I am lucky to have been mothered in my life by two strong, beautiful, capable women. It took a long time for me to let myself discover in my stepmother a woman and friend that I love and respect. Until now I’d not discovered my mother as a person: she died in 1980, very much still my Mummy. I am lucky now to know and love these two priceless women. It’s wonderful that the human heart can morph, can love without limit or competition or comparison.
There’s a woman in my life I barely knew. Never got to know as a woman, as an independent person. Never got to separate the Woman from the role of Mummy.
Some may say I’m too much in my head, but it was feminist philosophy that hit my triggers, called challenge to my resounding clanging shut bronze defensive doors with many many locks. They said that the most important relationship for a woman to recover, to find herself, to discover human intimacy, to identify herself as a subject in her own right not an object relative to a man, is with her mother. No way. I checked the locks and bars. No mother needed here.
But here I am some eighteen months later, after a long-lost friend of hers telling me how much I am like her, after many more feminist nigglings “Before any woman, before you can see yourself as a person, you need to see your mother as a person, a subject in her own right, an individual not a role, a woman is a woman first, a daughter, wife, mother only thereafter”. After an uncle sharing photographs I didn’t have. Nauseated by endless feminist fiction where the daughter reconciles with her dead misunderstood mother. After visiting her grave and feeling almost nothing, after fleeting thoughts and questions I quickly suppressed. After all that niggling like a buzzing mosquito, on Saturday afternoon I found myself crying in the front bar of a pub. Hugging strangers. Telling all who’d listen that my Mum was there in ’54. Proud to have been born in Footscray. Bulldog Premiers. Singing under my breath the old words, words she held more dear than any hymn. It felt like it was time, not just for the Bulldogs but for us.
So here I am trying to identify for myself the woman, my Mum. To look at footsteps 36 years faded, and find a person. A woman.
I know she was loyal – perhaps to a fault. Loyal to her beloved Bullies, to family. Loyalty reciprocated by friends, even after her death. Fierce loyalty that could look a lot like stubbornness. She wasn’t shy, afraid to stand up for what she thought was hers, or afraid to speak her mind: I sure learned those traits young.
She was active in trying to get me the best. No pre-school near our home? She formed a committee, and it opened the year after I started primary school. No primary school near our home? She drove a parents’ council so one was built, opening for my Grade 6, just over a year before she died. She sewed my Barbie clothes when we couldn’t afford to buy them. She worried if the new high school would be good enough for me.
She loved food, and friends and wine. To party. She was vibrant. I think she laughed. Yes she laughed, I remember she laughed at other mothers’ horror when she brought me to my ballet concert covered in charcoal from my school concert chimney sweeping debut. Cleaned me up and sent me out to be a queen. She struggled with weight, but I remember soft enveloping hugs. I missed those hugs. She loved apricot – the colour, the fruit, jam, especially apricot flowers. And purple, I mean who has a purple toilet? I guess it was the 70’s. She didn’t drive and was afraid of water. She was afraid a lot I think, and isolated. She found a sister in my Aunt. She wrote ILY randomly through the calendar of 1980 on dates after she knew she would have died.
She was the queen of lists, she would have been dangerous had she lived to wield a spreadsheet. She worked as a book keeper then shop keeper. She could budget. On holidays we played cards, 500 and canasta. She had a home she loved, with simple treasures – glass reindeer, a trio of dalmatians, albums of Pat Boone and Johnny O’Keefe, Elvis and Bill Haley & the Comets. She loved Christmas planning, laying out the presents months in advance. She hated ironing. She was passionate in love and temper and joy. She beat herself up when she thought she didn’t meet her own standards. She and my Dad took turns to hold me when I had nightmares.
She was fallible, but aren’t we all. She wore pink, had manicured nails. She loved me. She laughed so hard she cried when I dropped the tablecloth out the apartment window and it caught on pipes halfway down.
Her mother died in Footscray. She and I were both born in Footscray Hospital. Her Dad was a life member at Footscray. Their blood ran red, white and blue. So I stood, tears flowing, in a Queensland bar surrounded by strangers, singing Son’s of the ‘scray, the red, white and blue. 62 years after she screamed herself hoarse when they last brought home the flag. And I think I met a woman with blue eyes, a voluptuous love, and a loyal generous heart.