MEMORIES FROM MY PAST
Chapter 25 - Life As A Grass Widow
To be perfectly honest, I'd have to admit to the the fact that Rick's job which took him away from home for six weeks out of every eight was what made it bearable for me to continue with the façade that we presented to the world. It wasn't difficult to pretend that all was well during the fortnightly periods that he was home and if his relatives and our mutual friends noticed anything different, they sure kept their mouths shut. During his absence, I was able to let down my guard and indulged in late night phone calls with Wayne who was able to cheer me up and made me feel loved despite the distance between us. I occupy my waking hours by pottering around the house or garden, mowing the lawn when necessary, fixing leaking taps, painting the walls and doing a lot of minor repair jobs that are usually carried out by the man of the house. Mostly, I lived for my three kids and dealt with their childhood escapades as best as I could. I certainly wasn't in a position of threatening the children with, "You wait till daddy comes home..." as misconducts would be long forgotten by the time their father got home. Besides, I thought it wouldn't be very nice for them to dread daddy's homecoming and associate it with punishment for past "crimes".
While we were living in our rented house, Deej and his classmate, Neil, decided on a joint venture to earn some pocket money by taking on a letter-box delivery job after school. (I firmly believe that when kids are old enough, they shouldn't be given money on demand - they should learn to associate getting money with a bit of input on their part in the form of simple chores or little jobs that they could do.) Anyway, I agreed to be their driver to places where their brochure-laden push-bikes couldn't cover by sunset. The girls co-operated by locking themselves in the house and playing quietly together during our brief absence. Everything went smoothly for a few delivery sessions until we returned home one evening to find my carved oriental teak desk overturned and all the contents scattered on the lounge-room floor! Sharon was cowering in a corner and there was no sight or sound of little Nina... Full marks to Sharon for bravery in facing the music as she tremblingly explained that they were just having fun - little Nina decided to have an impromptu 'concert' with Sharon as the appreciative audience. They lowered the lid of my desk to use as a stage for Nina to perform on and just as she finished her introduction of, "Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Bozo - the world's most famous clown..." and stepped on the lowered lid to do a little dance routine, the whole desk toppled over under her weight. No, no, she wasn't hurt, she decided to hide under her bed believing that if I couldn't see her, I wouldn't be able to punish her! Both girls received the same punishment - they had to pick up all the scattered stuff and sort them out for me. Thankfully, there was not a mark on either Nina or my expensive desk...
Having a few very nice newly-acquired Aussie friends like Nancy and Des (our neighbours across the street from our previous rented house), Bev, who lived across the road and Janice (Deej's teacher) also helped me keep my sanity. Nancy, especially, was particularly keen to pick up a few tips on how an Asian mum's mind worked, in preparation for the day when she and Des become parents themselves. One particular incident would forever stay in our minds... Nancy popped in for a cuppa on her way home from teaching at the local high school and it wasn't long before Deej arrived home from school on his push-bike. The girls walked to and from school as it wasn't far away and they usually got home not long after Deej. On this particular afternoon, about half an hour after Deej arrived home, the girls were still AWOL. I didn't worry too much as sometimes they dawdled a bit when walking with their mates. Instead, I asked Deej to jump on his push-bike and go look for his sisters to give them the 'hurry up'. Nancy was just about to take her leave when Deej came back within minutes and cheerfully announced, "It's okay, mum, they are on their way home - they've been selling flowers." Upon hearing my incredulous, "They're WHAT???", Nancy promptly replaced her butt on the chair and muttered, "This I gotta see!". Sure enough, before I could question Deej any further, the girls fronted up looking mighty pleased with themselves as they held out their coin-laden hands for all to see. From their explanation, I managed to get a picture of what had transpired. Apparently, they had stopped to watch an old lady who was pruning in her garden. They remarked on the beautiful flowers the lady had growing and the old dear was so pleased with their comments that she offered them a big bunch of flowers to bring home to me. The two sisters happily accepted the flowers and continued on their way. "Mum doesn't need flowers, she has heaps growing in her garden!" so they mutually decided to "share the love" ... by stopping at each house, knocking on the door and offering a flower to whoever opened the door. All went according to plan until they reached a house owner who must have felt sorry for them and decided to give them some loose change. "Ka-ching!" Nina's entrepreneurial instinct was immediately awakened - her eyes and brain promptly connected and sent a message to her tongue to come up with, "Hey Sharon! From now on, we don't GIVE the flowers away - we'll SELL them!" And so their little flower-selling business began... They finally got to Mary's house (we shared the same back fence) and as soon as she saw them, she exclaimed, "You're Mona's girls, aren't you?" Vigorous shaking of their heads to deny this fact was followed by, "Uh-uh, we live wa-ay over there," while pointing in the opposite direction! They finished their narration with, "We were on our way home anyway, Mum, 'cause we ran out of flowers."
