Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mum

Today is Mother's Day or should that be Mothers' Day? Probably Mothers' Day since it's the day set aside to honour all Mothers.

My Mother, Roslyn was born on 31st July, 1918, which means she will be 94 years old this year. She lives in an aged-care facility in Perth

As I sit here at my laptop I realise just how little I know about my Mum's early life.

I know that she grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, but what hospital was she born in? Was she even born in a hospital, or was hers a home birth?

I know that her family lived in the Adelaide suburb of Highfield on Highfield Avenue, and I think she has very fond memories of this time in her life. I think this because on a couple of occasions, at her request, I've taken her for a drive past her childhood home. I don't think she would have asked to revisit a place that didn't hold a special place in her heart.
My Mum when she was about 5 years old.
I remember her telling me that at least some of her school years were spent at Linden Park Primary school, which was just a hop step and a jump from her childhood home. She has talked about walking through cow paddocks to get to school.  These days the suburb of Highfield is now the (quite affluent) suburb of St Georges and nary a cow paddock to be seen.

My Mum had an older sister, Marjorie (Madge), an older brother, Jack and a younger sister, Audrey. She idolised Madge and loved and had a great deal of respect for Jack. For some reason there was no love lost between herself and Audrey, a state of affairs which has carried on to this day.
My Mother's adored sister Madge.
During my Mum's childhood her parents had a fish shop. I've heard her talk about the fish shop on Norwood Parade, but I've also heard her talk about a shop on Glen Osmond Road. Did they have two shops at the same time or did they have one and then move to the other location at some other time? In any case I'm fairly certain they were shops of the fishmonger type, rather than fish and chip shops of the take-away meal variety.

I have no idea when my mother's father died. I have never seen a picture of him. I don't even know what his name was or what kind of person he was. Was he a kind dad or one of those dour, autocratic Edwardian types? How old was my Mum when her dad died? As far as I can recall she has not talked about him, so perhaps she was very young when he passed away.

I know a little bit about my Mum's mother, because she was in my life until I was 14 years old.

At some stage during her childhood, my Mum had long hair and I think she may have worn it braided into two long plaits. I know that throughout her adult life she has disliked long hair and detested plaits.  I know this because later she ensured that hair on the heads of her six daughters was kept quite short while they were children. I have never seen my mother with anything but short hair.

I know that my Mum had piano lessons and that she hated them. She has told me that she had to sit in a very cold room to practise and that her fingers would be icy and stiff. I do have a feeling that she regrets not persevering with these lessons though.

I don't know how or when my Mum and Dad met, or how long their courtship was. I know that they got married in November, but I don't know in what year. Alcohol figured prominently in their married life, but not because my Mum drank it. Mum has probably had a total of 20 very weak shandies in her entire life.

I know that when my Mum was a young adult she was a milliner (a person who makes women's hats). I have no idea how she came to this trade. Did she start out as a milliner's apprentice? Was she always interested in hat-making or did she take it up as an alternative to something she was more interested in. I remember that she took up millinery again briefly when she attended night classes for a time when I was a small child.
My Mum and 2 older sisters circa 1955. Mum would have made her dress and those of my sisters. She probably made her hat as well.
My Mum has always been a talented dressmaker and seamstress. I remember her telling me that her mother advised her very early on that if she wanted to wear the latest fashions, she had better learn to make them herself because there was no money to buy them. So make them she did.
My Mum on her 21st birthday, 1939. She would have made her birthday frock.
She also made all the clothes for her daughters and a good many of the clothes for her grandchildren as well. She made everything from knickers to winter overcoats (fully lined I might add) for her daughters and I can still see, in my mind's eye, the work shirts she sewed for my dad too. She also made the costumes for our end-of-year concerts. These involved a great deal of sewing on of sequins.
Me in a pansy costume made by my Mum.
And our Sunday school anniversary concerts meant a new dress for each of us, made of course by our Mum. She was often still putting the finishing touches to them as we were leaving for the church.

Her needlework is exquisite. She has told the story about handing in a piece of her hand sewing to her school teacher and getting a severe telling off for trying to pass off "machine-sewn" work as hand-sewn. I don't think she has ever quite got over the injustice of that incident.

Smocking was something she did regularly, trimming her daughters' little dresses and later the dresses and shirts of her grandchildren.

My son in the shirt my Mum smocked for his first birthday in 1984.
In later life Mum continued her love of needlework, creating beautiful tapestries and cross-stitch pictures.

At almost 94 years of age my Mum's eyesight is very poor, and her fingers are arthritic so that she is no longer able to sew. She is extremely hard of hearing as well, and is only capable of very limited conversations.

My Mum has never smoked, although I do remember her lighting a cigarette for my Dad once when he was driving the car. I can recall her saying that she had, during stressful times, been tempted to take up smoking, but decided each time that there were better things she could be spending her money on - such as a new pair of shoes for one of the children.

I am probably never going to know much more about Mum's early life than I know now. But what I do know is that she was a very, very good mother. She has taught me to love books and writing, to appreciate creativity. She has taught me goodness, honesty, integrity, determination, respect and respectability. She has instilled in me the value of striving to be the best person you can, no matter what curve balls life throws at you.

