I still remember pouring over a popular book (please remember this is pre-internet times I’m talking about) which was titled Complete Baby and Child Care by renowned parenting expert Doctor Miriam Stoppard. While the book was an invaluable help to a floundering new mother, when I really started thinking about what had influenced me most as a mother, I came to the conclusion it was probably my late Granny, Mrs Edith Jean Bazzo. Gran was fondly known to her 29 grandchildren and her 48 great grand-children as Granny Jean, and her simple parenting style based on no nonsense tough-love, humour and endless proverbs (she had one for every life situation) has had a lasting influence on me.
The Gran I grew up with was a widowed mum to 12 children, her beloved husband Jim having passed away when their youngest was only 10 and I was just 18 months old. She never had a driver’s licence. She worked at a local pub, The Prince of Wales, as a cook and smoked Rothman’s cigarettes (recommended to her by her doctor to “calm the nerves”). She was the matriarch of the family; her word was law. She loved every one of her kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with every ounce of her being and they loved her right back. Gran was a terrific cook, preparing hordes of food to feed her ever expanding family. Gran always insisted the table be set, with a tablecloth of course, and I have vivid memories of the whole extended family coming together for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter, all of us crammed into her enclosed verandah with kids on the benches, adults on the chairs. One of her favourite sayings still echoes in me today, “If God made anything more beautiful than food, he kept it for himself.” Gran’s food would be considered simple, even plain by today’s standards – but she grew up in a time when food was precious – it was a gift and I think this is possibly why I still prefer to sit at the table each evening for dinner and give thanks.
Gran, not by want but by necessity, was a realist and a worker. When I was young, she seemed to have little time for “What ifs”, though she did always have time for a cuppa and a chat with anyone who popped in. If any one of us grandkids was foolish enough to enviously wish for something frivolous – perhaps a better bicycle when the old one was perfectly fine, those expensive new jeans a friend had or in my case to be taller, she’d respond with her favourite proverb, “If wishes were horse’s beggars would ride.” Similarly, if we ever rushed a task she’d asked us to do and not completed it properly, to her exacting standard (who ever knew there was a correct way to hang a shirt on the clothes-line?) she’d make us redo it, always adding knowingly, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Gran never explained the meaning of her proverbs and I can’t recall her ever lecturing about how hard her life was, or how easy we had it. Life was what it was, and she just got on with what she was doing and would leave us to try and work out the proverbs meaning for ourselves, and I suppose take from it any pearl of wisdom we could.
Gran’s habit has rubbed off on me – not the Rothmans – the quoting of proverbs that is. My own children are so accustomed to hearing me rattle them off that I often forget others are not, getting very quizzical looks from their friends as I mutter “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” or “A watched pot never boils.” I am sure there are things I’ve done for my children that Gran just shook her head at in disbelief – all the while silently wishing she’d had the time and opportunity to indulge her own children. Like the time I baked a birthday cake for my two-year-old daughters imaginary friend Kiara – who by the way was a little white mouse; or taking weeks to make a horse Pinata for her Saddle Club themed birthday party.
In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, my mind always tunes in to these vivid memories I have of Gran. I often feel that I know and appreciate her so much better now, because the older I get, the more my own life experiences colour my understanding of what motivated her. I remember being amazed when well into her 70’s she converted to Catholicism. Having already raised her twelve children as Catholics and sent them to Catholic schools – I’d assumed she was one! I was equally shocked when she decided to sell the family home not too long after her confirmed bachelor son, who had always lived at home, married in his late 30’s. She wanted to move into something more manageable and give herself the finances to finally do some things she’d always wanted to do. I was more worried about where we would all gather now!
One of my favourite proverbs, often used by of both my mother and grandmother, and which I have passed on to my own children is, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” This simple saying is a powerful reminder that the choice to follow the path of kindness leads to better outcomes for all. It is an echo from the Book of Proverbs which also reminds us of the power of kindness, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (31:26).
Every year when we come together as a family and as a nation to celebrate Motherhood, I am always acutely aware of my place of privilege in the world and I can’t help but think of mothers in war zones like Ukraine, mother’s raising children in refugee camps in Syria, those mothers on the march in Myanmar, mother’s eking out an existence on eleven story high rubbish dumps in India or our poverty sickened First Nations mothers in Central Australia. All these mothers look to us and our children in the hope of a better future, a better future for their children and their children’s children. As Gran might have so gently suggested, “Actions speak louder than words” Mandy.