Saturday, 5 May 2018

My Mum - a Writing Exercise from University Days

This is a "found" writing exercise from my Massey University days (2008-2010)  Some of it feels foreign but memories for sure.

Writing Exercise
Family Memoir

The Rockery

It has to be one of my first memories of my mother, Thelma Lydney Zander (nee Ryan). We are living just west of Lumsden, over the Oreti River on the way to Te Anau, in a brand new house built for the Acclimatisation Society. Dad was their Northern Southland Field Officer. Mum was in charge of three kids and the household chores. But I knew Mum was happy. It was the first place she could call her own, and she was determined to have everything her way.

It didn’t matter that the Southland summer was awfully hot, nor the fact the winter bit into every possible core of ones being. It did matter however that there was space on the section for a substantial rockery garden. Dad, when home, was tasked with getting large boulders with which to shape the garden. Mum would visit Lumsden and choose, very wisely, the plants she wanted in her masterpiece.

The garden took shape very quickly, and the plants were well suited to withstand both heat and cold. In the winter months, when the snow fell heavily, those plants would hibernate, well chosen indeed. But the real key, even with the arrival of child number four, was the smile Mum had for her garden.

Smith Street Dannevirke

At any one time, there would be thirteen stout feet under Grandma’s dining room table. Her husband Arthur, a First World War vet, would be at the head, with Nan (Eileen) at the other end, and squashed in between, eleven children. The oldest Joan, then Allen, Marie, Kelvin, Dorothy, Elaine, Audrey, Mum, Yvonne, Victor and the baby Dennis all arranged themselves like zoo animals fighting for a morsel of food.

They all grew up in a semi rural area, and there were plenty of opportunities to play, to learn games from their older siblings and to all fall asleep in the security Dannevirke offered in those days. Friends were aplenty and always around, and there was the other side to family life, the chores, which for a big family were numerous and done diligently.

Early on, Mum was a keen dancer, and she wasn’t disappointed by her parents when they paid for her lessons. She loved ballet, she loved making the costumes, and she loved every facet of her hobby. She once confided Anna Pavlova was her childhood idol, and she kept up the dancing until a time when she suddenly realised she was too big to be a “petite” ballerina.

She often spoke of her friends way back then, the Olsens from down the road, the Churchhouses across the road, her relationship with the Pene’s especially her dear friend Marie. Growing up was fun, and a big family made it especially more fun. To this day, the Ryan family to me is a family where love counts, where respect crawls with measured grace, and where friendship is a commodity used wisely.

Fishing off the Reef at Castlepoint.

That bloody faded pink tracksuit and pale blue floppy sunhat. The sneakers were appropriate, but who the hell would wear pink to the beach? But that was Mum in the mid seventies, pretty in pink and to hell with the dissenters. But she was a true lady for the occasions. This time another fishing trip with Dad and some of us kids in tow. We all loved fishing, but Mum seemed to get a perverse pleasure from the sport. She hardly caught anything, but her heart and soul were in the game. She gave it as much dedication as she could, maybe even more so than her winning attempts at crosswords daily.

I see her with her spinning rod (she wouldn’t surf-cast) on the reef down on the rocks, oblivious to the attempts the sea made to swallow her up. Yup, Mum was brave too, and we kids fed off that fact. All day, she’d cast, and recast, and tempt mighty King Neptune to give her her just rewards. I admired her tenacity.

Dad was a terror. “not too close Lyd”, “Careful with that rod Lyd”, “don’t step too close to the edge Lyd” Mind you, he also was a dictator with us kids. If he felt we weren’t doing the surfcasting right, he’d practically take your rod away. Of course Mum would pipe up from her designated spot “leave them alone Ray, they’re alright”.

The PDC, Palmerston North

At the time Mum worked there, the PDC department store was the biggest store in town. She got a position as a junior sales assistant in 1969, and worked her way up to senior sales person when the store closed (under controversial circumstances) in 1988. In all her time there, she worked in the Furnishing Department, buying, selling, doing quotes, everything. She also made very good and lifelong friends with people that worked there, Lois London, Barbara Murray, and Brian Yaxley. They were all strong members of the PDC Social Club and not only did they have good times together at the club, they helped organise many events for the staff at the store.

Mum worked from nine in the morning until five thirty at night, and we kids were allowed to visit her in her flagship after school to get money for this and that and to do any shopping she needed for tea. We all became aware of her circle of friends and they were great people. Today, I am still in contact with Barbara and Brian through being domiciled at St Dominics Respite Care Facility where Brian’s wife Jan works as a senior administrator.

In 1988, just before Mum was diagnosed with cancer, the PDC closed under unusual circumstances, and almost all the staff laid off with no redundancy. Effectively nineteen years of hard toil amounted to a swift kick up the backside. To this day, we children of Lydney swear that the stress this caused triggered her cancer. Regrettably, it’s too late to fight for her, and times have moved on. The PDC is no longer, and a swanky new mall has been built on its site. I can still walk around the current site and see where Manchester and Menswear, Furnishing and Kitchenware were. And I can still see Mum’s smiling face at the counter doing a measure or a quote, totally at ease with her environment.

The Kiss of Death

Mum rang me and said she needed to see me and my wife Marita urgently. It was September 1988 and I was working in the Navy in Auckland. Marita and I had been married for two years and had one child, our daughter Amy, slightly over a year old. We arrived in Palmerston North, went through all the greetings and hellos. She said Dad was at “another” church meeting but that was good, she said, she needed to be with us alone.

“I’ve got cancer and only have a few months to live.” I was gobsmacked. She just came out and said it (mind you she always spoke her mind.) and we sat there twirling our thumbs trying not to cry. Mum had always been the life of the party, and now aged 53 her party was about to expire. She didn’t want any hugs or kisses, just understanding that things needed to be done. Suddenly my own mortality was under threat. What would I do without my number one all time friend? Selfish maybe, but Mum preferred selfish, it was healthy. I couldn’t take time off work, I was running a school, so we decided that Marita would stay with Mum and help care for her, and to cook for Dad, who was largely incapacitated with his mental health issues.

On December the 15th 1988 Mum’s mantle passed onto my wife.

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