'A Grandmother Recalls'. It received a great response, so I asked her to write another one, this time she wrote about her own mother. She is currently trying to learn about her mother's experiences as a young woman and a mother, but is finding that her mother's memory is now fading fast. The lesson is to listen to your mother now, you might now get a chance to later!
These days I find myself in a funny position, caught midway between being a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter and a daughter-in-law. One day I’m playing with my daughter’s own little daughter, the next I’m helping my elderly mother negotiate the local shops with her walking stick. I might be recording my granddaughter’s cute new laugh on video one minute, and listening to my mother-in-law’s stories about when she grew up the next. It gets confusing sometimes.
Thinking about all this has made me keen to share one of my longstanding little rants. I get pretty worked up when I learn of people who don’t listen to their mothers. And I’m not referring to listening to their household hints or their nags about cleaning up in the kitchen. I’m talking about listening to the stories of their youth. If your mother (or your father) is still around and happy to talk – please listen! And please, please, please write down what they tell you!
Let me tell you the story of how my little rant got going.
It may have had something to do with my pre-retirement life as a professional librarian. I spent my working life trying to bring order to collections and to provide access to so many different sorts of materials - books, journals, web pages, photographs, you name it. So you could say I’m keen on recording things. But I think the whole thing had more to do with the aftermath of my father’s death eight years ago. After he died I realised that I had never really asked him about when he grew up. Sure, he’d told me the odd thing or two (and not much more really, as he was quite a reserved man) but I’d forgotten a lot of that. And, worse, I’d never written anything down. I realised I’d badly missed my chance. Not only had I lost my much loved father but I’d lost what he could have told me too.
Not long after this I started to take more notice of the little things my mother would tell me about her youth, how she grew up, and when she first met my father. I started taking a small notebook with me when I visited her. Whenever the conversation drifted along the lines of ‘When I was a girl we sometimes went on holidays to …’ I discreetly got out my notebook and jotted things down. And I have been doing this for a few years now. My little notebook is getting pretty full.
I was reminded of how valuable this was just recently. I had volunteered to write up a little memoir for my mother of her time in the Australian Womens Army Service during WW2, for a forthcoming publication. One day when I was visiting, Mum and I gathered a few relevant documents from her old trunk of memories. So we had all the dates and places for her story. Next I asked her what she remembered about her time in the army. Had she done any training when she first enlisted? Unfortunately she couldn’t remember all that much. Perhaps she was having a bad day - after all she is 92 now, and her memory can get a little fuzzy despite her comparative good health. Perhaps if I’d prodded more she would have come up with a few more anecdotes.
At this point I remembered my little notebook. When I got home I pulled it out and started going through what I’d written over the last several years. There were stories there about how when Mum had joined the army she’d been sent on three weeks’ training to an army camp at Ingleburn, just to the south of Sydney. After the army training she’d gone into barracks at Strathfield. It seems that in the last few years Mum has forgotten some stuff.
My little book also told me that in the barracks Mum had sometimes got up to some high jinx with the other girls. They had climbed out of the window in their barracks and snuck into the officers’ quarters to use the nice hot bath there while the officers were at dinner! Mum said she had rather liked mixing with the ‘frivolous’ girls.
In the end I was able to put together quite a decent story. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my trusty notebook.
So, before I get off my hobby horse, I’ll repeat it just one more time. Please really listen when your mother, or your father or grandmother or grandfather, tells you special stuff about the old days. And please do write it all down. One day you’ll be ever so grateful.
Agent Mystery Case