85. Letters to Family – Journal Entry 18th November 1981

I would be very interested to know your impressions of Europe. Mary tells us you missed visiting London and Lourdes. What a pity! How many days were you away?

Marcello is in his second year of work and still enjoys it. His wife is expecting the second child. Nathaniel is now nearly two years old and starting to talk. He seems bright and is mainly interested in tape recorders, radios and hi-fi equipment. His maternal grandmother gave him a couple of old cassette tape recorders/radio and he knows which button to press, how to put in the tapes and take them out again. His mother encourages him to be as independent as possible so he can feed himself very well, selects the right pan for his omelette at breakfast and can usually make himself understood. There is no worry about toilet training – he just does all the right things – he used to crawl to the bathroom after his mother for his early morning scrub! There was no question of carrying him, however, the bathroom is next to their bedroom. Mum and I have to stop ourselves from fussing over him because he is quite aware of being the centre of attention. I find it very hard because he is very good-looking and has the most engaging manner, but then grandmothers are always mushy over their grandchildren. We are very lucky to have Marcello, Monika and Nathaniel with us.

At last, I have a photograph of Karen for you, taken at the twelfth-grade students’ formal dance. I also had a newspaper cutting of the three top students with a small photograph of each student, however, someone removed the newspaper from my desk. Yesterday she sat for her last subject examination and we will know the results today;  the academic year will not start until February ’82. Karen hopes to stay at the residential college which will be a break from home, she is eighteen years old after all, and may come down on weekends. Rockhampton is only forty kilometres away and Johnny is in Rocky most of the week. Last week we attended the high school speech night where Karen and the male co-captain gave valedictory speeches. She has been on debating teams for about four years and we thought she spoke well. Both Gareth and Karen won certificates for the mathematics competition.

Mum is almost into her round of Christmas celebrations with her various pensioner clubs. She was ill a month ago when she decided not to take her medication for high blood pressure, headaches and nerves. After a week or two, she collapsed with very high blood pressure and was in a highly nervous state. She enjoyed her week in our local hospital which is a very pleasant place; no-one is seriously ill there and if they were, they would be sent to Rockhampton Base Hospital. Our little hospital is right on the beach with good views from the public wards, the staff are usually friends or known to the patients, the food is good for a short stay and everything is clean, airy and cheerful. There is a TV in the lounge and in each ward. With only four patients in each ward, it’s really like a free holiday. The rest and change did mum a lot of good and after the initial heavy dosage of medicine, mum is now back to taking her medication only two times a day. All in all, life has never been better for mum, especially after hearing that all is well with Mary.

Barbara is improving steadily but it’s really difficult to keep her occupied because she is not interested in the usual activities like drawing, knitting or gardening. However, she now collects shells from the beach and mum takes her for a stroll at weekends. She can now choose books from the library for mum, cassette tapes of pop music and found a book on shells. At night, mum reads to Barbara; a recent activity which started after we decided to ban the TV from the house. When there is a particularly good programme, family members intended to go to the neighbours for TV. We’re not against having a television set for short periods, however, we consider indiscriminate television viewing keeps a person from being more constructive and active because it is a passive occupation and much time is given in exchange for very little information or pleasure. Now we read a lot, play games, play the record player or radio and talk to each other. When we see mum and Barbara enjoying their reading sessions, we feel quite firm about not having a TV.

Are you planning to come with Mary and Cliffy next year? Mum intends to go to Melbourne when they come so that she has a longer time with them.

Going onto something different, I wonder if you can give me recipes for Indian dishes which are either old and hence not known much, or regional. Let me explain: I have a small collection of Indian cookbooks, but I would like to add to them, either by getting more books or adding individual recipes which families may have, for instance, Cliffy’s mango seed pudding. I have the Dalda cookbook but it only gives a few recipes from each of the four states and one, of course, on South Indian cooking.

I have Veerasawmy’s cookbook on Indian food and several others. I thought Henry’s mum or Aunty Olive may have some and I though another source may be book stalls. Do you think it would be worth advertising for old cookbooks?

There are three that I am looking for (if you could find them and if the price is right):

  • Culinary Jottings for Madras by “Wyvern” (Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert), Higginbotham & Co, Madras, 5th ed, 1885 and first published in 1878
  • Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book by the author of Manual of Gardening for Western India, R Riddell.
  • The Indian Cookery Book: A Practical Handbook to the Kitchen in India, Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co, 1944 1st ed, 1869.

