but the biggest critters were the rats and Dad used to stand in Massey Street and pour a few gallons of petrol into the drains followed by a match.  The resulting whhoofff would see the rats scurry from the grass and scatter across the road.  I think the only thing it really did was drive the rats under the house.

In summer the grass yellowed and dried and in winter the puddles in the potholes froze.  We'd often put on the gumboots and go trampling through them splashing, making skid pans and generally getting filthy.

The world was a much smaller place in the years before I turned five.   It consisted of our house and one or two each side of it and a couple across the road.    There were the Hoogens across the road, Anthony around my age and Frances was Karens and I recall spending a lot of time playing with them.  There is a photo of the four of us in our back yard with buckets on our heads playing Zig and Zag [a couple of TV clowns for those too young to remember].   They moved away when I was about five, I sort of remember the time because I know Anthony went to St Scholasticas Catholic School on Burwood Road and I don't think I had yet started school.  I remember standing at the window watching them drive away and being devastated because my best friend was moving away.  In fact, at that time he was my only friend.

Lot's of things were home delivered, the dunny man would come and hoist the pan on his head and carry it out to his truck.  The best part of that visit was that for a short time, until the pan started to fill, the flies were a bit less thick around the back yard.   I have a vague memory of the smell but there was always a bottle of phenyl beside the sit that was liberally poured over the expulsions.

Mr Peowrie delivered our briquettes.   I remember him being a really old bloke in a really old truck who was strong as an ox and he'd bring in 10 or 12 hessian sacks of briquettes and pour them into a wood box Dad had built outside the back door.

Bread and milk were delivered separately by horse and cart.  It was exciting some morninggs being up early enough to listen to the clip clop of the horses as they trotted down the street, the milkman running from side to side collecting empty bottles and delivering full ones.

In summer there was the Loys lemonade man and Mr Whippy who were regular visitors.

The postman came on a red bike twice a day and if I remember correctly he also came on Saturdays.   At Christmas time Dad always left tips out for all of those who home delivered stuff to us.  For the men it was usually hald a dozen bottles fo beer, for the paper boy a few bob in an envelope.  He always said that if you looked after them at Christmas they'd look after you during the year.

The backyard was one playground and the old hills hoist was used a swing unless Mum caught us in which case it was used for drying clothes.   We had pedal cars and bikes and spent a lot of time riding them in circles around the house.

It's funny how five years back them seemed so much longer than five years now.

Unlike Karen and Debra, the latter of who didn't arrive in the family until I was seven so is absent from this tale, I had my own bedroom.   Mum and Dad put vintage car wall paper on my wall and I remember learning to count the cars on the patterns.   Funny I can also clearly remember the dust motes dancing in the sunbeams as they streamed in my window in the mornings and at night time I could hear the train whistles on the Box Hill line and the steam that came out of the factory at Bowater Scott up on Middleborough Road.

I have this vague memory of going for a walk with Pa Joyce and watching the fires in the Dandenongs in Melbourne's east.  We must have walked up to the Eley and Middleborough Road intersection because that is the only place we could have seen them from.

After I turned five the world expanded but that's a tale for another day

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deb's early years

Well the challenge went out to my sisters to start telling their story and what they remember and it's interesting for me to see what Deb has been prompted to write about.  So I'll post hers first, Karen's will come at some time and me, being the oldest will try and fill in some of the gaps as we work through this exercise.   This is for our kids, so we can give them the echoes of our childhoods before they fade as echoes do.

Debra Richardson

The first 5 years

So the challenge is about the things I remember in my first 5 years of life!
Well, that’s a hard one to remember back over 40 years.

The first thing that comes into my head is remembering sharing a bedroom with my big sister. I loved that. Although I’m sure she didn’t! as I go older I did such things as going through her wardrobe and borrowing her clothes and trying to make out that I didn’t. I’m sure that didn’t endear me to her.

I remember living in Box Hill and sharing the house with Mum & Dad and my brother Laurie and my sister Karen.

Our house was quite modest, had been painted and wall papered by Mum – which is I guess where I get that talent from.

