49. Letter To Nora, My Sister – Journal Entry 29th Jun 1980

Now that my exams are over, I can take the time to breathe and write the odd letter. Mum wanted me to write and tell you that she had a car accident. I wrote separately to M and at great length about it.

At the end of March, the 30th to be precise, mum went to a pensioners dinner given by a local supermarket. On the journey home, the car crashed into the front end of a bridge. Fortunately, the car didn’t plunge into the water and three women were passengers.

The driver, who had put his seat belt on, got out without a scratch.

The woman in the front was killed instantly. The second woman, who lives on our street, was sitting in the back seat with mum and had both her arms broken, one in two places, the other near the elbow. Very nasty breaks. She also had a lot of skin ripped off her legs and is still in hospital, having had skin grafts and physiotherapy. She can’t use one arm (even though the bone has healed) and the other arm is still in plaster and has been held up the whole three months (can you imagine?). She is over seventy, has a history of not healing well or easily and looks very thin and brittle.

Finally to get to mum: she received a terrific whack to her right cheekbone and the black eye was fearful to see. Her eye, when one opened the puffy eyelid, was red, red, red. She had stitches in her lip and a couple above her chin, stitches on her shin (I don’t know how they damaged their legs) and worst of all she had six of her bottom teeth broken – gums as well. The hospital staff kept the teeth in her mouth until the dentist could see to her. When she did, the dentist removed the remaining two precious bottom teeth. Previously we had spent hundreds of dollars trying to save her bottom teeth!

After a couple of days in the hospital, x-rays showed that mum had a cracked sternum and several cracked ribs. Also, her lungs had blood which was drained by poking a hole in her side and inserting a tube between the ribcage and lung. They took out two litres in the first hour and two more over the next day. Mum suffered a mild heart attack, possibly from the irritation of the drainage tube.

Terrible as all this may sound, she was out of the hospital in about ten days. She spent about a month and a half very quietly at home and is now back at her various social activities. She has been to church about three times.

The uncomfortable part of the accident for her was having to do without teeth for nearly three months. All the food had to be minced. Even when she was fitted with new teeth, the bottom part hurt because of the sensitive, broken gum underneath. Also, bits of bone would push to the surface. The dentist says it will take about a year for the gum to settle down. We went back for another fitting and he put soft padding inside the bottom teeth and now mum can eat without much pain. All the medical treatment and the new teeth were free by the way. The service has been excellent, with nurses and doctors making a great fuss over mum. They were so happy to see her recover quickly from the accident.

Mum’s friends also have been marvellous, with their telephone calls, hospital visits, cards and presents.

By the way, she has not received a card from you for her birthday and she thinks perhaps you are cross with her. I said most likely your card went astray.

We celebrated her 70th birthday twice. The first celebration was with chicken biryani, the second dinner with a very big fish a friend gave her for Mother’s Day. We kept it for her birthday because we knew she would have to eat without her teeth.

She has been worrying about not writing to all of you; mainly worry about not being able to put pen to paper. I don’t know why she hesitates, her English is pretty good and besides, she has been practising by copying bread recipes and other recipes she might want to use when she cooks the family meal.

Apart from the accident, things are pretty much quiet at home, in fact, we are almost back to normal.

Karen is just over her end of first semester exams (11th grade). She has a year and a half of high school and working very hard. Last year she won a few prizes for debating, overall performance at school, etc.

Marcello is working at a small meatworks. He turned down a job with a bank because he doesn’t fancy sitting behind a desk all day. At the meatworks, he works part-time in the office and part-time in the abattoir. He likes it very much because of the homely atmosphere and friendly staff.

Monika is Swedish and a very steady character. She does all the feeding and tending of the chickens, bantams, turkeys and about fifteen ducks that Marcello keeps buying. The bantams are special breeds that he recently bought at the local agricultural show. Poor Monika gets more and more to attend to besides the baby. The baby is absolutely gorgeous and is made a great fuss of by everyone in the family. He seems to be bright and alert. He is only five months old and seems pretty grown-up already.

It is cold this morning, Sunday 6th July. The temperature is 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). Cold enough for socks and a thick sweater. The other way to keep warm is to put the wood stove on or go out in the sun. The sun feels good and one can strip to just a thin shirt and skirt and, if you walk fast enough, you can get down to bikinis. Some people actually swim in the sea… southerners!

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Added mum’s sister Nora to the family tree.
  • NEWS: this week I interviewed my mum’s best friend, who we knew when we lived in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1968. Cynthia (now Kami) lives on an island in BC, Canada. The interview post is coming soon.
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • See the map of where we lived and the family tree at the bottom of the Home page, click here.