If you or Mary have time, I would appreciate it if you could jot down a recipe or look in a second-hand bookstall. If what I ask for is too difficult, please forget it.

Did I mention that a few years ago I ran an Indian cookery course? There was a good response, three classes of about ten each, and I was paid quite well. I was reminded of this the other day when one of the participants asked for help with an Indian dinner party she was to give at her home. Curiously enough, the vindaloo was the one dish that most of the participants raved about. One can buy bottled vindaloo paste, at quite a high price, and it tastes better than our own mix. Do you know what is used?

23 Nov 1981

Tio Danding
Thank you very much for your letter. My mother, of course, is upset to know you are finding life very difficult and even before you wrote to us, we sent some money for you to Tio Vincente. It is not much (a little above 35 pesos) starting from October. I hope you have received it. My mother is the one who sends that every month for you and I don’t know how long she can afford to do that, so enjoy the money while it comes; I will let you know when she cannot send any more. In spite of the pain in her head after a car accident two years ago, she is keeping active. The rest of the family are well but working hard at study or a job. Barbara attends a special therapy centre in Rockhampton and a free bus takes her there and back over forty kilometres away. It is a very good place, Barbara has greatly improved and is learning many things there.

Look after yourself and try to be as cheerful as possible.

I sent a letter to Singapore about a year ago but did not receive a reply; perhaps you should write directly to them because we don’t know if they received my mother’s greeting cards.

26 Nov 1981

Tio Vincente
I was wondering whether you received any money? We are a little worried because we haven’t heard from you as yet. Did you get my letter written in August? I hope the money is arriving regularly and that you will have a good Christmas and New Year.

Over here life goes on as usual. My mother always has pain in her head from an accident two years ago, otherwise, she is quite well. There are many activities like physical exercise classes and sports clubs for retired people; they have a jolly time together.  She tries to be active, gets out and about and likes her garden of flowers. Barbara is in good health and her behaviour has improved; she still has her bad moods and talks to herself, however, with a little medicine she quickly gets out of her withdrawn moods.

It is getting hot now and the flies and mosquitoes are active again. Winter here lasts from June to September and is like Banawae weather; cold during the day in the shade, when it is windy or at night.

Karen has now finished high school and will start college next year, Gareth has just finished his first year at high school with four more years to complete matriculation. Johnny is still working long hours. I do the cooking and study a little mathematics. Our best wishes for Christmas and New Year.

Lots of love from all of us.

Tio Vincente
Another short letter in case you have not received my August letter.

I hope you realise that one-sixth of the money is for Tio Danding. Your family gets five shares and he gets one share. However, I also said in the letter that the first amount was for your family only, so starting from the September money, which should have arrived at your bank in October, Tio Danding should have received his share for October and November. By the time you get this letter, there should be another payment for him through you. I hope I have explained the arrangements clearly. If you have any doubts please let me know. My mother is sending the money for Tio Danding through your bank account as it will be too costly to send it separately to both of you. I hope you do not mind.

Note: ‘Tio’ means Uncle in Tagalog (Philippines)

77. Hypertensive Crisis – Journal Entry 19th Sep 1981

So much has happened since I wrote in the diary a week ago. Last Saturday, mum’s blood pressure shot up to two hundred. She felt ill at bowls so we brought her home early. She managed to play through to the end of the match. When she got home she was raving about not wanting to see Les and asking God to forgive her. This was surprising as only earlier that morning she was discussing her plans to move to Les’ house and we hadn’t realised it was cracking her up. Mum hadn’t slept for the past week and she didn’t sleep at the hospital either, despite being heavily sedated.

Mum and Barbara had planned to have lunch at Les’ on Sunday; he had bought three pork chops for their meal and a bottle of orange squash for Barbara. In the meantime, before mum had her turn, I scratched my eye on a leaf and in bed for two days as a result. With all the trips to the hospital for my eye and for mum, we didn’t get around to telling Les; he had a cold saveloy for his Sunday lunch. On Monday, he called to find out what had happened. After telling him, I also explained mum’s attitude toward him.

Les’ reasons for mum backing out of their friendship were that mum was upset at his asking whether they would be sharing expenses and that she had interfered in their lives by going to the priest.

The case against Les was that he ordered her around and fornicated too often; he was not suitable for her and she realised she didn’t love him; her health did not permit her to keep up with his pace. Other reasons were that she wanted to help the family, she was ashamed of his disability and was interested in other men.

