My mother was a believing and committed Christian, a loving and supportive partner to my father, and gave her five children life in more than the basic way. Yet through no fault of her own she had a hard life in many ways. In my last blog I explained why thinking about my mother often makes me feel somewhat sad.
But there were also things Mum loved and was passionate about, and unsurprisingly, what stood out for me has rubbed off on me.
Mum could be at her best and happiest in the family setting, especially with some of her children and with her younger sister, Mia. The strain we often saw and which was typically evident on photos would evaporate, she would relax and laugh, and although not in herself a humorous person she could show obvious enjoyment.
In a similar way I am not well equipped to give life to a party, and I am a much better listener than conversationalist. My wife Helen remembers with some sadness that good table talk was not characteristic of my parents’ home. But when I’m together with our siblings or children I feel my happiest, especially when I can just be there and mostly listen.
Mum gave up drawing after her youth, but certainly had the skills and eye for it. The few drawings she kept from her early years bore that out. And later, on a limited budget she chose some beautiful art works for her home and in later life she dressed well.
As she built her family, Mum started collecting photo and art images in a large brown leather covered family scrapbook which was a family treasure often opened up for talk and additions during our years at home. To us as children it extended our appreciation of the beauty of our Dutch homeland and our wonder at the world: images and cut-outs of exotic animals, Dutch cities, villages and rustic scenes, beautiful flowers and fish, ships and aircraft, storybook characters, and beach holidays. When I reflect on this scrapbook now I realise it was perhaps Mum’s #1 way of making up somewhat for the cultural impoverishment that resulted from our family’s migration. It also reflected her love of art, image and things beautiful.
The small income of my parents’ early migration years moved my mother to put her love of the garden to work. The large backyard of our first home in Sydney was soon transformed into a big and productive vegetable garden, and the house front got a touch up with easy-to-grow succulents she could start from free cuttings.
Our second home in Sydney underwent an immediate and similar transformation, with the addition of a shade-house and a chicken run for up to a dozen black and white chooks, each of which became a pet with an own name: Elizabeth, Sookie, Margaret…
Our third family home in Australia was in Kingston, Tasmania, and it was an even larger property that once again had been neglected and underwent a radical transformation, now very much with the support of her teenage children. The long grass and blackberries were replaced by an even larger vegie garden – and a second area became the potato patch. The front garden was similarly made over with a large array of roses and other flowering plants, the more colour the better!
On retirement, my parents had a smaller home built on a smaller block, and although the garden was also reduced, there was now something left over for the cultivation of beautiful native and exotic shrubs and a growing collection of orchids.
House pets were another passion of my mother. She would tell us about the pet crow she had in her childhood and adolescence and the tricks it would get up to, even to unbuttoning clients’ shoes in the town post office.
During the family years, my parents’ household included the usual rabbits and turtles, a canary, several budgerigars and cats, the afore-mentioned hens, and finally a beautiful Burmese cat and Australian terrier, both donated by her veterinary son-in-law.
All of the above loves were just that: affectionately and faithfully cared for animals and plants, beautifully created collections of illustrations and art, a carefully and tastefully selected décor for her home.
Despite her personal pain, necessary frugality, and inevitable limitations, Mum certainly added her distinctive warmth, style and class to our family life. I continue to honour and thank her.