I am blessed to have my 99 year-old Nan still with me. I did an “interview” with her today. I have sat face to face with celebrities, but this woman is always by far the most interesting, inspiring and wise conversation I will ever have.
In her century on this earth, she has seen nearly more wars than years she’s been alive, including two World Wars. She’s watched the rise of dazzling new machines called cars and planes, hand cranked camera’s which made movies, and a mechanical television was invented when she was about 10 years old. Smoking was hip, and all her exercise was done in walking her kids to the church hall for a dance, to school and to buy groceries. Man landed on the moon and plastic boobs became normal. Then, of course, came that little thing called a mobile phone, which now does all of the above.
And if all that’s too much to comprehend, then lucky for you Valium was also invented in the last 100 years.
What have been some of the happiest times of your life Nan?
Camping. And dancing.
I remember, Nick [Nan’s brother] had a friend who was black as the ace of spades and a very good dancer. They used to dance the Jive. Everyone would stop in a circle and watch them dancing in the middle.
Camping was at Lake Illawara. We didn’t have tents like you’ve got now; ours was old and tatty. One night the heavens opened, so we left the tents and slept on someone’s balcony. [Did you know them?] No we didn’t know them! We left before they came back the next day!
[I love hearing my Nan laugh]
What about your family when you were growing up?
There was lots of dancing at Phillip Street [in Parramatta, where Nan grew up]. Not so many friends, more family. Pop would tell stories around the fire. We holidayed at the cousins. The uncle was an old crank, but aunty used to grow her own tomatoes. By gee they were good, really tasty. She always had lots of lovely food for us, but those tomatoes were really tasty.
And your own family, when you were a mother?
Robyn [Nan’s firstborn] was born the day WWII ended. They were good kids, never in trouble. They were with me til school. Then I worked in the factory, sewing the uniforms for the soldiers. They used to dance too, at the Church Hall. They had red and white polka dot dresses with big bows, which I made. They used to play cricket on the road with the neighbours.
What were some of the worries you had?
One holidays we saw some children get swept away on Parramatta River. A little girl fell off the bridge and the older boy, a brother maybe, reached down to get her but was pulled in to the river too. Oh it was terribly sad. Then a while later, Mark [Nan’s third-born] was playing with his little friend and we lost sight of them. It was frightening. But you know the eels, in Parramatta River? They were big, huge things, awful! The boys had chased off after them, and we finally found them, sitting at the edge of the river, looking at the eels – frightened to the spot! It was funny but it reminded me of those two children who had died. So sad for the families.”
Is there anything you didn’t like about your life?
It’s clear: Let’s dance like we’ve got the African Jive inside us, always eat tasty tomatoes, sleep on someone else’s verandah, and love and protect our families. At 99 years old you might just be able to say you’ve had a good life too.