The week was taken up with visiting mum in hospital. She was in a highly excited state but one that was not too worrying; she was laughing and boisterous, more than usual. Mum wants male companionship for her remaining years and the two other men who may be interested are a fisherman with a glass eye who says his dog died and that he is lonely and another is Ron who, like Les, has one leg. His wife walked out on Ron because she said he was inordinately jealous of her children from a previous marriage and that she had to support herself and the children throughout her marriage. Even after the children were grown up and married, he continued to be jealous and put a lock on the telephone. She accused him of stealing some of her possessions. Despite this, mum is keen on Ron.

Les called in the day after mum got home. She had already sent him a letter to call things off and delivered the very same message in a loud and excited voice, asking him to bring back her towels and face cloths and pleading with him to forgive and forget before retreating to her bedroom. In the silence that remained, Les turned to me and said this was the opposite of what she had said at his place, and that she told lies.

I asked mum to come back to the kitchen to confront this new statement, but she yelled even more than before and threatened to throw something at him. She denying having said we should not have gone to the priest. She insisted that we were all for their friendship and that we wanted her to be happy. We helped her to her bedroom before she did herself an injury.

Les left saying he learned something new every day and that he was glad he had found out now rather than eight months later when he would be expected to spend his money keeping her.  His parting words were that he had better change the oil in the car and that he had done a lot of gardening in the past few days.

20th Sep 1981

It’s a difficult time and Johnny is not getting much peace at home and doesn’t get much at work either. Mum thinks up little errands which take up time. She doesn’t seem to realise that Johnny has precious little time to himself and that while he is most helpful to all of us, the little tasks we set him should really be scheduled to fit in to his list of tasks.

I am cranky as hell myself and haven’t studied for two weeks from lack of opportunity but also lack of inclination. I tend to get side-tracked by gardening and justifying it to myself as thinking things out.

This morning, members of the family noted my non-study and Johnny repeated his intention to throw out students who did not take thirty percent of the course content. Mum said I went too far in my advice to other people so I went into the garden to think things out. Earlier I dug out the shallots so I could plait some into garlands; the other bulbs I stored in a cardboard box. Finally, I came to the conclusion that there is little point or desire to hang around the house full-time, administering to the family. I don’t do it well and resent the ‘sacrifice’.

How is mum going to live her life without the transport we provide? What about my own transport? If one goes out more, one needs a car to fuel. Is going out more going to help me study more? Do I want to study? What a fickle mind, only a few weeks ago I sorted that one out.

Memories of Kathmandu in 1968, Special Interview With My Mother’s Best Friend – 25th Jul 2018

In a fortunate turn of events, I was able to track down my mother’s best friend Cynthia. My mother, Marcello, Gareth and I spent time with Cynthia in 1968 when we  stayed in Kathmandu, Nepal, prior to moving to Australia in 1969. Cynthia has since adopted the name Kami and resides on Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada.

When did you and mum first meet?

I was working at the British Council there at that time and was living in this old palace called Thamel Lodge,  in a little round house with a thatched roof. Your mum, you and Marcello, came to live in one of the little apartments. The house was quite primitive, for a London girl like me, with a mud floor. I had problems keeping it clean, although I had been roughing it for months on the road and had lived in a few rather bizarre places. Somehow, we swapped homes – your mum and you two kids lived in the little round house and I lived in the apartment. She knew how to look after and clean the mud floor.

CynthiaMum
Cynthia with Marcello, Gita and Karen in Kathmandu, Nepal 1968

What sort of person was she, with you?

We bonded straight away and we were great friends. She was very open and very knowledgeable and I immediately looked up to her as this rather special being. I had been working in Thailand, learning about other cultures, and started to have a fascination with India, although Nepal and India are very different. So she was like my teacher or mentor even though she was only two years older than me. Gita already had four children and I hadn’t even married or had a child. She seemed to be well-educated, she read a lot and knew a great deal about poetry and literature. I got her a bit of work at the British Council as she had worked for them as a secretary before, in India.

What was Kathmandu like at that time?

It was full of temples with very devout Hindus practicing there. People would go to the temples everyday and put flowers all over town on the deities. One was a Shiva lingam, you know what a lingam is, and they would worship it. Gita was there right at the influx of the hippy era, I was there at the beginning of that and it was extraordinary. There was nowhere at the time to buy western clothes so you had to wear traditional dress like the kurta and salwar kameez. We had all been travellers when we arrived in Kathmandu, so our clothes might have looked a bit worn. Many of the early hippies were just free-spirited people who were studying the Asian art, culture, religion and customs but later the term was associated with drugs.

