Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mum Part 24

Outside the blue skies are full of wind. It’s a cold, but glorious day, the last day of autumn, and the day my mother comes home. Not to stay, that would be too easy. She’ll come home to see if she can cope in the house.

Getting to the house. Climbing in and out of the car, breaching the steps up the front, opening the sliding door, (the one now fixed but the man in elastic sided boots who’s partner had the heart attack).

An Occupational Therapist (OT) will escort mum and her progress, or lack of it, will be monitored and written down in a small notebook.

Later, doctors and nursing staff will hold a meeting and discuss mum, playing with her future like a child rolls play dough around in its fingers. Sometimes squashing the dough, sometimes stretching the soft moist mass.

My brother John is down from Bowen, with his wife. They are staying for the week. It’s company and support for Carolyn, and he can be at the house when mum arrives, as Carolyn will be at work.

Outside I imagine the family of Butcher birds and Magpies, waiting for mum, their dark grey claws wrapped awkwardly around the verandah rail.

In Brisbane, I sit in warm air conditioning and wait for the results; her verdict. Outside the blue skies blow over the city.


To be continued…

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mum Part 23

Mum practically galloped to the Dining Room today, my sister tells me. Either the food is fantastic, or mum is keen to impress; to prove to the list of doctors and nurses and specialists that she can do it. She can do it!

She has also stopped taking pain killers at night. She wants to be well - to be able to cope - so she can leave early. Go home. I tell her that she is better to take the Trammel offered; the pain relief will help her body to heal. No need to be in constant, tiresome, exhausting pain.

If she heals faster, she will get home, faster.

It's like leading a horse to water, old age stubbornness sets in. Her jaw locks into position, and that’s that.

June says it’s early Alzheimer’s setting in, she understands the concept, but the reality is different. To accept pain relief is to admit she cannot cope. To accept pain relief is to show weakness, to admit defeat. She wants to go home.

We all want that, but first, she has to cope.


On the weekend Carolyn took her to the gardens, an outing. A beautiful Rockhampton sunny day; a small chilly autumn wind. They sit in the car and watch the ducks. It’s what you do in old age. Watch things.

Observe the world around you, the flutter and stuff of life.

A drive to the barrage, to see the water. Water.

Fish and chips, and back to the Gardens to eat them. Every day is an outing in her mind, her dreams.

They eat, and mum slumps just a little in her seat. Time to go home, back to Rehabilitation. It’s tiring to be out, to sit, and watch. Her legs hurt. Her arms hurt. She grasps the shorter wheelie-walker, and the weight of her body hurts her arms. She still cannot put much weight on her legs. The nurse brings in the taller walker, for comfort. Mobility. Mum sleeps, and dreams of ducks.


A few years ago I sat with mum in front of the computer, and wrote part of her life story.

This is her first job:

My first job was in Sydney, in early 1937, it would have been…. I had just finished the Leaving certificate, as we call it in NSW, and whilst it wasn’t a good pass,it wasn’t a bad one either, and in those days one couldn’t go to teachers training college, until you were 17 years old or over.

I was almost 17!

And anyway, in hindsight, I realize that my parents couldn’t not have afforded to have me on their hands, any longer.

So I saw a job advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald, for an Office Assistant, with a firm called, W.H. Loyce and Co. in York Street, and my mother accompanied me for the interview.

It turned out to be a Chinese Napery Importing company, with 3 Chinese gentleman, Mr Woo, (who was short and tubby) Mr Low, (who was quite tall and young) and Mr Sing. So there I was, I got the job! Shorthand, typing, general duties, that sort of thing. Wrapping and posting many, many parcels of napery, that’s where I learnt to pack properly, ha!

And all of that for the princely sum of 17 shillings and 6pence per week. Bliss!

Out of that I paid, my fares to town, on the bus, occasionally I splurged on a salmon sandwich, I gave my mum 5 shillings a week for my board, dressed myself, and bought the occasional thing for the 'Glory Box'.


Lunchtimes were often spent exploring the shops in Sydney, and sitting in a little green space, near the York Street entrance to Wynyard Station. The park is still there today, now in front of Menzies Hotel.
The afternoons were often very interesting, as the three Chinese men came back from their luncheon, and the office was suddenly full of the overpowering fumes of their garlic!

I was there approximately 12 months.

My uncle Jack (“I can get it for your wholesale!”) heard of a position becoming available at Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council, for a correspondence clerk, and he thought it would be a job which would suit me.

I think he pulled the connections through his Masonry work (wearing the aprons) so my uncle Jack wrote me a very nice reference, as he was an accountant and a JP with the Harbor Board, and to cut a long story short, I got the job.

This meant I had to leave the city, but by then I knew where the little book shops where, it was lovely. I used to go to Dymocks, in the 2nd hand department, and browse there, one could get books for a shilling. One could never afford a new one, of course!

So I left my three perfect Chinese gentlemen, who always behaved impeccably, to work at Gordon on the North Shore train line.

At that time, the Ku-ring-gai Municipality was the largest municipality in NSW.

My job was to register, in a very large book, every letter that came into the Council, that very day. I had to put down the date it was received, to whom it was addressed, the subject matter, and then the boss dragon lady would decide to whom it was to go to. The health inspector, the town clerk, etc, but it was my job to register in my best copperplate writing, all the incoming letters.

After a while, a junior correspondence clerk was also appointed, and it was the one and only Ruth Cracknell, as my assistant. She didn’t get write in the book! It was simply her job to deliver the letters to the various departments. NO book writing!

She was very young, probably around 16, tall, big boned, very plain, gangly, a big nose on a big face, very shy. Yet even at that stage she had made moves towards acting, as she knew then that’s what she wanted to do. She would go to little night groups in Sydney, learning to act. She always knew what she wanted to do. We were friendly, but not too personal with our friendship.


My friend in the office at that time, was a girl called Peggy Warbiton, a girl around the same age as myself. She lived a couple of railway stations away at St Ives. She was very interested in horse riding, and her parents owned a couple of acreages.

She was into the horsey bit, and she used to ride with various people at different times. Some people were Clive Evett, big names in the Australian Labour Party. These people were neighbors, it was a classy suburb, and she also had friends in the ABC, and with Peg, I would go into the ABC studios – seeing things being done, and watching live-readings of stories over the microphone, complete with sound effects man.

Although I had always had an interest in theatre, ballet, and drama, this part of my life gave me the opportunity to actually attend the concerts, go to the ballet, and so on as my wages were higher. By then I was earning one pound, 2 shillings and 6 pence!

We used to go (Peggy and I) to the peanut gallery, to see live theatre and so on. We were good mates.


To be continued…

Mum Part 22

“It’s over.” “My ordeal for the day is over.” Mum looks relieved, and exhausted. Her ordeal is the breakfast, bathroom, shower routine.

She leans back into the recliner with the footrest which refuses to stay upright: closes her eyes.

Dreams of Lockhart and Wild Apple beach.

She once told me, “I always dream of you children, when you were younger, I love it. Chris is there too, he is always in my dreams.” (He was my older brother, killed in 1971, aged 21.)

We quietly take her washing to be done, leaving fresh nighties and clothing. It’s become our new routine. Now familiar nurses come and go. A busy woman calls to collect mum’s menu choices. She hasn’t filled them out.

“I’ll help you lovie.”


No, coffee please.

Cereal? Weetbix? Porridge?

A small bowl of porridge, I don’t like it, but if I must, I must.

Toast dear? Do you want any toast?

No, thanks, just some fruit, peaches perhaps?

I look at my mother’s face; holding her soft cheeks in my hands in my mind. Her teeth are loose, she can’t manage too much, but she is at least eating. At least she is eating!


