My Mum in her latter years
In the 1950’s, with five children to care for while my father spent two years away in a Sanatorium recovering from his second bout of tuberculosis, my mother’s frugal homemaking skills were essential for our survival. I’m not sure what kind of income she had, but it would have been the most basic of pensions. But Mum had an amazing gift of making something out of nothing, and we survived.
I don’t remember her conveying her worries or concerns to us children. I do remember small things, such as noticing she only had chicken bones on her plate, while the rest of the family had the meat, and commenting on this. Her reply: “Oh I much prefer the meat on the bones to the rest of the chicken,” satisfied me at the time, although on reflection in later years I realized the truth of the matter. There just wasn’t enough to go round. I learnt at an early age that a mother’s love puts the needs of her family before her own.
The veggie garden and fruit trees provided us with staples, chooks gave us eggs, and for a while Mum kept a goat for the milk. Spare fruit was made into jam and preserves, left-over tomatoes into tomato sauce and chutney, home-made bread and cakes were the everyday norm. Second-hand clothes were handed down from one child to another, until they became fourth and fifth hand. Outdated clothes were unpicked and re-made into new garments. Our life bore no resemblance to today’s society with its “must have” fashionable brand-name clothing, cheap throw-away goods, or fast food. As we grew up Mum’s gifts to us were not often outward demonstrations of affection with hugs and kisses, although they were showered upon us as babies, but oh how she cared for us with the work of her hands. If we cried out in the night, she was there in a minute. I never doubted her love for me.
When my father finally came home from the Sanatorium, the only work he could find meant he had to live away from home during the week, and come home on weekends. He was not strong and needed to rest a lot. During the seven or more years he did this he missed all our important school events. Despite his ongoing health problems my Dad had a wry sense of humor, and there was always lots of laughter in our family. We learnt at an early age to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously.
A favourite photo of my Dad with his three eldest children,
Terry, Robyn and Tim,
protesting that we were too great a weight for him to bear
One Christmas morning we sat around the tree and exchanged gifts with our usual lighthearted banter. When the wrapping was off every present (and carefully put away to be ironed and stored for re-use the next year) Dad said to my younger brother, why don’t you go outside and look under the window. Curious, he went outside, and then we heard this great shriek, “A bike, a bike. I’ve got a bike.” He then proceeded to ride it around and around the house, a huge grin plastered from ear to ear, shouting, “I’ve got a bike. I’ve got a bike.”
No matter that it was a second hand bike, made by my father from bits and pieces he had somehow scrounged from goodness knows where and goodness knows when. It was a bike. In my early teens at the time, I can still remember how moved I was, and the tears it brought to my eyes when I thought of the little time my father had on his weekends at home, the weariness he felt, how he dreaded the thought of boarding the bus every Monday morning for another week away from the family to keep food on our table. But he made the time and did it.
When I think back to that Christmas some 60 years ago, it still touches my heart. Perhaps the memory has been colored by the passing of time, and compared to the materialistic standards of today, it was a meager offering. No doubt the bike was far from glamorous, but the love and sacrifice that went into the making of it is something that left a lasting impression in my heart. It was truly a gift of love.
I remember how my husband Terry, not a great animal lover, would drive Carrol out to her horse early in the morning, to float her to a show, and then spend the day videoing her riding in various events. One day he spent hours with her chasing the horse around a paddock filled with chest high grass, despite the fact that he suffered badly with grass allergies and hayfever, and ended up covered with a rash and hardly able to breathe. I remember the hours he spent videoing Sharon competing in Irish Dancing competitions, proudly stating to any who would listen, “That’s my girl.”
Gifts of love don’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact the gifts that are of greatest value are those that cost us time, and energy, and sacrifice.