What kinds of things do you remember doing together?

I was working every weekday so we would catch up on the weekends. I don’t think she had much money at the time so I would come over and have dinner with Gita and you kids quite a lot. There was a nice man from Calcutta, a Mr Bose who was working in Kathmandu and missed his family, so he ‘adopted’ us, your mum and I and you and Marcello, and then Gareth. We would all go out for picnics. One thing I remember was going to a jazz concert with American guitarist Charlie Byrd at the National Stadium in Kathmandu, and when the band (who were angry about their disastrous concert) were leaving in their hired limousine, I asked for a ride home for us as Gita was pregnant with Gareth at the time. There wasn’t a lot of mixing in those early east-meets-west days in Kathmandu and although Nepalese men showed interest in me, I actually only had one Tibetan boyfriend. It was quite difficult to have Nepalese women friends at that time unless you met them through their work. Your family and I discovered Kathmandu together.

I know you supported mum at Gareth’s birth, can you tell me about it?

Well, I was very excited as I had never been that close to anyone who was pregnant before and when I left home most of my friends weren’t married or having children. She went into labour in the night and we had to walk to the Bir Hospital because after dark there were no rickshaws or taxis. There were no telephones either so we couldn’t call anyone and anyway we didn’t know anyone with a car. Along the way, whenever she had a contraction, Gita sat down on the footpath. I was quite worried because I didn’t know how long it was going to take or whether I would have to help with the birth on the way. We finally got to the hospital and it was a bit of a shambles there.

Was it a difficult birth?

No, not really, we were met at the Bir Hospital by a nurse and I don’t think we were even signed in. She said to me, “Are you a nurse?” because I was going to go with Gita as support.

I said, “No.” I didn’t want to lie because I had never been at a birth before, didn’t know what to expect and I thought I might faint or something! The nurse told me that I could go and lie on a bench in the corridor. There were patients lying on the ground on mattresses because there weren’t enough wards. Of course I couldn’t sleep and I could hear the sound of rats scuttling around on the ground. I was thinking, Oh my God, these people are on the ground, at least I’m up on a bench, it was like a nightmare. I don’t know if Gareth wants to hear this… The nurse eventually came and got me, nothing had been cleaned up, I saw the afterbirth in a bucket, it was a pretty bloody place. I was so happy to see Gita with a healthy baby!

How long did she stay there and how did she get home?

She stayed in the hospital, in a bed, overnight. I brought flowers but there was nowhere to put them. They eventually found a tin can. I came to pick her up soon after and we got a rickshaw home.

CynthiaGarethBaby
Cynthia holding Gareth, Kathmandu 1968

Did you help mum with the baby and with looking after us?

Not really, because I was working all day but we did hire a woman to help with the housework. In those days it was expected that foreigners would provide employment for local workers. In those days you didn’t have throwaway diapers (we used to call them nappies in England) and so they had to be boiled and washed everyday.

Marcello asked if you remembered the time when I was electrocuted? He literally saved my life.

No, I think it might have happened when I was away because I left for Japan. You stayed on some months after I left and when I came back you were gone, to Australia.

How did you meet your husband Minoru at that time?

Gita wanted to learn Aikido, the Japanese martial art, from Minoru the Japanese instructor.  Because he only taught men and boys, she wanted me to go with her.  That is when he really started getting friendly with me. Then Gita decided she wanted to learn Shiatsu massage, which he was also offering mainly to the foreign community.  So he came back to your little round house and used me to practice on. That’s when one thing lead to another and we ended up together.

Did we attend your wedding to Minoru in Kathmandu?

Yes, it was a very traditional Nepalese-Hindu wedding with a Brahmin priest and held in an old palace called Bagh Durbar. The wedding was all arranged by members of the Nepalese Royal Family as Minoru had been living with them at the time. They had tried to marry him off to a Nepalese woman but he was with me so they checked me out to see if I was suitable. They were happy that I had a good job at the British Council, so they deemed me suitable. I remember Gita saying, the Bagh Durbar palace, with its many rooms, was like something out of a Kafka story. Anyway, I had a red sari for my wedding dress. Recently I found out that there was a huge protest to save Bagh Durbar, so I wrote to say that this heritage building should be saved and also that I was married there. They found my picture on Facebook and posted it, with some of my words on top, on their Facebook page.

