Family

Mothers

A post written by my wife. Most appropriate as Mothers Day approaches

Mothers

Everyone is talking about their mother this week. It could be because it is Mother’s Day on Sunday, but the actual cause is a comment by a politician, followed by a nasty retort from a newspaper journalist.
The gist of it all is that some women in the past were prevented from pursuing a career and had to settle for marriage and motherhood. (Do they realise that they’re saying their mother got second best when she became their mother?)
And so we have story after story published of women who missed the opportunity to be lawyers, doctors and all those other prestigious professions.
Instead they were “doomed”, “corralled”, or “pushed”, into “domestic slavery”.

I have always maintained that being a wife and mother is a career. If our society saw the role of mothers to be caregivers first, (as that is what we are designed, physically and emotionally, to be), and view the time they spend working outside the home as the ‘other’ job, I believe we would find a more harmonious balance. And every woman’s work would be equally valued.

Instead of saying “I took time off (my paid job) to have a baby” why don’t we turn it around and say “now that I have finished having children and they’re more independent, I will do that course or start that job”. Maybe we should be talking about taking time off my role as a mother to pursue paid work. This also implies that parenting is a forever role that you go back to every night. And the other job is the ‘other job’. We might begin by not asking people what they do. As if their job defines them. (I am reminded of some headstones in Switzerland. On them is written the deceased’s title and profession. No mention of the loving family she had.)

I think that the politician’s mother had it around the right way all along. She wanted to be a lawyer but her job as his Mum came first. Later, when she had raised two fine, competent sons, she took time off to study and begin a different career.

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Coming Home

The following are two pieces I wrote quite a few years ago but they fit in with my theme of the last few posts of “memory”.

The first opportunity I had to return to Holland came in 2003. The family had grown up and I had finally accrued enough points to take “Long Service Leave”. Up until this time I had a habit of quitting just short of the qualifying time. That says something about my stickability.

In February of 2003 the Lufthansa 737 banked over Schiphol and glued to the window I saw the flat water-crossed land for the first time in 49 years – and really – the first time in my life. As my nose was glued to the little oval window a wave of amazing emotion travelled through my whole body. I was coming home.

As my wife and I drove through Holland it seemed so familiar. It was a familiarity developed from family and parental stories. Most of this I had never seen and I certainly hadn’t remembered. But I had seen it through my parents’ stories. How real and vivid they were and how real they were now as I saw them.

Holland, more correctly, the Netherlands is like no other place. Not because it is spectacular or grand – it isn’t. Its very ordinariness; its everyday life, towns, cities, factories, offices, schools, homes, parks and gardens in which people live their everyday life is so different from my experience – and I imagine the experience of all people not Dutch.

The orange blinds on multi story housing blocks, the criss-crossing canals and sloots, the bikes, the flatness, the canal crossing the highway, the dijks holding back enormous rivers, while villages nestle in their shadow … and the bikes, the ubiquitous bikes with grannies and grandchildren all making their way resolutely, efficiently and without fuss.

Forty nine years is a long time and an enormous distance. I met members of my own family. We shared names and heritage but our experience of life separated us.

The one thing in which we had been well indoctrinated was not whether we supported Feyenoord or Ajax, but food. Dutch pancakes, appelstroop, speculaas, King Peppermints, Zoute drop, rookworst, stroopwafels, candy and chocolate hagel and …  The tastebuds have a heritage that outlasted time and place.

Christmas 2005

As we drove into a Dutch village late on Christmas Eve in 2005 we heard the church bell ring and we saw people walking from every direction to the church in the centre of town.

Coming in from the wintry weather the church was warm – in welcome and temperature. Even though the Christmas Eve service was traditional there was still a sense of anticipation and excitement. For our whole family the experience was new and different. My cousin Piet who had the Stok musical gene that I missed out on was the music and choir director. That family connection made the experience more personal and little did we know then that was one of the few Christmases Piet had left.

A week earlier the four younger girls had flown in from Australia. For a few days we were involved in a lightning trip around the UK: London, Bath, Coventry, The Lake District, Greta Green, Lords and, of course, the Lego shop in Milton Keynes. Now it was time to visit relatives and see Holland – the place of their father’s and grandparents’ birth.

