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.
Notes 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.