 

Cynthia-Wedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia, Nepalese Wedding at Bagh Durbar, an old palace in Kathmandu Nepal in 1968

 

Cynthia Wedding (1)
Cynthia and Minoru wed Nepali Style in Bagh Durbar under supervision of Brigadier General Sushil Shumsher Rana, brother of the former Queen Mother of Nepal.

 

MinoruCynthia-JapaneseWedding (1)
Minoru and Cynthia also wed in traditional Japanese style at Hotel Takanawa, Tokyo, January 1969, four months after their Nepalese wedding

Where did you have your child Anna?

I was staying in Japan with my husband and he, and his family, wanted me to have the baby there, but it was very difficult for foreign women in Japan at the time. I remember reading an anthropology book which said that Japanese women are not permitted to cry out during childbirth! I thought, Oh my God that sounds primitive, so I went back to England to my family and had the baby. I realised also that I had made a terrible mistake and it was getting hard for me to cope with the expectations of me in my relationship with Minoru. I wanted to go back to my own country without all those restrictions. I did visit Kathmandu in March 1969 on the way back to England, but you had all gone.

CynthiaAnna
Cynthia with Anna 2 weeks old, England 1969

Did mum stay in the one area the whole time?

As well as the little round house, Gita rented a room above a shop around the Buddhist Stupa of Boudhanath, where many of the Tibetans had settled. It’s a little out of town and I think it was mostly used at weekends. I remember staying there once or twice.  It was very quiet, apart from the Tibetans walking around the stupa, turning their prayer wheels and reciting the prayer Om Mani Padme Hum.  Now it’s overcrowded and not very nice.

Mum left India in difficult circumstances, leaving behind two children, did she ever talk about it?

Actually she didn’t talk much about it but she had told me that she had run away from your dad and that she was worried he would track her down as she had you and Marcello. She told me about Johnny and that she was going to move to Australia with him. Maybe she didn’t want to talk to me about leaving your brother and sister behind. There was so much happening at the time we were just dealing with what was happening then and there. Johnny would send letters to her through me.

Was there anything else you remember about mum?

When I was pregnant and leaving for Japan, Gita gave me a piece of fabric that came from an Art Colony in India and wanted me to make something special with it. So I had a maternity dress made – it was only just big enough. It was a bit short but it was ok to wear in England. I lent it to many people but insisted they give it back to me. Which they did. Now I use it for patches and my patched gardening shirt is on display in the Bowen Island Heritage Museum at the moment. I’ve also patched a pair of pants with it, so Gita lives on!

Can you tell me about how you came to change your name to Kami?

After I moved to Canada, I felt that Cynthia sounded too English a name – I didn’t feel like a Cynthia anymore. I had lived the better part of five years in Nepal and it had changed me. In Canada I was learning dance with an African and I mentioned I wanted to change my name. He suggested a very long name, Oledapo Kemi Funimolaya, and I adapted Kemi to Kami. I’m still Cynthia on all my official documents, so when I travel, I’m Cynthia, but everyone on Bowen Island knows me as Kami.

How did you feel when I contacted you, after all these years?

I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe it at first, that you had found me was miraculous in a way. When I looked at your photo in Facebook when you sent me the message, having only seen you as a little five year old girl with dark hair to now with grey hair, it took me a while to work out what it was about. I was in shock that day, and going to a reading a friend was doing for a book she had published. I was telling everybody, Oh my God something big happened. Then when you told me Gita had passed away I had what I could only be described as a delayed grieving – it was terribly sad. I had already grieved the fact that I was never going to reconnect with Gita after trying for years unsuccessfully to track her and your family down. I had lost her once already.

How did you and mum lose touch with each other?

If she was still alive and we had reconnected, I have a feeling we would have just carried on our friendship where we left off. She had such a different life to me. I lived alone for much of my life since Anna left home. I admired the fact that Gita had this big love. I had moved around quite a bit and tried for so many years to track her down. I searched and searched. I feel like there have been all these little messages since I lost touch with Gita. She gave me the Haiku book translated by R.H. Blyth when I got together with Minoru and then I found one at the Bowen Island annual book sale this year.

I believe you are writing memoir at the moment. Can you tell me about it?

