Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Yesterday would have been my mother's 99th Birthday.

My mother was one of those ladies who remqained "pretty" right into her later years.

Sadly she left us rather unexpectedly just on 14 years ago. Losing parents is something nearly all of have to face at some stage, but it is more life changing than most of us realise. You do, after all, lose access to a lifetime of memories that no one else shares. And you also lose the people who love you and believe in you so unconditionally.  Your parents have shaped you in so many ways - your physical characteristics, your values and attitudes, your talents.

Mum in the year she was "Queen of the May"

Doris Violet Castle was born on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent (near the mouth of the Thames). She was the second youngest of seven children.

Mum (centre) with her parents and a younger and older sister

David Winch was the love of her life, and he had his eyes on her when he was a young teenager, although she was five years his senior. They were permitted to begin "courting" when he was 16 and she was 21, and they wed five years later just after Dad's 21st birthday.

They would have two daughters - my sister Sally, and five years later, me!

My sister and me (centre) with a friend on a fishing expedition to the local pond. All our clothes, including my bonnet) would have been made by Mum. Note the big "ready-to-let-down hem on my coat!

In 1951 they made the brave decision to emigrate to Australia to make a better life for their family. It would have been difficult for my mother to leave her very close family, but as with everything else, she cheerfully made the best of it.

My parents dance together at my sister's wedding

The marriage lasted for 31 years. My mother fell ill with cancer, and my father was devastated, and feared the worst. My mother put their affairs in order, because she had the better business brain, and did not want my father to be burdened with this if she were to die.
On the morning that Mum was scheduled for surgery, my father stopped outside the hospital on his way to work. It was dark, but he flashed his car lights, and my mother waved from the hospital balcony. My father continued on to work, and was found a little later slumped over his desk, having suffered a massive heart attack.
My mother made a full recovery - physically, that is. But she sorely missed her mate. They had been a wonderful team.

I often think about what I may have inherited from my mother, especially in the creative areas of my life.

As with many women of her time, much of her creativity was chanelled into feeding and clothing her family and keeping  the home an attractive and comfortable place. She did not enjoy the luxury of craft groups, or lots of money to spend on craft materials. But she achieved some wonderful things using her resourcefulness and skills with improvisation. One of my earliest memories is of her handing me an old comb to make squiggly marks in the varnish she had just brushed onto the timber surround of our fireplace, to make it look like a woodgrain. She was a dab hand with a paint brush, and later became quite skilled with wallpapering too.

Mum was pretty competent on her old Singer sewing machine, bought second hand around the time of her wedding in 1937. It is still in fine working order, although the external electric motor she had fitted later is a little fragile.

In her young days she worked for Mr Jennings, who had a haberdashery, furnishing and clothing store. Here Mum learned many millinery skills, and she turned her hand to producing many hats for me to wear to Sunday school. Sometimes she would crochet a beret for me. She enjoyed crocheting, although she could not follow a pattern.

When "Shabby Chic" became the fashion, I realised this was what had characterised my mother's style for decades. She would do up pre-loved furniture, find new uses for old things, incorporate family treasures and individual creative efforts into her decor, and create lovely household environments in soft and gentle colours and textures.

Mum had owned a faux fur coat in her young days. This was turned into a blanket, and was christened "Horsie", and it was truly loved by her grandchildren. I do not know who actually inherited "Horsie", but I am sure it is still treasured by one of her ten grandchildren.

Although I have her sewing machine, I do not think I still have anything my mother actually made, except for a skimpy little crocheted rug at the bottom of some trunk - and something that is my pride and joy, a Suffolk Puff quilt.

My sister had inherited a similar quilt from great-aunt Sally, and Mum decided to make a similar one for me. She used discarded white cotton sheets from Fletcher Christian Apartments.

I think you can see why my father found my Mum attractive!

I think most of you know how it is. You grow into adulthood, and start your own families, and for a while you congratulate yourself on being more up-to-date than Mum. One day you listen to yourself, and realise you sound just like your mother, and have even started copying some of her habits and ways of doing things.

Today, I wish I was just half the person my mother was. She was compassionate and fair, and loved to be of service to anyone who needed her help. Sometimes her family felt that people took advantage of her selflessness, but she would not have had it any other way.

Mum is pictured with our "guide" in Cetlon (Sri Lanka) when our ship stopped there on our way to Australia in 1951

She had a strong sense of duty, first and foremost to her family. But she was also a wonderful Nana, neighbour and served her community too, helping those less fortunate than herself.

There is a story I love to tell about her. One day she was on the sun lounge on her back verandah, reading a novel. Now the lounge was old, and it started to give way at one end. But Mum was engrossed in her book, and stayed put. Now someone called to see her, and when she didn't answer the door, they came around the back, and found her on this collapsed lounge bed reading. She was highly embarrassed, but always insisted she was far less embarrassed about being found in this strange position than she was about being discovered indulging in reading a book in the daytime, when she should have been doing something useful!

Mum had many lovely memories, including those of the years when she and Dad used to set off on adventures on their tandem bicycle. I have a small diary they used to keep of these adventures, and I will share it with you one of these days.


Cristina Rose said...

Beautiful Mary.
I still miss her so much, but am grateful that she was in my life too. A wonderful lady, community member and the best Nana.

Purple Turtles said...

Lovely to be able to pass your memories of my beautiful Nana on to my daughter Bronte. She loves hearing about her great gandmother. Horsie is still around,he hangs on the end of my bed and makes me think of Nana every time I see it. Mandy

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