By this time, Nancy's jaw had dropped down to her bustline and she almost lost control of her bladder as she listened to the girls while watching the changing expressions on my face. I, on the other hand, was deciding on the best course of action to take. I quickly decided that the girls would be made to re-visit all the people they had been selling their flowers to and give them all a full refund! Nancy left very soon after but not before asking me to phone her later on... Dinner was put on hold while I personally went with the somewhat subdued girls to do the refunding. When we got to Mary's, she chuckled and said that she knew the girls would be back...
Deej had his fair share of wrongdoings, too - one evening after dinner, all three kids were in Deej's bedroom, playing for a while before bedtime. An unusual amount of giggling and whispering emanating from within the closed door got me curious enough to investigate. I quickly opened his door and caught them in the act - all three kids were under his blanket and I could make out the outline of Deej shining a torchlight on his face while he made spooky ghost-like sounds... I demanded to know where they got the torch from and he sheepishly confessed to shoplifting it from Woolworths during our shopping that morning. The next day, I marched him up to the customer service desk to return the torch and own up about the theft. I also emphasized on the starkness of his future abode (i.e. prison cell) should it ever happen again.
All three kids used to suffer from selective deafness - they used to watch TV in the late afternoon after all homework had been completed and would remain oblivious to my calls that tea (dinner) was ready. Desperate for an end to this frustrating routine, I decided on teaching them a lesson. One evening, after announcing that dinner was ready for the third time, I reached over and turned the TV off and loudly declared that I was sick and tired of their disobedience. I further added that since they obviously didn't know what it was like to be homeless and hungry, I would like them to experience first hand what the homeless folks go through EVERYDAY! I then shooed them all out to the front porch into the cold winter evening air and announced that I was going to bed. I pulled the door shut, dragged the drapes across and turned off the lights. Minutes went by and then I heard a timid tapping on the sliding glass door. I opened the door just a fraction and asked what the problem was. Sharon was obviously selected to be their spokesperson as I heard her complaint about being cold. I stuck one hand out the door, gave a pretend shiver and said I agreed with her. "Wait a minute," I said sympathetically, to reappear moments later only to shove three jackets out to them... "Goodnight," I said with a feigned yawn, before shutting the sliding door once again. By that time, it was getting dark but not wishing to let on that I was still awake, I left the lights turned off and groped my way to the kitchen to reheat our dinner, all the while willing them to apologize. It wasn't too long before there was another tap-tapping on the sliding door and I quickly opened it and barked, "Now what!?" to be greeted by a chorus of, "Sorry, Mum." I let them all back inside and when they saw their meals on the table, all three kids raced off to wash their hands before enjoying their re-heated meals. That little lesson was well-learnt and didn't need to be repeated ever again.