I remember having our dogs although I can’t remember how old I was when we got our miniature poodle Bamby who I loved desperately. I do recall being told about Noddy, our golden Labrador and how he would sit under my pram and mind me every time I was placed outside. I’m not sure though that I have actual memories of that.
I remember being ill several times in the first part of my life. I remember vaguely being minded by my cousin Cheryl and getting really sick and taken to Fairfield Infectious Diseases hospital. I asked Mum only about a year ago why did I go to an infectious diseases hospital. She simply replied that I was really sick running a temperature etc and I was taken there. I asked her but why infectious diseases and she said “just because!”. I still find that weird for instance why wouldn’t I have been taken to simply another hospital like the Royal Children’s hospital?
I clearly remember going to hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I was about 3 years of age and Mum took me to hospital, I think it was Box Hill Hospital where I was born. I remember Mum sewing me a new nighty and dressing gown it was blue with pretty flowers on it and lace around the collars and hem and she also made one to match for my white teddy bear which I took everywhere with me. I remember the Doctors holding a mask to my face and telling me it was fairy medicine and I would go to sleep and dream of fairies, which I’m pretty sure I did. I remember Mum picking me up and driving me home in the old car and stopping at a milk bar somewhere and she went in and bought me banana flavoured toothpaste and a new toothbrush.

I went to Bennettswood Primary school, but don’t have a lot of memories of my first year. I do remember some of my primary years and some of my friends there. One notable memory was of a girl there Giovanni who no-one liked and everyone was teasing her because she was a “wog” – I took her under my wing and made sure she had people to talk to and play with. Even then, kids were cruel. I also remember one day down at the oval playing sport, when suddenly the teachers yelled at all of us to “get down, lie down, lie down” – we were getting swooped by magpies, it must have been breading season. Unfortunately one of the boys, Kevin Bond got swooped and pecked in the back of his head. He was bleeding everywhere and had a fairly large hole in the back of his head. I am still very wary of magpies now as an adult and it must have been due to that incident. Kevin Bond was a kid who’s great-grandfather (?) was the captain of the Titanic. I remember Kevin had a locket with his grandfather’s photo in it.

I remember walking to school, although I’m not sure if I did when I was that young. In later years I certainly did. I remember two things about that, one was that I had to walk down a lane way to get to Eley Road and it frightened me all of the time. So much so, that I imagined people jumping out and getting me and often ran the length of that laneway to get to the road. The other thing I recall when I was in primary school was walking home one day and seeing some UFO’s. I was with other children and there were quite a few flashing objects in the sky – from my recollection about 6 or 7 of them. They definitely weren’t planes and they appeared for several minutes. Many of us just stopped I the street and stared at them. In my excitement, I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mum and Dad that night. It was in the papers the next day – I don’t know what they said, but I obviously wasn’t the only one that saw them.

I remember getting home from school and making myself a snack of Vegemite on toast and being excited about Mum getting home from work. I always met her at the front door or on the porch when I heard her car. She would always say “let me get in first”. She would then take off her coat, put her bag down, start dinner and then have the time to ask me about my day. I wondered why she seemed flustered by my greeting, but realize as an adult, my kids did the same thing and I often heard myself saying “let me get in first”.

I don’t remember much about TV in my early years, other than the fact that we had a black and white telly and it used to be fuzzy a lot. I also recall the “test page” appearing on TV after dark, when the telly stopped of a night time. I do remember one of my favourite shows being “Treasure Island” – but I don’t know how old I was. Mum entered me into a competition and as a prize I was sent out postcard/photos of the crew and they had all signed it. I thought that was fantastic. I wish I still had them.