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Ocean Grove … continued

It struck me that as I was writing about my memories of Ocean Grove that these recollections are inextricably tied to “growing up”. My years in Ocean Grove covered those influential childhood and teenage years. By the time my family left for a farm in the Western District, I had moved to a university in Melbourne.

In the 1960s the Scout movement was still popular so I joined the 1st Ocean Grove Scout troop. It was called the “first” but in fact it was the only one. There I learned a lot of practical skills and some less so. Tying knots, starting fires, putting up tents and rope bridges were some of skills we learned. There were others: smoking, making your own cigarettes with toilet paper and paper bark, practical joking (which now would be called bullying) and other life altering skills. I never smoked again after the paper bark episode. The camps we had at Eumerella just outside Anglesea were a highlight – out in the bush with very few amenities. Eumerella Jack with his dog wandering about at night looking for unsuspecting little boys to devour – or so the legend goes. We had leaders – great and not so great. Some were like kindly uncles or big brothers and others were there to feather their own nest. A saving scheme was introduced where we would bring 2 shillings a week to build up a bank account. It was only many years later that I realised that we never saw our money, or the originator of the scheme, again. I advanced through the ranks and became a ‘Patrol Leader’ which my mother with her Dutch accent pronounced as ‘Petrol Leader’.

The school bus also deserves a mention. When I started high school in Queenscliff we were transported in an old rattly Ford bus. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and always draughty. I am sure it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the safety gurus today.

My first paying job, in contrast to being an unpaid slave for my father, was as a paper boy. I was in Grade 5 at the time. We were paid 15 shillings a week for a paper round that took a little over an hour. We had to memorise the addresses as well as which newspaper each customer got on which day, by heart. I remember that Wednesdays and Saturdays were horrendous as The Age with its classified sections was at least 2 or 3 inches thick and I had a number of highbrow customers who wouldn’t be seen dead with the Geelong Advertiser or the Sun. Then there were the customers who also received the poorly named “Truth” and the pink Sporting Globe. I didn’t always get the orders right which lead to an unhappy boss and annoyed customers.

Another job, which a friend arranged for me, was to work at Henk’s Bakery. Henk Petersen was a Dutchman who supplied bread and other pastries to the local community. During the summer he was extra busy with the influx of visitors. I would start at 4 in the morning and prepare all the orders for the bread carters. One had to know one’s Vienna loaves from the Milk loaves and High tops and whole meal.

It was the newspaper thing all over again – there was so much to remember and I didn’t always get it right, especially at the start. Wholemeals were mixed with Viennas. Who could blame me in the poor light. On other occasions I helped with making the dough for the next day’s bread and filled pies and pasties.

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The Ocean Grove beach in the 1950s

However, the following summer I started with the Ocean Grove Foreshore Committee. After an interview with Ernie Storer, while he was having a shower, I was appointed as beach cleaner. Seven days a week my mate and I would scour the beach and sand dunes for rubbish. We also collected bottles which became the source of our bonus at the end of the season. Another lurk we cottoned onto was that if Mother Nature was kind and there was a strong westerly wind after a busy beach day the day before, change which had fallen out of people’s pockets could be found protruding out of little piles of sand. So we made it our first priority to “clean up” any money. We could make up to an extra $4 or $5 a day this way but the wind had to be just right. This was a good bonus when the wage was about $40 per week – the basic wage at the time. (We had changed to decimal currency in 1966).

In subsequent years I was promoted. First came toilet cleaner – we had to clean quite a few toilet blocks between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I estimated that we cleaned about 80 toilets and 80 shower cubicles per day. This job included being teased mercilessly by older women who could see my embarrassment at cleaning women’s toilets. Then came the peak promotion – garbage collecting.

I was consistent here as well because once again I made my share of mistakes. Probably the most infamous one was bringing down the Telephone lines between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I was driving the front end loader with the bucket raised in an area where I shouldn’t have. There was a cacophony of pinging sounds and the writhing of wires as I sliced through the multiple overhead lines. I believe this episode led to the phone lines being placed underground in the camping area.

I worked for the Foreshore Committee well into my university years. The pay was good. One other job I had in my later high school years that went throughout the year was doing odd jobs on a hobby farm owned by a Melbourne stockbroker. This involved wood chopping, mowing, feeding cattle as well as hay bailing. During the drought in the late 1960s I hand watered a recently planted avenue of trees which I am pleased to note haven’t been cut down with Ocean Grove’s urban expansion.

