Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Thinking about Nin
My grandmother was an amazing woman. When I think of her now I think of a grey mouse - unassuming but strong as a sapling taken root. Family talk said that she had had a hard life - married to a man who if it wasn't for a crippled leg would have inflicted more physical abuse upon her than he did. She lived in the bush on her own with four children while he rode the boundaries checking fences and killing rabbits among other jobs.
There is a wonderful photo of her that I love when she was bridesmaid for one of her sisters - my own wedding dress was similar to the style that she is wearing in this photo. Her face looks so young and fresh. For mine - I remember a rather rounded person of short stature with mousey grey hair and a brow often wet with perspiration - she lived in QLD after all. She was always on the go.
In my youth she was a church going woman so it must have hurt her somewhat when 2 of her daughters fell pregnant before being married. My mother was the 'good' girl - she married at 21 (as soon as the law allowed in those days) and had her children afterwards! Her son was wild and often in trouble for menial offences - he still is! One of her daughters died when the twins were about 4 or 5 months old. Hannah had jsut gotten out of hospital after her heart surgery and was still on various medications and so weak but I couldn't not go to the funeral in Brisbane so Kit and I flew up for the day. Throughout her life Nin's love for her framily was strong and true and that is something that we have all absorbed.
That Aunty whose funeral Kit and I went to was the beloved mother of three children. Her marriage did not last long and I cannot recall her husband at all. She bought a house in Brisbane after leaving the country town where her family had lived for some time and Nin came too. She stayed at home and looked after the children and the house and through her unswerving support my aunt was able to go to work and provide for her children after her marriage had broken down. Myself and one of my two sisters went to the same primary school as those cousins and I have fond memories of us all home together after school and Nin having afternoon tea ready for us all. It was a very tribal experience with at least five of us at any one time at the same school. My other sister is profoundly deaf and so she went to a school for the hearing impaired nearby.
We would play so freely - under the old timber queenslander was a shed - aptly called the "Spook house" by everyone. So many games centred on that scary shed. The soil under the house was a dark clay. I recall us hunting and finding numerous pennies that must have fallen through the floorboards over the years (decimal currency having been introduced the year that I was born). Nin kept a vegetable garden at the rear of the yard - we loved playing near that too but had to be very careful not to scrape a knee as the results of that were disastrous. Some misguided ambulance man had once told my grandmother that metholated spirits was a good remedy for wounds - so if she found out about a scraped knee - heaven help you - all the cousins were instructed to gather round and blow as Nin poured the metho over your injury - Lordy how that stuff stung!
My family moved to Sydney for Dad's work. We returned home to Brisbane often and I can still feel the sorrow in the car on our return to Sydney - all four of his passengers crying and Dad determinedly trying to cheer us up - we maintained the close ties that had been forged with our cousins despite the distance. Nin and my aunt and my mother made sure of that. Once when I was in senior high Mum and Dad went to the US for a holiday. Nin came down to Sydney to stay with us and look after myself and my two sisters. I have fond memeories of sitting at the kitchen table chatting with her over a pot of tea. One of our favourite topics was who would give her greatgrandchildren first - in hindsight I think that her excitement about this prospect was as much joy that her daughter would be a grandmother as it was for herself to be a great grandmother.
She had a lovely sense of humour too and often looked rather cheeky as she tucked into her bowl of icecream - every night! She was in later years a bingo fanatic too and had a handbag full of lucky charms - that Irish superstition runs strong - in all of us! Nin used to take in sewing work too and as a teenager when she came to visit us in Sydney I used to get her to sew clothes for me - I still have one bolero style black jacket that she made that I cherish.
Nin died after a stroke - she was out walking at Stones Corner in Brisbane near where she lived - she was a big walker. I was nineteen and had just started work at the Commonwealth Bank at Wynyard Station. Her funeral was at St Itas - the church adjacent to that primary school we had all gone to. It was the church where I was baptised and where I and my cousins and sister received our first communion. She is buried with her daughter my Aunty - whom we called Sissy) and one of her granddaughters - Danielle (Sissy's eldest child) who died a year or so before her Sissy - she was 40 - one of the most amazingly loving and beautiful people I have ever known but unfortunately she had a troubled life of happy childhood memories but also some very dark childhood experiences too and died of illnesses related to alcoholism. I like to think of these three wonderful women resting together in a peaceful lawn cemetry in Brisbane.
Danielle, My Aunty Sissy and Mum's first grandchild
My memories of Nin are very dear to me and I cherish my times with her and the lessons and values she gave to me. The twins are lucky to have 4 wonderful grandparents (one is a stepgrandma as Phil's mother died when we were younger - but you can't have too many grandmas can you? and Marea is a wonderful person in the children's lives) and I know that they too will be able to look back one day and perhaps like me they will be surprised at just how many precious memories they have of their grandparents.
Growing up in such a matriarchal family I have a healthy respect for the ancient goddess - this one is in my sister's garden.