Nothing like a Catholic digital media conference to remind you that it’s been a while since you’ve blogged. In an attempt to return to normality after one of the most bizarre weeks of my life, I attended a work conference in Sydney yesterday, and I was gently and profoundly challenged.
*Warning: this one will be a bit personal.
It’s been quite a collection of weeks since I last wrote about the floods in Asuncion. Since then, there have been all manner of floods in my life. Floods of tears, crying out to God in prayer and wondering, trying in between rain, storm and sunshine to discover what will be my path; floods of milk and coffee spilling as I recover from jetlag and attempt to walk in straight line in Australia; and most difficult; the floods of tears that come in short, unexpected machine-gun bursts as I think about one of the best women I’ve known, my Grandma Phyllis Doherty who entered eternal rest on 8 August, 2014, just two days before I arrived back in Australia. I tried to get back in time, but she was exhausted, and she needed to go. And we had 32 years of blessed times together.
My childhood is peppered with memories of Sundays after church heading to Narrabundah. The orange golf ball was our sign that we were nearly there and we’d turn the corner and arrive for roast lamb with gravy. I never quite worked out why Grandma’s roasts were better than mum’s (sorry mum, just checking if you’re reading this!), but it was probably that having had six kids, she’d learned early to use packet gravy with extra MSG, the result of which were my brothers going hyper and Grandma calling them “little bathtubs” as they ran amuck while she spit-curled my hair.
Always one to take pride in her appearance, the red lippy and foundation were a hallmark to the end. Even heading down to lunch or tea at St Andrew’s village, she’d put on her face and walk (with her walker) the “20 steps of decency” with each visitor who came her way.
She took pride also the appearances of her Grandchildren. “I’ve got 15 grandchildren and there’s not a dud among them”, she’d say, though my girl cousins and I lament even now that we never quite managed to get our hips and bottoms as small as hers. I’m still perplexed as to how a size six can give birth naturally to six kids, but hey, that’s what you did in the 40’s and 50’s.
I remember one Christmas, I must have been 10, that she had made dresses for all the girls. Mine was the best ever. A knee-length skirt and top, white with red, yellow, green and blue hearts on it. I wore it for four days straight. I did karate in it. I ran around. Mum finally convinced me it needed a wash, but it made regular appearances for the years to come…including when we dressed up my youngest brother Joe in it, complete with red lippy and eyeshadow, and told him to go outside and show the neighbours. (Sorry, Joe…..)
My parents were, thankfully, quite Catholic and overprotective, at least by 90’s standards. For this I’m thankful. At 14, so worried were they that my boyfriend would sneak over to visit, I was banished to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s for the day where I grumbled for about five minutes, and then was taught how to make crocheted coathangers. I left their house richer and happier for the experience and had forgotten said boyfriend weeks later. The coathangers remain a feature of the cupboards of every Doherty house.
Once I had my license, the visits to the “oldies” became more frequent. I’d fire up my Volkswagen beetle which grandpa named Isabelle and drive them to the local shops, the doctor’s, the pharmacy, or, if we were feeling really adventurous the Hyperdome. When we’d head out to Harrison to visit Auntie Jane, Grandma would quip that you needed to “take a packed lunch to get out there”.
As she got older and frailer, the humour continued.
How are you Grandma?, we’d ask. And she might well reply: “Well, I’m not the happiest corpse in the morgue….I’m not exactly flippin’ from slab to slab.”
“Erk slop….think I might go dig a hole and crawl into it.”
Or, “Not bad for an old chook.”
As it got colder in Canberra this year, she told cousin Kate that it was so cold it’d “freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.
It was to be her last Canberra winter, and her absence has made Canberra just a little colder for me.
She was a holy soul Grandma was though she always maintained that Grandpa was the holy one, the “pray-er”.
But she had a love that reached beyond the four walls of her homes….
Not one for piety, she’d quickly pull you up for being a “sanctimonious little toad”, and it’s from her that I learnt the phrase often wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi – “be always preaching the gospel, if necessary use words.”
She didn’t need words. She just needed a leg of lamb, a smile, some lace, and some crochet hooks, and the love manifested.