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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Mothers – Unsung Heroes

By Marie Campbell

I read a quote recently by Bhagwan Rajneesh, an Indian spiritual teacher, who said that “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

In my humble opinion, Rajneesh nailed it!

In the sixties (which puts me in the category of a baby boomer), the only resource we had was a book by a guy called Dr Spock (no not the Star Trek Spock, although, honestly, he might have been of more use). There was no online tutorial, manual, syllabus or Idiots Guide To Parenting.

From the beginning, we hit the ground running relying on instinct, common sense and often a sense of humor to protect and nurture this new life for which we were responsible and, in my case, totally unprepared for.

The most valuable resource available to new mothers is usually their Mum because she’s been there and done it.

In my family, as husbands came and went (just the two!), and my kids got older, adolescence kicked in, hormones raged, doors nearly came off their hinges and the rows got louder, it was my mother who was the buffer among us all – the quiet arbitrator, the mediator, the counselor, the listener, the unsung hero.

Eventually, things settle down and the natural order of family life prevails with mothers becoming grandmothers and the emotional connectivity between the family unit tightening around the grandmother like an invisible wall as she enters the autumn of her life.

Recently, I came face to face with a situation that challenged that scenario and which I found disturbing.

It was lunch time and I’d left my office to get a sandwich from my local supermarket. Along with other pedestrians, I was standing on the pavement waiting for the traffic lights to change at the crossroads of King and George Street in Sydney’s CBD a few minutes walk from two of the world’s most famous icons – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

As the lights changed and people started to disperse, I turned and saw her standing there. The tiny figure of an elderly lady, probably in her 70s, wearing a long grey coat and a woolly hat both of which had seen better days.

In front of her she was holding a small round straw basket in which was a handful of coins. I crossed the road but stopped on the other side of the street and turned to look back at her. Immediately I felt guilt and shock. Guilt because I’d hadn’t put any money in her basket. And shock because I don’t recall ever seeing such an elderly woman begging on the streets.

I crossed back to her and as I put some money in her basket, I saw a gentle face with beautiful clear blue eyes. Loose strands of her grey hair fell from beneath her hat and danced around her face in the wind.

She thanked me for the money. I asked her how long she’d have to stand there before she had enough money and could leave. She been there for two hours and “‘would have to stay a bit longer as people didn’t seem to have much spare money these days.”

I hesitated before I asked my next question because I knew it was intrusive, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked her if she had any family.

She didn’t answer. Instead she politely thanked me again for stopping and talking to her. She wasn’t going to share her secrets with me.

Back in my office, I wondered what the circumstances were that could put her in this position and whether she had children and, if so, did they know what their mother had to do to survive.

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to look after my own mother and make the remaining years of her life comfortable and safe but she too had her secrets – many of them.

It wasn’t until I started researching my family history that I discovered her past and the answers to questions I’d been asking for decades. What I discovered broke my heart but filled me with such admiration for her I wanted future generations of our family to know about Mum, so I wrote Olga – A Daughter’s Tale.

I miss my mother and think of her every day. If you’re lucky enough to have a good one as I did, you can fly. She was the wind beneath my wings.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:03 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Oh, I wonder about the story of the woman and the coins. It is always a sad sight to see an elder in such a situation. Makes my heart hurt.
Your story is tempered with the part about your own wonderful mother.

Marie, How sad to see the proud old woman having to ask for coins from passing strangers.

And how admirable for you to research your own mother's story and to honor her by writing about her.

Happy Valentine's Day (though I don't know whether you celebrate it in Australia).

Your story made me a little teary-eyed thinking of my own mother and my daughter,now a grandmother, trying to be so attentive to me ( not that i need it because I am very independent ). It is just her thoughtfulness, as busy as she is.

I watched over my mother during her last days, but I have no daughters to watch over me, just sons so I'm wondering who will watch over me, maybe my one granddaughter. Yours was a lovely tribute to your mother.

Long ago I worked a part-time college type job with a seventy-year old woman who worked full time in the morning. She was so tired by the end of the day, but without the two jobs, she would have never made it. She had two boys who could have helped her and an ex-hubby who left her when her looks faded. I never wanted to be like her and pray to God I never will face her fate. Thank you for this lovely tribute.

Great piece, I think this happens more than we know..everybody has a story, some a lot more colorful than others..my own Mother died young, 45, I was just 20 and alhtough she told us some stuff about her life, pretty bleak at times, she also made me a dreamer and when wonderful things have happened in my life, I always know somehow she is up in the clouds, smiling and happy for me...as a just 72 year old, I returned to work two years ago because I was bored to death..money didn't hurt either..hope I can do it til I can't anymore..I hate the idea of someone having to take care of me..don't like the alternative either..very teenager sounding right?

Thank you ladies for your comments - they are much appreciated. Every family has a story:-) Marie

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