At the airport, I am ready to fly out. Wearing my mother's black socks, my sister's black scarf, I honk my nose, again and again. Wishing I had brought the Weekend Australian for the magazine section. As I sit, I noticed the current issue magazine on the chair. Thankyou I say, to the universe.

Ask, and you shall receive.

I read it cover to cover, as our plane rockets towards Brisbane in the pitch blackness. We shake and rattle and glide our way there, the usual one hour trip taking a speedy 40mins with the giant tail wind. I blow my nose every 2 minutes, worried my ears will pop. We fall with grace from the sky, and land.


Mum is moving much better in her walker. She rests her arms on the contraption and away she goes. Shuffle, limp, shuffle, limp, but it’s progress. Doctor says she will be assessed next week. “Wonderful,” she says. “I’ll be home next week.”


Carolyn is filled with dread, as are we. The house isn’t ready. As much as we want our mother home, we also need her to be safe, and looked after. Time will tell. There are things to be done first. Safety things. A new bed. Better seating. Safer bathroom entry, the tiles will trip her up. Phone calls are made.

Physiotherapists. Assessors. Doctors.

Backwards and forwards to family members. Emails fly in cyberspace.

My mother sleeps, and dreams of Lockhart, and her young children, running along the beach.


A dit on my mobile: Thankyou darling, love you 2.

My mother writes sms lingo.

Nephew Ryan has bought her a new Nokia. This will be her 4th mobile phone. We always call sms messages “dits”. Here’s why, in her own words:

During one of my sleepless nights recently , I thought that I had made one of the best decisions of my life when I decided to learn Morse Code, in its various forms--key, flag and light. I think this would have been early in 1940. My Dad and I would often sit up late at night in front of the big superheterodyne radio, straining to catch the broadcasts from London and get the latest on the war news, and all the time the Morse signals would be coming through, loud and clear and very fast. How I longed to understand it!

I had heard of a lady in Sydney, a Mrs Mackenzie, who had graduated from Sydney University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. I believe she was the first to do so. She decided to get together a group of young women and teach them Morse Code, the elements of Electricity and Magnetism and similar subjects. She named it the Womens' Emergency Signalling Corp (W.E.S.C.) designed a nice dark green uniform, military style patch pockets, brown leather belt and green forage cap--very snazzy! If you want to actually see it, look at the blown-up wedding photo--I was married in it.

Mrs Mackenzie could see that the time would come when Australia would have to reform and expand its armed forces, Navy and Air Force and she realised that the communication arm of all services was practically non existent, so she trained this small band of young women to become expert in these fields.

War had been declared at this time, so she trained us, and by the time the armed forces realized that they need men to be trained, we were all ready to train the men. It was situated in Clarence Street Sydney, the 1st floor of a very old shipping company.

Young people like myself would do a days work (in paid normal civvy jobs) and then at night we would go into the city and then train the army and naval men to do the signalling. In the beginning we were still being taught ourselves, but we soon became proficient enough to be able to pass on our skills to others.

Around this time the navy was the first services to create the womens arm of the services, the WRANS, then the Airforce also formed a women’s group, the WRAAF, and finally the Army formed the AWAS (Australian Womens Army Service) With the whole idea in creating these womens services, was to release the men for active duty, active service.

One of the ways I dealt with Morse code, was on the way home from work, or being at the lessons, going home in the bus, and I was read all the advertisements, and in my mind, I would read it and say it in Morse Code.

Dit dit, dah, dah.

TOSCA = dah dah dah dah, dit dit dit, dah dah dah dit, dit dah.

I still remember it so cleary to this day. Anything and everything I would read it in my mind and my right hand would tap out the code.

I loved it!

My father at this time, was completely self taught with radio and electricity, and he bought me a Morse-key, and hooked it up to an oscillator so that I could practice in my bedroom.
 Up in my wardrobe, sat this oscillator, with its glowing valves, and I practised nightly, with my own head phones, so that I could hear the sound, but I didn’t disturb the rest of the household.

At the WESC rooms, we had girls from every walk of life there, learning, and teaching. Clerks, factory workers, schoolgirls, office workers like me, generally women who were motivated to do something to help the war effort.

Many of us in time, went on to join the Womens Services ourselves. I joined the Army, and became Lieut. in the Army, but more of that later!


To be continued....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mum Part 21

My mother has finally become pale and interesting.

As a teenager mum always wanted to be pale, instead of the brown skin from playing hockey, and surfing Sydney’s northern beaches; and interesting.

I’ve always thought she was interesting.

Catching the train and bus into the city each afternoon, mum would spend an hour every day researching all of the world’s great religions. For a whole year. She wanted to learn, to know. To understand. She eventually resigned herself to being agnostic, believing in something, but not being sure of what.

Imagine her surprise when her husband: the shy 2nd youngest son of a politician, who meekly asked for Bunty’s hand in marriage - and her father continuing to sharpen his tools -not even looking the young man in the eye; this man, this adventurer; her man, our dad; aged 42, father to their five children, soldier, sailor, missionary – imagine her surprise when he travelled to Brisbane for a year to study to become a priest.

She remained agnostic. She has always remained interesting. My mother is pale, and interesting.


June pressed her powered cheek against mum’s.

How are you darling?

Oh…she groans…it’s so hard.

A small tear wells in each eye of the women. They continue to hold hands with their eyes closed.


I am leaving for the airport, to travel home. I can see my sister Carolyn struggling with something near my handbag.

What’s happening sis?

I am trying to put this envelope into your handbag without you noticing.

Uh huh.

Mum has asked me to do this, and she doesn’t want any argument, and nor do I.

Uh huh.

Carolyn rings me in two days time. Did you open the envelope? Cripes! No. I have been too sick to care.

Inside is $200 and a note, in my mother’s beautiful handwriting. I can see the original biro didn’t work. She has made 3 attempts to write the capital letter P.

It took her a long time to write this Patty, Carolyn tells me. I can see the effort. I am stifling the tears as I write this, as I know in my heart it’s probably the last note my mother will ever write to me.

When I am ready, I’ll blow my nose, but for now, the tears flow. 

Mum writes "appreciate your loving care" but she leaves me no kisses. There are no loops.


To be continued…

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mum Part 20

Mum’s face seems flush. Are you ok sweetheart we ask, concerned. Yes, she says shyly, one of the carers, one of Mathew’s friends recognised me today.

Are you Mathew‘s grandmother, he says? I recognise you from your photo on the fridge when I get beers. We chortle at the thought of this young 19 year old man putting two and two together and knowing our 90 year old mother. From the fridge!

Don’t worry Mrs Warby, he assures, I’ll take very good care of you, and he will, because Mathew told him to. He will, because he is a caring young man, and a professional. He will, because it’s our mum. His refrigerator grandmother.

A few days later, she is flushed again. What happened mum?

Mathew’s friend had to shower me today. I nearly died of embarrassment. After he helped me dress, we both noticed my bra hanging on the back of the bathroom door. He said, “I seem to have forgotten that,” but I told him that I was burning my bra today, and could do without it.

We laugh again and cringe on her behalf. It can’t be easy. She is a proud woman, my mother, but it happened, and she made it through, and managed to laugh at the end at her own shyness and humility. Good girl mum. Things are different now, not better, or worse, just different.


It’s Mother’s Day. My sisters and I have booked breakfast at a local licensed café. Make sure It’s licensed I warned, I want my champers! It is Mother’s day after all.

Naturally the restaurant is fully booked, and we are quickly shown our table and a limited menu of selections. We all choose eggs on toast. They have actually gone to a bit of trouble with Mother’s Day, and it’s noted. We each receive a small wrapped bag of chocolates, some hearts, some stars, with a label attached: Happy Mother’s Day - with compliments.