We lived opposite our “aunty & uncle” Aunty Hazel & Uncle Andy. I always thought they had a beautiful house – a little white one that was always immaculate. We always walked through the back door, to get into their house which took us through the kitchen. I don’t remember why we never went through the front door of their house. I was friends with one of their Daughters Judith and we had several trips away over the years with Mum and Aunty Hazel. Most notable were the trips to Bonnie Doon and the Star Glen ranch where Mum and Aunty Hazel would stay inside all day by the open fire and Judith and I would go trail riding on the horses. I rode a beautiful ex-racehorse Madam a big black girl, who would play up on everyone except me when she took riders out. Uncle Andy worked for a lolly place and every time I went over there he would give us bags of lollies to take home. I loved that! Judith loved horses and I have a memory of her running outside to cuddle a horse one day who was riding down the middle of our street. She was hurt as she cuddled its backside and it kicked her in the head. That didn’t stop her from still loving them. I also remember Judith unintentionally hurting me too one day. Again I don’t remember the age I was, but we were playing in our backyard on the swing set when I stopped to go inside and get us a snack. As I was walking back to the swings, I was telling Judith to stop swinging whilst I was walking up and she didn’t. I was consequently struck in the back of the head by one of the steel posts that you put your feet on. I needed stitches in the back of my head.

The other “aunties and uncles” that lived next door to us where “Aunty Claire and Uncle Bill”. They also had two daughters – one closer to Karen – Annette and Joanne was closer to my age. They had a lovely house in Massey Street and I was jealous that they had their own rooms. I remember Aunty Claire did a lot of cooking, there was always something cooking every time I went there. Especially at Christmas where they made many things. The thing about Christmas that I loved a their house was that they used to hang chocolate decorations to their tree and every time I came across I was allowed to “take one” home with me.

I remember Summer time with friends and family – always in the immaculate outdoor above ground pools that Dad kept immaculately clean. He spent many hours outside cleaning and would then encourage us to get in and create “whirlpools” so that he could scoop up any leaves etc.  I remember outdoor BBQ’s – again Dad’s domain as he was the “outdoor king” firing up the Barbie, cooking the snags and sunning himself in his white singlet and handkerchief hat.
Birthdays – I definitely couldn’t say I remember any from under 5 years. I have however seen photos so am a little unsure as to whether my memories are real or those perceived from looking at photos. I do however, think that I was given my first “walking doll” – she was a beautiful doll with black hair, a bride, and you held her hands and she walked. Nana gave her to me and it was either for my birthday or Christmas. In later years I remember thinking she wasn’t as beautiful as I had thought when I first got her. Her hair was very wiry and I guess they simply improved the production of dolls over the years.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Grief and the remembering

I guess there are times when I wish that grief was something that didn't touch me - but it does.  In unexpected places, at unexpected times, I sometimes find myself thinking I should call Mum and see how she is, I look at some of my families profile pics on Facebook and see them with Mum staring back at me.  Stangely though I feel as if I am coping much better this time than I did when Dad died in 2004.  Maybe that's because we did have the chance to say goodbye and maybe because having lost one parent, you realise that time does heal the pain of the loss.

My sisters and I have spoken about writing down some of our memories and any followers of this blog will know that much of the suject matter for me has been about growing up.  But the need now is to ensure that the things we saw as normal 50 years ago for us as a family are recorded for those who come after who may be interested.  The other reason is that our perceptions of events and what we remember is totally different so being lucky enough to have two sisters gives me the chance to tap into things that they recall and fill in some of my own gaps.

So I'm going to set them a challenge by having them pick a photograph and write about it to see where it leads.  And I'll share what they say on here so the record is in the one spot.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Letter to Tim McGraw

Dear Tim

I had the pleasure of attending your Melbourne concert last night and want to thank you in particular for one of the songs you sang but need to give some background first.

On Wednesday 1st September my 80 year old Mum got rushed to hospital having put up with a lot of pain over the previous month after a fall at home. X-rays revealed that she had fractured her spine but additionally she began to complain about pains in her abdomen and subsequent CT and MRI scans were conducted. On Sunday 5th September we got a call from the doctors telling us that she had terminal cancer and the first thing that crossed my mind were the words of your song – live like you were dying.

Mum was told she had months to live but over the next few days it became apparent that the cancer was very aggressive and we began to prepare for her passing – she didn’t skydive, mountain climb or ride a bull – but she did have the time to say goodbye to my sisters and I, our partners and her 11 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. It was an incredibly sad but uplifting time with nothing left unsaid.

