A cat with no meow, green jelly and a very ‘hard’ woman

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A cat with no meow, green jelly and a very ‘hard’ woman

500 Words: Grandparents

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/93690

My mother took to her bed for three days when my grandmother passed away. I remember tiptoeing into her darkened room and seeing her lying motionless under the covers. My father looked after my brother, sister and I until our mother finally surfaced – stepping back into our home routine as if she had never stepped out of it – and the death of our grandmother was virtually never mentioned again.My mother had what I would regard as a strained relationship with my grandmother. My mother always says my grandmother was a very ‘hard’ woman. When I hear the stories of my mother’s childhood and even adulthood, I can understand what she means.During the War, my mother’s father died of pneumonia when she was only ten years old and her mother did what was the norm during those times, and placed my mother, her younger brother and older sister in an orphanage in Malta, while she and her oldest son sought work where they could. My grandmother was unable to financially support all of her children, there being no social security system on the island then, and so the orphanage provided a ‘safe haven’ until things got better and she had enough money to support her family on her own.My mother ended up being in the orphanage for five years. My grandmother eventually got her out, and then promptly bought a passage to Australia for herself and her children.My mother worked in factories in Sydney upon her arrival, with my grandmother taking most of her wages and having her wash, cook and clean for the lodgers she took in to earn extra income.I wasn’t very close to my grandmother. None of us were. She wasn’t a grandmotherly type of grandmother. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t a part of our lives, or that we didn’t love her, in our own way.I do remember that her house smelt of wet dog and stale cigarettes, which was kind of weird as she didn’t own a dog and she wasn’t a smoker. But when she opened the bulky, wooden front door of her semi-detached federation style home in Sydney’s inner west, with its square foot of lawn inside the front fence, that musty dank odour greeted us with open arms.My grandmother’s abode was not a home, it was definitely a house. She lived there alone, except for a fat white cat that couldn’t meow. Despite the fact that the house would now be worth a fortune for its cosmopolitan location and heritage value, at that the time it was a cold, soul-less, sunless box that made you want to leave it as soon as you’d arrived.My grandmother was a very large woman and on the few occasions we did visit her, I remember trying to stifle giggles as we followed in her wake, down the long, narrow hall of her house, her two large, proud, rounded buttocks jiggling independently of each other under her thin cotton house coat.If she knew we were coming, she would get some food in. Once, my mother had told her we kids liked jelly. I remember on one visit my grandmother sent me to the fridge to see what she’d made for us. Inside a huge Kelvinator in a very cold space that was bare except for a shrivelled tomato, half a bottle of milk and some Maltese pepper cheeses, sat six parfait glasses of green jelly. They’d obviously been there for some time, gauging by their wrinkled skin.I remember my siblings and I gingerly tucking in, my grandmother looking on approvingly and beaming. The ancient green jelly tasted of old fridge and mould but we forced it down, proclaiming it delicious. We patted our tummies simultaneously and declared that we were far too full for seconds when grandmother offered them.I have often wondered why my mother has grieved so since her mother died, in light of the sadness of their relationship and the little cruelties that my grandmother had inflicted on my mother during the course of her life. Looking back now, I think that on the physical passing of my grandmother, my own mother was grieving the loss of a close and loving relationship she must have spent her lifetime wishing they had had.

 

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