We put one aside to take to mum, later. Some of Carolyn’s neighbour’s paintings are on the wall, for sale. Andrea is a fine artist and June soon falls in love with one of her images. She makes a note to come back later, when she can see the painting closer, without disturbing the couple sitting in front of the frame. This doesn’t happen.


We tiptoe into mum’s room for Mother’s Day, flowers, cards, chocolates. She isn’t there. She isn’t there? I poke my head around the corner of the bathroom, and sure enough, she’s sitting on the toilet waiting for the nurse to help her up. We both burst out laughing. Being here is a bit like having a baby: leave your dignity at the front door and pick it up on the way out. Happy Mother's Day mum.


I wear a face mask, so when I cough I don’t spread the joy of my head cold. I write on it: I love me mum, and dutifully place it over my face. It’s the right thing to do. I sit in the far corner of the room, and twinkle my fingers to mum.

I love you, I mouth, but she doesn’t see it.


Scratching through the drawers looking for Carolyn’s new DVD warranty. Old photographs of mum and dad emerge. The original small brown photo of their wedding day, when mum had to prop dad up as he was weak from malaria. Dad’s handwriting on the back. They are holding hands. Dad has a bandage on his left hand, probably from hospital. They are both in uniform.

Just married!

His beautiful script with it’s generous fat curves and loops. I had his signature down pat as I ‘signed’ my maths tests in high school.

A beach photograph. Dad’s body is hard and young, I swear he has a 6-pack everywhere. Lean, muscular, strong. Mum in a bathing suit, legs to her neck, a beautiful waist, a waist!

Have you ever seen this? I’ve never seen these before?

We put them aside, in a safe place. We don’t find them again when we leave.

Where are they? Have you seen them? What did we do with them? I gave them to you!


Driving to Yeppoon to have my sister’s DSVD repaired. New road. Afternoon sunshine. Gorgeous jump-up mountains, similar to the Glass House Mountains. Kilometres of a strange road, searching for hidden driveways and numbers. I overdrive the property, eventually finding it in the shadows of coastal scrub and trees. On the way home, the sun is setting. I glance to my peripheral vision - to my right – and immediately have to photograph this wonderful scene. Leave it I rouse to myself. Just drive. Concentrate.

But how can I when the sun is setting? I must photograph it, I must! Pulling over to the side of the road, a cattle property.  I raise my camera with shaking hands. Such beauty.

Later, I am slowed down by a traffic accident, as a motorcyclist dies in a flashing tangle of police lights and tow trucks. Ambulance. Fire engines. What a mess.


To be continued...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mum Part 19

One afternoon my mobile rings with the shrill voice of my old school friend Sue. I have called her Sue Sue, (so good I named her twice) over the years, so Sue Sue rings and wants to catch-up.

I warn I am full of germs but she comes around anyway. See, told you she was worthwhile. Faithful and true, always. It’s hard to make friends, harder to keep them, and our friendship spans from meeting as 15 year old virgins to marriages, children, and now the expectant arrival of grandchildren. You just can’t pull old relationships like this out of your ass.

Our friendship reminds me of an old silver vase, black with wear. Tarnished, looking unloved, but an hour of conversation sparkles the shine, polishes the wit and memories, and the vase always holds the water, always displays the flowers. Reliable. We sit in the comfort of my mother’s darkened lounge room and discuss everything, as is our way. Her husband Dave, is fishing out of the reef. Another friend Jules is also on the reef with her husband. We imagine them hauling large parrot fish, red emperor, snapper.

Recipes of the best way to cook the fish.

I don’t really cook fish, so although the conversation doesn’t really apply to me, I enjoy watching Sue Sue speak, love to see her blue eyes and long brown legs coiled like a spring beneath her. We are both getting old, and I love it. She is the only daughter and sister to four brothers, I am also her sister and I am hers and she is mine. We are together.  We polish.

She asks me if her daughter Jillian can dress at my home for her wedding. I am thrilled but say no. I’m not sure my husband can bear the strain, the imagined stress of it all.

We’ll work something out. I take our photograph.


The lawn needs mowing, we have no mother to ring the man.

Mark? Can you please come and mow our lawn. When? Soon, anytime really, but soon.

I’ll be around in 10 minutes.

Well you can’t really complain about that, and within 10 minutes he is almost running across the back yard. He has a curious gait, and I stand at the kitchen window peering through the cream lace curtains, transfixed and interested. Does he have a mild spasticity? Did he have polio as a child? Is his hip out?

He wheels the mower around and off he goes again, with his curious lurch. That’s probably why he mows lawns, but he does a reasonable job and soon it’s the whipper snipper’s turn. There’s something lovely as a woman, to hear these sounds. It must be the same for a man, when he listens as his wife beats eggs or presses the steam button on an iron. It’s comforting.


When my older sister was here she pruned the side hedge.  The red bush, whose name I don’t know. She is a gardener, a green thumb. It was my job to cut the branches up and place them into a bin, but Mark offers to mulch them for me. This is a great plan and I readily agree, it’s sensible.

Soon another organic sound fills the house, and Mark tells me how lawns need to be mulched.

It’s the difference between couch grass and buffalo grass, he lectures; and each lawn needs different amounts of mulch, it builds the soil and protects the moisture loss.

As he speaks he closes his eyes and holds his fingers together. This is a gardener, a lawn mowing man, who knows his stuff. I have to admire his passion and knowledge.

I know he is right, and we both busy ourselves with our chosen jobs. Mark charges me another $10 for mulching. The lawn looks loved.


My small black drag-along suitcase is kept in mum’s bedroom. Her duchess holds many things. The shoulder patch from her war uniform. Old Palm Sunday crosses. A miniature statue of David, one of brother John’s travel souvenirs for her. A lavender room spray, a 90th birthday present bought by my friend, for mum to spray on her pillow, and around the room before sleep comes. I note that one third has been used already.

Mum loves is sissy, Carolyn tells me. It helps her sleep.

On the walls facing her bed, are three framed pictures.

One is of a Picasso drawing - mother and child - I bought for mum as a 21 year old, thrilled to be purchasing a real Picasso print, only 500,000 printed! The other two frames are filled with my clumsy long stich work, each is a bouquet of native flowers, fat waratahs, delicate Geraldton Wax, bottle brush and so on, lovingly made during the cold Brisbane winter nights; when the room smelt of breast milk and poo, and darling babies slept in cots. Before our bedroom had a television installed.

Now we lay prostrate and stare like fools at the moving pictures, before one of us can stir a finger to switch it off. We drool on our pillows, sleep deprived.


Mum’s clock radio is flashing, must have been a power cut. I want to change it, but there is something about the way it is; the way it bleeps to the world: I am lost.

Blink, flash.

I don’t know what the time is.

Flash, blink.

Help me! Help me!

Flash. Flash.

It's unsettled, and it suits my mood. I leave it to its own mute distress, and pull the door softly behind me.


To be continued…

Mum Part 18

Carolyn drives in to see mum in the afternoon; Rockhampton is having a dozing afternoon of sport and apathy. Mum is asleep; her mouth is open again. It's almost too tempting to whip out her dentures and give them a good scrub, but she won't have a bar of it. The nurse rolls her eyes and tells us how hard she has tried to get mum to agree to have her teeth cleaned. Her dentures soaked.

I’m quite capable of doing my own teeth, she snorts. She and Carolyn would clean them together, sis turning her back with sudden interest in the towel rack, to give mum privacy.  Neither of us have ever seen mum with her teeth out. So she cleans them in the bathroom; they soak as she showers; in the old bathroom of my teenage years where I learnt to shave my legs and not nick myself, in my father’s bathroom he designed. Dad put in a huge mirror which nearly covered the entire wall.

