My mother has recently been diagnosed with Dementia. Had I started this blog last year, it would have been full of my ruminations about how I dealt with this diagnosis. In particular the way my mother turned against me. Part of the disease, it was no comfort to me.
I have not enjoyed a good relationship with my mother. It is important to disclose this as there will be no sloppy nostalgic rememberings about my mother written in this blog.
My mother is 81 and like most people of her generation her early years are bookmarked by WWII. 1 million American servicemen passed through or were stationed in Australia for the duration of the war in the Pacific. Australia’s population was 7 million at the time. They had a huge impact on Australian people.
My mother was young – around eight or nine years old. She was recovering from Rheumatic fever. This meant complete bed rest for six months.
Australians welcomed American servicemen into their homes and my mother’s family were no exception. A group of young Americans stationed just outside Geelong regularly visited. They often ate an evening meal then returned to the camp.
The Disney cartoon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was showing at the Geelong picture theatre and like most eight year olds, my mother was excited to see it. But her illness prevented it. She tells the story of how one night, at dinner she pleaded with her father (George) to let her go. I don’t know why she pleaded with her father and not her mother. The servicemen were there that night. Perhaps they were talking about it with him. One of the boys – let’s call him Hank – offered to take her. They could simply bundle her up in a blanket and carry her.
This was the sort of brash no nonsense approach to life that Australians loved about Americans then.
And this is how my mother remembers Snow White.
Years later my parents went to America. They tracked Hank down through a service offered by the Salvation Army and visited him and his wife. By now my mother was in her sixties and Frank was retired and elderly.
What my mother remembers about this visit was the joy of tracking him down. The visit was only a partial success. HIs wife was frosty. I wonder if my mother imagined this. I wonder if she had held on to a child’s crush on the memory of him and saw her as the enemy.
He was nothing like the memory she had of him. He was little and old.
They exchanged Christmas cards for a few years after the reunion but he soon dropped out of her life.
I love this story. I love the way mum tells it. She still tears up every time she tells it and even with her memory loss no detail is left out. From her telling of it, I can interpret the way my mother thinks. She leaves her mother out of the story. Is this a hint of her relationship with her mother and is it the background for my difficult relationship with her. What were her eight year old feelings for Hank? She always adds that his wife was frosty. I love the thought that my mother may have had a girly crush on him.
But it also his historical significance. From it we know how important the Disney animation of Snow White was for a generation of children. It contains information about American servicemen and Australian families during World War II. We know that Americans servicemen were in Geelong at that time. It even contains information about family life and the treatment of diseases.