On Thursday 7th September the ghosts began to gather and she told us of people who were standing around the bed and of long lost pets who were visiting. Might sound strange but she was totally lucid and knew that she could see them but we couldn’t. She lost consciousness that night and passed away at 1:15 am on September 11 giving my family another reason to remember that day.

So last night when you started to sing that song, the tears began to roll down my cheeks and whilst you didn’t know it, that song was for my Mum and so I am writing to thank you because for those of us who are lucky enough to find that we do have time to say goodbye the sentiments expressed in the song are important ones.

Many thanks

For those who would like to listen here is the video - Live Like You Were Dying

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fallen in a Heap

Karen, Deb and I spent yesterday going through Mum's stuff.  Taking years of photographs off walls distributing her treasures according to the list she'd given the girls in the days before she died as well as another we found in a prominent spot.   There were boxes of photos , some of which I'd never seen before, every broken watch that Dad had ever owned, bank statements and receipts for car repairs going back years.  Importantly for me as the family historian were the references for both Dad and Mum from places of work dating back to the 1940's, a newspaper clipping showing Mum at Nagambie as a Regatta Girl.  Not sure if that was the year she won Miss Nagambie or one of the other years.   And yes, I found the receipt for her wedding reception at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street in 1953.

The dust got to me - not that Mum wasn't clean just that stuff that hadn't been moved in years was covered with layers of it and before long I was suffering badly from hay fever.  It's worse today, nose running, cough and fever.  More about the stress of the past few weeks coming out in illness rather than something I picked up elsewhere.

We're going to a Tim McGraw concert tonight and I truly don't feel like it but the distraction will be a good thing I think.   Besides I have to go back to work tomorrow anyway and without a backup now, given my offsider was made redundant a few months ago, I know that there won't have been anything done im my area for the past few weeks.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

More Hard Days

Tomorrow I meet my sisters at Mum's place to start clearing out her things.  Mum gave us strict instructions to give all of the photos to the people in them as much as we can anyway.  It will be hard taking the frames off the walls and packing up those that are on the tables.   This is a shrine to our family and now another link in that chain is gone.

I fell in a heap yesterday, truly running on empty.  It has been an exhausting fortnight. It was only Sunday a week ago that we were told that Mum had cancer and a few months to live; she actually had 6 days.  And whilst we are grateful for the time we were able to spend with her last week and for the fact that we could say our goodbyes, it still hurts.   I guess there is never an easy time for a loved one to be taken.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eulogy for Mum

Later today I will be speaking at my Mum's funeral.   Here is what I will say.

Firstly, I guess I now have the baton of being patriarch of our family and so on behalf of all of us may I thank all of you for being part of this celebration of Mum’s life.  You’ll hear a bit from the three of us about various aspects of Mum’s life and I’ll apologise in advance if we overlap one another because none of us have any idea what the others are going to say.

I am of course hoping that my sisters don’t burst into song because unfortunately whilst they may have gotten Mum’s good looks they also got her very bad singing voice.   I on the other hand inherited both Dad’s good looks and good voice.   I’ll will try desperately not to outshine them if they do.

I am fortunate to have a copy of notes Mum and her sister Aunty Nancy made for me about their childhood and I’m going to start with some of that.   Mum gave me strict instructions last week to only speak for 2 minutes so I’ll finish up now and hand over to my sisters….just kidding.

So with apologies to Mum let me begin.

Mum was born on 26th July 1930 at Carlton, second child to Lil and Bill Smith.   My Grandfather Bill’s cousin once said to me that Smith wasn’t a common name it was just popular.   Mum had a brother Billy [known to us as Uncle Phil] and a younger sister Nancy.

She lived in a few houses as a kid – a 2 storey terrace house in Park Street, Brunswick, a free standing 5 room house in Bent Street, Kensington and a  4 room plus kitchenette in Davison Street Brunswick, which is the house that we kids remember best.

