The Love Letter
I just want to tell you all the things that I find amazing about you, all the times that we couldn’t have been closer and how much I love you.
The first time I met you, I hadn’t really come into my own stride yet. I was still finding myself and wondering what the world was all about. I didn’t have the courage and strategies for dealing with things that I do now; and back then, I leant on you heavily.
We spent a lot of time together in those days.
Before I met you, you had been a girl in the Second World War. Your parents were desperately trying to stay alive in Southern England, as constant bombing raids threatened.
In the backyard of your home, your father dug a bomb shelter. He mounded up the earth and surrounded it with tin.
When the siren sounded you would all rush outside and into the shelter. Your brother, still a baby in the pram and you somewhere between 5 and 9. One time you all came out of the shelter to find that all of your windows had been blown out and other houses in the street were gone.
Your mother was a practical English woman. Also a French Polisher. Your father was a Mechanical Engineer with a second duty during the war, as the ‘Works’ fireman. That meant after the raids he sometimes had to go and put out fires caused by ‘Incendiary’ bombs (burning magnesium) and that was just the way it was.
This shared experience bonded your family and during the food rationing that followed you grew up to learn the practical skills of “how to make do” and “make things go further”. You loved your Mother and Father.
I remember the many times you cooked for me years later. We didn’t have much at the time either, though roast dinners, had potatoes and Yorkshire puddings, (the British way of using flour and water to make the dinners go further). There were English versions of curries and other experiments, though the traditional English cooking, of Mrs Beaton, (the book that told you how to do it all), had been handed down from your Mother.
Thus, after the War you grew up and worked as a secretary until you met a man called Robert (Bob) whom you married and had a son with and then another son. That is when I met you.
Your and Bob’s families, if you look back far enough, had lived in that part of Southern England for at least 800 years and because of your Father you are at least 14-22% Norwegian.
The story of those people, that part of England and all their careers would fill several volumes, so I’ll skip it for this letter.
Bob however didn’t see the opportunities in England and wanted to travel. That meant you, Bob and the two boys went to New Zealand to see what that was like. I don’t know what happened there, though after about a year you were back in England.
After that Australia was the destination and in 1969 you, Bob and the boys were over to Australia arriving in Melbourne and then on to Adelaide.
You had to stay in some flats in Salisbury for a couple of weeks. You then purchased a house that you lived in a few years past the time that Bob eventually passed on. I think about 45 years.
That suburb had schools, shopping centres, a library and neighbours. The family set about becoming Australian. It wasn’t really that hard, you sort of just picked it up as you went along. You were very outgoing, so you were soon friends with the neighbours; some lifelong. You worked at the school fetes, you made cakes to sell for fundraisers. Bob helped run the claret stall. You raised your boys. Bob got work and then didn’t and then got work again.
Your Mum missed you so much however and she and your Father moved out to Australia as well. For a while it was good and then your Father became ill before his time and died. You were devastated. Your Mum became ever closer to your boys.
The house you had purchased had magic properties in that it attracted cats. Maybe there were signs on the door like the hobo symbols of 30s USA. I don’t know.
The first one was called MutHead by Bob. He was a grizzly old thing and he didn’t hang around long.
Then a cat appeared that you called Peter and he was a big stray old thing, though young, as he sucked at the couch fabric like he was still nursing from his mother. After a bit he was right at home with his own laundry room, dirt box and food bowl.
It wasn’t just cats. You had another child, a girl. The family was complete, and everyone moved through life’s changes.
The little girls next store moved, and they left you with their cat “Strawberry” who was tough but had the misfortune of having a little bib and socks. Along came Artie and Clara cats and then you had a house with 3 children, a husband and 4 cats.
You were a strong advocate for women and women’s issues. Totally from a position of care for the society you wanted to live in, the family you wanted to raise and the people that you would meet, (oftentimes becoming firm friends).
Eventually this led to you becoming the President of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in South Australia. This was a position you held for several years.
Thinking was important to you and thus your house had many books of all different kinds. Shelves and shelves of them in fact. Usually bought for some cents or a few dollars from fetes, garage sales and the book exchange. You encouraged your family to read.
All while this was happening you still cooked meals, managed children and had your marriage.
Your Mother got old and bought the house next store so you could care for her as she aged. Your eldest son moved in with her as well so he could help. Eventually she passed on at home.
It was then that you did something radical. You wondered if you could go to university. You had been a shorthand typist and worked and then had married. It was a bit of a plan, so you contacted the Institute of Technology and applied to do the Associate Diploma in Social Work.
There was some opposition from Bob, though you shrugged it off and though you had a 10 year old, you went to study Social Work. You got your Associate Diploma and then bridged into the degree. When you graduated and got your Degree, you were so happy. It changed everything.
You had not been in the workforce since being a secretary and now you applied for your first job for many years. You did some placements and then finally became the Social Worker at the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Another proud milestone, your first pay check of many years.
You helped so many people deal with that debilitating condition. Giving them hope, advice and options to live their lives as best they could. You also cried sometimes when things were difficult for your clients.
While I was working in Sydney for years, I would ring you and we would have conversations on many topics of the day or just talk about family.
I would visit you and there were sessions watching television, old movies and wonderful cups of tea that Bob would make.
It went on for years. It wasn’t all perfect, there were ups and downs.
Everyone got older and Bob got ill and had to go into the nursing home. A little after that he died.
No more cooking the Christmas turkey in the Webber BBQ and trying to get me to have Scotch in my coffee.
You moved down to Morphett Vale, sold your house and lived there on your own. There were visitors. Your children, grandchildren, the nurse, some friends. After a while we started to notice that you weren’t connecting your words. It got more difficult and then it was harder to tell you things.
I found some writing and I realised that you knew it was happening and were trying to keep things straight on a notepad. It broke my heart that age was stealing your intellect.
It broke further in another year, when you had to go into a high care nursing facility. I was in Sydney again and I would fly back and visit you every month at first and then every 4-6 weeks after that.
That was a year and a half.
After that, a disease appeared globally, you know the one and we were all unable to travel.
I remember the last time I put my arm around you, we sang 1950’s songs and thank God you still knew me. Later I would find out you still knew my voice on the phone.
One day you were gone.
Now I’m sitting here, writing you this love letter Mum, (and remembering Dad [Bob]). As a summary of your life, there is so much more. I know you know I love you and you are at peace.
You were a bit of a hoarder you know. You never let go of a bit of material saying, “I’ll make something out of that one day.”
Well you did make something out of it Mum; you made us and you made a life.
I love you.
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