The house is quiet, so very quiet. Except for the ticking of the grandfather clock in the dining room. She sits on her regular short wooden stool and glances at her watch again. The worn face is small, tenuously holding onto to the links of the faded gold band. Its getting harder to see the hands but she has worn this watch for too many years, she doesn’t need much detail.
The refrigerator clicks into life obtrusively, rattling in competition to the ticking clock. It vibrates along the floor sounding like a saucepan lid on a pot of boiling water. I hope it sees me out she thinks to herself, don’t give up just yet, please.
Her thumb massages the gold wedding ring on her left hand, an inheritance from her grandmother on her wedding day. 26th of November 1938. A warm Saturday afternoon in Yarrawonga. It seems only yesterday.
He was a grocer, she a legal secretary. They fell in love on the banks of the Murray River. At 28 many thought she was left on the shelf, she knew she was just waiting for the right one to come along. And he did. Tom.
She wanders through her home, glancing at the watch again. They are late. Her lips purse tightly in frustration. All her life she had relied on the punctuality of others. She had never learnt to drive. There was no need earlier, everything was in walking distance of her home. Then she had Tom.
Ahh Tom, she yearns. We were good together. The Sunday afternoons rowing, dancing, singing on the edge of the river were full of frivolous laughter, a distraction from the adversity of the years of depression and the continual care of her invalid sister Eileen.
Her six children with Tom were a blessing. Not many couples order their children girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy. She still remembers how clever Tom thought she was when Michael arrived! Hard to know if she would have had more.
Tom became very ill that year. Her life was crammed with caring for children and a sick husband. There was no treatment for his ‘growth’, just endless doctors visits and hospital stays looking for relief and sign of hope. 9th of February 1951 is a date she will mourn forever. A part of her died with Tom.
The days became a blur of grief mixed with stoic cheeriness. Tom’s sister came to help raise a wild outfit of children. Neighbours offered rides to church, others helped with jobs around the house and farm.
Thank goodness for the farm “Midaroo”. It gave eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit and meat to feed her growing brood. There was even enough to offer the swag men that ventured in looking for a free meal or some work. She could never turn away a person in need, and it was good to have some adult conversation every now and then too!
Life fell into routine, like many do. The cycle of school and church celebrations coming round with a stabilising regularity. Her children had few luxuries, save the square of ice cream with Sunday roast but she cared for them dearly and lovingly. They were Toms gift.
She had grown tired over the years. Her body showing signs of wear. The ulcers on her legs never seemed to quite heal, despite trying all remedies. The asthma was getting worse. She was beat.
She hears noises from the front of the house
“Mum, are you ready? We will be late for the flight”
“OK, alright already! I was ready ages ago, now I need to get the legs moving again. Take my port out, I will just do one last check”
She touches the photo of Tom. See you soon she whispers. One last glance around her home, one last pause to hear the ticking of the clock as it chimes the hour. She straightens and slowly shuffles out the door.
She finds strength from within as she visits with her daughters and their families. Requests to help make Tripe and flummery from her eldest and her family keep her busy. I do wish she would slow down and let them do for themselves she silently chastises.
She enjoys the chaos of the farm life of her middle daughter, the way she brings in marmalade on fresh bread with her morning coffee each day. It feels so luxurious. She knows she is a burden as a visitor, it’s a long way to their toilet at night, it takes her a long time to dress, shower, do anything.
As she pauses from the book she is reading, another AJ Cronin best seller her mind wanders to her children. They have all done well, she is very proud of them and the grandchildren she has been blessed with, despite them being scattered across Australia from North Queensland through to Tasmania. When she is home she is thankful for her telephone, her connection to the world. I hope I did OK with them Tom.
On a crisp autumn morning, as the sun breaks through the wintry sky she struggles to breathe. The asthma is drawing all her strength. She fights no longer.
800 kilometres from home her body loses the battle to live. It was a Thursday, May 9th. Her pain finally departs, while her family suffers the passing of the matriarch that had cemented them together.
She is laid to rest beside her sweetheart.
Tom and Flo.
They had 34 years of catching up to do.