Instead of giving them money to buy food from the school tuck-shop, every schoolday morning, I would pack their lunch boxes with a sandwich each, a snack bar of some kind, a seasonal fruit and 250ml Poppa fruit juice. Deej always finished off whatever I packed in his lunch box but not the girls - nooo... with them it all depended on how carried away they got with their friends at play during lunch-time. There had been several times when I would fish out what I presumed to be 'once-was-a-sandwich' globs still in their original cling-wrap, casually tossed into their shared toy-chest. I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery without causing either of the girls grievous bodily harm so after racking my brains, I settled on a plan. I got both of them to sit down in front of me for a home court session and asked who the culprit could be. As expected, they started pointing the finger at each other. I then voiced my opinion by saying, "Well! If I had been unfairly accused of doing something I didn't do, I would be VERY angry at the accuser and would want to punish her!" I then got out a feather-duster and put it in front of them. Nina grabbed it and proceeded to give Sharon a whack on the hand - I instigated further action by saying to Sharon, "How dare she hit you when you said that SHE was the one who lied. If I were you, I'd hit her right back!" So Sharon then took the feather-duster and gave Nina a whack. This went on for a few minutes longer with me egging on the one who insisted on her innocence. Finally, after I said, "I'd hit her harder for lying, you know," to Sharon, she burst into tears and cried, 'I can't, Mum, it was MY sandwich!" Nina angrily glared at Sharon before turning to me and indignantly exclaimed, "See? I told you it wasn't me!" Sharon was made to apologize to her little sister and after hugs all around, the mystery was thus solved...
School holidays when Rick was away proved to be a bit more challenging - trying to think of things to do that didn't cost the earth but would still be enjoyable often had me racking my brain. Luckily we lived a mere hop and a skip from the Mooloolah River, not far from Point Cartwright and the Coral Sea, a part of the South Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, all my kids love water-related activities so many a day were spent jigging for herrings from the jetties at the marina in Mooloolah River. We would come home with a bucketful of these little fish which I would then clean, fillet and deep fry until they turned into tasty crispy snack food. Other times, we would pack up some food and spend a leisurely time at the picnic area at La Balsa Park where the kids could swim in relative safety. Sometimes, I'd join them in the water, other times, I'd read a magazine while watching them with my invisible third eye. At low tide, we would troop off to the beach near our house and look for pippies (eugaries) in the sand as the tides rolled out. I would get the flesh out of these marine bivalves, removed the sand-chutes and turned them into delicious fritters. When the fishing condition was right, I'd pile the kids and fishing tackle into my car and with live pippies or frozen green prawns for bait, we'd head off to Point Cartwright. Getting to the fishing area involved parking the car at La Balsa Park and unloading a bag full of snacks and drinks, tackle box, fishing rod, bucket, bait and hats for the kids. Each of us would have something to carry before we set off on foot on the uneven rocky track over the rock wall leading up to the Beacon Lighthouse.
On one such occasion, we left home in the late morning and merrily headed off. After reminding the kids for the hundredth time to be careful when scrambling amongst the rocks and to stay clear of anyone who might be fishing, (especially when a line was being cast) I began fishing with hopes of catching a nice bream or two. At my third attempt at casting my line out, my line was caught... "Bugger!" I muttered to myself, "it must have gotten caught in one of the blasted rock behind me!" Not to worry, a decent tug would hopefully get me out of trouble. Just one good tug later, I heard Deej screeching out, "MUM! You've caught me!" Thinking that I had most probably hooked him through his clothing, I shouted back, "Well, get the hook off, you silly sausage! How many times have I told you to stay clear?" My heart sank when he responded with, "I can't get it off, it's stuck to my finger!" I then dropped my fishing rod and raced over to where he was - the poor kid was sobbing by then as I worriedly studied the hook which was well and truly embedded in his little finger. Only one thing left to do - pack everything up and get to the doctor's surgery. I cut off my fishing line, leaving the trace and hook dangling from Deej's finger and we half-ran, half-walked to the car before a quick drive to our family doctor in Mooloolaba. Thankfully, he was able to attend to Deej immediately upon arrival. "Hmmm..." Dr. Robertson muttered, "I'll have to get my pliers from my car boot to get this baby out," and after applying some local anaesthetic cream on Deej's finger, he casually sauntered off. Back he came and while waiting for the numbness to set in, he commented on my baiting technique. "I noticed you leave the shell on the prawn - I always pull half the shell off, they seem to work better. You should try it next time and see how you go..." Meanwhile, Deej sat on his chair, woefully admiring his swollen finger. Dr. Robertson then used his pliers and snipped the hook off at the eye loop before forcibly pushing the barbed hook (minus the prawn bait) all the way out in the direction of the barb instead of against it. Voila! Job was done gratis. (The good doctor refused payment as his daughter was Deej's classmate.) No longer in the mood to get back to fishing, we went straight home. Deej made me a cute card for my birthday that year.
