My Grandmother epitomised the role of what a grandma should be to me, she wore an apron, she tended to all the children, she cooked, she sewed, she knitted, she washed, she ironed, she babysat, she read and she up-cycled and recycled before it even became fashionable. My grandmother was one of a kind, she was known to her grandchildren affectionately as Grams. Although Grams passed away 15 years ago, barely a day goes by when she doesn’t enter my thoughts. On that note, I thought it appropriate to dedicate an article to this extraordinary woman.
Grams was born at the end of the Great War in 1918, her mother was nearly 40 and her father was 70 years of age. She had a sister who was 11 years older and her mother had had 2 other babies who had passed away early in life, as was the times. Sadly, Grams would also give birth to a stillborn baby later in her own life. Her father died when she was 11 years old and her mother was left to raise Grams, she supplemented the family income by taking in boarders – a tradition that continued down the family line.
Grandma attended the local primary school and then had one year at technical school, but as soon as she was 14 she left school to work at F H Faulding. It was a good two mile (3 ½ km) walk to and from work each day, which she continued to do until her marriage in 1940. At this time married women were not allowed to work. It was during this time that she taught herself to sew and became a very good seamstress which stood her in very good stead all of her life.
She and her new husband, my grandfather, John, set up house in a rented home and a couple of years later my own mother was born, followed 4 years later by my uncle. In 1944, the little family moved into their own home built of timber and asbestos and an outside toilet. My grandfather built a petrol station next door and began the family business. This was a time with no air-conditioning, no refrigerator and no hot running water.
Unfortunately they were also a little isolated and Grams only got out once a week with the children to walk the mile to the local grocery store where everything was weighed and measured in front of you and bundled up in paper bags tied with string. I think to the day she died, Grams still had used paper bags hanging in her pantry ready for many more uses, as I said, she was ahead of her time in up-cycling and recycling. That trip was made every week come rain, hail or scorching heat, she continued her shopping trek throughout her life and as times changed she swapped her pram for a trolley and the local store was replaced by a big chain supermarket, but she still walked to the shops every Thursday – a routine that would change her life completely later in life.
Evidently my grandfather was a little restless and over the next years the family moved house several times. This would have meant a lot of work and organisation for my grandmother as my grandfather was not good at helping. As well as looking after her own family, my grandmother had to keep an eye on her own mother, doing her shopping, cleaning, etc . As the children grew, grandma started using a bicycle to get around. Not many ladies drove or had their own cars. She also did all of the sewing for the children and her mother. Very rarely did anyone have shop bought clothes, nor were there take away meals, bought cakes or biscuits. She even cleaned and dressed the chicken for Christmas dinner from one of the chooks in the backyard, which were kept to keep up the egg supply.
Grams lost John when she was only 43 years old, he died of a heart attack at the age of 52. After John passed away, Grams started to volunteer at her local Meals on Wheels, she stayed there for 30 years – an achievement that she and everyone who loved her was very of. I remember staying over at Grams house on Tuesday nights in the school holidays so I could help at Meals on Wheels on Wednesday mornings, one day when I was helping both Channel 9 and the Advertiser came in to do a story about the organisation, this was very exciting for me as a small child. Meals on Wheels is another tradition from my grandmother that I have tried to continue and my own children now have memories of delivering food to the older people.
In 1968 my eldest brother was born and this gave my grandmother a new lease on life. He was the first of 6 grandchildren and Grams would go on to see the birth of 2 of her great grandchildren. She would ride her black bike around to our house every Thursday so my own mother could go grocery shopping, then as my own mother went off to full time work, Grams became an even bigger part of our lives – she would be there after school, in school holidays and of course, we never celebrated anything without Grams there. When we got older and more independent we would ride our bikes or roller-skate around to her house for a glass of quik, a serve of junket and a game of scrabble.
At the age of 76 Grams continued her Thursday tradition of going to the shops – it was probably just under a kilometre walk for her. On this particular day, for some reason unbeknown to us all, Grams decided not to cross the main road at the traffic lights and was struck by a car. She was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with head injuries and other internal and external injuries. She would stay in hospital for a few weeks and it was at least a week before I was allowed to visit her. Her brain had swollen so much that they had removed half of her skull to allow for the swelling, they had popped the skull aside and would simply put it back in after the swelling had reduced. It was during this time that I chose to visit her – my dear Grams sitting perched up in her public hospital bed in a public ward wearing a public hospital gown, sadly the private hospitals did not have the facilities to cope with her injuries. Grams lost the ability to speak and the ability to walk – things my Grams would learn to do again! She was a fighter.
Grams spent many months, possibly years in re-hab (it’s a bit of a blur), and although she tried to return to live independently, in the end it was simply too hard and too dangerous and she moved into a lovely hostel arrangement where she was still able to live a little independently.
In January of 2001 I moved to Oodnadatta and would ensure that I visited Grams on my visits home. Sadly I remember driving away from the hostel after one of my visits thinking that that was the last time I would see my Grams, unfortunately I was right. It was June and a few of the staff from Oodnadatta were rained out from the town and stuck in Coober Pedy, we had gone out for dinner, some drinks and a game of pool. I didn’t take my mobile phone with me as the ‘pub’ was underground. When I got back to the hotel room I rang my eldest brother as he had left several messages, when he uttered those words I literally threw my mobile phone across the room – it was poison and what he had said was just as toxic.
My grandmother’s heart was tired and her passing away was a loss that was just too great.
Fifteen years on and I still talk to her, I buy flowers on her birthday and the anniversary of her death, I still shed tears for her and I believe that even though my children never got to meet her, they still hold her in their hearts.
My Grams was an incredible lady and I aspire to be half the woman she was.