A Mothers’ Day Excerpt from “Goodbye Crackernight” by Justin Sheedy
She and I must have argued about twice in my entire memory, not because she avoids conflict, but because, with Mum, a disagreement never really has the chance to become an argument. Then, as now, there’s nothing that can’t be worked out, no mutual agreement that can’t be happily reached, no Heaven and Earth she wouldn’t move to help you. It would seem that the majority of women of her generation were expected to become typists, teachers or nurses, but only as a prelude to marriage. My mother worked as a typist until she married. She and women like her should have become diplomats.
One day during school holidays, we were having a game of ‘sneak-ups’. The main rooms in our house at Howard Place were adjoining in a way that you could literally chase each other ‘around the house’. The game had been going on for about fifteen minutes on and off, I’d snuck up and caught Mum a few times, she’d caught me a few times, it had been great fun. But after a while, somehow I thought the game was finished. That is, until Mum caught me, ‘Boo!’ from around a corner, and I was so taken by surprise that I let out a completely involuntary ‘Fuck!’ – and loudly. This froze us both in our tracks. I wasn’t even eight yet, and swearing was still very definitely taboo and a seriously punishable offence. She’d never heard anything like this from me before. To say ‘shit’ within your mother’s earshot was unthinkable; to say ‘the F-word’ in close proximity to an adult was punishable by death, presumably, and I braced for it.
But this darling woman didn’t punish me for it, she didn’t even caution me. She just giggled, albeit a little secretively. She knew I hadn’t meant it, I’d just blurted it out with the shock of my unexpected capture, so I wasn’t in trouble. I was saved by her sense of fair play and, to this day, I have never met a person more gracious, more completely just and reasonable.
Her parents had been battlers, had almost no education and both worked full-time, so Mum had to spend her early years being minded at neighbours’ houses or by relatives who, by Mum’s own admission, didn’t really want her there. Her father, Ray, suffered from ill health and, despite an impeccable character, struggled from job to job during the tail end of the Depression, even selling vacuum cleaners door to door. His one suit was so worn that it became shiny. At least it matched his one pair of shoes, which he shined every night. These never had holes as every few months he would glue black rubber retreads onto the soles which, when filed down to the shape of the shoe, did just fine. He also took good care of his nails and cuticles, filing Mum’s for her with a kind and determined smile.
When he sat in the backyard on Sunday afternoons, he wore an old hat; or rather, the top of an old hat with the brim removed for some reason. For ventilation, he’d made two small holes in it. Into one of these, Mum would place a flower.
Ray, Jose and Mum had lived in a crappy extension at the back of someone else’s house in Lane Cove. Evidently built in the days before ‘council approval’ had been invented, it had no inside toilet, a ‘sort-of’ kitchen, and Mum certainly never had her own room, just a corner where she kept her ‘dress-up’ things in paper bags. Still, with these she would transform herself into Carmen Miranda and put on all-singing, all-dancing floor shows for her mum and dad after tea. It was these insecure, uncomfortable conditions that turned her into the type of woman she is. A woman whose first instinct is to make all those around her feel at home.
I used to stand by her as she sat at her make-up table mirror before she and Dad went out to functions of an evening. Blonde and with the blue eyes she gave me, she looked so pretty. Picture a cross between Grace Kelly and the girl-next-door. No, it wasn’t a model’s beauty she possessed but the beauty of one who’s always smiling. And her perfume smelt so good.
Wishing all Mothers a very happy Day.