Oh, it must be the slowest memoir in the world! I had been thinking about it for thirty years and I sometimes stall when I am working on it. It starts with me travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in August 1966, going through sixteen countries, how it was arriving in Kathmandu when there were very few foreigners living there and how extraordinary it was then. After that we were ‘thrown out’ after our four month visa expired which we had already extended for a month. Most of the travellers were asked to leave if they weren’t staying in the big hotels because we were renting in people’s homes. That was before the term “hippy” came up and they were still using the term “beatnik”. You couldn’t renew your visa unless you could produce a lot of money, were staying in one of the hotels or came with an organisation. There were a lot of NGOs there at that time.

Have you done any other writing lately?

I recently wrote a 750 word piece called The Tokyo Letters, for a flash non-fiction competition for a magazine in Mexico, about connecting with you. It came about when you sent me copies of the aerogrammes that I had sent to your mum, back when I was in Tokyo. I was reminded about what a horrible time if was for me and that Gita was the only person I could write to about it.

Kami-Anna
Kami with her daughter Anna in Edmonton, Canada in 2018

 

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • This special interview forms part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • My mother’s early journal entries contain draft letters she wrote to Cynthia (Kami) and all photos here have been included by permission.
  • I have continued to use my mother’s pen name Gita in this transcript.
  • A photo gallery, for the early part of the Journal Series, has now been added to the home page here.

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 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, 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 in eleventh grade. She has a year and a half of high school left and working very hard. Last year she won a few prizes for debating and overall performance at school.

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 so poor Monika gets more and more work besides looking after 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.

45. Hospital Flashback – Journal Entry 7th Jan 1980

It has been raining for the past forty-eight hours; well almost. The Australorp chooks are drenched. The wind is strong. As usual, the front verandah is a bit wet, with fine rain blowing onto the books and papers. The louvres can’t be tightly shut. Also, water is seeping down the walls of the verandah. A good day for tidying the house and cutting bottles for tumblers.

The family went to the Kavlon Theatre last night to see two Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies. Too much slapstick, with baddies and goodies smashing stores and hitting each other with bottles. Boring to us but the others seemed to have enjoyed them. The cinema was packed.

Today I should like to get the following done:

  1. Pay the bills
  2. Type the letter to Marcie
  3. Do some algebra
  4. Finish networks to get onto SEARCH
  5. Cook some curries

List of items for Canberra:

  • Jeans 2 or 3
  • Tops 2 or 3
  • Skirt, black embroidered + blue
  • 2 saris and blouses
  • 1 cardigan
  • Swimsuit?
  • Lungi
  • Toothbrush, hairbrush
  • Toe-rings
  • Notepad, pencils
  • Algebra?
  • Handbag

What to look for in Canberra:

  • Outline of Social Anthropology Studies
  • Bibliography on Aboriginal studies; esp urban
  • Spices
  • Granite pestle and mortar for Gran
  • Turkish delight
  • Present for Monika

Muchlater

17th Jul 1979

A lovely new biro and a new pad. Ward 13, Room E, just after a meal of Shephard’s pie made of mince and large chunks of meat. Wish I’d bought a bottle of chilli sauce. The noise of the crockery being washed is deafening, such loud crashes and the domestic aid handles them with a stern face and tight lips. I sat next to a short square woman in a blue chenille dressing gown. Her mouth is misshapen. Most likely it is a mild paralysis or stroke. Her specs are as thick as old-fashioned soda water bottles. Perhaps my tastes have changed since last here and now I’m more choosy or more observant. The tea tastes grey and weak, the bread tastes grey and dry, and even the potato and lentil soup tastes grey. This is food produced in vast quantities with no care or love. The pie was fairly tasty though. One patient was on a special diet and was given her pudding first instead of the main course. She plastered it with Worcestershire sauce before she realised it was custard and not scrambled egg.

Back in the ward. I’ve got a bed near a window and Rocky is slowly putting on its lights.

Funny type of conversation going on. There are three people, each determined to tell the others the story of her life. One woman had a particularly hard life with seven kids from five pregnancies: one has had a kidney out, two attend opportunity school, one has a hearing aid and two were in an accident recently.

I’m going to do some sums, this is very boring.

At the dinner table, most of the women claimed to like Kamahl.

19th Jul 1979

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day. We were asked to wash in Phisohex at noon and get dressed in ‘theatre clothes’. These were a grey cotton top, open at the back, and the most awkward crumpled grey cotton tie-on underpants. At two, the woman of the seven pregnancies was taken away for a full hysterectomy. At 3:15 pm it was my turn, fortunately for a very minor operation.

