“I wish that there were some wonderful place called The Land of Beginning Again…”!
My mother’s voice, from long ago, still rings in my head. Pitched low and melancholy, she would recite this, her favourite poetic expression by Louise Fletcher, as a prelude to her motherly advice on life and living. That recording of her voice is sadly lost to us! (It was inadvertently displaced on moving house.) There is little remaining of her physical presence here on earth, but she is remembered still, for all that she was in spirit.
I can visualise her image if I peek into my memory banks; her smiling face at 50 and the slightly more wrinkled one of 80 years of age. I recall the soft feel of the folds of her paper thin skin as I attended to her needs. And the sweet fragrance of Lily of the Valley, her favourite scent. “You were beautiful once, and strong”. The time she needed a hip replacement springs into my mind when I recall her strength and her agony with barbaric procedures in a public hospital. Thank God this surgical operation has improved in recent years. “I wish I could return to that time Mum, and give you the support you needed.”
I remember the sound of her calling me into the shop at Macrina Street; “Carole! Your turn to serve the customers now! I’ll be in the kitchen.” She knew how to juggle her family and business commitments and to get all the family involved in the day-to-day running of the general store. I am pretty sure she knew just how many Mars bars were missing at the end of a day!
I blushingly recall the day she caught me skinny dipping in the local pond at the end of our street! Trying hard not to laugh, I scrambled into my clothes, and followed her home sheepishly. “The boys made me do it,” had no effect on her or on the severity of my punishment. Packing my small brown suitcase with my book, teddy and pyjamas I would make the trek to my friend’s house at the other end of Stanley Avenue. “I am running away!” I would say with five year old bravado. “Carole is coming to stay overnight again, I will pick her up in the morning. That okay with you?” she would say when making the phone call, as soon as I had left the house. So long ago! Those days of my childhood are carefully filed away.
I remember her sharp response when my phone calls had tapered off; “Oh, you’re still alive then?” My ‘hey days’ in my twenties did not include parental guidance. Then I remember quite clearly how delighted she was when I was married, and when my first child was introduced to her, and then my second child. I needed her advice then. “Being a mother is everything!” she would say, and bring out the small plaque, with the quote from Longellow, that stood on our mantelpiece for as many years as I can remember.
And I remember her tears the day Dad died! After receiving the call from the police on the 1st November 1985 I raced to be by her side in their tiny flat in Harris Grove. She was calm but sorrowful and explained how Dad had fallen in a heap at the end of the bed that morning. Her anxiety was palpable as she was unable to assist him, but, she had the presence of mind to call triple O. She was able to tell the sergeant that the key was in the meter box and he could let himself in. By the time I arrived she already had her cup of tea and was able to think clearly about what was needed to be done. Those days of my adult relationship with this frail woman are also carefully filed away.“Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the blossoms, Kind deeds are the fruits!Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds, Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and Kind deeds." by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I remember her mind slipping away in the latter part of her life. “Hello Mum”, I said each time I visited her in the Angliss. Swallowing my tears when she would say to her nurse, “She is just like my daughter”!
Winifred Edith Allery was born on the 18th of March 1903. She married my Dad on the 23rd July 1923 and together they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1983.
Winnie, as my Dad would call her, was the steady hand and the soft heart in our family. She gave birth to seven children, from 1925 to 1945, a 20 year span of nurturing. Her first child, a girl, was stillborn. Mum held on to her one photo of that child, all of her life, and it went with her to her grave. She did not speak of those days, nor the time during the London Blitz. She was an 'earth mother' and delighted in the progress of her children; nurturing was what she did best. Winnie very rarely focussed on herself or shared her personal dreams; but she did frequently complain about my Dad's sometimes unfathomable ways. I suspect my Dad was also Bipolar, but never diagnosed.
She withstood the turbulence of coping with her eldest surviving child, also a girl, who was later diagnosed as Bipolar. Pamela was a headstrong teenager and I can see from her diary entries of 1944, that she would frequently row with Mum and there would often be tears and angry words. I recall how Mum would despair at Pamela’s behavior in later years, especially when this required frequent stays in ‘Larundel’ Psychiatric Ward. These things were never really talked about; at least not with me. Mum never gave up on Pamela, though, frequently sharing her home for short and long stays. Sharing her wisdom with her when she was permitted and giving her hope, when she felt there was none. Oh if I could talk to Mum now, we would have so much to share!
Winnie reluctantly gave her eldest son John, her blessing to join the Navy at the tender age of 16 and later the RAF. “He is following in his Dad’s footsteps.” She would say! But I bet she was crumbling inside. My eldest brother John has now reached the age of 87 and looks back on that time in his own ramblings. He remembers mostly the ‘hey days’ of his twenties, especially the freedom experienced as a young man on board the ‘Orcades’ during our emigration to Australia in 1949. I wonder how Mum coped with six children on board during this long sea journey – alone. Dad had already sailed the previous year, to pave the way for us. She remembers the times when the twins, nine years old at the time, would be frequently barred from the adult swimming pool or when she was called to discipline them for causing havoc on ‘A’ Deck. And I imagine she had a devil of a time supervising her 4 year old, 14 year old, and 22 year old daughters. I know that her patient mothering must have won through those days. I learned so much from her.
Winnie came from solid stock – her father Charles Cutting – was a carpenter and her siblings were all employed in commercial trades. Her mother, Mary Jane, instilled in her the need for domestic skills and had a strong influence on her parenting skills. Winnie was the eldest of six and was frequently called upon to help with the triplets. Her brother Reg was very fond of his sister and kept a photo of her in his wallet. This was later to be the start of her relationship with my Dad, who often admired the girl in the photo, and decided to write to her during his days in the RAF. At the end of World War I, he asked Reg to introduce him to her. Their romance was not condoned by her parents at the time, and this was one of the reasons why Winnie agreed to elope with my Dad in 1923. I delight in telling that story to my own granddaughters now.
Winnie’s trade was Bookkeeping and she kept the books for her father’s business in Surbiton. This skill was to be revisited later in her life when she and Dad started up a Milk Bar business in East Oakleigh in the 1960’s, a Service Station and Restaurant business in Bendigo in the 1980’s. Mum’s cooking was plain and simple, but filling and satisfying. Sunday roasts were always a favourite with the family – with many of her children aiming to eat quickly so they could get seconds. Her Yorkshire Puddings were matchless. I still use her secret recipe for Yorkshire pudding.
Winnie also possessed some unique qualities that may have their roots in her celtic heritage. We always said that she could have easily been a ‘white witch’, practicing her art in the moonlight. Perhaps her Welsh ancestors handed down this ‘wiccan’ philosophy – no matter, she was consistent in her beliefs and advice. “Turn over your silver in the light of the full moon”, she would say. “Prosperity will be yours.” “Don’t put new shoes on the table. That will bring bad luck”. Or “see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck”. At twenty past the hour, when all went quiet at the table, a lull in the conversation, she would say, “Another angel passing!”
Winnie had a special place in her heart for her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She was always delighted to have them visit her and tell her their stories. There were always some stories for them too, ones that she had stored up for them – from the old days. She carefully stored her photos in her albums and would frequently bring these out to share with anyone who visited her. She lived on for two more years after Dad died and required extra assistance for her daily needs. Her own daughter Pamela, stayed for a while, then her sister Violet, and finally she was admitted to the Hospice in Ferntree Gully. She always insisted, “Don’t put me in an old age home”! I am happy to say that we followed her wish.
Winifred passed away quietly at 8 o’clock in the morning, on the 5th of January 1987 at The Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully. I was there at her passing and was privileged to feel the power of her leaving; yet another angel passing!