Generous me gave two dollars a week to each of my kids to save up or spend as they wish. In return, they were given duties on a rotating basis. They took turns at simple chores - one would wash up, the other would dry the dishes and the third would fold clothes. In May of 1983, with Mother's Day just around the corner, five-year-old Nina asked me to take her to the shopping centre as she wanted to get a "surprise" for me. I was to drop her off and wait for her in the car. So off we went and I did as requested. The minutes ticked by and I had just finished my second cigarette when she finally appeared, clutching something behind her back and walking ever so carefully toward the car. "Close your eyes and open your hands, Mum." I dutifully did as instructed and opened my eyes to see a beautiful little ceramic pot of African Violets in full bloom, complete with a pretty bow and a little Mother's Day gift tag. She then asked me if she could have five cents as she didn't have enough money for the gift tag and, "Even though the nice lady said not to worry about it, I'd like to pay for it in full." I decided to accompany her back inside to the florist and immediately noticed that the florist had purposely undercharged little Nina. I went back the following day to reimburse the difference and with a smile she declined. She told of how Nina had approached her and enquired after the price of the African Violets as she would like to buy a nice one for her mum for Mother's Day. The florist in return asked her how much money she had to spend, at which, Nina emptied her pocket and showed her a handful of coins. "That'll be enough, dear," said the florist, "Would you like me to make it pretty for you?" "Ooh, yes please, thank you," came the excited reply. After it was all done, little Nina then asked, "How much extra do I need to get a gift tag?" to which the florist replied, "Five cents, but don't worry about it, you can have one." She finished off by saying how very lucky I was to have such a sweet daughter.
I tried to make Christmas time as exciting as possible and encouraged the kids to believe that Santa was real. They would ponder for days on what they would like Santa to bring them and luckily for me, it was before the Nintendo and Playstation era. Each child would make a simple wish list, write their names at the top and all three lists would be placed in an envelope which I would "stamp and post" for them. On Christmas Eve, they would prepare a little something for Santa and his reindeer - 3 biscuits, a tea-bag, a thermos full of hot water, a little jug of milk, a couple of cubes of sugar and a cup and saucer for Santa as well as a small bottle of beer (in case Santa prefers beer) and a bottle opener. The reindeer were just as important and a bowl full of chopped baby carrots would always be waiting for them. All three would voluntarily go to bed quite early and as soon as all was quiet, I would eat up the biscuits, make and drink the tea and if Rick was home, I would get him to drink the beer. Otherwise, I would tip the beer down the sink. I would also eat as much of the carrots as I could and purposely leave a few chomped up bits on the floor nearby. On Christmas morning, all three would race over to see if Santa and the reindeer had eaten their snacks. When we moved into our new house, Deej even insisted on writing a note to Santa to stick on the front door, apologizing for not having a chimney and drew arrows to direct Santa to his bedroom. Oh how I missed the innocence of childhood...
Despite life's ups and downs, I consider myself to be very lucky and blessed to have such wonderful, caring children. Without a family that I could turn to for advice and support in raising them, I had to rely on my maternal instincts and in the end, became emotionally stronger for it. Even though I have never been terribly religious, I know that somewhere up above, an angel must be watching over us...
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