A jolly young bearded man wheeled the trolley into the ward and said, “Who’s next?”
I echoed, “Who’s next?”
He pointed dramatically at me, paused and said loudly, “YOU.”
So I said, “Surely not.”
“You’re Gita aren’t you..?”
He smiled. “Then it’s you.”
He went into his litany in a sing-song voice, “Any nail polish? Wooden leg, false eyelashes, teeth, glass eye, jewellery?”
“Oh well, we have the genuine article,” he concluded and asked me to hop on the stretcher.

I climbed on and was taken to a nurse and to get my medical file. Some slight delay as the nurse has lost a patient. Besides, I haven’t been given an injection to keep me quiet and I’m glad of it. We proceeded to move out of the nurse’s room and towards the lift where the wardsman trotted out his next stock joke: “This lift is not working, so I’m going to have to take you down the stairs.”

We went through the door leading to the operating theatre. There is a very long narrow white corridor in front of me as we glide through. Men stood in front of some of the doors, white-gowned and capped. The women were in purple. The light was strange, almost disco-like without the flashes. Everything had a T.V. science fiction look about it – a Dr Who feeling – except these people could have been baddies. The timid could have very well wrecked their nervous system. What price must one pay to cure one’s ills, especially minor ones? A large white-clad attendant dwarfed the wardsman and 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.
  • The hospital visit was written in the journal after the 7th Jan 1980 entry and has been included here as a flashback.

28. Lack of Gumption – Journal Entry 5th Dec 1978

A crisis – a serious one; I don’t think I’ll be doing a preliminary course in Maths – too many instances of lack of gumption and stamina for Johnny to ignore. He doesn’t want known dropouts on the test course. Will have to make new plans for 1979.

On the way in to the hospital I did a random mental review of all the things I attempted and failed to finish or see through, the list is long and goes back a long long way.

So what conclusions to draw?

What direction to take?

Where should I start examining myself?

Let’s take a look at what is on at the moment:

  1. House: 6 to 9; 11 to 12; 4:30 to 7:30pm, +(9) about 30 to 60 minutes a day
  2. Family: includes 18, 17
  3. Cookbook: not yet started revision
  4. Journal: irregular
  5. Computing: taking off very slowly
  6. Candles ?
  7. Glass-cutting ?
  8. Sewing ?
  9. Gardening/chooks
  10. M.O.W and
  11. MATTARA 1 hr a week
  12. Reading: Zen, DH Lawrence, Van Gulik (spend 2-3 hrs)
  13. Market ?
  14. Craft (will drop)
  15. Tuckshop – 60 to 90 minutes a week
  16. Entertainment for Johnny’s friends – 1 ½ days once a fortnight on average
  17. Soon: evening trips for Karen (one to two evenings a week)
  18. Driving Barbie to bus stop
  19. XBX 12 minutes – this pen seems to seize up often.

The Base Hospital is a good place to sit and think or write. You’re sorted out pretty fast here. You also get lots of time to think. The mole’s growths are benign; they told me today. I was in and out of Surgical in a few minutes. That’s a great relief. Now I can sit in emergency to get the stitches seen to. A good long wait I guess.

It wasn’t a long wait. I was called and asked to sit with three other women. One had severe sunburn. The doctor came, stood in our midst and loudly called my name. She was young, petite and Chinese. “Me,” I said in a small voice from under her arm.
She spun around in surprise and said, “Oh, it’s you. How’s the arm?” So, on Friday I will go to get the sutures removed.

There’s plenty on hand, so why do Polymaths?

  • I would like a structured course with work to be produced in public
  • I like working in a group
  • I would like to be with people who are studying

But, because of my poor performance I’m not going to be given the chance. I myself cannot promise steady work – like an alcoholic who knows he’s an alcoholic. Besides the circumstances demand that I produce good results as Johnny is in charge.

Too bad.

Am I determined to make yet another attempt at studying maths? Yes.

What would I do if I say no? Get a job, any job, so as to shake myself out of my lethargy.

Lethargy is not exactly right. I’m not able to keep to a schedule or meet deadlines that I make myself. All this sounds pretty weak. My face feels stiff with resentment and hopelessness. Partly self-pity. Jobs are hard to get. Besides I don’t want to be away from the family for long stretches of time. So if one is choosy it’s even harder to find a job. I’ve been over this many times. If I work steadily on making stuff for the shops I should earn enough money to cover extra expenditure but that’s not the point is it?

