My niece goes to mum and dad’s for dinner every Tuesday and Thursday night. She has done this for as many years as she has lived in Geelong. It has become routine for them all now but I know that she still gets some pleasure from their company. We have had this conversation about how much we enjoy mum and how we still see her pluck and her humor. Dad turned 86 yesterday and instead of my niece going for her Tuesday dinner, she picked them up at 6.30 and they came here.
I prepared a slow roasted leg of lamb, roast potatoes, pumpkin and eggplant and green beans. Instead of gravy, I made a mint, cucumber and yoghurt salad to have with the lamb. For dessert I made a lemon tart and I served it with fresh raspberries and double cream. I lit candles, in lieu of a cake, and we had a bottle of slightly over the hill but pleasant enough wine dad found in his cellar. I bought flowers for the table.
The occasion was lovely and apart from the dogs – who went nuts, ran up and down the passage before settling down on the couch – everyone was in good spirits.
A woman from Barwon Health had called up to discuss the services available to them through the council. Mum was indignant. She had brought a student with her and they treated her as if she was stupid.
“She said to the student, ‘now ask the lady your questions’” mum told us. “I let them know I was annoyed”.
I was glad that mum had objected.
“Good on you mum,” I said. “You have to stand up for yourself and not let them treat you like a non person just because you are older”.
I could see that my niece and my father disagreed with me. My niece was giving me a look across the table and dad mad a resigned grunt.
“You mustn’t let them treat you like rubbish. Mum is absolutely right to make a fuss and stand up. You can be meek, silent or stroppy and stroppy is the only way you will get want you need”.
This is the mother I know. I know her as a woman who has always demanded to be treated properly. At Myers she took the record of The Sound of Music because as she said, “No one was serving me and at Myer there are only two speeds, slow and slower”.
She would take things back to the shop and demand replacements long before consumer rights and she could always negotiate a discount on slightly damaged or store marked goods. I admired and loved her courage and tenacity. I inherited mine from her.
Then my niece piped up changing the subject. “What are we going to have for dinner on Thursday?”
“Thursday, dinner …”
Dad suggested the fish in the freezer. “You could do crumbed fish”.
“Yes – you just dip it in egg then in bread crumbs and fry it”.
“Oh yes,” she said clearly confused. “And for dessert?”
“You could take the lemon tart home,” I suggested.
“No, waffles”, dad added.
Dad always made waffles. Despite being blind he could still mix up a batter and cook it in the waffle iron. My children loved this special treat: hot waffles with butter and real maple syrup. Before mum was diagnosed she hid the waffle maker after she and dad had fought over a waffle batter dad made. She said it was too thick. Dad said it was fine. So she put it deep in cupboard where he could not find it.
Not long after were all at a family gathering at my sister’s farm. Mum told us that she had hidden the waffle iron because dad refused to accept that his batter was too thick. That day I got angry with her and challenged dad.
“How can you let her treat you like that?”
That was the day mum cried,
“You have no idea what is it like for me looking after your father and no one ever comes to visit”.
“That’s not true mum. I come every week!”
At that she threw the Tupperware container of friands she was holding at me – leaving me dusted with icing sugar – gathered up her things, and dad, and left the Easter Sunday BBQ. That was the day we sat in shock after she had gone and shared for the first time our observations of her anger, wondering where it was all going.