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No Ordinary Mother
Quite Extraordinary to me...
Genetically and environmentally, my Mum's life certainly began in an 'ordinary' fashion - the middle child of 13 . An extraordinary number of kids for these days, and yet perfectly ordinary back then, when so many babes just didn't make it. Her humble yet proud parents lived in a working-class area, on the outskirts of Adelaide, South Australia.
She lived her life within the amazing 20th century - experiencing two World Wars; events like the sinking of the 'Titanic'; the Great Depression; the fashion era of 'The Flappers'; and Man's progression from his first flight through to the moment he walked on the Moon. My Mum witnessed countless technological and medical breakthroughs that had been unimaginable in previous centuries. What an era!
A bizarre factor happened within her earliest hours - a small anomaly to do with her birth. Her Father was entrusted with registering her birth and name at the Registry Office in Adelaide. Unbeknown to anyone, he registered my Mum as Emma Winifred (his choice) - and NOT Winifred Emma, as adamantly demanded by his wife.
"So?" you may ask? SO...my Mum never knew her REAL name until she applied for a passport to go to the USA to visit her sister.
"So?" (I hear you getting impatient now!) SO...my Mum was 79 at that time! Quite a few years to have filled in countless forms (formal and otherwise) - incorrectly, even illegally? If you had only known her for the totally honest person she was! Ah-h-h, the shame...the humiliation, had she been aware of this earlier in her life. And yet, at that point, it gave her more of a chuckle than anything else.
One indelible image she carried until the end of her days was of a baby sister who died in the early days of Mum's tiny life - and the tiny coffin, glimpsed through the neighbor's paling fence, as it was carried from the house - when my Mum was just a little girl herself.
And then there was a joyous family moment, featuring her Mum and Dad 'playing around'. As they were picking mulberries from their large backyard tree, my Gran mischievously dabbed squashed mulberries on my Grandfather's face, as he was reaching up into the higher branches. And so, likewise in fun, he chased her around the house for some 'payback' - with a heap of their kids in hot pursuit. He finally caught her and pinned her down by sitting on her, on the front lawn, and proceeded to cover her face in more squashed mulberries.
Can you imagine the scene - with all the kids screaming and shouting and jumping all about - and a man pinning a woman down on the ground, with what appeared to be blood everywhere! Little wonder neighbours and passersby tried to intervene, thinking my poor Grandmother was being murdered. It most certainly looked that way!
Another memory of my Mum's revolves around a clapping/chanting game. In the film 'The Colour Purple' - two young sisters were shown playing it, and here in Australia, we did too. I wonder if this one of the chants my Mum remembered was just Australian - or not?
'MY Mother said,
I never should,
Play with the gypsies, in the wood.
IF I did,
She would say,
"Naughty girl to disobey"
Always a Mother
...even before her 'official' time, my Mum began 'mothering', after her Father died prematurely in his 30's in a work accident. She shared much of the care of the younger half of the family to try to help her Mother through these most difficult years. And longed to be really grown-up, like her older siblings.
Amongst my Mum's most renowned sayings was - 'as long as I can paddle my own canoe, I'll be alright' - one, no doubt learned on the 'home front', from her Mother's amazing example. The family had even more personal loss and grief to deal with, following the death by drowning of two of the sons in separate accidents. One was aged just seven - the other nineteen.
Much of the inner strength my Mum always exhibited developed through these years, demonstrated once again when it came to her working years. She was employed at a shoe shop almost 3 miles from her home, and she walked both ways each day to save the tram fare - and have more of her wages to give to her Mother, to help out.
And she would pick flowers that protruded through fences on her 'walk' - to bring home to her beloved Mother. And she would save to buy dear little flower vases like the one pictured - which is now MY proud heirloom.
But My Mum always lived her life - ...with a LARGE slice of humour
Check out these photos! I don't really think it was serious cross-dressing....do you?
(Besides, who would want to hide those shapely legs??)
And can you read her writing? The newly Engaged girl of 18 years old!
Love Blossoms - ...and grows
Mum and Dad met when they were just 15 and 17 - introduced by her sister, and his cousin (who would themselves marry later). It was love at first sight - and indeed, first love for them both. Neither had a previous 'love' - and there would never be anyone else for either of them, even though my Dad pre-deceased my Mum by 27 long years. This was their wedding photo in 1931. Aren't they a beautiful couple?
Their love was great, their devotion total, their caring for each other's well-being exceptional. Their union produced 5 children, (3 boys and 2 girls), 11 grandchildren, 17 great -grandchildren - and the 'great-greats' have begun. They lost one child to the Diphtheria epidemic that swept the world in 1942 - the same epidemic that ended my Grandmother's life also. They died within weeks of each other. On my EzineArticles Author page, you will find the link to the tragic story in detail. It's called A Little Boy Lost.
