On the eve of Mother’s Day in Australia, this piece from Felicity Ward in The Age struck a chord with me.
I began thinking of all the other mothers I’ve had over the years. Most of my teachers were women, and many of them taught me how to be a professional. Mrs Pat Judd gave me a passion for books in schools (my own mum gave me a passion for books in general). Miss Verway was a great teacher AND a style icon. Mrs Norman’s gentle insistence on the importance of English continues inspiring me today. And there were many more.
But I find that it is the women who were friends of my parents that have had a lasting influence on my personal life.
My first best friend’s mum, Pamela, was beautiful. High cheek bones, blond hair swept into a chignon, beautiful clothes, beautiful home, tennis morning lifestyle. But there was also a reserve which was hard to penetrate. She was cool, in that brittle way women of a certain class have. I was always worried that I was going to break or wreck something in that house, and I would be always thinking about how I spoke or ate or sat. Pam was a proper lady. And yet, when I unexpectedly got my first period on a sleepover at their house one summer, she was actually quite wonderful about it – concerned and helpful and motherly and caring. We haven’t spoken for many years, probably not since my wedding, 1991, which was the same year that her daughter, Mandy, got married, and then died of ovarian cancer. We both turned 25 that year, 11 days apart. Pam and John moved back to Sydney and rarely come to Melbourne. But Pam taught me a lot about how to behave in ‘company’, and how to be ‘classy’, which was good for a free-range kid like me.
Margie was the mum of my kid brother’s best friend, and our families have known each other for 40 years. We are the only people that call her Margie, she prefers Margaret, but I didn’t find that out until years later – she’s Margie to us. A big woman, with a huge bust, a huge laugh and a huge heart, Margie was a fabulous cook and a fearsome disciplinarian, and wielded a wooden spoon with abandon, whacking cakes and bums with equal gusto. A ‘stay-at-home’ mum, she loved her husband and kids with a passion, and loved anyone else in the house in the same way. Margie died just a few weeks ago, cancer again, and at the remembrance arvo tea their little house in Somerville was chock full of people who loved her and missed her. Margie was the ‘mum’ of mums.
If Margie was the house mum, Jen is the earth mother. A hippie long before hippies were ‘in’ and also well after they were out, Jen has been making the world more sustainable for years. At their house in Balnarring, the tennis court was ripped up and replaced by an extensive and well-maintained vegie patch, in which Jen grew produce to feed the family all year round. She churned butter, had bees, and they eventually moved to a property at Dargo, which needed reclaiming from the ravages of being over-farmed and over-run by weeds. Jen and Norm grew a business out of that passion – Dargo Walnuts. Jen’s self-sufficiency in the face rampant consumerism was and is to be admired, and her passion for it inspires me to grow something in my little backyard. And she’s a divine human being as well.
Sue. How can I explain this woman to you? And what she means to our family? A smoker for most of her life, Sue is a loud, cranky, passionate teacher. I thank the good goddess that I never had her as a teacher, because she scared the living crap out of my friends that did have her. Sue expected the best from her students every day, and heaven help you if you didn’t rise to the challenge! Expect an earful, young ‘un! What stops her from being mean with it? Damn, that woman has the twinkliest eyes, and her love for what she does and who YOU are shines out of her like a bloody lighthouse. She CARES – capital letters are required because then you can’t avoid it. I’ve known Sue my whole life – she was my Dad’s first girlfriend (she says) and they grew up together, as I grew up with her daughter, Sam. Sue is possibly the most positive person I know. Also one of the most outspoken, with views on politics (left), feminism (pro) and everything else in between – including her concern for me verging on the anorexic (ha!). She can talk to anyone about anything. She loves food. And her kids. All her kids, regardless of which family they come from. Sue is my mother from another grandmother.
The Erith Mob Godmothers. Hilary, Jenny, Nita (the empress). It’s hard to quantify this effect this group of older ladies had an me, other than to say that they delivered unconditional love and acceptance to me and to many others. Nita (our other Nan) died a few years ago, but would greet me as if I was one of her own children Hilary, the long-suffering footy widow (and that is tongue in cheek, as I’m sure she did a little happy dance as the footy fanatics left the house every Saturday) is quietly and consistently loving to all and sundry. And Jenny is a footy fanatic like me, loves the Dees and is cranky and passionate about pretty much everything. The pillars of the Mob.
My Nan. My Dad’s mum. She was our rock. A fantastic cook, knitter, crocheter, philanthropist (she gave away hundreds of knitted dolls, ducks, owls, ‘Harrys’, blankets and more to charity), wife and mother. Before she got diabetes and stopped ‘working’ she was a successful business woman, running a butcher shop, a milk bar and then a wool shop in partnership with my Gump. A Christian in the true sense of the word, she gave and gave, to strangers and to family. ‘Nanny Roast’ became a Sunday night ritual, with more than 20 people for a sit-down meal every week. Holidays were spent laying in front of the TV at Nan’s being fed at intervals – although dinner was always a sit-down affair. Canasta, ‘haggis’, hypos, swearing – which she came to late in life but embraced wholeheartedly – Nan was an old-fashioned lady that took on the modern world and won. I miss her every, single day. I hope I can be half the grandmother she was to me when me girls have kids of their own.
And Mum. The Big Bomba. Independent, a seamstress, an artist, a ground-breaking historian, a reader, and a writer. A feminist in the true sense of the word – that building people up and helping them to get better at what they do is how the world is improved. She is the icing on my mummy cake. Which she would certainly cook a million times better than me. It’s hard to included all the amazing things that my Mum does. Because there’s been heaps.
I will have left someone important out of this list. I’ve really focused on those early influences in my life, those women who grew me up. I think I turned out OK – and it’s mostly due to this motherhood of amazing women.
And I’m thinking to myself, just quietly, aren’t I lucky.