It was the first thing mum removed when dad passed away. She removed his mirror. It wasn’t that dad was a vain man, indeed, he was a very humble man, but it was a new house, our first ever new house, and he wanted it right. It was the style of the day.


So mum is asleep, lying on top of her bed, as has become her way. It’s for old women to lie under the doona. Not for mum. She lies on top of her bed. Carolyn sits quietly in the way that Carers do, waiting. Waiting for something to happen, good or bad. She sends me a dit Don’t ring, mum asleep. She sends it to mum instead, by habit.


Mum’s phone sounds like a fire engine in the folded shadows of her room. Carolyn spends the next 2 minutes between beating herself up and trying not to laugh out loud.


Brisbane -Monday 5.53pm. Trying to recreate my brother’s Mediterranean Chicken dish. Mostly unsuccessfully, as I bought chicken thighs instead of chicken thighs with the bones in them. The meat won’t be as tender, grr. Never mind, live and learn, eh?

Carolyn sends me a dit. Ring mum now sis. Mum answers straight away. I’m on loudspeaker.

Is that my darling? I tease. She replies: It is! It is! It’s me mum! It’s me mum! and we both chortle at our old standard greeting to each other.

Just like old times - nearly 6pm - she’d usually be watching Eddie McGuire and enjoying her first scotch. Except she’s still in Rehab.

How’s your cough mum?

Nearly gone, I haven’t coughed much at all today!

Oh? That’s marvellous.

And, she continues, I walked the parallel bars today.

Fantastic mum, remembering the last time 5 days ago when she managed a heroic 2 full lengths, unsteadily turning around at the end, to complete the other length. Her mouth was set in a grim determination. Don’t mess with me. I don’t like, but I have to do it. I will, I will, I will.

How many laps did you do today mum?


I start a coughing fit; I am so pleased for her. It’s her triumph, her Jessica Watson crossing-the-line-moment, and I let her crow with pride.

Carolyn tells me in the background that she intends to walk to the Dining Room tonight too. I can almost feel mum beaming away, her paper thin cheeks flushed with pink.

I have used mum being in hospital as an example to my own sons. When life slaps you down, you get back up again. When it slaps you down again, you get straight back up. Good girl mum.


To be continued…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mum - Part 17

It’s Saturday, race day for mum. She has followed the nags since moving to Rockhampton with her 5 children and husband John; it gave her an interest outside the house; and as she explained once: “It challenged my intellect with working out which weight, which rider, which race, who will win.”

For a Sydney-born woman who won a High School Scholarship at a prestigious girls school in south Sydney, I find this statement extraordinary. Intellect? On the horses? Still, once a form guide has been studied, there are a lot of variables, so part of me can see where she is coming from.

To me, looking at my mother as an art lover, lover of literature and classical music buff, horse racing seems to rate a very low rank – down there – on the scale of things I’d like to do with my life.

Each to their own. So anyway, I’m sitting there trying hard not to cough, keeping mum company as we watch Jessica Watson sail into mum’s beloved Sydney Harbour Heads. Uncle Alan has emailed her his racing tips for the day, and she sits and quietly makes notes. She asks me to place the bets for her when I go home.  It will be my first time. This is the phone number, this is my code. Race 2, number 4, $5 each way to win.

The numbers are small, but it’s just an interest. As it turns out, the horse comes home and pays good money. She’s made a healthy win. For me – it’s cured me for life. I don’t gamble. I don’t buy a lucky ticket. I do buy raffle tickets from the Scouts, Lifesavers, and so on, but not Lotto or similar. Can’t be bothered. I am not a gambler. But mum is. She is gambling on getting out of hospital, of getting back onto her feet. ‘Dr says I’ll have a limp, but that’s ok,’ she tells me. What are the odds?


The nurse comes in to give mum her daily anti- blood clot needle, straight into her stomach. Mum stoically pulls her top up and closes her eyes, opening them again to stare at the wall. Her tummy is beginning to be covered in soft yellow bruises. This is the first time I’ve ever seen my mother’s bare tummy. For some weird reason I’m thrilled. That’s where I was made, I think. How odd.


Home again to Carolyn, to slide the front door open and see mum’s empty ‘throne’. No one has sat in it since her hospital admission. No one sits in it anyway. Occasionally we kids challenge each other to do so: Go on Sis, sit in mum’s chair, but we dare not, we dare not. It’s mums. Respect.

The throne is empty. Long live the Queen.


To be continued…

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mum - Part 16

Mum is sleeping lightly. I tiptoe in and place her clean washing on the bed, bringing also today’s newspaper so she can check her racing guide.

Together we watch Jessica Watson beat towards the finish line, fat lumpy seas are making her progress slow. We wait. Jessica tacks again, beating north.

Hospital has taught me to be patient she says. I nod. The damn lift is teaching me patience too I think. If you keep hitting the button for Level 2, bells ring.


Rockhampton sky clouds over, various birds enjoy the weekend, taking their time to get from A to B.


On my way to see mum I follow a very new very black very shiney Holden.  To my great surprise I follow the exact same car back to home.  My sister also pulls up to the house at the same time I do.  Very odd.


To be continued.

Mum Part 15

I’m awake and breathing through both nostrils, this has to be a first! It’s another gorgeous autumn day in Rockhampton, and outside two Peewees in black and white military dress are conducting an emu parade on mum’s lawn. Carolyn blows her nose. Uh-oh, please don't catch my cold.

My dreams were conducted to Ian Morton’s HeartStrings Track 1, on endless loop. Loved it, so soothing. Thanks Ian for your heart and inspiration to heal and calm.


It’s Saturday, women’s work day. Washing on; churning. Beds stripped and sheets flung out to dry, washing up gently rattling within the bubbles in the old stainless steel sink.

Hosing the front deck I see a dozen or more large birds fly in the classic V formation, heading south, perhaps to the wet grasslands still under flood from Rockhampton’s heavy rains last month. The sky snaps with blue clarity, a slight chill from night air hangs, hesitant; to stay or leave?

Last night’s discussion was of mum, as always. Apparently a young nurse whispered to her that ‘she might be coming home on Monday’ and this news has both thrown us for a six as we aren’t prepared, the house isn’t ready, things have to be done, but worse: it’s gotten mum’s hopes up to leave the Rehabilitation Centre too early.

Surely not, we moan, that was so wrong of the young nurse to say anything, and sister June – herself a Nursing Sister in Aged Care – makes a note to complain to the Head RN. It’s just not good enough, it’s terrible to get mum dreaming of coming home, too early, too soon.

Of course, we all hope she does come home, the birds need her, they miss their mum, we miss our mum.


I follow Carolyn around the house. We are both a bit lost. We half heartedly tidy here and there. I replace the tea light candles I burned yesterday evening to welcome my sister home from work. This is a house of candles. On the radio Mr Mozart weaves his magic.

Today I will sort out her DVD, today I will brew a batch of mixture to trap the fruit fly attacking mum’s citrus trees, today I will start to pack and organise to go home.


To be continued…

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mum - Part 14

It’s no good, it’s no bloody good, I have to go to the doctors, and I have to go as soon as possible! Mum’s doctors doesn’t work for the next few days, so it's off to the Medical Centre on Dean Street, where a large aboriginal National Parks Ranger sits under a tree, on a rock, munching lazily on a pie. He looks like he's really enjoying it.  I lick my lips at the thought of another Rocky pie. They make them so well up here. Mmm, steak pie.

A youngish Indian woman doctor sees me, her tummy swollen with her second child. We chat and I cough, and cough - she writes me a script, I am grateful. It does occur to me later, listening to my conversation with her, that I really don’t take care of myself enough. I don’t think any mother does, really; we usually come last, and that’s just how it is.