47. Crash at the Bridge – Journal Entry 28th May 1980

This letter has a happy ending somewhere in the middle, so don’t get alarmed by my story. Gran asked me to give you the news and now that some days have passed I can think about events calmly.

On Sunday 30th March, a local supermarket gave a gala dinner for 200 pensioners. Our branch of the Pensioner’s League was given some tickets. Gran and her friends were invited and transport arranged.

Off all the pensioners went, each dressed up as though it were Christmas. They had been looking forward to the dinner for several weeks. Gran, as you can imagine, put on nearly all her jewels. I had to advise her to take a sparkling necklace off and to rub a bit of rouge off too. Anyway, down the road she went, to wait for two friends. We, of course, teased her and said what a mad social life she led, that she was never at home and so on.

I waited up for her from about 10 pm. I did a lot of work while waiting and the rest of the family were in bed. At 12:30 am a police car pulls up and the policeman tells me that Gran is in hospital.

“What..? What happened?” I cry out.
“A car accident.”
In shock, I ask what the damages were. I start to shiver.
“I don’t know,” he says. “One had a couple of bad leg breaks, one has facial injuries.”

He comes into the kitchen to ask a few details. While he is there, the telephone rings. It’s the hospital, ringing to ask me about Gran’s age, whether she is allergic to anything and a few other details. The policeman listens to my answers and writes them down as I speak, they were the details he was after too.

Then he asks me where Mrs M’s son lives.

I ask why and am told Mrs M died in the crash. Oh my God, this is unreal. I have known this person for the past ten years. Such a wonderful character. She was seventy-five. Barbara, in the meantime, has heard the commotion and is stirring in her room. We head her off and keep her in her room.

I go out with the policeman to show him where Mrs M’s son lives. The driver in the crash was sitting in the front seat of the police car. We dropped him off at his house first. The policeman told me that the driver had been checked to see whether he was drunk… but he was not. The accident happened when Mrs M allegedly tried to put the sun visor up in the car and the driver leaned over to help because, he said, he didn’t want her to get hurt! He drove straight into the entry post of a narrow bridge and Mrs M was killed instantly; a vein in her neck burst. We understand she was very badly injured on impact. The other back passenger had both her arms broken (the left arm is broken in two places) and large patches of skin on her legs stripped off. Gran was on top of her with her bum in the air. Both of them had passed out and both have no recollection of the accident. Gran vaguely remembers a bit of conversation in the ambulance. She thought she heard the ambulance driver say that one woman was dead.

The accident has made a little bit of local history. People have been saying for months that the bridge was too narrow and that one day there would be a nasty accident. Well, this was the nastiest accident on record.

When I returned home I rang the hospital and found out that Gran had facial injuries but was out of danger and doing very well. The next morning I visited her in the hospital, which was 36 miles away, and found her almost unrecognisable. She looked terrible. Her face was swollen. Six of her precious bottom teeth and some gum had broken off in one chunk, fallen inside her mouth and stayed there for a few days until the swelling had gone down enough for the dentist to see what had to be done. She had the worst black eye I have ever seen, her bottom lip was stitched and she had a huge swelling on her right cheekbone. The eye was so red inside the puffed flesh that I wondered whether there was serious damage to her sight. Not only were her facial injuries severe, she had massive bruising all over her body and eight stitches on her shin.

Many of her friends rang to ask how she was. The telephone rang often over the next week. A couple of days later the funeral for Mrs M was held. She had a huge turnout and most of Emu Park was in mourning. I went to the funeral even though I was very worried about Gran. Subsequent X-rays had shown two cracked ribs, a cracked sternum and a damaged lung. They were draining her lung on the day of Mrs M’s funeral.

The day after the funeral the hospital rang to say Gran was asking for me. You can imagine how I felt. When I got there, I learned that two litres of blood had been removed and that more was dripping out. The drain was a hole in the side of her chest with a tube inserted and fixed between the lung and the chest wall; the tube then led into a plastic container. I stayed in the hospital that night, a good thing too because Gran had a mild heart attack. It wasn’t a full heart attack but something was causing her heart to beat irregularly and the staff and doctors worked on her for two to three hours, checking her pulse and heart at regular intervals. The next night, the palpitations started again, very mildly, and continued to do so for a few days.

Things weren’t so good at home either. Barbara was hysterical at the Activities and Therapy Centre and cried for hours. We had to put her on tranquilisers, the family was fearful of further accidents and Johnny and I drove for the next few days at 45 mph! I was torn between staying the night with Barbara and staying at the hospital.

Poor Gran has had to do without her teeth. Tomorrow she will be at the dentist all day and a week later she will get a new set of teeth. She has had to eat pap these past two months.