Mum said that the most important room in any of the houses was the dining room.  It was there that the family gathered around the briquette heater and the radio, listening to Martin Place, Dad and Dave, 50 and over, and most importantly the news, during which they had to remain silent.   When they lived in Park Street, Brunswick the extended family, Aunts and Uncles and cousins all lived nearby and the home became a congregation where they would sing songs and hold concerts.

Mum had many relatives come and live for periods of time with the family, her Aunty Jean and her husband Laurie [after whom I am named and who served with the 2/22nd Lark Force in Rabaul and was killed on the first day of the Japanese invasion].  They were followed at various times by Aunty Rose, Uncle Alf, her cousin Betty Dodd and maternal grandmother, Granny Woolley.

Mum also had a lot to do with my Grandad’s side of the family as well and spoke of the times she spent with her Smith grandparents.   In fact during the war years she spent the weeks with them whilst her Mum and Aunties were working in the munitions factory at Maribyrnong coming home for weekends.  I remember her telling me that Grandad Smith kept birds and had a number of magpies that he actually taught to talk.

The homes were pretty Spartan.   No running hot water – the kettle was boiled in the kitchenette and that water was used to sponge off each morning before they went to school.    After school they’d come home, do their home work, listen to the radio, sponge off and go to bed.    Once a week water was boiled in a copper in the lean to laundry out the back and topped up as each member of the family had their bath.

Times were tough during the early years and whilst Mum was very young during the latter years of the depression it had a profound impact on the family.  My Grandfather went away to work on the Great Ocean Road and Mum remembered being told that her Uncles were lucky to earn threepence which was brought home put into a common pool to pay for food and rent.   They used to visit the Vic Market and pinch stuff from the bins or buy the fruit and vegies that were cheap because they were on their last legs.  Her Dad learnt how to re-sole the families shoes but Mum remembered times when he brought new shoes home after winning tug-of war bouts.

Several of the uncles became SP bookies during those times and the kids often kept cocky in the blue stone cobbled laneways at the back of the houses.   For those who don’t know what keeping cocky means it was keeping a look out for the coppers.   One of the uncles, Alf, who had won the Military Medal during World War 1, was an associate of Squizzy Taylor’s who was a regular visitor to my great grandmothers house.

Those laneways were also the place where the outdoor dunnies had a rear latch where the night cart man replaced the pan.  Mum told us of the time that one of her Aunty’s, May took a feather from a duster and hid out there to tickle the bum of the first unsuspecting sole who came along to squat and relieve themselves.
There was also scope for fun times though, plenty of card games and my Grandad Smith showing rare displays of anger only when playing euchre.    There were picnics at strange faraway places like Ferntree Gully and Mordialloc where the whole extended family used to climb in a truck and venture out for the day.  There were holidays to Rosebud and with family at Murchison and Koondrook.

There were also major excursions where they went out mushrooming, yabbying, rabbiting and fishing.
The kids also made their own fun playing games of skippy, hidey, Charlie over the water, keepings off, hopscotch, knuckles, marbles and various card games.  During those times Aunty Nancy got the nickname of Smiley and Mum of Miney.

It was a time when you showed respect to adults with people addressed as Mr or Mrs, or if you knew them, they were called Aunty and Uncle.

Mum started school at 5 years of age and went first to Holy Rosary Catholic School in Kensington and later to St Ambroses Girls School in Brunswick.  They walked to the first each day but when they moved to Brunswick Mum used to con Aunty Nancy into loaning her a penny for the tram which she used to have to pay back with a halfpenny interest.

The mornings started with prayers then had the standard reading, writing and arithmetic lessons writing with chalk on a slate and remembered and chanted back to the Nuns parrot fashion.   It wasn’t unusual for the Nuns to dish out a bit of corporal punishment by way of cuts to the hand with the edge of a ruler.

Mum had her first job at 11 years of age working at Uncle Laurie’s parents grocery store where she wrapped pounds of butter and weighed sugar and flour.  She’d work 3 or 4 hours a day and earn around threepence and hour.

