Sometime in the 1970s my mother enrolled in a Council of Adult Education course and made a puppet with Melbourne artist Mirka Mora. I remember having lunch with her whilst she was doing the course and I remember how much she was enjoying it.
I have the puppet she made. Mirka’s influence on its design is very obvious – there is a serious but playful element to it that I think she may have shared with my mother, or at least my mother then. My mother’s creative talent is obvious too. She has painted white flowers on the Mikado-like figure on one side. They are the same flowers that she embroidered on the bunny rugs she made for her grandchildren when they were babies. Her Mikado character has a cheeky grin, his little white teeth showing through partly opened red painted lips. On the other side her harlequin is observant – his lips are sealed, his eyes wide open.
I have kept this puppet, along with a papier mâché wolf head that my father made for a fancy dress competition my sister and I were in the late 1950s. I remember parading around the hall in West Geelong wearing a Red Riding Hood costume while my sister wore a hessian sack with a furry wolf tail and the papier mâché wolf’s head on top of her head. We were not the winners but we each got an egg cup.
I sometimes think how lucky I am to have these mementos of my parents. They are curious objects but each in its own way reminds me of an event – a lunch in the city with mum just after I started working and a fancy dress competition with my sister when I was very young. They also say a lot about my parents. Dad would have designed and constructed the wolf head and mum would have sewn the hessian bag into a wearable costume, hand sewing the tail on at just the right spot. Mum had a very creative eye. She loved Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Her sense of fun is apparent.
Dad is clearly exhausted by his role as her caregiver now yet he refuses to accept help or respite. These objects remind me that they were a team, they have always been a team … and they still are a team.