Flowers and grief: for my mother

Recently I posted about Vermont Street, Sutherland, where I lived from 1952-1955, and again in 1963-4. The circumstances of that first sojourn are well expressed in my mother’s words from the 1960s:

Then in 1945 the guns of War ceased. We hoped so vainly they had stopped for all time–and the father came home. The next few years held struggle of a different kind for the young weary parents whose lives, like so many, had been so deviously interrupted. To return to the normal, the everyday, does not perhaps seem difficult, but it is so very difficult, as so many found. Everything had altered, values and concepts had changed. One thing sustained this young family–the love of man for woman, of woman for man, of man and woman for their children. To hope, to pray, with faith, that some day, sometime, there would be a better world for all to live in. Again the years went swiftly–two years, four years, ordinary troubles, measles, mumps, broken arms, children’s hurts to mend–the guiding, the helping, the encouraging, the children growing, the joys, the laughter.

The babe of 1940 [my sister Jeanette] was now a slight, fair, lovable schoolgirl of twelve. So proud were the parents of this so dear a child who held the promise of the future in her clear blue eyes. The dreams they had–the dreams she had–such lovely dreams, such beautiful golden dreams.

The father and the mother bought a house, their first “own” home. Just an ordinary house in an ordinary street, in an ordinary suburb, in an Australian city. A house with room enough for the children to grow in to live in, to be “home” in all its true and good meaning. Moving day came with all its pressures, its turmoils, but with happiness in the hearts. The unseen figure in the shadows moved closer and struck, taking with it back to the shadows the beloved child, the child with so much promise, so many dreams–the child whose very presence had helped the mother’s war-torn soul through the years and whose sparkling nature had helped the father through the rehabilitation period. The beloved blue eyes were closed to this world forever.

So we were all grieving in that place, I see now more clearly: my father, brother, and myself no less than my mother. I can recall nightmares often involving death, and odd little memorials made of pebbles that I would make in various obscure parts of the garden.

My mother took to growing flowers, even winning a prize in the local flower show for her pansies or sweet peas or violets — I don’t quite recall which. Her flowers were those of that time — no natives among them. That came later when we moved to Kirrawee and had waratahs and wattles and bottlebrush in abundance.

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Sweet peas

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Iceland poppies

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Violets

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Pansies

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Phlox

Did you know that Iceland poppies have nothing to do with Iceland?

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65 years on I recall Vermont Street

See Frameworks for belief — 2 – my world 1952 to 1959. A repost and Curiosities and ephemera 5: 1955. There you will find these:

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

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And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.

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That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today*. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively…

* January 2013

And this from the other post:

Oh dear, yes, that is me…

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That’s my Aunt Fay on the left, then my mother, then ? the mother of my sister-in-law ?, then me in SBHS rig as I was in what we would now call Year 7. The photo, I suspect but don’t really remember, was taken on my brother’s wedding day. It was certainly taken at 1 Vermont Street, Sutherland…

Except now in 2017 it is no longer 1 Vermont Street, but 48, and it seems to be in a sorry state…

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And across the road another house where I lived at the age of 21 is completely gone, the developers having moved in. The white house on the corner is still recognisable, however, and the reservoir up the street, though much expanded since 1952-1955.

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Time! Yet lately I have found myself thinking about Vermont Street in the 1950s. It is amazing how detailed my memory of the interior of that house, as it was then, still is in my mind!

Photos from May 2013-15

The photoblog came to an end in February 2013. From then on photos appeared here, with fewer since my camera died about twelve months back. But here are some:

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Illawarra Brewery, May 2013

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From my window West Wollongong, May 2014

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Sutherland, May 2014

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Surry Hills, May 2014

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Protest rally in Church Street, May 2015

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Beatson Park, West Wollongong

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Yesterdays — 1944 and March 2017

I mentioned on Facebook that I managed to speak on the phone to my brother Ian in Devonport Hospital. A nurse took the call and then passed the phone to Ian. Given the circumstances I didn’t talk long, the real object being to let him know I was aware of what has been happening and was thinking of him. He thanked me.

What I didn’t say on Facebook is that his son in Lightning Ridge and his daughter in Engadine had both told me to try to speak to him — he doesn’t always answer the phone — as it may possibly be the last chance to do so. If a new course of antibiotics started yesterday is effective, that may change. If not…

I was at times teary yesterday, but fortunately not when speaking to Ian.

I further posted on Facebook:

Document: 14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833
RAAF
Pacific
16-2-45

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better. You notice I put the “worse” first, because I am sure many, many happy days lie ahead for us. Yes, we have had more than our share of worries & I have at times very selfishly added to them, sometimes quite unintentionally, because there really wasn’t any need for you to worry at all. I’m a bit of a tease really… Anyway dearest one I will try to do as you wish me to in everything. I have caused you enough heartaches. I can’t always help this of course, but I fully intend to try and make up for any short comings I may have. I can never repay the debt I owe you for giving me three such lovely children. I love them very dearly, and am exceedingly proud of their nice appearance & manner… .https://ninglunbooks.wordpress.com/…/about-the-whitfields-2/

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Back row: Aunt Ruth, my mother Jean, Uncle Neil (on leave from the RAAF), Aunt Beth

Front row: me, my sister Jeanette, my brother Ian

Probably 1944. Creased because my father carried it with him in Port Moresby 1945.

What I saw in December 2011

Photoblog recycle from Neil’s Wollongong & Sydney Monthly Archives

À la recherche du temps perdu — 5

Posted on December 2, 2011 by Neil

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Looking from Auburn Street Sutherland towards the Royal National Park. Just this angle hasn’t changed all that much since 1944. But…

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This one’s ancestors would have been here then…

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White cockatoo in Auburn Street, 28 November.

À la recherche du temps perdu — 11 — Sutherland shops — 3

Posted on December 8, 2011 by Neil

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This one is rather special as back in the early 1960s my mother’s shop was here. The Cotton Shop, it was called, and moved here from Jannali around 1961. It did well too but was the victim of other developments in family business matters in 1962-3.

 À la recherche du temps perdu — 12 — some churches

Posted on December 10, 2011 by Neil

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Sutherland Uniting Church, formerly Methodist. My brother was married here in 1955 and, I realised when attending my Uncle Roy’s funeral, I hadn’t been inside this church since then.

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Sutherland Presbyterian Church and manse. I was an elder here  at the age of 21, and Sunday School Superintendent. In the mid 1960s exciting events occurred in this church, the congregation mostly leaving to form the Presbyterian Reformed Church. At that time I resigned. See my 2008 post Uncertain dogma, The Shire, and related musings. See also this search for Calvin.

Christmas Eve sunset– looking towards Mount Kembla

Posted on December 25, 2011 by Neil

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Sutherland Station, Christmas Day around 6pm

Posted on December 27, 2011 by Neil

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Wollongong Mall Tuesday 27 December — 2

Posted on December 29, 2011 by Neil

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