Mum sat for her merit certificate in Grade 7 but was too young to graduate so had to sit again in Grade 8 finishing in the Top 10.  She left school at 14 ½ at the start of 1945 and went to Melbourne Technical College where she studied shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

During the war years there were at least 13 close relatives away – uncles, cousins, father and brother.  There were relatives in the Middle East and in the Pacific Theatre.  Grandad Smith, Mums dad was a Rat of Tobruk, and her brother Billy after running away from home a number of times to join the army as a 16 year old eventually found himself in New Guinea.    Uncle Perc was a prisoner at Changi and on the Burma Railway.

Going to the pictures was a treat costing a penny and Mum was also given another penny to spend on sweets.  She said that when the newsreels showed aspects of the war that were going well to crowd would stand up and clap and cheer.   In addition to the movies, dances, walking around, swimming and playing basketball [netball] were Mums pastimes.

Mums first office job was with Henry Co. which was advertised in the paper.  It was office duties and she earnt 30 shillings per week.    She stayed 15 months and then went to work at Lloyd P Goode, solicitors in Collins Street, where she was paid more.   She told me last week that she was offered the chance to do her article clerks course but declined and that she regretted not taking the opportunity.

She then moved onto Bowen and Pomeroy, stayed there until she got married and then moved onto Aeronautical Supplies opposite Vic Barracks and stayed until I was born.

Weddings were generally celebrated in Halls and then back at the house for a feed.  Funerals were wakes with the coffin in the front room of the house and the family taking it in turns sitting with the coffin until the burial the next day.

So that’s what I managed to piece together from what Mum wrote. I have no record of the questions I asked her but the answers are all numbered and we can make out what they refer to for the most part.  There was one answer to question 38 which was circled and marked “For your eyes only” and it said – “We both wanted to murder our partners”.   For those who knew Dad and our Uncle Harry there are any one of dozens of questions we could have asked that would have prompted that as an answer.

Dad met Mum at Daylesford. They were both on holiday there with some friends and travelled back to Melbourne together by train. When Dad found out Mum lived in Brunswick he offered to walk her home from the station. The next night he was going out with a Miss Victoria entrant but he promised Mum he would call her after that and he did. [Aunty Gwen told me after Dad’s funeral that the other girl didn’t endear herself to Nana Joyce because she turned up in a low cut dress with a split that revealed a fair bit of leg].
Dad went off to Perth after he started dating Mum and got involved with the daughter of some trotting trainer, but on return to Melbourne came back to Mum. They had met before her 21st birthday and got engaged before her 22nd when whilst away on a rabbiting trip in the bush Dad proposed.

They married at the Brunswick Methodist Church on the 28th March 1953 and all the family gathered with Mum and Dad in 2003 to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.

Their reception was held at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street, with 75 guests and a three course meal, and they spent their wedding night there.  Mum said at the time that she might even still have the receipt for the reception.

For the first few years of married life they lived in a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place in Orvieto Street Merlynston, but around the time Karen was born and I was 18 months old, moved way out in the sticks to a new estate in Box Hill South on former orchard lands to number 10 Richardson Street where we all grew up.

The roads were unmade and the drains open ditches infested with weeds and rats. I knew there were rats because most weekends Dad would stand in Massey Street and pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain then light it with a match and the rats would often scurry away after the explosion. He was a bit of a pyromaniac and loved to build fires and burn leaves which I think was something he got from his own father.
In about 1960 Mum gave birth to our brother Stephen who lost his life a little before that and she too almost lost her own life.   She was told that it was unlikely she would get pregnant again but in 1964 after a pregnancy where she spent a lot of time confined to bed, gave birth to our sister Debra.

We kept the same traditions that Mum had grown up with, immediate neighbours were called Aunty and Uncle, those a few houses away were Mr and Mrs.   Like Mum we spent most weekends visiting family.   And with Dad’s family at Merlynston or Mum’s in Brunswick there were always cousins around and we always had nearby relatives we could walk to.