Take one table each day, for five days. What? Is that all? Sheesh, I go and take another 2 tablets to help dry my nose (useless) and another two Cold and Flu tablets (useless) and pray the antibiotics will work. (I doubt it.)

I can’t even bloody drink!

On the way home I see a young dog standing enthusiastically on his hind legs. He is not tied on. He bites with the air with his bark. ARF! ARF! ARF!


In the afternoon I sleep, resting with one foot on the floor to get up and let the sliding door man in. I have been waiting all day for him to return, to attach a plastic thingy that he forgot yesterday. Carolyn tells me his partner had a heart attack. 'He’s had one before, he just has to lose weight. He’ll be ok.' I dunno, the bloke’s had two heart attacks, doesn’t sound great. I hope he recovers soon.


Later I emerge, dishevelled. Cook Spaghetti Bolognese mince. Lots of garlic. A quiet night with my sister, my tissues, my cold. I sleep like a dead man until the coughing starts at 4.30am. Carolyn tiptoes in and rubs my back with Vicks Vapour rub, and puts on Ian Morton’s wonderful HeartStrings cd. His music cradles me in his care. As much as I blew my poor nose, it fills. As much love and care as Carolyn extends and uses on me, it soon refills. I have such a caring and attentive and loving sister, and I am grateful. Cough, blow. Cough. Blow.

My ears pop and I blow yellow snot.

Mum – Part 13

I sleep badly, my nose streams and I snore like a freight train derailing. Apparently I have left the glass front sliding door open, and the cold night air streams in from under the curtains, to where I sleep on the floor. When I wake at 5.45am to see John off to Bowen, my cold is worse, far worse. I could cry with misery.

Packing the car, the Rockhampton sun suddenly pops up over Mt Archer’s left shoulder, catching us all in surprise. I race inside to grab my camera and John excitedly points out “Here Patty, grab it from this angle. And here; take this. Get the light, get the light." I snap away as I do, so happy. Snotty, but happy.

As he drives off I softly call the Torres Strait Islander greeting - Yowah. Goodbye. Yowah John. We three siblings wave.


It takes me a full 3 hours to feel clear enough in my chest to visit mum, 3 hours of blowing my nose and hacking. Driving to the hospital I notice two old men, really old, in-their-eighties-at-least-old riding fairly new looking 3-wheeled bikes. One front wheel, and two large wheels either side of a trolley basket. Their veined legs slowly push the pedals as I pass them in awe. What is it with Rocky men? There are at least three huge car-wash centres, (it’s what Rockhampton men do on Saturdays) and they just love their vehicles, even these bikes look pretty spiffy.

As I enter the main road to the new bridge, I pass a crushed car surrounded by a disco of lights from the various support vehicles. Police, fire brigade, ambulance, tow trucks. He must be a stranger.


Low tide in the Fitzroy River juts up large black rocks, they seem to float above the waterline. The 10am Jetstar flight is late, hauling its passengers over the rooftops of the Range area at 10.20. I take the opportunity to slowly drive around the suburb and photograph the colonial beauties I see peering from behind the clipped mock orange. Rockhampton holds many secrets, all you need is a prudent gardener, and a hedge.


Affectionately knows as Shirley-and-that, I wonder if Mum has conversed some more with her old market friend, Shirley. And-that. Now an elderly woman who has worn out two good knees from years of toil, Shirley adds ‘and that…” to most of her sentences.

“My son wrote to me, and that,” she starts. “He studied hard, and that…” Mum and Carolyn and I smirk in delight. Later we recount the story to June on the phone, bursting with “AND-THAT!” and we laugh at our own silliness and Shirley speech. We find it perfectly charming, a delight.

Another resident is a simple countrywoman, who weaves stories which engage my mother. Have you ever thought of writing a book, mum enquires? I did start to write, she says. She reminds me so much of my own mother, mum says softly. I find her stories of growing up on a dairy farm so entertaining. It’s the way she tells the story mum says. The countrywoman does not say “and-that".


In the morning residents are required to do physio in the gym. Mum rolls her eyes. A gymnasium she puffs. Clearly she is unimpressed but she still does the leg exercises set for her.

The needs must when the devil drives she tells me, grimacing in pain as bone grinds against bruised flesh. She has the world’s largest bruise on her inner thigh. June explained it as a shockwave of pain, emerging to discolour the inner leg, as well as the outer thigh. I haven’t seen it but both sisters suck their teeth back when they speak of it. Mum’s bruise. She is being very brave, but continues to roll her eyes and loll about with mock horror at the thought of movement.

She quotes again: The needs must when the devil drives, and shuffles her fractured leg up…slowly…slowly…and down…easy…hold hard Ned!

And repeat.

That makes three Pearl, another 20 to go chirps the young Physio. The only real exercise mum is doing is her eye rolls.

“I don’t like it, and I don’t want to, but I must, I must” she chants to me, her eyes squeezed shut with determination.

I rub her cold feet, and leave for home.


To be continued…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mum – Part 12

Mum’s blue eyes twinkle as she speaks. “They wheeled me out of the room for a while, and when I returned I had a new bed! The staff are so pleased with themselves, what a surprise.”

And she shows off to her concerned and eager audience of children, pressing the remote, up. Down. Up. Down.

It’s lovely to watch her play, as it’s exactly the sort of bed we were hoping for her. It will take the pressure of her fractured hip and ease getting in and out of bed.
A large orange hibiscus is picked from the garden to brighten the room – for a day.


At home on the back deck, the parrots are squabbling over cut dew melon. Mr Bossy struts around in his pigeon-toed way, a cranky rainbow of attitude, chasing the timid parrots to hide in between the parsley growing in pots.

They take turns to splash in the large birdbath, and fly to the tree with a noisy whirl of feathers.


Driving in the afternoon to see mum. A tired old Queenslander house - plain and ugly – sits sadly on a large corner allotment. Dead cars sprinkle the garden. Behind the frosted glass louvers I can see 3 women – one elderly – sitting and looking to the passing world of traffic.

What is their world, I wonder.

Errant husbands, wayward sons, have abandoned their broken cars for the grass to grow through. Old car bodies lie like discarded shoes on a bedroom floor.

The women peer out from behind their slatted view, half hiding, half exploring the world. When you look at this house, you quickly look away. It burdens the eye. Look harder, look deeper, and see the mothers and daughters behind the windows.

A lace curtain flaps tiredly, waving hello. Goodbye.


John cooks up a Mediterranean Chicken dish for dinner. Thighs, olives, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, he places the meal in front of us with a grin and a glass of Cab Sav wine. We cannot keep up the praise fast enough, it’s delicious, and we adore the love and care he gave us with the meal.

Thank you John, thanks mate.

Later we sit and chat over our lives, holding our children up this way and that, looking at perspectives and noting the changes. It’s good bonding time.

Carolyn snores in chorus from her bedroom.

We smile and sip our sticky wine. It’s almost bedtime and an early start, things need to be done, packed and organised before the 6am start. Goodnight, sleep well.


Today I might see an old friend, who works at the hospital as an Orderly. Or maybe he’s a Wardsman. Whatever. It will be interesting to see him again, as the last time we met – in the Cricketers Arms pub in Newcastle – he told me he was to marry.

He wanted to meet me ‘one last time, just to be sure.'

I assured him he was ‘good to go’ and wished him well.

When mum was admitted, he recognised her name and enquired after me. “I used to live with your daughter Patty, Mrs Warby.”

And he did too, until I threw him out. Ah…young love, young lovers.