Her friends have been very supportive with lots of flowers and cards and visits. When Gran realised she was going to live, she perked up and improved so rapidly that she was out of the hospital in about ten days. The other woman, who was the same age as Mrs M, is still in hospital and likely to stay for several months more as she is not healing well. Gran, in comparison, is very fit and healthy. She has been wanting me to write and give you all of the news but as I mentioned at the beginning of my letter, I didn’t want to think about what had happened, let alone write about it. I also decided to wait a bit rather than write in a hurry and cause anxiety amongst you. Now Gran is reasonably fit but tends to tire easily and gets the odd pain in her ribs. She is taking it easy.

To get on with today, it is Gran’s 70th birthday – your letter and Mary’s arrived and was beautifully timed. That cheered her up tremendously. The family gave her presents: slinky black trousers and a chiffon top, a lottery ticket ($80,000 if she wins), some hand lotion, two coffee mugs from Barbara and a tiny vase with a dried flower arrangement.  A friend gave her a large and very smart handbag.

I made Chicken Biriyani for dinner. On Sunday, when Johnny gets back from a tour of the coal mines, he will be cooking another birthday dinner for Gran, this time a large Red Emperor. The friend who gave the fish to Gran as a Mother’s Day present will be coming to help us eat it. There will be chocolate mousse to follow with roasted almonds strewn on top. Cold cider will flow.

I should sketch out the household we have, so you can understand how Gran fits in, why she has so many friends and why so many people call her Grandma and give her little gifts. In these parts, an extended family is very rare indeed and almost all our friends call her Grandma.

There are eight in the family and now we are nine because of a very young grandson called Marcel Nathaniel. You can guess whom he belongs to! His mother is a young blonde Swede called Monika. They all live with us and have been doing so for the past three years. Marcello finished high school last year and is working now. He doesn’t want to study further at the moment.

Then, of course, there are Gran and Barbara. Barbie has improved so much that you would be pleasantly surprised should you meet her again. True, some things never change, like her penchant for blurting out all your news as soon as someone gets home or telling you the same thing about four hundred times. Apart from these minor faults, she is now fairly reasonable and helpful around the house. She still attends the Activities and Therapy Centre and, better still, there is a bus to take her the 36 miles to the centre and back again. She has even started talking in an Australian accent, like saying ‘plight’ for plate and can joke and tease when she is in the mood.

Gran (I may have told you this or you may have learned of her activities from Nora) is a member of the National Fitness Club, the indoor bowling club and the pensioners club. She goes to church and has many friends: priests, nuns and lay people. In the hospital, she was visited by the priests and the nuns sent her gifts. Sometimes one of the clubs hires a bus and goes out visiting another club out in the sticks, so of course, Gran is out for the day. All in all there is a reasonable amount of socialising for Gran and she is often attending an afternoon tea. Then she has her garden and precious Australorp chickens. Did I tell you, our present Australorp egg production is about a dozen a day? Beautiful large brown eggs with the occasional speckled one in the mix.

Karen is in her second last year of high school and studying very hard. She intends to go for tertiary education and is a very determined young lady. She likes discos, writes funny letters to her friends, is artistic, can cook and is, in fact, a competent person – good to have around.

Young David Gareth is normally referred to as Gareth (That Dreaded Took or that bloody boy) and is doing well at school.

You may not know what is a normal day here: Marcello and Johnny go out to work quite early in the morning, usually 6 am to 7 am, then Barbie catches the bus, then Karen sets off, also by bus to high school, then after a while, Gareth hops on his bike and rides to school (which is at the bottom of the road). Four of us are left and we get through the household chores as swiftly as possible, then I go to my desk, Gran pads around doing this and that, Monika attends to the baby or makes cards with shells or pressed flowers and clever little designs. The day is interspersed with cups of tea and lunch, until the family comes home again. The first one home is Gareth at 3:15 pm, then Karen and Barbie at 4 pm, then Marcello and Johnny return between 5 and 7 pm.

I suppose I ought to go to bed now. It is 10:40 pm and the household is fast asleep. I have to wake up early, as usual, to get Barbie off to ‘work’. She is rather slow and gets distracted, taking approximately one hour and fifteen minutes to get washed, dressed, make a flask of coffee, pack some biscuits for morning tea or little lunch, eat some cereal, fry herself an egg and eat it, pack her bag, comb her hair and get trotted down the road (by me now that Gran is not too well) and put onto the bus.

The baby is so sweet, he is four months old and well looked after by Monika. He seems very good-natured and is usually laughing, cooing or trying to say something. He has just learned to grab things and stuff them in his mouth. They are talking about finding a place of their own… I hope they don’t move too soon, we shall miss watching Nathaniel grow.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • A map of where we lived and a family tree are also at the bottom of the Home page, click here.

