You really must do the ironing. And you must tidy the linen press. Fold the towels this way, so that the fold is on the visible side. It’s neater that way. If you’ve got some, pop some lavender in there. Smile – you’ve done a good job.
Mum ironed all our clothes, table linens and doilies. She even ironed tea towels and dish cloths.
When my father left, and money was tight – this is how Mum earned some extra cash. It seems not everyone loved ironing as much as my Mum.
She ironed by the hour, not by the basket. A basket of shirts is faster than a basket of fiddly baby outfits, she would say. Smart woman my Mum.
Mum made most of our clothes when we were younger. I think originally because it was cheaper, more economical – but also because it was the thing to do back then. Now – it is kitsch to make your own clothes. Not neccesity anymore, sadly.
She would also knit us jumpers and things. I mainly remember her knitting for babies though – and I vaguely remember her attempting some socks for Dad. I never did see the finished product though, so I’m not sure what happened there. Did she finish them? Did Dad not like them? Or did she not make it to the end?
When I was about 8 or 9, we had been doing ‘french knitting’ at school – you know, where you have the toilet roll cardboard tube with paddle pop sticks around the top and you ‘knit’ great long columns of wool. At the same time, Mum was knitting something too. Her needles clicking away on the couch. I remember sitting next to her with my ‘knitting’ and wanting to be like her.
She offered to teach me her knitting. I jumped at the chance to learn grown-up knitting.
She got some needles and some wool, cast on a few stitches and worked a few rows for me. And then the lesson began.
“This is how my Mum taught me. First – you stab him.” She put the needle through the first loop. “Then you strangle him.” She wrapped the wool around her needle. “Then you push him off the cliff.” And she moved the loop off the needle – having just knitted one stitch.
I still now mouth these words while knitting: stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff; stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff. It has a nice rhythm to it, don’t you think?
Mum wasn’t always conventional in her lessons. Bless her.
We all know the saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
When I was 5, and had just started school – I was being teased by the kids at school. I came home crying to Mum. She told me this saying and sent me to school the next day with these words as my protection.
At lunch, when the kids teased me, I shouted these words at their faces.
For a moment, there was shock – then laughter.
Then – they walked away.
Aha! I had done it! Those words really did protect me. I wasn’t teased again for a long time, and by then I had made some friends who could stand by side and protect me.
Of course, it’s not really about those particular words. It is just the need to stand up to those who threaten you – and to defend yourself by declaring yourself as present. I am here, and I will be heard.
Run it under the hot tap for a minute. Put a rubber band around the lid. Whack it a few times with a knife around the edge and break the seal.
But it is always a good thing to occasionally ask a man to help, as Mum would tell us.
I needed to do this the other night – I was flying home from a work trip interstate and asked for a wine from the drink trolley. I then struggled to open the damn thing. So I had to, reluctantly, ask the man next to me to open it for me. He beamed, and I think he felt a little needed at that point.
Maybe Mum is right. We really do need to occasionally ask a man to help. My experience on the plane also explains why the next line of this lesson was always: ‘it makes them feel better, love’.
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
This is why I write here.
I grieve tremendously some days, while on other days there is only a dull ache in my chest. Sometimes this dull ache becomes a blaring, intense blast of grief – of longing and love simultaneously.
But if I take that ache, or that intensity, and I turn it into words on a page – it doesn’t so much subside, but instead it transforms into something else. Something positive, something shared. To share is to lighten the load, as Mum would say – and that is what I am doing.
Thank you for reading – thank you for listening.
I will continue to lighten the load, and continue to show creative force as I write here, on this page.
Mum commenced the lesson with the aim of showing me how to cook an omelette. She broke eggs in a bowl (roughly 2 per person) and then added a dash of milk, and salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, she chopped up some ham, spring onions and some tomato.
Into the frypan went a knob of butter, then the egg mixture.
“Now, you just let that cook for a bit. Then you add the filling – in this case, we’re adding ham and tomato to our omelette. So we pop that in now – just on one side. And now we pick up this side, like this, and then we flip it over… ohh damn… Hmmm… Ok. Got that? Now I’ll show you how to make scrambled eggs as well. You just mix everything in and scrape from the middle… See? Two lessons in one. Now, run and tell your father we’re having scrambled eggs tonight.”
Things Kids Say: July 1989 (Mum’s Diary)
On the way to Sydney after driving for 4 hours:
Fed up, my little brother asks how much longer to go and Mum answers: 130 kilometres.
“But there are kilometres everywhere!”
Mum and Dad had a Christmas morning rule when we were kids. There was to be no wake-ups at 5am. We were to wait until 6am – or as they taught us to read the digital clock they gave us on Christmas Eve – 6, dot, dot, 0, 0.
They conceded that we could sneak out to look at the presents – but only one at a time.
So our Christmas morning went like this:
- The first one awake, would sneak out to wake the others
- We would check the time, and sit on the bed with the clock between us
- One at a time, we would sneak out to the loungeroom to look at the presents
- We would bring back details of the big presents – like, wow you have a really big box under the tree at the back! or I think you did get that Tonka Truck!
- When this tradition started, we couldn’t read the time – so it was a surprise when the clock actually became 6, dot, dot, 0, 0! But later, the time it took for 5, dot, dot, 5, 9 to become 6, dot, dot, 0, 0 seemed to get longer every year.
- But we would always wait patiently for the clock to turn to 6, dot, dot, 0, 0
- When we would go and wake Mum and Dad – who I actually think had probably been awake for a while already – listening to us kids sneak out to the loungeroom on tiptoe to find our presents.
A few years ago, we were back at Mum’s as adults. Before we had partners and kids. And we still waited for the clock to be 6, dot, dot, 0, 0. We begrudgingly dragged ourselves out of bed – but we all had a knowing smile as we remembered the excitement of Christmas morning.
And this morning, our first Christmas without Mum, the first thing we say when we call to wish each other a Merry Christmas: “But it’s not 6, dot, dot, 0, 0!”.
This will forever be our Christmas tradition.
We moved a lot as kids. Dad was a policeman, so we moved for the job. Then when Dad left, we moved for a cheaper house.
Mum had also moved house a lot before she had us. She said it was her gypsy blood. I think she just liked the clean out, the fresh start, the packing and unpacking – all the things that go with moving.
The first ritual of a new house was to unpack the ‘essentials’ box – this had the following:
- the kettle
- mugs and spoons (you can’t have coffee in a plastic cup)
- a blanket to sit on
- ashtray (mum never went far without one)
- fruit boxes for us kids, or cordial or something similar
- toilet paper
- pen and paper – as well as all The Lists
- masking tape
- white sage incense
Mum would plug in the kettle, send Dad for milk and give us kids a biscuit and a drink. We’d sit on the floor and have our first picnic in our new house.
Next – we needed to rid the house of evil spirits. Mum would light the white sage incense and proceed to walk through the house into all the rooms. To chase out the bad omens and evil spirits, she said.
I don’t think Dad appreciated this ritual so much – thus why he had to go get the milk. He would come home and scrunch up his nose.
But us kids liked it. The smell meant home and safety.
Even now, if I’m going through ‘a rough patch’, I’ll burn some white sage. Waft it about. I might even have a picnic on the floor with a biscuit and a coffee. Give the incense some time to chase out the bad vibes.
‘Don’t forget to wipe the bench and the stove when you’re done please’.
‘But why? They’re not even dirty.’
‘Because, you need to mark your territory after you’ve used the kitchen. Just like when you first come into the kitchen and start to cook – you need to start by wiping the benches. That’s just what us women do.’