To be continued…

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mum – Part 11

Pat kneels at the front door, a workman’s concentration and problem solving. He has been stuffing around with mums sliding security door now for the past 4 hours. I sit and write and Twitter, watching him from the corner of my eye, as he struggles. He may as well be wrestling crocodiles.

Finally, his light bulb moment happens as he looks - really looks – and reads:


The door is purring like a kitten within 20 minutes. It’s ok, he’s a Kiwi and I forgive him. We have become instant friends as he sweated and I quietly chatted to him; we discuss the music I am playing.

Paul Simon, Neil Diamond. Pete Murray. All my ‘boys.’ Sing loud!

The sliding door sings like a canary.

The sky farts white clouds over the city of Rockhampton. No one notices.


Driving these unfamiliar streets, half remembered; some skinny, some barge-assed, a memory stirs.

Isn’t this where I used to live?

I’m sure my old flat - my darling first flat - was around here somewhere, and the next minute I am driving up Bolton Street, a bolt of lightning shudders my arms as I drown in bad memories of my first marriage.

Standing proud is a classic Queenslander home. I stare at it in disbelief, like trying to recognise an old aunty when she changes her lipstick and hairstyle.

And then I see the tree, the tree where the baby kookaburra fell from, and we rescued it, and ever after that we were swooped upon and attacked by the mother kookaburra.

That’s the old home I learnt to apply my eyeliner, and where I learned to lie to men, to run and hide behind the old fat mango tree in the darkness; watching and trembling as he strode outside calling my name again and again. I hid.

And here it is. The tree, the driveway, but the house has now been returned to the classic beauty she always was. I’m stunned, and charmed. I pull the car to the right and turn the corner. Remembering myself at eighteen seemed like a book I read once.


To be continued…

Mum – Part 10

John and I drive in separate cars to see mum. Phone calls from my husband, from two of my close friends, location updates from June: I’m in Childers. The house is closed, locked and bolted. I drive in the silence of my mother’s old car, the radio has lost its knob.

I haven’t been to the hospital in the morning, so this is new to me. (I've been too sick)

Across the next parking allotment sits a huge tree, itself a forest of sprouting small figs. The multi-trunks span the entire block. Is it one tree? Just one tree? No, it’s a series, an orchard. Maybe not, it’s very confusing as the limbs intertwine and weave their way skyward.

Dog shit dots the pavement. My feet tango in between.

Above Rocky sky throws up a treat of fairy floss clouds, wistfully moving in slow motion to the east.


Bending in the back garden to throw handfuls of rose food to budding tight fists of reds and yellows, a butterfly glides past my cheek so closely I can feel the soft puff of wind as it flaps lazily by.

If a butterfly sneezes….I ponder.

My mouth makes an O like Jonathon, but no ‘wheelbarrow full of surprises'; only earthy fresh garden soil, and the steady drone of the garden sprinkler as it breathes new life into the citrus trees. I watch in fascination the purple and blue of the black winged butterfly. He dances a hiccupy flight meandering through mum’s yard. He makes no point of arrival, simply enjoys the journey wherever it may take him.


Hot chocolate and mud cake make a wonderful friend on days when you need to sit and think and talk. John and I collapse into seats facing the street, waiting to share some time together and discuss mum, our favourite subject. Last night he told me quietly that he read my writing essays from Year 7 at Berserker Street State School, when he went there the following year to begin his teaching career.

“I have always remembered your writing,” he says.

Because I’m your little sister?

“No, because it was bloody good, and in the 42 years I have been teaching ever since, I have never read anything like it.”

I’m stunned, and yes, flattered. He looks at me with his straight gaze. I grin madly back, like his little kid sister.


At the front door work two men in pull on boots. The ones with elastic sides. They are struggling with the sliding security door, it seems they have NOT measured twice and cut once. So now it’s too short.

Battery drills and crashing and banging and the odd mutter permeate the lounge room. The screen screeches with glee, the men adjust the screws, it shrieks again, giddy with the naughtiness of not doing what they want. Discussions are held over pop rivet guns, the tracks finally gliding the door into behaving after much ado.


To be continued...

Mum – Part 9

Already the morning routine has changed with June’s early pre-dawn departure and John arrival yesterday afternoon.

Four-wheel drive magazines clutter our girls toilet.

The Three Tenors - mum’s three magpies – have sung the sun up, dragging its lazy arse across the gum treed tops of Mt Archer. Life is returning to a new normal; a different routine we soon adjust to.

Carolyn quietly cuts another onion in half, and I awake to a small brown slice - sacrificed to soak up my ‘cold germs’ – sitting on top of the computer. The scouts could hold a jamboree!

John sleeps in my old green bedroom, the wallpaper tatty from years of teenagers and toddlers camping in the small cramped room over the decades. June dits to say she is at Childers, so I begin to work out her departure time.


As adults, gradually we reconnect; sitting in the night's cool darkness, feet up on the bench, sipping our red wine. Gradually we knock off the sharp edges of our relationships, and once again become the smooth cog of our family.

Last night we sang up a storm with old Henry – Seaman Dan – and the Mills Sisters. Turn it up! Turn it up! And we twist the old knob and crank the music.

Are you from T.I.?
Well I’m from T.I. tooooo
, we bay.

We stomp and clap (I enthusiastically break a huge blood vessel on my left palm) and June shrills and Carolyn yelps: we howl like wild things at our lives, we howl to our mother, and we embrace; arms encircling each other, heads bowed in reverence of the beautiful joy of being part of this loving family.

As siblings, our family life experience is a progressive patchwork quilt, some edges are worn and smooth, other patches need stitching to heal, but together we children throw our homemade blanket around the shoulders of our beloved mother.

It keeps her warm.


A call from Carolyn, with a longish list of Things Mum Wants. Her classical music (of course) her crosswords, her mobile phone charger, so she can send out her dits to the world of grandchildren, updating her progress. In the war she was a Signals Officer, teaching Morse Code:

dit dit dit,
did dar dar dar.

We send dits to each other daily. Telstra love us.


To be continued…

Mum – Part 8

John has arrived from Bowen, at last. A day of ups and downs for mum – to be expected – and her ‘surprise parcel in the post’ arrived sans post stamp and larger than life. John!

Laptops are quickly organised to Skype, a bottle of champagne thrown into the car, and we sit as a family; this stoic mother with her broken hip, and her remaining offspring who adore her.

We sit and we chat and we laugh and we sing old songs that some of us know; and we sing old songs that all of us know. We are so happy – and relieved – to be together.

Later, dinner is a mish-mash if this and that, each choosing a different drink to wash away the day’s efforts.

Red wine.
White wine.

Much dancing and filming to the Mills Sisters and our adored Seaman Dan.

Tomorrow, when the crows are still silent from sleep; and the sun has forgotten to wake up, my sister June will creep into the darkness and drive 700kms home to her pot plants and awaiting family. God speed. God Bless. Don’t speed. Dit us!


To be continued…

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mum - Part 7

The girls ready for another day. They laugh and chat and gossip and talk. I type. Walking down the hallway I try to engage my eldest sister in a conversation, and within a minute she starts shouting at me again. It’s a bit rude actually. I’m over it.

“Are these your photos or the photographer’s photos?” she demands. They are the photographer’s photos, but I have put them on your usb stick, as you asked me to.

I’m not sure what she gets, and doesn’t get, but I’m over it. Today my brother John arrives. That might clinch the deal.


Across the road an industrial sprinkler beats, watering half of the lawn and the entire concrete driveway. Behind me in the two small brick units, an orange vested man mows dust, followed by another man who whipper snips. The noise is comforting. Childhood. Rockhampton is having a working day.


