Snappy September - Day Eighteen - Pauline Florence
My Mum turns seventy today.
I remember throwing gargantuan tantrums before kindergarten every single morning in protest at having to take a banana. Why not an apple, or a mandarin or a pear? You’d ruffle my sticky straw hair and try to explain that the teachers cut up all the fruit and mixed them together in a salad for us all to share, but no, I’d whinge and stubbornly insist that it was she who was conspiring to ruin my four year old life despite her making me a beautiful angel costume for the Christmas play, being one of the original mothers who helped raise funds to build the centre and trying to shoosh me as well as get Robert to school and stop young David from picking dried snail shells off the fence and eating them.
I still picture you walking back to the car in your groovy slacks, sleeveless Nehru vest and curly blonde hair and was convinced that you were the most beautiful woman in the world. You were; but I’d run inside to see my teachers and friends, hand over the hated banana and forget all about my concerns until the next morning.
I remember feeling the cold stone of fear drop down deep into my stomach when Alison’s and my plans to rejuvenate Mr McKenzie’s old bike by painting it in pink undercoat and giving it to her older brother for his birthday went horribly wrong. We’d forgotten to ask Mr McKenzie if he still needed his dusty old bike and our interest in painting the vintage item had not lasted long enough to wash the brushes that had dried and clung to the spokes. You could see that our intentions were good – if stupid – and tucked me into bed that night and stroked my forehead; something I loved.
Flat lemonade and a Balfours frog cake if I was at home on the lounge feeling poorly in front of Fat Cat and Friends and Humphrey B Bear. We'd both watch ‘Day of our lives’ at 1:30 and you’d explain who the characters were and why they wore full make up and sequins during the daytime scenes which were dark; peeling apples in one long continuous strip before handing me the sliced segments. Apples tasted extra delicious done that way.
How many times did you let me set up a cafe in the back yard, only to see me give away all of your freshly made cakes, shop-bought biscuits, swiss rolls and glasses of cordial to the neighbourhood kids? Or let me have an egg and mix it with some flour and tap water before rushing outside to tip in some sandpit dirt, red berries and grass clippings with the evil aim of enticing sweet Simon from next door to try a mouthful? Or patiently sit in front of the bed-sheet dangling from the Hill’s Hoist as I performed yet another Abba concert?
...and to think, you weren’t a drinker or a smoker. It explains why you’d eagerly snap up blocks of Cadbury or Smalls ten-at-a-time when they were on special at Woolies and hide some underneath your sewing machine. Lord knows you deserved it.
I’m so sorry for sighing melodramatically and saying “Oh Mum, you’re always at that typewriter,” in 1976 as you went to classes at night and studied during the day for your mature-aged matriculation exams. I didn’t miss out on a thing – not your love, your attention or your care and seeing how proud Dad was when he said that you came second in the state when the results came out gave eight year old me a jolt as I realised that you were more than just my mother who sang really well and sometimes cooked a ‘stew’ I didn’t like eating very much.
For someone who kept herself nice until being married you somehow managed to not blush but also keep a straight face when I’d come home from school and ask questions about genitalia, unexplained swear words, bodily excretions and sexual proclivities, answering each with honesty and thought.
Mum, from 1979 to 1984 you provided a great deal of informal education to not only myself but also my friends, who were unable to broach anything greater than a muffled, “Mum can you buy me some more um, you know....” to their own mothers each month when their brothers were out of earshot. Thank you for that.
As a shy sixteen year old, I saw you work hard with Dad to make extra money for the family as an adminstrator as well as working together on the weekends and weeknights to grow cucumbers in rented glasshouses. You and Dad knew that all three of us kids were likely to go to university and it was years later before I realised – or appreciated – how financially strapped you were. You must have wanted to hit me when I’d mock the age of our cars or the daggy furniture. I am so very sorry for that.
I also remember when we had to size, polish and pack the freshly-picked cucumbers. Despite being a virgin, I could not stop smiling at our suggestive repetitive stroking motions as we ‘polished’ them. Your throaty laugh in return was recognition that you considered me an equal in observation and humour, which made me feel very honoured.
You believed in waiting for marriage before moving in, but when I decided to start my life with Love Chunks, I snorted, “Hey Mum, you’d been married for three years at my age. That’s three years of regular sex that I never had,” you were shocked for a milli-second and then amused enough to hug me and help me pack.
With a laugh like the old creaky back door in our Murray Bridge house, as you’ve aged you’ve become more inclined to let it out; less worried about setting an example and more able to let go. Who knew that farts over a game of Rummy would make you laugh so hard you’d cry?
Word has it that Noni-B still want you to do their next fashion parade Mum, despite turning the big Seven Oh. Why wouldn’t they – you’re still the most beautiful woman in my world.