Nanna’s Sunday Lunch

Every Sunday of my youth was spent in Nanna’s old Queenslander at Sandgate for the ubiquitous Sunday lunch. I didn’t even know there was a beach near her house until much later, which was a shame, I could have used the escape; but as a single digit kid, I had no say in the matter.

Corned meat and vegies was the go to meal, and a dessert of custard and pudding. If it was rhubarb anything, I’d eat the custard around it and try to hide the rest. I learned to be skilful at deception after being forced to eat a whole bowl of it - twice. We’d all sit around the big kitchen table - Mum, Dad, Nanna, Wally (Nanna’s third husband - but that’s another story) and me - and sometimes a cousin or two. My brother and sister where a lot older than me and went through the ritual before I was born as I found out later - I thought they missed out. Suffice to say, the corned meat meal appeared for several decades before age and infirmity halted its practice.

I always remember arriving at the house to see Nanna standing at the door and Wally sitting in his settler’s chair on the verandah. A quick kiss and a hug from Nanna and a slobbering one from Wally and we’d be inside the semi-darkened interior, cloistered and hot for most of the year. No air-conditioning in the 60s and 70s and fans weren’t the best back then, so we all sweltered while waiting for the afternoon breeze. In hindsight, a salad might have been a better choice, but back then, a salad was lettuce and tomato - not a meal.

The kitchen rivalled hell - boiling meat; bubbling potatoes, carrots, fresh peas and cabbage; then the white sauce, all steaming on the old stove. The women looked after it all while the men lounged on the cooler verandah and I swished the flies away. I remember every pea - that was my job; to pick them off the vines in the backyard, then shell them. She must have had a lot of plants to have them every week; but there they were, her endless line of peas all in a row, bursting with pods every Sunday. She had a few avocado trees too, but they weren’t a big thing back then - I could handle an overabundance today, much better than throwing them out.

At last the meal was ready, 12:00 on the dot. I sat in my chair and contributed nothing to the conversation while we ate lunch - children were not allowed to talk with the grownups. Anyway, their conversations were boring so as soon as I could escape after dessert, I did - but not for long. There was the wiping up to do - eye-roll and shuffling feet, trying to postpone the inevitable but doing it anyway (I still hate wiping up). Then I was free while they played Euchre.

When I was very young, I had to stay inside, and that was boring. I can’t remember what I did, but I remember being bored in the house. There were many things I couldn’t touch and rooms I couldn’t enter. The house was a mystery and on my own I sometimes thought it was terrifying - lots of dark corners and things that almost moved. As I became a teenager, I grew out of that and discovered the end of the street, and a park with swings and a slide - not the fancy ones of today; the hot metal ones that burned your bum. My cousins and I would disappear after lunch and wouldn’t come back until mid-afternoon - even without watches we knew when to get back. We’d always find Wally asleep in the settler’s chair, we could hear his snores from three houses away. His snores were epic - they echoed through the house and sometimes we waited to see if the next breath would come, but it always did. I’m sure they would have diagnosed him with obstructive sleep apnoea today.

We would stay for afternoon tea before the drive home. Usually some type of cake, always with fruit and a pot of leaf tea - Bushells (the tea of choice, then and now although a good English breakfast is smashing) - then the drive home.

I find I’m feeling quite melancholy writing this story, nostalgia does that when we remember events and people. Most of them are no longer with us - it’s just Mum and me now. I still love corned meat and hate rhubarb, but I love the way the people and the companionship make the moments we share so special. What is an event without food? When food is prepared with love by those who love us, and shared in companionable surroundings, it creates a vista for the soul and the picture it makes is etched on our hearts forever.

 

A Visit with Mum

My Beautiful Mum, Edna.