Being profligate, all this work didn’t make me rich but it helped get me through university and played a role in shaping my character – or so I wish to believe.

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Memories

Memories are enigmatic. Fact and memory are not necessarily identical. Are the memories real or constructed? Are they made from genuine moments or reconstructed by photos and family tales? Where, exactly, does the truth sit? Or when it comes to the past is truth only relative anyway?

My earliest memory centres on a wooden leg standing in corner of a darkened bedroom. Only many years later when I asked my mother about it did she tell me that it belonged to a great grandfather and I had seen it when we visited him. I must have been about two and a half at the time and the disembodied leg has been etched in my memory ever since. Other memories from that time include hiding under a desk which had drawers on either side and feeling secure while the adults talked. Taking a lolly from behind the counter at the barber’s is another. A warm recollection involves being held and cuddled by an Aunty and my bare foot exploring her coat pocket as she always had a treat for her one and only nephew. There are vague recollections too of the trip to Australia on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.

On the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

By the time I emigrated to Australia I was three and a half. This life changing event only holds vague and, on the whole, unreliable memories. There was a model of a ship floating in a barrel. My parents couldn’t substantiate that one. There was also an overall sense of sadness. Not, I think, from leaving Holland but rather from the separation on the boat from my parents for long periods of time. I am told that I was sent to a crèche and that I didn’t like being with crying younger children. One clear image is standing on a lower deck and seeing my parents on the deck above – that memory is always associated with a severe heartache.

My memories take on a firmness (whether true or not!) after our arrival in Australia. All the recollections of the Anderson family at “The Hill” in Mepunga West: Ola, Beth, Old Mrs Anderson and the rest of the multi personalitied clan, represent a tangled ball of wool in which times and events are, after 65 years, impossible to disentangle. The overwhelming emotions, however, are one of joy and security. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of having left a family behind I was now truly embraced by a new one. The main characters in this experience have all passed on but they are still solidly secure in my head and heart.

“Helping” with the milking, feeding hay to the herd and taking the full milk cans to the depot near Smith’s Post Office and telephone exchange (a room at the back of another farm house) and the glorious spread of the afternoon tea before the second milking are all memory-videos that I can replay in my mind without hesitation.

After a few months at the Anderson’s we moved to a house in Allansford opposite the Post Office.

The warning my father gave me about not entering the shed was crystal clear. Many years later I found out that there was a water storage under the shed but floor of the shed floor had become rotten over time and one could fall through the floor and drown.

I had two Uncles who had arrived two years earlier and had been welcomed by the Anderson family. One of these, Adrian, built me a cart.

A clear evocation is walking to the depot (a truck-tray height platform where farmers brought their milk cans every morning and evening) and hanging a billy can on one of a series of nails alongside the platform and then picking up a billycan of fresh milk later in the day. The depot was a little way along the highway out of town. I am sure that my mother would have come with me but all I can recall is walking with the billy can along the side of the road.

Christopher Ingles’ parents owned the local general store just a few metres from our house. Fortunately for me they were kindly people who communicated with my parents. I learned an important life lesson in this store which was that you needed to pay for things in a shop. You couldn’t just walk in and get stuff!

I hadn’t started school yet and my mother had visions of me riding a horse to school. Mum got these visions from some of the films the authorities had shown prospective migrants about Australia. The only problem was that the school was 150 metres away – or should I say “yards” as this was predecimal Australia. In any case it didn’t matter as we moved to Ocean Grove before I started school.

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The Footprints We Leave

We left footprints in the sand.

Mine large,

His small.

His dancing with excitement

In circles and jumps.

Mine in a straight line, alert

cautious.

 

A sand castle here,

A shell there.

Seaweed, seagullsimg_1046 and sticks.

Exciting materials,

to explore and investigate.

 

His steps will become larger.

Mine will fade.

But there was a time

when we walked on the beach

together.