How strange to contemplate the fact that I would never have been conceived and born, had this precious toddler lived. Small wonder my Mum and I shared a most special place in each other's hearts- - from our first moments together until our last.
My Dad was spared the pain and grief of losing other younger family members - but not so my Mum. In her lifetime, she said goodbye to a son (under 2), a grandson (30yo) and a great-grandson (17yo). Every time she would question why she had not been taken in their place. 'For us not to question why... '
Sometimes her children would stand up for themselves and give a bit of 'cheek', as teenagers often do - but on one occasion things didn't turn out too well for the boys. Win told them they were 'grounded' from a planned evening outing for answering back.
"Oh yair... wotcha going to do about it?" said one.
"Dare you to try to stop us," said the other, in defiant bravado. They were feeling confident, these two tall sons on the brink of manhood.
They really should have known they would never get away with that one. No way... not with MY Mum!
Her solution was to take the trousers of their only best suits, lock them in the boot of the car, and go out with Dad, visiting friends - leaving the boys well and truly 'grounded'. Can't help a giggle as I picture their faces.
'Tough love'? Maybe... but this otherwise most tender-hearted Mum continually cooked wonderful meals for her family and friends. Sometimes they were 'monster' cook-ups for picnics at the coastal resort of Victor Harbour, where all the current girl or boy friends, fiancees and friends joined in. A rug would be spread, a tablecloth on top, and out from the boot of Dad's car would spill all the old-fashioned culinary delights. Good old egg and bacon pie (quiches hadn't arrived on Aussie shores yet), and a huge pastie slice, salads and cold meats, apple pies and cream, cakes and biscuit slices.
Other feast days happened when family and friends enjoyed 'crabbing' days at St. Kilda Beach, north of Adelaide. All the same food supplies, but a different set of (questionable) clothing. 'Crabbing' involved knee-deep wading around in the calm waters of the Gulf St. Vincent, digging crabs out of suspicious looking mounds in the sand, beneath the clear water. Shorts were the order of the day and sand-shoes (old-time sneakers), to hopefully avoid the clamp of a crab's claw. How Mum and Dad loved these days. And whether the trips were day long or just an afternoon ramble through the Adelaide Hills, their chauffeuring and joy of sharing with others was legendary.
Off we go - ...Everyone is invited!
The two babies are my brothers, Bob and Barry - and the rest are Aunties and cousins.
There was always someone hoping to be taken for a drive... and my Mum and Dad were eternally willing to oblige. They always saw themselves as the 'fortunate ones' who had landed well and truly on their feet, and their obligation to help others to enjoy their lives more fully, knew no bounds. It was simply 'their pleasure'.
A China Painter
In anticipation of the 'empty nest' syndrome, when I would 'fly the coop' - Mum sensibly looked around for an interest of her own, and started taking China Painting classes, as something to do; something else to think about; a distraction.
Her 'distraction' saw her discover creativity and skills she had never even vaguely imagined. No way had she ever thought of herself as artistic - and yet, she became an exceptional artist in this field, providing countless, irreplaceable and extremely beautiful gifts to family and friends. Her gift provided even more memories for all who knew and loved her. Dad nearly burst with pride every time they collected her latest creations from the kiln where the china and its painted images would be 'fired'. He could hardly wait to show these to all and sundry.
For years she wanted to buy me various 'other' gifts for birthdays, Christmas, or just because she loved me so - but I just adored her China painting (as you may have guessed by now!). As a result, I have an amazing collection of hand-painted plates, bowls, coffee mugs and jewellery. And many of mine are even more special - because mine say 'To Christine, With all my love, Mum' (and the year), instead of only her customary painted signature.
Was I blessed? Oh yes...most definitely.
AND Here are the 'Treasures' ...Click thumbnail to view full-size
And My Jewellery - ...and other miscellaneaClick thumbnail to view full-size
'Her' Spina Bifida Kids
...and the Love was mutual.
Mum began voluntary work with her beloved Spina Bifida children in Fielders Ward at the Adelaide Children's Hospital soon after I started work, as she found herself with extra time on her hands. This 'labour of love' would continue for 34 years, and see her become the longest serving volunteer at this hospital, clocking up over 6,000 hours. In 1989 she was appointed a Life Membership of the Women's & Children's Hospital for her highly valued work.
Given the time span of her commitment, it's not hard to understand that this 'Gran' of so many Spina Bifida children would attend countless special moments as her 'chosen' children celebrated birthdays (particularly when it came to 21st birthdays and weddings!). What a triumph it was for her to share these occasions - particularly those weddings. You see, when she began her volunteering, the life expectancy of a Spina Bifida child would commonly only stretch at most to their teens. Advances in medical technology gradually changed this quite dramatically.
