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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Mums are special people.

Submitted: April 21, 2017

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Submitted: April 21, 2017



While a lot of folk who consider themselves special, may be endowed with large egos and lack humility, the most importantly special people remain inconspicuous and usually special to only a few. As far as Henry was concerned, his Mum was always special, even though he didn’t really think about it when he was a nipper. He was the youngest of four siblings, the baby, which rightly entitled him to a certain amount of leniency. The seven years difference between his younger sister and his older brother, taught the family some lessons in child rearing. The girls were excited about their new brother and made a huge fuss of him, picking him up at the slightest whimper and popping treats into him to keep him happy. The outcome of that was the young bugger became very demanding! So when Henry came along, lesson learned, they left him alone!

Henry’s Dad owned the first milk pasteurising plant in the city as well as the first bottling plant, so his Mum was kept busy cooking breakfast for the crew and providing smoko for them as well. She also served door customers whenever they called, which meant Henry was called in to help when she was busy. The gallon teapot was a bit much for him to carry, but he made it out to the smoko table, which was a tad high for him causing hot water to spill from the pot! He lost control of the thing and it tipped over his shoulder! The scar resulting from the scald lasted until he was well into his thirties! But Mum was as ever compassionate and knew how to treat it.

The day Henry disappeared had Mum frantic! The workers had gone home and the dairy was supposed to be closed up, but the side door was ajar, so Mum quietly pushed it open, fearful of what she might encounter. Henry was in there, suck fast – by his tongue! After the pasteurising process, the milk was cooled quickly by running it over a refrigerated, corrugated cooler. Henry had found some frozen milk on it and took a lick! His tongue immediately stuck to it! Poor old Mum rushed around to find old Bob Brown who chipped the iced milk away with his pocket knife setting Henry free! Mum fretted about the filth she suspected was on Bob’s old pocketknife, because he was a stranger to the bathroom!

Mum had made a batch of scones for the workers, buttered them and dolloped raspberry jam on them. Mrs Fawlds called for some cream and the customary gossip, so Henry took the tray of scones out to the dairy. Danger! Someone had dropped a quart bottle and not picked it up. Shoes were an expensive luxury for kids so as usual the lad padded about in bare feet. Because of the tray, he couldn’t see were his feet were going, so he stood on the cutting edge of the broken bottle! The scones were ok, but the laceration was longitudinally and deep! The trucks were all away so they couldn’t take him to Doc Young, so good old Mum sat him with his foot in the kitchen sink, soaking it in condies-crystal-water. It was the only disinfectant that she had other than the awful dairy stuff. He dripped blood on her white pine bench! The bench she carefully scrubbed with sandsoap to make white as snow. She was proud of the clean whiteness. But did Mum mind the blood-splats? Not a bit! He was happy-chappy a few days later when Granddad called and saw him soaking in the sink, as he did three times a day. The usually frugal old man gave him a half-crown! Mum let him keep it too!

To help foster his interest in nature, Mum bought Henry a microscope. She had put up with him bringing all manner of insects inside and sometimes birds – waxeyes mainly! She seemed to be as interested as he was. In the garden, she explained to him what the plants were and how to tend them, what to feed them on. Dad believed in cow manure, but Mum said it didn’t suit everything! She taught him to prune the roses because whenever she was scratched by a thorn, she festered and became unwell (something about her blood), so in no time the job became his. When people admired the show of roses, she always gave Henry the credit.

Mum was knocked up badly when her bag became caught on the handrail on the side of the tram! She was dragged a hundred yards or so until the strap gave way! Henry helped with the household chores while she convalesced, though she was back into it after a few weeks, but her back had been damaged. He used to accompany her into town during the early days of her treatment from a chiropractor. Henry agreed with Dad that he was a bloody quack, because she never showed any improvement. They were right, she finally gave up after seeing him for seven troublesome years!

Musicals and live performances were one of Mum’s pleasures, and Henry was the only one in the family able to accompany her. He enjoyed the shows as much as she did, it was sort of a shared experience. She always bought a programme and whenever Henry returned home in later years, the programmes were brought out and they would relive those times together. The family thought they had tricked Dad into buying a radiogram, but in reality he had happily acquiesced. Mum was thrilled and so  whenever there was a new show or after attending one, Henry and Mum visited the record shop. 

When Henry went off to forestry school, Mum was sad to be losing her companion, but she bit her lip and made sure he was kitted out with enough warm clothes, blankets and anything else she thought might be handy. She hand-embroided his initials and everything! A year later, Dad retired so he took Mum for the only holiday they had ever had together and the pair were so excited on their return, sharing their joy with the family. Four months later Dad suffered a brain aneurism and was gone. During the grieving process Henry wrote letters and arrived home as much as he could. In return, Mum washed his clothes and mended them, keeping busy helped with the grieving.

Dad always used to call time, ‘the enemy’, and it is. The years take their toll on all of us and Mum, special or not, wasn’t spared. The dragging of the tram didn’t help her body, nor did those years of hard physical work. All housewives worked hard physically back in the day, boiling clothes in a copper and turning the handle of the wringer, beating carpets and being responsible for a tribe of kids. And thirty years alone isn’t at all good for the mind.

After she put a newspaper on top of the oven and it began to smoke, she asked to go into care. It is a moot point if care is quite the correct word, Mum was a patient and respected as one, which that’s all that can be expected in those places. Each time Henry visited, he saw that his Mum’s condition was in a slow decline. Failing speech, memory loss, loss of mobility, loss of confidence – the same that will befall most of us.

Henry’s Mum, that special person to him, was ninety three when she put her Woman’s Weekly down, closed her eyes and forgot to breathe.

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