When dad passed away, Butcherbirds and Magpies began to visit mum’s back deck, singing to her as she sat in the sun ‘warming her old bones.’ She feeds them mince, and throws it in the air for them to catch on the wing. The Maggies she feeds by hand, and they swap songs for food.

They have become a much loved ritual and part of our family, most if not all of them having names. We are familiar with their antics, and enjoy them very much, but the birds haven’t been seen since mum was taken away in an ambulance. Carolyn tells me that when the front open opened to allow mum’s stretcher to pass through, Mr Fluffy sat on the chair with his head cocked to one side, silently watching mum’s departure.

He didn’t sing.

Yesterday, the hospital rings: "Doctor says he can see no new fractures, so Pearl doesn’t need an operation”. We sit in stunned silence until we over talk each other with cries and exclamations of “That’s great!” “Wow, I thought for sure...” “Amazing!”

Within two minutes Mr Fluffy whirled into the house as the door was slid open, and he sat expectantly on the chair he thinks he owns. Within minutes he was joined on the deck by the other three Butcherbirds, and two Maggies.

The birds have returned.

The parrots are a constant guest, eating the bread and honey left daily for them, and they helicopter to the trees in a blur of colourful feathers. We take the birds return as a positive sign, and we are relieved. Mum will be fine.


Mum – Part 6

It’s Tuesday. I’ve lost a whole day. Yesterday I woke to a black screen on my phone.

Yesterday was spent organising my dead Blackberry to be resuscitated by Telstra. They have actually replaced it *bless, and when we removed the old sim card, it spluttered back to life!

So now I have TWO Blackberries. *sighs. I’ll have to sort that out today.

Yesterday my sisters asked if I could vacuum the floor, so I waved them off to the hospital as only Cinderalla can, and vacuumed mum’s 90th birthday bling from the carpet.

90. Woosh. There goes a purple one. Wosh! There goes a gold one. 90.

Gradually little memories are removed from the floor.

Yesterday I met my sisters - who seem to talk around me, and over me – for morning tea. Agreeing to meet at the ‘Chocolate Shop’ I drive and park, only to read that what I thought was the right café is actually called Sexy Coffee. I hate coffee, but I love chocolate, so then I drive to Carolyn’s work to ask if I can ring her on her mobile.

Long story short, I found the girls, who didn’t miss me at all. *sighs, lol. They sit a cough’s distance away.


We wander the house, patting down our pockets. “Have you seen my phone? Are these my glasses? Where did I put my camera?”
We wander like sheep in a paddock, out of routine with life and habits.


A sign hangs limply from a building advertising “Opera in the Caves”. It would be beautiful to be there, to hear pure voices sing in God’s Cathedral.


A semi laden with cattle turns a hard right for the long drive to the meatworks. A line of manure spills from the truck in a graceful but smelly curve. Even with the windows up I can smell the shit.

Rockhampton is a beef city.

Large cows (cattle?) bullocks or whatever meet visitors at each end of the town. I like the concept.

Eat more meat ya bastards! crowed the old car stickers. You probably can’t say that now, in this politically correct world we live in. We exist in. This silly world where little girls prance in permanent party dresses of pink and fairy tulle. What on earth do they then wear to actual parties?


A group of young aboriginals cross the road in front of my car. They each hold a small plastic coke bottle and inside it the liquid isn’t the colour of Coke. They look at me with dead eyes. I stare back.


The Fitzroy - the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees of my old hometown - twinkles in the autumn sunshine.
Clouds hang above like gun fire.

I drive in silence, the car radio has died. It gives me time to think, and I can’t sing anyway with my scratchy voice. Later, I ring Father Cameron, all 6 foot 6 inches of him, to ask if mum can be put on the Prayer List. This morning he responds to my message, and also adds me to the list.

Marvellous! And all you have to do to be on it, is to be sick!


My sister asks if we should throw away the chocolate mud cake I bought for us to share on Mother’s Day. It has only one small slice taken from it. It sits pristine. No, I say, it will last for ages. She starts shouting at me, again.


I do.
So far she has lectured, roused on, bossed, and now she shouts.

I am her Elephant’s Child. We have forgotten how to speak to each other.

I might go home early. I’m dead weight here.


To be continued...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mum - Part 5

Most people think it only takes 2 minutes to cook salmon steaks, but they are wrong.

I’m standing at the bbq, hand on my left hip, turning the pork chipolatas, cooking with care, the salmon; Vicks vapour rub on my feet, enclosed in pink bedsocks. My top lip beads sweat.

I’m doing the man’s job, again. We have no men, in Rockhampton, none that can turn the snags anyway. Not now, at this minute.

My sisters re-thread mum’s bedroom curtains, all three sets of them.

Are we doing double loops or triples? asks June. They sit quietly; doing women’s work; re-looping, until Carolyn covers her face in both hands, both shaking, trembling hands. It’s too much, making mum’s room ‘nice again’ when we all know she may not be home.

None of us feel like lunch but we know we have to eat, we must eat. Everyone is out of routine. When I serve the avocado and red tomato salsa, we fall upon it like a pack of dogs, we shove the food and wash it down with Lindeman’s Sav Blanc. Life is good, for now.


Candles are lit for mum; it’s Mother’s Day. Gently Carolyn circles the room, tea lights and purple candles and soft pinks, are all lit with care and love. We chat amongst ourselves, and busy our hands with glasses of red wine. The room smells of cut onions (don't ask!) and Vicks.

My sisters always talk like they have met each other for the first time, each conversation fresh with new discoveries and enthusiastic swapping of chat and titter.

I listen passively, lost in my own thoughts. I have conversations with my sons – in my head.

Later we head back to hospital, the cars know their way now and we lead them in like wranglers, parking outside. June has brought her laptop, so family can video Skype mum, and soon the room is full of laughter and blowing kisses and mum bravely waving her broken left wrist to much loved grandchildren. My two sons call in too, both looking serious and handsome, but hey! look at the mother, haha.

My niece holds her two year old son upside down over her pregnant tummy, his golden hair tossers down. I resist the urge to ruffle it.

Then it’s time for me to go; my cold is freshening up and I am a reluctant departure.

Bye mum! Take care darling. Love you heaps.

My sisters stay a while longer, to chat to the nurses and to oversee her care.

They are mother hens to our mother hen.


Dinner is leftover pizza and we gulp it down with red wine.

Later we sit in the evenings cool, me with my Vicks Vapour rub feet enclosed in bed socks, and a huge blanket around me, Carolyn and June sitting quietly as the candle burns down the hours till sleep comes to take us gently to bed.


Another restless sleep, my nose is so blocked that when I blow it I trumpet like an elephant with an orange stuck in it’s trunk – woo Weee!

A bush turkey thumps onto the roof in the early dawn and performs a percussion solo above me.

I drift in and out of sleep, half listening to my sisters soft voices.

The wall clock ticks in exact time to a blinking green light for mum’s emergency phone. In case she falls.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock, the light blinks in perfect harmony.

Legs curled like a bronze age burial, I snuggle in and dream some more, waking to the horror that won’t go away – mum’s agonising broken hip and impending operation.

In the morning, I shit bitumen.


To be continued…

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mum - Part 4

Sitting in the car, chatting to my Youngest, waiting for sisters to arrive for our planned brunch. Uh oh, here comes Carolyn, grim faced and trembling chin. It’s not going to be good news. I scramble out of the car, a gaggle of Mother’s Day wishes hurriedly snatched from my son’s mouth as he utters each word.

Overhead, a loose flock of pigeons wheel and turn like confetti in the blue Rockhampton sky; such a mad mob. A few of them break free, flapping this way and that, no idea where they are going; they must be young.


Other pigeons fly in an orderly circle, how hard can it be, but the youngsters fall over the sky in random order, like starving kids in the school Tuckshop line.