Some called her Mrs. Graham, and some called her Gran. They loved and needed her just as much, no matter the name. I don't know why she was so drawn to the Spina Bifida kids above all others - we have no history of this condition in our family. I do know there are many children and their parents who are incredibly grateful for her dedication. She gave her all to these families, both in the hospital and outside, raising funds and awareness equally.
Her pink volunteer's uniform represented a soft place to fall, when Mums and Dads had to leave the hospital - when the treatment ahead and at hand was SO scary, and all too often SO painful. She would cuddle and reassure them when the going got tough, read to them, help feed them, hold their hands and their hearts - and just love each and every one as if they were her very own grandchild.
It occurs to me that you may not know what Spina Bifida is?
Please.... go and read this wonderful story - Against all Odds: A Miracle Story
Just a Few of her Spina Bifida 'Family' - ...in B&W - and Living Colour, alsoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Her 'Spina Bifida' Kids' tributesClick thumbnail to view full-size
She had a few -
1992 'Mother of the Year' - a plaque from the local Lions Club
1997 'for Community Service' - a jewellery cabinet from the local Rotary Club
but the best was still to come -
The Order of Australia Medal
- awarded in recognition for her dedicated years of service as a volunteer at the Adelaide Children's Hospital
In 1995, it was announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours List that Winifred Emma Graham had been awarded the OAM (Order of Australia Medal).
This beautiful medal was presented to her by the Governor of South Australia of the day, Dame Roma Mitchell, at Government House in Adelaide, South Australia. My husband and I, and a much loved niece and nephew of my Mum were there to witness and share this amazing occasion.
Our pride was just too much for words. She looked like a bride, as she walked up the aisle to the Governor, to have the medal pinned to her jacket, and the testimonial was read out. Mum simply couldn't believe any part of this. To be mixing in the company of people who had received the award for great courage and bravery under amazing circumstances, and researchers who had made some medical breakthrough, and a philanthropist of note - and others who had given much to the community in various ways. She felt unworthy in this company.
She was so humble, totally unaware of the impact she had made on many lives - just incredibly nervous to be in the spotlight. I still have a box full of the cards and congratulatory letters she received from countless people - from all walks of life. Most precious were those from the Spina Bifida families. She just wanted to thank all of them for her award - as always, handing over the kudos to others!
And here is what an OAM looks like - ...in its own satin lined, leather case
Isn't it beautiful? And isn't it just SO moving?
And doesn't it encourage each and everyone of us to try just a little harder to be better than we think we are?
But wait a minute, - ...it's not Christmas!
....not for you maybe, but for me it was Christmas every day, having this exceptional lady for my Mum - and she would have said these words if she could.
Nobody says it better than our own Aussie - Olivia Newton John
On the Road Again
...or maybe the High Seas!
While Dad was alive, their travels were mainly restricted to trips interstate, mostly to Victoria - and many revolving around picking up my big brother Barry, the sailor, from Port Melbourne in the Australian State of Victoria, where the Navy commonly docked their ships. Then they would sadly return him, when his leave was too quickly done, to rejoin his current ship. Family and my Dad's butcher shop commitments, plus limited finances, dictated short but sweet holidays, when they could be taken.
On her own, my Mum's travels became quite extensive - including bus tours of all States of Australia, New Zealand, a cruise to the South Pacific, and the trip to the USA before she turned 80 (yes, that's right, the very trip that clarified her 'real' name). She also enjoyed many holidays even closer to home - to the several farms we have owned, where she would become an expert dairy yard cleaner, rounder-up of cows, and feeder of calves. And then there was babysitting our terrible trio! Danger lurked behind every bush.
None of this, however, really prepared her for witnessing her once 'secretary' daughter performing CPR (and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation) on a calf that choked on a lump in the milk. Or the fact that this life-saving procedure was a total success - to the surprise of all concerned... including the calf!
Another unforgettable experience was on a night when Win was babysitting whilst we had our first night off in years to attend a friend's birthday party some 2 hours' drive away. The entire herd of cows broke out of their paddock, and onto the road on what was an extremely dark and foggy night. In desperation, Mum enlisted the help of our 7yo son, and a neighbour she phoned for help. He came around in his utility instantly, and in short order, the escapees were thankfully returned to safety, in quite a smooth operation. Just one small detail - unbeknown to my Mum, this neighbour just happened to be a paraplegic! Oh! He was renown for his prowess behind the wheel, thankfully - but I think this episode would have featured quite highly in the legends about him!
We had shared so very much - the trauma even before my conception, and then health issues at my birth; the 'turbulent' teen years; the pride of being the Mother of this Bride.
