A sepia photo sits on the bookshelf at my parents place. My grandmother has written “the way we were” on the back. With all today’s glamour studios and photo shopping it would be difficult to find a more beautiful image of a couple. My grandfather in his WW2 slouch hat, blonde, tanned and chiseled is like a young Jack Thompson. My grandmother with a flawless English complexion, glossy brown hair cut stylishly short and a perfect button nose.
They were typical of that generation. They’d struggled through the Great Depression and he had done his bit during World War 2. He fished in the then pristine Georges River and played grade cricket in his youth. My eldest uncle Donny is named after Don Bradman. He did back breaking physical labour as a plumber to support the family of eight kids whilst Nana was the home-maker. She cooked like Nigella, sewed like Collette Dinnigan and followed the Women’s Weekly. Yet my mother (the 7th child), describes Nana as like “a caged butterfly”.
Nana had some eccentric tastes and viewpoints but her fierce intelligence could not be denied. When my mother earned a scholarship to study architecture at UNSW no one could have been prouder. She had read voraciously with her tastes running to tales of adventure. She much preferred Jules Verne to Jane Austin. Chick lit was not her style but her literary heroine was the headstrong Jo of Little Women. When Star Trek hit TV screens in the 1960s she was totally captivated. It may have been the appeal of a young William Shatner or the romance of exploring the final frontier that lead her to become a first wave trekkie. She collected the entire series on VHS and a replica Star Ship Enterprise entombed in a glass dome took pride of place on the mantel piece aside a model of King Tut’s head. “They represent the past and the future” she’d explain.
She’d always expressed a yearning to be a writer but life got in the way. Instead she turned to her diaries churning out exercise book after exercise book of personal memoirs. Letters too were a great love. She’d composed miles of correspondence to her family back in the UK. Unfortunately the internet came too late for her. By the time the world wide web was hitting its strides Nana was in her 80s. Her body and mind were failing. Even if she had been able to overcome her generational suspicion of technology she probably would not have been able to read the screen as her eye sight was fading. Its shame because I believe blogging would have given her the outlet she needed. It would have given her the freedom to just write. Finding an audience would have delighted her as she was anything but shy and connecting with people all over the world would have been an enormous thrill.
She finally left the building in May 2009 aged 98. Her passing was met with sadness but palpable relief. She had been immobile, vision impaired and virtually deaf (although this did not stop her from talking ). There was no quality of life and it was time to go. One could not have asked for a much better innings. The same sepia portraits of my grandparents were displayed at the funeral. Looking at their long forgotten youth and beauty I was struck by the feeling that Nana’s life had been epic. When she was born in 1911, horses and carts ruled the streets. She’d lived through the turmoil of two world wars, battled through the great depression, tut tutted about Elvis’ pelvis in the 1950s and witnessed the times a changin in 1960s. The Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the lunar landing and Whitlam’s dismissal (that evil commie destroyed all that is good and decent about the country you know) were all backdrops to her story. On centre stage was her enduring love for my grandfather who she had been true to since age 16. The drama unfolded around their eight children then grandchildren, great grandchildren and finally two great, great children.
Now there is a blog that I would love to follow.