I love you my Mum. xx

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Passion and Paradise

Books are my passion and libraries are my paradise.
I can remember the very first time I ever joined a library. I was very young. My sisters and I always caught the bus home but, for some reason my Mum met me after school on this particular day. It was possibly a half-holiday. Half-holidays, when granted, were always on a Friday and were to celebrate civic happenings such as Arbour Day or Commonwealth Day. My 2 older sisters who are 6 and 4 years older than me, weren't with us. They had probably been allowed to walk home, or perhaps they had taken their bikes that day.

Anyway, Mum had decided that the time had come for me to become a library patron. The library was just across the road from school and when I visited Adelaide a couple of years ago I found to my delight that the building is still there.

However when I crossed the road to take a photo of the foundation stone, this is what I found:

Well I distinctly remember joining that library in the mid-1950s, but the foundation stone says it was officially opened in 1980. Surely it didn't take the city fathers over 30 years to finally give it an official opening! Hmm ... this will require some looking into I think.

I can remember the first book I chose in that library. It was this,
but when I showed it to Mum, she gently told me that I would probably be too difficult for me to read and I had to put it back. I can't remember what I did borrow, but for some reason this book has remained firmly lodged in my memory. Many, many years later I found a copy of it in one of those sales of culled library books and I bought it for 50 cents. So I finally did get to read it. It was a good story. These days you can still buy a copy of this book from Alibris  and it will cost $26.74

The other thing that sticks in my memory about this library is that it wasn't free. You actually had to pay to borrow a book. For children it was 1 penny per book. This is what a penny looked like :
I don't remember any other trips to this library. Maybe there weren't any. Perhaps a penny couldn't be spared very often. I do vaguely recall Mum saying something about borrowing from the Children's Library in the city being free and my next memories of library borrowing are of the Children's Library. Yep, that was my Mum - pay threepence 

to catch the bus to the city so that you can borrow books for free, rather than go to a closer library and have to pay one penny to borrow a book. To be fair, I imagine her thinking was that you could borrow multiple books for free at the Children's Library whereas at the penny library each individual book cost a penny to borrow. I must say I'm very glad she thought that way.

Oh how I loved that Children's Library! It was situated off North Terrace. Walking down the mysterious lane-way, to get to the library seemed to me to be an adventure in itself. Here were the back entrances to the adult library, the museum and the art gallery. Did it go down as far as the university? I'm not sure. Eventually I would arrive at the library's entrance and it was not just an ordinary entrance. Heavens no.

Firstly there was the portal to be passed through. Yes a magnificent stone portal! What better metaphor for being transported into other worlds could there possibly be than a stone portal, I ask you. The State Library of South Australia has kindly granted me permission to post the following photo taken circa 1960.
So, through the portal, across the courtyard, under the balcony and into the delights of shelves of books I'd go. Here I became friends with, among others,  Pippy Longstocking, The Secret Seven, and The Melendy family

Some years later a new children's library was built, but to me, it didn't seem to have the same magical allure as the old Children's library, or even the penny library. I loved it almost as much though. Well, it was new, it was easier to get to and it too, had wonderful books, 

Those experiences were the beginning of my life-long love affair with libraries and with children's literature. 

So dear children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren now you know why (after a couple of false starts career-wise) I eventually became a teacher-librarian.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Gabriel Garcia Marquez who said:

"I've always imagined heaven to be a kind of library." I hope it is.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My (Reading) Childhood

Here I am back again after a very long time away from this space. Another birthday has gone by and yet another is lurking on the (not distant enough) horizon. Daughter and Son, Grandchildren, and now, Great-Grandchildren, I can absolutely assure you that the time between birthdays does get shorter the older you get. I can also tell you that when you get to my age it is entirely possible that you may not view this as a "good thing".

But that's by the by.

This year is the National Year of Reading here in Australia all sorts of fantastic activities have been planned to encourage us all to read. I myself need no encouragement and I have my Mum to thank for my love of stories, books and reading. I've been an avid reader since ... well since ... I learnt to readBefore I learnt to read I listened to stories. 

I don't remember my Mum reading to me, but I do remember that she ensured that our radio was tuned in to the ABC for Kindergarten of the Air each day when I was a toddler, and I think these are my first memories of hearing stories. I can still recall the delicious feeling of anticipation as I heard the words "Once upon a time ...". I get that same feeling these days, whenever I open a new novel to the first page.

This is a picture from the ABC's Pool website. The child isn't me of course, but I imagine I would have looked as transfixed as this little one did, when listening to Kindergarten of the Air. Our radio (which was called "the wireless" back then) was very similar, but it was made of dark brown Bakelite

My Mum also made sure that my sisters and I were surrounded by books at home. Every Christmas each of us would get a new one. That's how I discovered Noddy and Big Ears (Enid Blyton), Milly-Molly-Mandy (Joyce Lankester Brisley), and the Susan series (Jane Shaw) among lots of others.

There were always magazines and newspapers strewn about our house too. Mum would buy the Women's Weekly and the New Idea, which incidentally did usually feature some new ideas - unlike the celebrity gossip stuff it's filled with these days. These had children's sections which generally had a short story or two in them. 

Did we have comics? I vaguely remember reading Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics, but they may have belonged to my boy cousins. They had big piles of them stashed under their bunk beds. I used to wish I had both of those things - piles of comics and a bunk bed to stash them under.

There's one thing I am certain of, and that is that our childhood home was filled with literature of one kind or another thanks to our wonderful Mum.

Then there was the Library ... but that's a story for next week's post.