Knights-Castille, Bushells Tea, Sweet-Peas these were a few of her favourite things. Today I reflected on the passing of my mum, 23years she has been gone, taken far too young. It has been a long time now and I miss her immensely. Not on an everyday basis but regular enough, often at family gatherings, times of trouble and need, times when the family pulled together like shifting. Flora was a unique woman in many ways, One of 14 brought up dirt poor in a household that was marked by deprivation, and tarnished by abuse. Mum left home as early as she could lying about her age to get work, taken under a friends wing (God bless you Paddy). Mum met a dashing young man, eventually getting married, 9 months one week and one day later the first of 7 children was born. My mum was not much of a scholar, not unintelligent but never had much in the way of formal schooling, she had a fantastical reliable bullshit meter (most of the time), a heart of gold and a giving spirit.
Our house was busy, not only with all of the children but the myriads of relation,s boarders, near relation,s and all the waifs and strays you could think of. Mum was always good for a cup of tea and a feed. She had a wonderful sense of humour and often laughed at herself .
I have memories of her chasing me around the house trying to hit me with the broom, ending up leaning against a doorway legs crossed, as she laughed so much she was afraid she would pee her pants. Mum was fiercely loyal, I remember one day her coming to school and giving one of my teachers, a nun of extraordinary meanness with a paucity of humour, thin lipped and looking like she sucked a lemon every five minutes, a lesson in life as Flora saw it. Legend has she threatened the nun with violence should she pick on her son again, I do remember the scene as this nun went white as mum got right into her face and told her how it was. She believed the best in people, although worldly she was innocent in many ways and took people at face value, trusting and generous. Mums kitchen was always an inviting place, from the ever ready pot of soup through to the fresh scones and the Anzac biscuits, always a feed to be had there and always enough to go around.
Mum was passionate about a lot of things, had no time for politicians and certainly not Jehovah’s Witnesses, once shutting the door on the foot of a witness who did not understand go away I am busy and left his foot in the door as mum tried to shut the door. After that they crossed the road when they came to our place, never knocked on the door again. Mum had a large extended family and generally talked to everyone, mostly staying out of the family feuds that erupted at times. Believe me when I say they were pretty nasty at times.
Why it is that some people are driven to hurt the very people that they love is beyond me, however when you are brought up in an environment of poverty, and abuse I guess some people never learn. Mum loved a great party, and one of our pastimes after one of these was to find the booze she stashed, I think when mum thought people had enough she would start to hide it, in the flour bin, bread cupboard you name it she would put it there. Dad worked hard to earn the money and mum worked hard at spending it. Not on herself or on frivolous things but on us children and anyone else who had a need.
Mum was a Catholic and belonged the Catholic Women’s League, I would love to have been a fly on the wall at some of those meetings! Family life revolved around church and festive occasions, we celebrated Christmas, Easter and New Years with equal passion, here is a link to a story I wrote about Christmas at ours. http://softlyfallingpoetry.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/christmas-past/ Mums life like many women of her time was not easy, wringer washing machines, coal ranges and few of the labour saving devices that we have today. Mum came late in life to driving, I remember one driving lesson with us kids in the car, if I recall rightly I may have learned one at least new cuss word that day.
I am sure there was an equal amount of relief and consternation when she obtained her license! Mum knew how to celebrate life. It is curious but I don’t remember her grieving so much although she had a lot to grieve. I remember a miscarriage she had, “Josephine” she was called. I do not know how far on but not enough for her to need to be buried in a cemetery. Then there was the suicide of my brother. No parent should ever have to bury a child, it is wrong and perverse but there it is, I just don’t remember how she handled it.
Mum had her health challenges through her life. Her headaches were legendary and would lay her low for days. Dad worked and did what he could to help, and if Nana was around she would help but a lot of it fell to Trish as the oldest and myself to get the other kids fed and off to school. It was these headaches that took her. We cannot know but suspect that all through her life she had an aneurysm, either slowly leaking or swelling and causing pressure. Add to that the stress of life with six children with the inherent difficulties that brought, never mind the special needs two of her children had.
Before I lionize her, mum was no saint, a wicked sense of humour ,the liberal use of physical discipline (usually but not always well earned), and an intolerance for fools, flattery and frippery are things I remember, but given her upbringing and the beliefs of her time this was not unusual. Today I want to celebrate her humour, her love her sense of family.
Our house is very much like hers, waifs, strays, always a feed. The physical discipline is gone, I have inherited her intolerance for fools, I am often more diplomatic than her however when it comes to fools, well…
Mum I loved you in your awesome imperfection, you were an ever dependable rock who went far too soon. Xxx Paul