Friday nights were fish and chip night – we’d go to Bennettswood shops order the fish and chips then walk around to the Paper shop where Mum would buy each of us a comic and herself Best Bets and the Truth.
Mum and Dad both loved the horse racing.   She spent many Saturdays around the kitchen table with Aunty Hazel, sipping their sherries and listening to how their bets went on the radio.

I remember visits to our grandparents on Sundays and if we happened to be home Dad would meet the other blokes in the neighbourhood across the road at the Scott’s for a pleasant Sunday morning.
Sunday night meals were often toasted sandwiches watching Disneyland because if we’had been at home we would have had a roast for Sunday lunch and the same if we’d been out somewhere.

We also spent a lot of weekends out driving around the state having BBQs or picnics with the Brown family.
We too continued the family tradition of camping holidays, Myrtleford firstly and then Corowa.  Mum would deny it but a major attraction of the border town was the poker machines and we spent 4 weeks there every Christmas where Karen and I would have a race to see who would get the darkest tan over summer.
When Debra got to around school age Mum went back to work and spent a lot of years in the office at Wiredex Wireworks in Huntingdale.

Growing up she set us pretty strict curfew times.   Even last week she reminded me of the one time I got home after that 11pm curfew.  It was after a Jackson Brown concert in around 1976 or 77, I was 19 or 20 years old and the concert started late and finished in the early hours of the morning after public transport had stopped.  We had no money for a taxi so my mates and I walked home from Festival Hall.   It was around 3am by the time I walked in the door to find her up and waiting to tear strips off me.   She told me I should have telephoned her but in those days of course there was no such thing as a mobile phone and most telephone boxes were out of order so that was easier said than done.  Besides I hadn’t asked her to sit up waiting for me.

Mum loved reading.   When growing up she enjoyed TV shows like Peyton Place and Coronation Street, Mannix, Columbo, MASH and a lot of the mini series that were regularly released during the 70’s.    In more recent times she became a fan of 24 when I loaned her the series on DVD.  

Mum didn’t vacuum, she electroluxed.    She didn’t say things she turned around and said them.   She’d spend hours sitting talking on the black bakelight phone and then give a verbatim I said She said record of the conversation back to anyone who would listen.    She could give the most withering look if she didn’t like you or disagreed with something you said, but she also had a huge capacity to love.  She welcomed Gerry, Andrew, Lyn and most recently Raelene into the family and gave each of them a special place in her heart.   She was very proud of her 11 grandchildren and her two great-Grandchildren and took great delight in their company.

Karen will pick up on Mum’s life from when her and Dad moved in with them at Warrandyte and Deb will talk about how last week unfolded for all of us.

Before I finish up I just want to explain the slide show a bit.   I culled a lot of photos out of it to get it down to around 5 minutes but you’ll find about 3 and a half minutes I there is a bit of dead air [if I can say that at a funeral].  There’s a few seconds of silence before the song starts again – I couldn’t take out any more photos to cut it down a bit.   Every one of them tells a story for those of us who were there.  Pay attention and you’ll see old cars, mum’s Vauxhall that took us on holiday down to Aunty Gwen and Uncle Keith’s at Point Lonsdale, a Mini Minor that was loaded with a pack rack full of suitcases that took all five of us to Adelaide a blue HR that I foolishly did 100 mile an hour in on a straight bit of road between Corowa and Howlong.   You’ll see glimpses of the homes Mum lived in – there’s one of her as a 2 year old in the back yard looking a bit lie a gremlin.  There’s holiday snaps – my grandmother standing on a sand dune surrounded by family pointing a 22 rifle at them.  There are of course many of events – Mum’s 21st, her wedding, my graduation from the police force, birthday parties and Christmases.    Each of them very special for us.

Mum gave us many things over her lifetime – bikes, dolls for the girls, lego and train set for me, comics on Friday nights, good food, shelter and a house that was truly a home.  More than anything though she gave us her time and her love.    Last week she gave us her final gift.  Having said goodbye to people on Monday through Thursday I am absolutely convinced that she decided it was time to go, and that the reason for that was not because she didn’t want to suffer, but because she hated the thought of us suffering through a lingering departure.   It has been an incredibly sad time for us over the past week, but we also recognise how blessed we were not only to have shared our life with our Mum, but to have had the opportunity to say goodbye properly and leave nothing unsaid.  Just as we know she loved us, she knew that she was deeply loved by all of us.

