I have a mother who shielded me from the blows of her own childhood. She must have had to kneel most of her adult life, arms outspread and shoulders fatigued, in order to stave off the poverty and sadness of her past so that none of it reached us. Nonetheless, some got through. This is because her past is part of her; some things must get through, the things she needed, like air.
Just enough for me, when I was young, to seize it with relief and lay the blame.
I have a mother who took the blame quietly.
I have a mother who still surrounds the kitchen and criticises my lack of scones. Whose years are numbered but can still allow hours of minutes on mending one torn seam or a labelling the jam or listening without judgement to an announcement of divorce.
I have a mother who gave me the stubborns.
I have a mother, the loss of whom will break granite, easily.
I always positioned myself in the alert; cautiously, to break tradition, and ensure superiority (I will do a better job etc).
No need. This is what she wanted anyway. And after all the hard work, I didn’t do a better job.
Now I must watch my own daughters circle intelligently, alert and compassionate, impressed by Nanna, but rarely of me. They intend to do a better job than me.
I have a mother who worked tremendously hard and rarely had time to tell me that I was valuable. So then, later I could say triumphantly that I was not valuable.
She told us stories of the past, sorting the lovely from the ugly, shielding us from bad memory as beneath a poor and sagging umbrella.
She carried the milk home from the dairy in a billy can, once she spilt the milk all over the road.
Her father, Ben, was a fabulous gardener.
They were very poor. One day, her mother went to the dentist and had every tooth pulled out. Then she came home and made dinner.
She can remember the first time she tried chewing gum. She always loved reading. I have always carried a memory of early summer, the morning and a pile of red books. There was also an almond tree and warm sand, these things all go together.
She had a baby sister that died.
She was afraid of her father.
She remembers in detail when I was born.
Artwork by Keith Negley