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The Paperboy

Writing about my beach cleaning days encouraged me to cast my mind back even further to my first paid job. When I was in Grade 5 a notice appeared in the window of “Skinners” the corner store in our town asking for a “paperboy”. The weekly wage was 15 shillings – $1.50 in decimal currency. 
At the time this seemed like a huge amount of money for a 10 year old but looking back it hardly kept my bike going. Yet every morning I got up at 5.45 am went to the store to sort out the papers for the different clients and then cycled (and pushed my bike) around the hilly part of town, which was my allocated patch, delivering newspapers – The Sun, The Geelong Advertiser, The Age (which was an horrendous monster on Wednesdays and Saturdays), The Sporting Globe and for the racier clients, The Truth (a misnomer), which was an education in itself for a young paperboy!
I wasn’t given a list but had to remember all the addresses and which paper was wanted when and where. I made a few mistakes in the first week or so which irritated both shop keeper and reader. In the end I got the hang of it.
Then I encountered the seasons! Most of the year was OK but winter was dark and cold. Fingers froze on the frosty mornings but gloves made it difficult to handle the newspapers. So my dad taught me a trick he had used in Holland. He showed me how to make cones made out of newspaper and place them over the handles on the handlebar so I could slide my hands in while cycling.  Even my dad, who wasn’t tolerant of “softies”, made an exception on a few really bad cold wet mornings and actually drove me around to deliver the papers.
This time was also an education in names and how to pronounce them. When “Marny” wanted an extra paper how was I to know it was written “Mahoney”. And then there were the migrants from all over Europe whose names were not just unpronounceable but also unspellable. How do the Poles get away with putting so many consonants in a row without losing their false teeth?
The worst thing about being a paperboy was that I wanted to read everything. The papers

marilyn

Not The Sun, but a headline I remember.

were a constant temptation to stop and read. However the ire of the customers and consequent lateness at school cured me any dalliance. However I clearly remember some of the headlines that occurred on my beat as a paperboy: the Berlin Wall, Cuba, space flights, civil wars in Africa and Marilyn Monroe’s death are still etched in my memory.

I delivered papers for a few years but then two other jobs came up: working on a farm and in a bakery. But they are tales for another day.
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The Sands of Time

The other day my wife and I took our grandson (15 months) for a walk along the beach near the town where I grew up. Now I need to add that my family gets weary of me telling them about all the events that happened to me in or near this town. Then the roads weren’t paved, the street lights went out at midnight and we could leave our doors unlocked etc. However, now I have a new generation to pester!

teddy-and-me

Grandson and Granddad

The beach we walked on was the one I cleaned every summer during my High School years. From 5 am in the morning to 10 am my mate and I wandered along the beach with our buckets collecting the detritus of the previous day. If the wind was right we also found the loose change that had fallen out of pockets. The coins would sit on little mounds as the sand would have been blown from around them over night. On a good day this would increase our income by 10%. Later I got a promotion to toilet cleaner. This meant I had to clean 13 toilet blocks along this stretch of coast line but I got to drive the old Land Rover from block to block!. My final step up was garbage collector. Then I had reached the pinnacle of my career! Today the rubbish tip has become a golf course and I think to myself, I helped build that!

My favourite story from my time working on the foreshore was when I was preparing the tracks along the campsites before the influx of summer holidaymakers by removing excess sand using a tractor with a scoop. Hooning around a corner with the bucket in the air I

telephone-lines

Old fashioned telephone lines- Google images

collected telephone lines snapping quite a few and interrupted a few conversations. My boss was initially livid but later thanked me because he had been asking the PMG (telecom of its day) for years to have the lines placed underground – which happened because of my youthful foolishness.

The road between my town and the next meandered for 3 kilometres through sand dunes and tea tree. Our town having been a Methodist resort was “dry”. No alcohol was sold within its boundaries. The town next door was under no restrictions. So this route was rather popular at the end of the day among certain gents. However the problem was that Victoria had a “6 o’clock” closing law. All hotels had to stop serving alcohol by 6 pm (this was repealed in 1966). So drinkers had to scull (Aussie vernacular for drinking) their beer as quickly as they could. For the drinkers in my town this made the homeward journey rather interesting if not hair raising.

One of our neighbours, we’ll call him Claude, terrified the locals and the streets in our town were very quiet, children pulled inside and dogs tied up, when we  knew he was coming home.

Now I have a grandson it is incumbent upon me to instill his family history at every opportunity.

 

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Grandson Senses

The following is my wife’s response to the recent birth of our grandson.
Grandson Senses

I saw you before you saw me.

