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.

m

Sweet peas

iceland-poppy

Iceland poppies

xviolets2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Q4MN98pOT1

Violets

Pansies-Uncropped-used-for-TV-Autumn-2011-568x322

Pansies

Phlox_Paniculata_2583393a

Phlox

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

Neil’s Family Specials — a reminder

I spent most of May setting up a sequence of posts about the Whitfields and Christisons, my paternal and maternal lineages. If you go to Neil’s Family Specials you will be taken back to 1815 and Ireland and Scotland. Keep scrolling and the posts will take the story from convict days here in NSW through the 19th century, World War 1 and finishing in the late 1920s on the south coast of NSW where my mother and father eventually met.

Do look. I have enjoyed creating the resource, primarily for family connections but family history so often is a good way into history more generally.

Here is a letter from my great-grandmother, Sophia Jane Christison, on the occasion of the death of my grandfather, Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield in 1948. You can read more about both as well as about other ancestors in that family history sequence.

19481948a

Ian Jeffrey Whitfield 3/10/1935 – 5/4/2017

ianjeanette

bro

Born Kiama NSW 3 October 1935, died Devonport Tasmania 5 April 2017

I posted on 27 March:

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 (Warren, now back in Townsville) and his daughter (Christine) 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.

See also: About the Whitfields: family pics for my brotherEaster Sunday in Surry Hills 2006; In the city seeing my brother off  2006; Random Friday memory: 1 – John Mystery, my brother, Illawong 2015; Family day 2 April 2010; Blogging the Noughties: 2 — 2001. From that last one:

14 December 2001: A long partnership over

An hour ago, Australian Eastern time,

in East Devonport, Tasmania

Norma,

my brother’s partner of 30 years,

passed away after a long battle

with emphysema.

15 December: My brother.

My brother and his partner have been living in Tasmania for many years now; I am not quite sure how many, but certainly more than five. Before that they lived in various parts of Queensland.

One of the ironies of their life together was that they were both married on the same day in Sutherland, way back in 1955, but in two different churches and to two different people. My brother’s first marriage lasted ten years, and it was after the end of that that he and Norma got together. I remember once saying to them that they could have saved a lot of trouble by getting it right on that day back in 1955, to which my brother replied, “Oh well, we still celebrate our wedding anniversary.”

While my brother and I have been in regular contact by phone, especially since our mother died 1n 1996, I have not seen him for many years, and Norma even longer. Unfortunately there is no way I can go down to Tasmania either, not that I could do much.

Ian and Norma were together for over thirty years. A second attempt at partnership suited both of them. They were kindred spirits, and were very lucky to have found each other. In the past few years Norma was basically bedridden, constantly on oxygen for her emphysema. My brother could not have been more loving and more devoted. He certainly had more peace and happiness with Norma over the greater part of thirty years than he had ever had before.

He’s not a young man now; neither of us is. I am not sure what he will do eventually–stay in Tasmania or move back up north. At one time he said he might move back to Queensland, should anything happen to Norma.

My brother had four children by his first marriage, some of whom I see from time to time. Norma had at least one daughter, whom I met, by her first marriage. Ian and Norma had no children by their relationship.

I then quoted what had been one of my mother’s favourite poems. It is appropriate today too.

The deep blue skies wax dusky and the tall green trees grow dim
The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall
And sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim
And on the very sun’s face weave their pall
Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave
With never stone or rail to fence my bed
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.

–Adam Lindsay Gordon

— Between 2001 and 2010 my brother and I saw one another several times, thanks particularly to his daughter Christine Parkes.

  • There will be no new posts on this blog for the next seven days.

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/

warfamily

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.