Thursday, October 1, 2009

Family History ~ Learn it while you can.

Yesterday I rang my Mum. Nothing unusual in that, but I decided to ask her about my Nanna, my mother's mother.

You see, she was born in England in a little town called Ledbury. After a disastrous marriage and subsequent divorce, she answered an advert in the local paper. A gentleman was looking for a housekeeper and with two children to support, Nanna thought this could be the job for her.

The only problem? The job was in Australia.

Should she take the job and immigrate to a foreign country with no family, no friends or any other support? Or should she stay in England struggling to eke out a living for her daughters?

She chose the former.

Arrangements were made and the gentleman paid the fares for all three. A huge amount of money in those days. Items were sold, clothing packed and tears shed as the enormity of what they were doing sunk in.

The night before she left, a man she was in love with came and asked her to marry him. Until then he hadn't been in a position to support her but circumstances had changed. He begged and pleaded while Nanna cried, her heart breaking for what could have been.

If only he'd asked sooner.

The M.V Cheshire set sail for Australia and a few weeks later docked in Fremantle. A train took them across the desert and to Wacol Army base in Queensland. They were only there for an hour or two when a loudspeaker announced they needed to report to the main office.

Rather than wait to meet them in Toowoomba as planned, the man had driven all the way to Brisbane to collect them. At the time Nanna thought that was sweet and very thoughtful. Her first surprise came when he opened his mouth to speak. He was German. She'd lost brothers, friends and family to the war between England and Germany and now here was the sworn enemy standing in front of her.

She gritted her teeth and prayed. Hard.

They arrived at the homestead in Pampas where he was share-farming, Nanna eager to meet his two motherless children, the reason for him needing a housekeeper.

Imagine her surprise when eight children tumbled out of the house to greet them! My mother who was fifteen at the time mistook the youngest for a girl. Colin was four years old and had waist length hair and wore a flour sack.

And had lice.

There was nothing Nanna could do. This man had paid for her transport and legally she was bound to stay.

They moved to Dalby a year later.

Three years after she set foot on Australian soil, Nanna married my Pop. Their son, Chris was born a year later.

I often wonder if Nanna pined for what could have been with the man she left behind. If she did, it didn't show. She was a gracious, hardworking woman with a devout faith in God.

And she did come to love Pop. Not the kind of love that sweeps you off your feet, but rather a love born of hard times and working together.

My fondest memories are of freezing winter mornings, locked away in her kitchen. The wood fire blazing as she skewered bread on to long forks, then toasting them in front of the open fire. Fried potato, bacon and eggs. Hot milk on cereal. Laughing over the morning paper. Shelling peas into a metal colander and learning how to cook. Washing in an old copper and hanging the washing on wire strung between two poles. Walking for forty-five minutes every second Sunday to attend the Lutheran church.

I miss you, Nanna.



Dorothy said... [Reply to comment]

What a beautiful story Lee. It makes me want to hear more - in detail! Is this the beginning of a work in progress? It should be! Sounds better than 'Australia' the movie to me!!

SRI said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Dorothy. This is a story I've been working on, one of many. I think the best stories written are ones that are personal and come from the heart.

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