I found a letter she wrote to my son Luke on his 18th Birthday in which she recounted to him a conversation he was overheard having with one of his mates when he was 4 years old.   My Nana, his Granny had just died and his mate Lucas said “What happens now Luke?”

“I don’t know.  I guess they’ll put her in a box and ship her off to the Indian burial ground in America” he replied.

We’re not going to do that but I do want to say this.   There is an old Mexican Indian proverb that says we die three times – firstly when our spirit leaves our body, for Mum at 1:15 am on Saturday 9th September, the second when our mortal remains pass from the sight of men, for Mum today, and finally when our name is spoken for the last time on this earth.  For those of us who loved Mum that will be a long time coming.
Sorry for taking so long to get through this Mum. 

A good friend of ours who is a naturopath has mixed up a concoction for my sisters and let me tell you they are very mellow.  If there is a bit of Cheech and Chong about what they say you’ll know why.

Laurie Joyce

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mum and the gathering of the ghosts

Mum had her fair share of health problems over the past few years; osteoporeosis and osteparthritis lead to a lumbardectomy on her back about four years ago; two years ago she had an artery replaced in her leg, and, she has had a couple of colonscopies this year which came back negative for cancer.

About a month ago she had a fall at home, didn't tell anyone and just battled on, until Tuesday week ago she had to spend the day in bed because of the pain.  On Wednesday morning when my sister went down to check on her she was sitting in a chair in her bedroom crying.  Karen called an ambulance and we descended on Box Hill Hospital Emergency Department.

They did a series of tests; xrays found a fracture in her spine, but that didn't explain the other pain in her abdomen, so MRI's and CAT scans followed and on Sunday last week we were told that Mum had cancer in the liver and in her spine and that she only had months to live.  Mum and my sisters and I discussed the option and chose for her not to have any further invasice treatments.  Mum didn't want to go through what her mother did after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her eighties.  

"How come," she asked the doctors, "I was alright last week but now I'm dying of cancer."

Of course she wasn't alright the week before.

So for the next few days we kept a bedside vigil whilst the doctors changed her medication to make her comfortable and we and she were resigned to the fact that she would end up in care somewhere and not go home.

I had to go to work on Thursday but got a call from my sister that Mum was starting to see a few ghosts.   This gathering of the ghosts is a common one in our family and for me it was reason enough to head straight back in.

We had a wonderful afternoon, we laughed and joked and reminisced.  My brother-in-law Gerry came in and Mum said that he had one of his departed dogs, Bessie sitting on his lap.

"Why can't it be Drew Barrymore?" he said.

"She's not dead," we laughed.

"How about a young Liz Taylor then?"

"She's not dead either," and Mum laughed with us.

We left late on Thursday night and by the time I got in Friday morning she was in a deep sleep that we couldn't rouse her from.   Around lunchtime the Palliative Care doctor came in and said that they would be able to move Mum to a free bed at Wantirna Health and she arrived there by ambulance at around 2 pm.

Her breathing was deep and laboured and at 1:15 am this morning in the company of my sisters she passed quietly and peacefully away.

Mum had a good life and this week had the opportunity to talk to people she cared about and say her goodbyes, with all of them there was a laugh and a giggle and that is what they will remember.

For her children and grandchildren we have lifetimes of memories and whilst the end came quickly I think Mum made sure that she wouldn't linger and drag this out for us.  On Thursday night, in the hispital ward she a a roiling cloud of light on the ceiling, she tried to describe it to us but said that it kept going in and out of focus.  In the early hours of this morning I am sure that it cam sharply into focus for her and Dad and Nana and Grandad and all of her passed love ones greeted her warmly as the pain left her for the last time.

I'm going to miss you Mum.

Here are a few other posts about my Mum -

If your Father wasn't already dead
Mothers Day