My two sisters fill me in on what the doctor said, what the nurse said, what mum has told them. Stories are shared, options discussed. It’s grim. We sit there – shocked at the future being pushed towards us – we unwilling participants of this slow motion car crash called life. And death.


Driving through the city centre on Sunday afternoon, I see two old cowboys, playing the fiddle. It could be a violin, but come on, they are cowboys, and it’s unlikely to be such an instrument, but you never know. They stand bow legged, white hats and denim jeans, arms bent and I have to imagine the music they are playing. I’ll have to simply imagine, for now.

In the centre of East Street is an old fig tree, it’s massive branches carved off like butter. Upright limbs stretch skywards, as if asking to be saved from man's chainsaws.

Old wounds are painted with grey, and cracks and splits in the bark are bogged with putty. I should get some for mum’s hip! In contrast, to the left stands an elegant Royal Palm, dignified in the classic shape of nobility. It makes the poor old fig tree look like the dog’s breakfast it has become. It’s not a suitable street tree, at all, what were they thinking?


Arriving home to phone calls, Skype video calls (‘What time is it? It’s 3am. What on earth are you ringing at this hour for?’ We rouse gently). A bottle of champagne is produced. Girls? Pink champers or normal?

Pink? Normal?

No one cares, just open something, anything, and start to pour. We pause our minds for a minute to stop - STOP - and clink; Happy Mother’s Day, here’s to our children, and our mum. Clink. Sip. Ahhh, bliss. Back to rushing around.


To be continued…

Mum - Part 3

It’s morning, at last. Darkness scurries west, hiding from the day.

Such a long night.

Coughing, blowing my nose, tossing in my makeshift bed on the floor of the loungeroom.

Outside it's windy; the parrots are hanging off the screen door, waiting impatiently for their bread and honey. One hangs upside down, what a clown!


In the distance I can hear my sisters chat quietly, the jug comes to a rolling boil, cups are stirred. I am surrounded by a sea of tissues, and I am full of snot and mucus. How bloody annoying! Deciding not to join my sisters at church, I roll over and close my puffy eyes for more sleep. I haven’t had a bad cold for the past 5 years, and now, today of all days, here I am. Unclean! Unclean! So annoyed at myself.

‘Look behind the potatoes' I croak to Carolyn, and she digs out the large box of dark Lindt chocolates for Mother’s Day. I plan to eat at least 3 of them myself, although I doubt if I could taste them. I’ll just pretend.

Carolyn brings me a hot cup of tea, and waves Panadol at me. Thanks sis.

My voice sounds like a 13 year old. If I wasn’t so sick I’d burst out laughing at myself, how I sound. I honk my nose again.

When the girls leave, when my sisters drive away from this girl’s house, leaving me and my tissue landfill, I make myself another cup of tea.


This is such a girl’s house, now. On the walls there are 35 paintings, all original. We are a house of enthusiastic artists and collectors of memories and photographs. Good paintings hang above terrible, but much loved paintings. We look at them both, and appreciate the care and memory.

Some of dad’s paintings hang above the window, scenes of early days at Lockhart River Mission, us naked happy children running with freedom in our salty hair. Above the television stand a group of grandchildren photos, in various stages of smiles, teeth and life.

The frames jostle for prominence.

They are treasured and carefully replaced with each fresh batch of images. This girl’s house is surrounded by security, now. Lights, doors, mesh, screens, it is a bolt house for us women. No men guard us here. It’s a girl’s house with Adorable written in diamonds on the bathroom mirror, false pearls strung like party lights across the toilet window; the seat remains down, always.

Music seeps through, classical music. Always music, and art.

It’s mum’s house, except there is no mum here, now.

I light a candle for her, for Mother’s Day.

Later, in the hot shower, I stand and let the water drown me, spilling over my shoulders, across my back, to the floor. There are 3 soaps, 2 liquid bath lotions, 5 types of shampoo. It’s such a girl’s house, this home.

To be continued…

Mum - Part 2

It is a week since mum’s fall.

One week since Nigella cooked on TV, quietly unaware of the horror unfolding for my sister on the other side of the screen. Seven days of my older sister beating herself up (it happened on her shift) although you couldn’t find a more loving, dedicated caring daughter.

- One 12 second chat: “Mum, stay there and watch Nigella, I’ll just go and heat dinner for us”;
- one two second fall (twisting her body so she didn’t re-break her left wrist *smart!)
- 20 minutes of my sister sobbing and crying and trying to help Mum to her feet, trying to help Mum stand, trying to get Mum off the bloody floor.

Calm down Carolyn, Mum says, in the authoritive voice she learnt in the war, as Signals Officer.

Take your time, it will be ok.


In the afternoon we are in Mum’s room of the Rehabilitation Centre. We came laden with blankets (it’s cold) and fresh sleepwear and anticipation. She’s in bed chatting on the phone to brother John. Tomorrow will be Mother’s Day, and he has sent 2 red roses, and a card that reads: To the best Mother in the world, Happy Mother’s Day, I love you, John.


He has done it every year, for decades. He is a man of rountine and order. A school teacher. Driving home, Venus keeps her twinkling eye upon us, as the car turns into our street. We are home, bottles of wine are opened, pizzas are ordered, our growling tummies howl with anticipation of a meal.


So tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and the shops are full of mummy things: pyjamas, nighties, dressing gowns and so on. I buy my two sisters a bunch of Woolworths flowers: red roses for June (so they can travel the 700km back to Brisbane in the car) and pink tulips for Carolyn (I love to watch them gently droop as they grow one inch each day, so graceful). I hide a large box of Lindt dark chocolate in the pantry, behind the potatoes. Mum will receive yellow ‘Tulips in a Bucket!’ - like 'Snakes on a Plane!' - only tulips.

I walked my Rockhampton inspired 10,000 steps in the North Rockhampton Shopping Centre to buy the flowers. The shopping mecca is full of 14 year old boys preening their hair, carefully sculptured piles of dead protein sure to impress the chicks...middle aged women walk past me with both of their lower legs covered in tattoos. I’m sure you can get pantyhose that look like that?

I’m exhausted, but still appreciate watching dads with sons and young toddlers glean over catalogues to choose the right gift for their mother. It has to be right, they can’t stuff this up, the day is too important to them. They’re young. When they become older, when their body begin to change it’s scent and they feign carelessness as cool, Mother’s Day becomes less important. Never as important as their hair.

It’s proportional.

Later we Skype with brother John. My eldest sister and I clash, again. And again. It’s what we seem to do. We always have. We're both tired.


Carolyn, my other sister, is exhausted.

“Goodnight Sis, sleep well,” the old phrase not quite worn out from use. Within a minute my sister is back in the lounge room, crying, sobbing, her body shaking with grief.

“I just miss mum cleaning her teeth, it’s something we have done together, every night. I can’t stand the thought of her up there by herself.”

I hold her, it’s amazing how far my arms can stretch, I feel like Rubber Man. We embrace.

I tell her she is the most loving woman, the most patient, giving woman. It’s all true. It’s not a time to lie or embellish, it’s the simple truth. She really is.

We sob together.

Shhh. Shhh. Mum is in a good place. It’s her journey. We are witness to her life, what a ride!

I stroke her shoulders, and murmur.

‘Dad is with her. Dad is with her’. All will be well.

Tomorrow is morning service at the Cathedral, I haven’t been back for a service since we buried dad, so tomorrow is the day, before we go to see mum, to take our offerings of flowers and bed jackets and our love and concern, our family offerings of a life well lived and respected and appreciated. Tomorrow.

We have tonight to get through first.
Sleep well, God bless.

To be continued...