Long-term viability is the aim and how best to achieve it.

What else? Write for money – hard but can be done.

Why do anything? I can’t understand it, I’m not happy if I’m studying something, so why can’t I be steady?

Why get so distracted, so easily? Not motivated enough.

11:15pm
Quite a nice day in Rocky despite shock to the system and ego.

Met Johnny on East Street and then went to look at cassette tape recorders, with a radio, for mum.

Phoned the farm to see if Marcello wanted a lift home. He wasn’t there and was out fishing. Nestor thought Marcello wouldn’t be keen to come home because he hadn’t shot a dingo as yet. They caught fish.

KarenProfileCircle120Notes and Links

  • Click here to go to Home
  • Click here to go to this post online
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • List items 1, 2 and 19 are a bit cryptic, but I have included everything for completeness.

10. National Fitness Club – Journal Entry 8th Jul 1969

I’m sitting in the Yeppoon hospital waiting to see the doctor. Nothing much wrong. I’ve got infected fingernails and neglected my thumbnail when it started and now almost all the other nails are infected. Does it sound familiar?

Thank you very much for your letter. Johnny was just as anxious as I to see if the baby had arrived. No doubt we will get a letter soon telling us all.

Will try to get back when it is safe for you to travel. Kathmandu might seem tame but it’s so colourful and vibrant, no? And I bet Minoru will fill the house with food for the baby and you. I must get round to sending drawings and a letter to Minoru. The first lot I’ll send to you because I don’t know if I know his post box number.

I’m involved in running a National Fitness Club in our tiny town. I’m supposed to be the leader – one who stands with a whistle in hand and shouts out instructions. Monday will be the first time I will go it alone.

Some Rockhampton women have been helping us. Actually there are three women who are supposed to be leaders. One of them is the wife of the headmaster and is away at present so it leaves Bunny and me. And Bunny has a brittle spine so that only leaves me to do the demonstration.

It’s all good fun and a big joke for Johnny.

It’s a two-hour programme and many old women come along. Some of them are 65 years old and a few are 69. They love folk dances and playing games.

Can you imagine me trying to work out dance steps to the time of Waltzing Matilda and Susanna? And I’m going to teach them yoga, so I’m madly reading up on the subject.

It’s all good fun as I said. What else?

We’ve been entertaining people a bit and so far we’ve met only three people we enjoy talking to. I mean they are intelligent and alive people. Otherwise, while the evenings are pleasant, they are not exactly exhilarating.

Of course after people have gone, Johnny and I start a lively discussion, usually in agreement with each other, and then we’re happy again.

All this might sound conceited but it’s not meant to be.

Useful Links

  • Click here for the home page
  • For email followers, click here to read this post online
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series
  • Draft letter written to mum’s best friend Cynthia.

9. My Mystery Illness – Journal Entry 3rd Jul 1969

Hospital-Image

The fares to Brisbane and back were paid for by the Bush Children’s Association. They didn’t do anything in Brisbane, didn’t even want to admit me. Actually what they did was show me to the students so they could study my case.

Was mum mad!

She had a fight with the head doctor and burst into tears. He said to come back later in the year when they have their new machine.

My doctor was hopping mad and said I was to go to Sydney instead, to see if they could help.

Mum said she couldn’t afford the fare and the Bush Children’s Association refused to pay because it was outside Queensland, so my doctor mentioned it to the publican who took up a collection to pay for my medical attention in Sydney. Ansett-ANA gave us the flights to and fro and our church arranged for mum’s boarding and lodging. The CWA would have arranged somewhere for mum to stay but it would have been too far across town, well away from the hospital.

So when mum came to visit me, she told me all about it. “I stayed with this old lady. She wouldn’t take a penny from me. So whenever I could, I would bring home a nice steak or piece of fish or something and cook it for our dinner.”

The hospital was marvellous. Lovely floors and the nurses so friendly with a TV room for those well enough to get out of bed.

I enjoyed myself.

They did all sorts of tests and then told mum they couldn’t do anything for me.

 

Useful Links and Updates

  • Click here for the home page
  • For email followers, click here to read this post online
  • Emu Park Family Tree, at the bottom of the home page, updated to include my grandmother
  • This journal entry is part of the My Mother’s Voice – Journal Series