Saturday, May 16, 2009

Compulsory wog paintings, guilt, pain and release

Could you all please just fuck off and go home?


The day after, I was in a state of exhuastion that was verging on delerium and almost oblivious to the well wishes and gifts of my family and extended family that were visiting me.

Almost, but not quite.

I mustered a thin smile and offered an insincere thank you to them.

Whilst I was cutting up the Kransky sausages onto a platter to serve with the hard boiled eggs, cheese, bread, tomatoes and cucumber Matthew asked me:

"Mum, why are you cooking on your birthday? You shouldn't be cooking on your birthday, that's unfair."

I turned to him and shrugged.

The wives of my brother in law's fell asleep on the couch, having worked just as hard, if not harder than myself the last 4-5 days.

After they left I cleaned up the kitchen and crawled into bed.

Fuck birthdays.

Fuck tradition.

Fuck it all.


Exactly a week earlier I had straddled my husband as he lay face down and rubbed Voltaren into his lower back, the pungent odour permeating the sheets of our bed to rest into the mattress and consequently, the entire bedroom...

Then we went to sleep.

My husband came home from work with his sore back.

His mother, cooking lunch, was surprised to see him but before he could tell her why he was home..

The phone began to ring.

It was just after 3am.

His mother was unconcious.

Did we want to come over straight away?

We did the ring around, got dressed and waited for his brother and wife to arrive, got in their car and then we drove to pick up his brother not far from our house.

Although we sat with her for an hour and a half and said our goodbyes I had the overwhelming urge to go one last time.

There were things I wanted to say to her.

In my lunch break I told her as she fought for each rattling, excruciating breath that I had forgiven her and I hoped she'd forgiven me.

"You're going to to a better place" I told her as I got up to leave and planted a kiss on her forehead.

The tears slipped down my face as I left her alone in the room.

Forty five minutes after I'd left her I got the phone call from my husband.

I heard and understood what he told me but after so long I could barely bring myself to believe it.


To be considered a ridgy-didge, true-blue, fair-dinkum wog you don't need to be chowing down on salami and (home grown) tomato sangers or have at least three crucifixes displayed prominently in your house and a picture of the last supper in the kitchen or even own five soccer balls and a wardrobe of Adidas tracksuits.


To pass the litmus test you must own a painting of a luscious brunette bombshell wading through water with luxuriously rich hair and an impossibly tiny waist with more than ample breasts that may or may not be covered.

Growing up, everyone had one.

We did too until my mother in law decided to go to our private bedroom, take it from the wall, smash the glass encasing it and rip it shreds before deciding to replace it with a picture of three ducks.

I had been getting along with her until then. I didn't have a choice. She couldn't go back to Bosnia as the war had just broken out not long after she came out here for our wedding. Her house had been bombed to smithereens and all her family had fled for their lives in her absence and were stuck in refugee camps. Without a husband and extreme danger facing her return my husband decided she should live with us.

Even after that incident it was rare that we fought openly. I ignored the comments that irked me most of the time and we lived at that time about two houses away from the church which she frequented every day at one stage or another so whilst I worked she didn't impact on my life greatly.

That was until I had children of my own.

Stuck in the house with a woman old enough to be my grandmother telling me my baby was crying because my milk was not good enough or that I couldn't go outside in the dark or that any plants I watered would shrivel up and die whilst I still had the afterbirth blood-loss made me grind my teeth and seethe in frustration at her.

Although she was stubborn and had a domineering manner, her religious fervour and ignorant wives-tales were a product of her upbringing and for that I couldn't blame her completely.

She came from a place and time when girls were not allowed to go to school, their value so worthless as to be deemed undeserving of an education and where, even decades later, fathers with daughters only slightly older than myself would rather pay a fine than have them leave the house.

Still, it was through looking at the bible and various religious texts that she taught herself to read a little.

My husband always said she became more religious as she became older. This I can understand.

When you've given birth to eleven children (or maybe twelve - nobody is certain) with crops in the field and a cow or two to milk there is no time for your body or yourself until everyone could fend for themself.

I'm sure though that my husband (the youngest of the eleven or twelve children she had) would have started bickering with her the moment he learned to speak.

Dogs and cats fought less than they ever did.

I would often wolf down my food at dinner time in order to escape before it began and would sit, dejected, on the back step outside sucking on a cigarette where I would hear their voices getting louder and louder.

He would yell at them as they dawdled over their food whilst she would stick up for them and undermine him.

It was a perpetual cycle.

Her never ending chant about wanting to return to Bosnia was relentless.

But who would chop wood for her in the winter?

Or take her shopping for food?

Her children that had fled during the war and re-settled in their new country couldn't even entertain the thought of returning.

Her legs, once broken from having fallen from a tree picking fruit and now permanently bowed were able to take her smaller and smaller distances the older she got.

We came to a resolution three years ago that she would enter a low-level nursing home that catered for Croatian people.

As I drove her there with my mother the doubt began to creep in.

After I carried her suitcase with all her posessions inside and began to fill out the paperwork tears threatened to smudge the ink.

After I said goodbye and sat at the wheel driving back I imagined her returning to the tiny shoebox of a room that was now going to be her home.

My mother tried fruitlessly to console me and I couldn't understand why she couldn't.

It was what I had always wanted.

Apart from a brief period with another son and two trips overseas [one due to a hormonal and pregnant rant at my husband that either she went for six months to spare me the near-depression she gave me with my first child or I would go] she had always been with us for most of the last fourteen years, unable or unwilling to understand privacy, tact and grace.

Then I understood.

I didn't love her and I didn't hate her.

Half the time I couldn't even like her.

But she was a part of our life and here I was dumping her in a strange place.

I cried the whole of the four hour trip home.

Still, she seemed happy whenever we visited and although I often told her she could return if she wished she never asked me to come back.

Almost two years ago we got a phone call early in the morning from the hospital.

She'd had a stroke.

Life was slightly easier for us when we moved her into a high-care nursing home closer to us but it was never easier for her.

She had lost the use of her legs and had a feeding tube inserted directly into her stomach.

Positive although emotional at the beginning, the light slowly dimmed from her eyes and her despair was evident. The bedsore she acquired never healed, a brutally deep hole that seemed to continue up to the bone and which the staff at the nursing centre seemingly glossed over.

I didn't blame them, they were terribly understaffed and like most businesses, the bosses put profit before people and terrible conditions before safety.

Sometimes the smell of vomit, piss and crap would overwhelm me.

At other times I had to look away from the residents haunted gaze and block their anguished cries, calling out perhaps to family who weren't there to listen or simply for someone, anyone to pay them the attention they were so desperately craving....


The phone didn't stop afterwards.

People rang to personally offer their sympathy that I hadn't ever expected would.

Offers of cakes, help with food or anything else we needed which I hadn't anticipated but took up gratefully.

The assistance from friends of our families was nothing short of astounding. They worked all morning, forgoing the funeral itself to ensure all the food and dozens of cakes were ready and waiting for the swarming mass of people that descended to the wake.

The very young priest was so warm and caring; saving me an incredible amount of time by photocopying the booklets for the service and cheerfully helping me to fold and staple them at such short notice.

A decade younger than me, I so admired his youthful outlook.

May his enthusiasm, honesty and humanity be always with him...


When I saw her at the viewing, she looked serene and calm.

Her tormented body had been released and it appeared as though it had never been disturbed by immense pain.

She was finally, completely, at peace.


Maggie May said...

This is some seriously good writing. Your obvious intelligence and spirit make great guides through this story.

Anna said...

Thanks Maggie, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Sometimes, when you're honest the words are really easy to find.