46. Day of the Cyclone – Journal Entry 24th Feb 1980

It’s Sunday and the time is 4:50 pm. Destructive Cyclone Simon, also called Small Destructive Cyclone Simon, is 40 km away NNE and travelling toward us at 10 km/h. The wind in the centre is said to be over 200 km/h, and right now there are gusts at about 50 km/h. Six or eight roofs in Yeppoon have been damaged.

28th Mar 1980

Dear Joan,

What a wonderful surprise your letter was. It had very bad effect really because it arrived just as I was making a ‘fair copy’ of an Algebra assignment. After reading your letter, I found I was making too many mistakes and wasting sheets of paper. So, I decided to stop and write to you instead! If there are mistakes in this letter, you were the cause of them.

It’s nearly three months since you left. I saw Fr. Meade once when Johnny and I were at the airport leaving for Canberra. I met Nadine at the supermarket and she gave me news of you.

Speaking of mores and depression, I fully agree with you. When we left Manila to come back to Emu Park, I hurt for over a year. Actually, that was because we had left my mother and sister behind in rather uncertain conditions and circumstances. It took two years before we were reunited. I used to have nightmares. My sister had a bad nervous breakdown.

It does get harder as the years go by and we begin to appreciate people a lot more than we did when we were inexperienced. Let us not talk of age; right now I think life has never been so good for me and that a whole new world and perspective is before me. I have the privilege to participate, if I make an effort. I feel you also are very privileged and can do many more things in Brisbane than Rocky. So go to it my dear, use your time well, very well; you have no right to do otherwise. But also remember, being a delightful companion to your family is the number one priority, they need you, especially now when they are hurting too.

Your Australorp rooster is in full glory, he has the run of the yard and thirty hens besides. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to enjoy the chooks, there’s always study or family to attend to.

Marcello has a fine lot of Rouen ducks and they quack in unison when anyone calls out to them, especially at feeding time. Marcello works now, deciding that higher studies were not for him. I’m hoping quietly that he will do so someday because he has a good brain and should use it. But then I suppose most mothers feel that way. Monika has had a boy-child. Naturally, his grandmother in Emu Park thinks he is the most beautiful baby in the world! His hair, a dramatic black when he was born, is now a light brown colour which threatens to turn golden. Marcel Nathaniel has lovely brown skin. We’ve accused Monika of sun-tanning him on the quiet.

Lynne is also taking Computer Science I, so I see her at lectures when I attend them. Computing is fun but a hard art to master. Someone can write a program, however, an elegant one is a different matter. Intelligibility is the keyword, my Johnny tells me.

Johnny is as gorgeous as ever but overworked as usual. I look forward to the time he has less to do and can write poetry and novels and play the flute. He writes beautifully and I have a whole case of love letters to prove it.

Talking about books, Johnny bought me a crop of D. H. Lawrence books which I raced through; I should say I read voraciously. Also D. Ireland books and a very interesting study by Dr Kamien on community medicine among the Bourke Aboriginals. At the moment I am reading Manning Clark’s A History of Australia and am up to the age of Macquarie.

I don’t know if I told you that I joined a group known as the CIAE Search Group which helps people identify their problems and suggest solutions. At the moment we are working with the Aboriginal community groups as well as a group of Aboriginal delegates from central Queensland. We held our first 1980 workshop recently (the first for me) which was very exciting. A further weekend workshop with the delegates is scheduled for Rocky and Gladstone. Hervey Bay and a few others will be making requests soon I think. Reg is in charge and these workshops come under community development. If you are interested I could tell you more in some future letter.

I hear much laughter from the kitchen. It’s my mother who enjoys seeing the baby smile, laugh or make noises. She makes more noises than the baby! The kids won’t agree with the last statement. They will tell you I am much more noisy with the baby, but don’t believe it, it’s not true.

The weather is so beautiful, especially as we’re heading fast towards winter. The sunshine, butterflies, the egg-laying-cackle of the chooks and even the chatter of the builders below make me feel so good to be alive. What does it matter if there are a few mosquitoes around, the lawn needs to be done again and Gran’s garden has more weeds than veggies in it? We’ll get around to them sometime, but in the meantime, everything smells good, the sea is calm and I’m writing to you. At least I was writing to you, but now I’ve come to the end of my letter.

Look after yourself and give my regards to the family.

Love,
Gita
PS: Do practice your letter writing on me!

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • These posts are meant to be read in sequence and the Preamble post marks the beginning of the journal series. Refer to Archived on the Home page.
  • A map of where we lived and a family tree are also at the bottom of the Home page, click here.
  • Added Nathaniel to the Emu Park Family Tree.