And then there were the many, many hours spent over countless years of late night 'secret women's business' baring and sharing our deepest disappointments and pain - right alongside our happiest fulfillment of plans, and dreams of possibilities yet to come.
We laughed, we cried - we just loved each other so deeply.
My Mum stayed often with us on our farms after my Dad had died - starting right at the beginning when she sold their beautiful home and was looking for a new nest to live in on her own - I think that time it may have been for a month or so. It was before we had the children, so I could give her almost all the undivided attention she needed right then.
Another time, when I was up to my armpits cooking for my dairy farmer husband and our three kids and their farm appetites, my Mum bought me a very expensive set of stainless steel saucepans, including a steamer and a large frypan. And guess what? After daily duties, they are still in service today, over 35 years later!
And then she was there for me when I gave up smoking - and threw myself into vegetable gardening as if there were no tomorrow. She bought me a dehydrator, to dry all this amazing produce I was producing - to keep my hands and my head busy - to keep me away from 'the weed'. And it worked! And I'm SO glad.
A Helper from the beginning
...until the end. Mum also voluntarily took part in a research study into osteoporosis for a couple of years until her health forced retirement from this. She was, as ever, still trying to help others.
A series of falls in the last four years brought many physical problems that slowed her down in her ability to 'paddle her own canoe' as well as she previously had. The last months of her life saw much sickness and pain, hospitalisation, and a move from her independent living unit to a residential care centre - not the way any of us had envisioned or desired her final stage of life.
She was able to say her goodbyes to most of her loved ones, and in the last 24 hours both her and I were supported lovingly by her grand-daughter and the same beloved niece who had shared the OAM presentation.
I spent all of the last 24 hours of her life in her hospice room, and held her in my arms as she breathed her last. How fitting it seemed that hers were the first loving hands I knew - and mine were the last loving hands she knew. How perfect also that the top 'blanket' that kept her warm was the lacy mohair rug I had hand-knitted for her for a birthday present some years before. She loved that rug - and I still have it and love it passionately, too.
The end was very peaceful, and her love of her family never ceased, as demonstrated by a bereavement card I found in her personal effects afterwards. This card was from my Mum to her beloved family, with special verses from her to them in their grieving, and on the front, the words -
'When I Must Leave You'
and inside, she wrote -
'To My Dearest Family - from your grateful and ever-loving Mum and Gran'
I Always Knew I'd Stand By You - ...and I did, until the last.
This was My song
...for My Mum, at her funeral service, held on Daffodil Day, in 1999. It was chosen because of the truth of the lyrics - for both of us. I never stopped 'standing by her', mainly because 'I'm a lot like her'. That makes me proud.
Her favourite song - 'Bridge over Troubled Waters' was played as mourners paid their last respects and added a daffodil into the family floral arrangement on the coffin, transforming it from its pastel pink and cream into a blaze of brightest yellow. Just like the sun coming out again, we thought.
There were a large number of people who came to honour her memory - more than she would have imagined. We displayed her OAM in front of her coffin - and then I took it to show the group of Spina Bifida young adults who had attended, in their wheelchairs. I had known so many of them. I wanted them to remember that it was because of them, and the love of all of them, that my Mum had been given this great award. We hugged and we cried...and we remembered her.
A very great lady - now at peace - my guardian angel forever.
A Dedicated Life of Caring - ...was what the newspaper called her time
The newspaper was 'The Advertiser' - the daily morning newspaper of the city of Adelaide, South Australia - and this was the obituary written about her and published in September, 1999.
Special words about a Special Lady.
Once upon a time there were Purple Stars...
...and once upon a time one landed on my Squidoo lens - in the days that it meant this lens was special and well-accepted.
Sadly, Squidoo threatened to lock my lens if I didn't resolve the issues known only to themselves. It seems this particular one revolved around my choice of a Purple Star pic to show my pride. This was somehow my fault, that the website I used is now a 'no-no'. Somehow... I should have known that!
Ah well, here I am now on HubPages - maybe now I'm acceptable or maybe not?
Angels looked over this article when it was my Squidoo lens
... and liked the view enough to bless it..
SORRY 'Blessing' Angels - Squidoo not only threatened to lock my lens, but actually did it.
I'm guessing it's the picture that WAS here, and the previous picture, because I can't link to them anymore.
This is somehow my fault.
...there's more. My Mum was always supportive of my writing and communication skills(especially my talking). I believe she watches my progress still, so proudly - and yet would have the grace to modestly protest about ALL she had done in her lifetime - "wasn't really much - I just can't see what all the fuss is about".
This humble woman would have cried when she read this tribute to her - and my Ezine article -
Just Your 'Average' Lady