I had a chance to study your little round face, framed by a snugly cap.
I tried to place those familiar features, tried to find a possible source for the rest.
You look like your daddy; With his nose and his forehead.
You have your Mama’s red hair, and her chin.
You are quite beautiful, and quite unique.
I watched while you squirmed, grimaced, did the gentlest shudder.  Your eyes moved under their lids, you retreated into your blanket. But all the while your eyes stayed shut. Could you hear our voices, your parents’ and mine? Did we sound clearer now that you are on the outside?
I ran my finger along your downy cheek. So soft, that newly dry baby skin, like no other softness on earth. And warm still, a residual warmth from deep within your mother.Grandson
We then smelled you, bringing our faces close to yours. A scent only found on the skin of the newly born.
Finally, we kissed you, each of us in turn.
When I came close I could hear the barely perceptible sighs and snuffles made by breaths brand new; breaths still in practice.
The camera captures the moment, but my heart will hold these first senses of your life more closely, more carefully, more completely, for as long as my heart continues to beat.
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Teddy and Opa

I am still surprised by my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours at times. So the other day when our first grandchild was born I was surprised by the overwhelming surge of emotion that swept over me. When my wife contacted me with the news there was that mixture of tears, choking and adrenalin – all the more embarrassing because I was trying to teach at the time!  I knew this was exciting but Teddy’s arrival was more than that. For a moment I was taken back 40 years when our first child was born. The red hair, once again, took my breath away. The miracle of new life enthralled me all over again. I remembered that mixture of anticipation and fear. Then I was a new dad now I am a new granddad.

I have had to wait a long time for this moment so for just that reason alone Teddy’s birth was very special. Untangling all the emotions is a bit like trying to roll up a ball of wool after the cat has got at it. There is just so much going through my heart and head. On one side you know the

Teddy and Opa

Teddy and Opa

sleepless nights that the new parents will go through; the tiredness but that is outweighed by the enlargement of the family – a new person, a new personality that shares some of the parent’s but then makes it his own.  There will be diamonds and coal  – the good days and bad. There will be the accidents and illnesses but also the achievements. Life is dangerous but also exciting.

As a parent the greatest joy is being able to share with your child the story of faith; the story of God who not only created you but loves you with this amazing love.  For me, that part of my daughter and son in law’s journey will be the most important and exciting one.  There will be all the amazing “firsts”  – tooth, step, mum, dad … opa, supergran.  But ultimately these pale when a young heart comes to know their God personally.

I love you Rosey, Paul and Theodore – may God bless this new stage of your life with His amazing grace!

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Children’s Talks in Church

Here is another post by my wife whose passion is worship that involves all ages – especially children

Why is it that preachers look elsewhere when they speak with children about the things of God? Elsewhere than the Word of God? 

They spend a great deal of time conjuring “likes” out of their box of tricks. The church is like…. being a Christian is like…. forgiveness is like….

And there are a lots of objects in their magician’s kit as well. Namely objects for object lessons.  Unfortunately this sleight of hand only confuses the children who are before them.

Today we had a real magic trick performed for the kids. Three pieces of string of varying lengths were produced for the audience of a dozen preschoolers up to first graders. We heard about the tall people (longest string), the middle sized people (medium string), and … “babies” one child suggested for the shortest string, and we all laughed. More examples of varying things were suggested by the pastor, before he brought all six string ends together in one hand and said “watch this”. (I thought the correct word was abracadabra.)

Sure enough, he turned them into three pieces of equal length. Amazing!

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Then he did another trick.

He turned the trick into an object lesson.

“We all look different, but Jesus has made us all the same.”

Maybe I think too deeply, or too literally about these things. I suspect some  children do too. Perhaps they’re thinking, “I don’t want Jesus to make me look like my brother. I don’t want my Mum and Dad or my baby sister to all be ‘middle sized'”. And that’s if they’ve managed to draw the connection between the strings and ‘us’.

Whichever way you choose to tackle this concept of Colossians 3:11, one thing’s for certain. Little children aged less than eight years old will probably not understand the abstractness of it.

This is when parents need to grow these concepts into their children as they walk along the road together, when they lie down and get up, when they eat and play together. This will be when the abstract becomes concrete for them.

And the pastors who are sitting with the church’s little ones at their feet?

Perhaps they should tell a story. A Bible story.

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