 

The road meanders through the outlying areas of northern Beaudesert like a loosely coiled carpet snake, and if one is lucky, a sunbaking specimen may lie in the grassy knolls on the sides of the highway. I can imagine most tourists would give these ancient creatures a wide berth, but perfectly harmless, they are likely to be more scared of us then we are of them. Rolling hills and peaks slowly pass by: The Great Dividing Range signals the Queensland border is within reach; but, that is not our destination today.

As we near the township, we pass rural holdings: a sawmill, a hobby farm, fields of shimmering gold and green, and old Queenslanders, badly in need of paint. On the right is our destination: Wongaburra Nursing Home. It is set in hectares of landscaped gardens, expanses of manicured lawns, flowering Jacaranda, Acacia and Poinciana trees, and rockeries splashed with a rainbow of colour and variegated greens - depending on the season. A brightly coloured and indigenous-themed sign at the entrance identifies the residential village, and we enter a wide pathway that slopes down towards the main building.

The lowset rambling brick complex is usually a hive of activity; today is no exception and the visitor’s book is full of arrivals on this Sunday. A number of the ambulatory residents sit in companionable huddles in the foyer as they surreptitiously become voyeurs of the entering throng. Today appears to be a day of family visitors and the shrill laughter of highly buzzed youngsters bring an atmosphere of jollity to the usual muted reflective mood. This dramatically changes during meal times, when the clatter of cutlery and rattle of plates compete with the loud raucous conversations of the mostly female citizens, amplified by the ill-adjusted hearing aids and selective deafness of those who fail to turn them on, or just detest wearing them.

The lounge room is a sunny room that overlooks the sloping fields at the back of the centre. This room is usually filled with grandmothers watching or dozing in front of the television. Mum is quietly dozing in the corner, almost hidden within an over-padded armchair in a paisley blue pattern, and I approach her with quietened footsteps on the slate-tiled floor. “Hi Mum,” I say as I approach so she isn’t startled; ninety-one-year old ladies need no extra stress on their hearts. “Oh, Karen, I didn’t know you were coming today.” Poor Mum, if I had told her even this morning, she would never have remembered.

We decide to go out into the gardens today, the level terracotta pavement allows easy access for her wheelie walker and we slowly make our way to the terrace. Once seated, we talk about family and health, and I bring out the electronic photo album, full of the antics of the family in the preceding few weeks. “Is Danielle still in Thailand?” she says. As we sit next to the rockery under the dappled shade of the trees, I look at the massive blue hydrangea, clearly of ancient origin, and reply in the affirmative - she has only been there since January 2017, but short-term memory loss is a regular visitor in my mother’s mind. We will have this conversation again, and again.

The breeze, slightly insistent earlier in the morning, becomes an impetuous banshee and creates dust devils and litter bombs in the courtyard. Making an exodus into the calm of the air-conditioned dining room, we see the fire-place - which I’ve never seen lit, unfortunately - peeping from behind a gaggle of wheelie walkers, like a trolley traffic jam at Costco. We navigate around the tables and find her seat, the table is already set with utensils and crockery, and she takes her allotted space while I add her walker to the steadily growing ‘jam’. The muted noise increases - chairs scrape across the tiles, staff bring out the midday roast, tea and coffee is poured, bibs are fixed, food is cut up, late arrivals are seated, and conversations cross the tables, hit the walls and reverberate up and back from the ceiling to the ears of everyone. I need a mute button.

Time to go and we walk to the foyer - Mum loves to wave - and we look at the crafts they sell; made by the wonderfully gifted elderly in their well-equipped workrooms: A colourful wooden cot for a doll; letterboxes in brown, green and terracotta; a wooden train with tracks; crocheted baby clothes; handmade cards and stationery; even a dog’s house. I buy six cards with flower motifs, some raffle tickets for a fund-raiser, and chat to the friendly receptionist while I sign out of the centre. We say our goodbyes, and Mum waves until I get into the car and drive away; I can’t see her do this, but I know she always does and I smile. Wongaburra disappears in the rear-vision mirror as I turn the corner, the road ahead is clear of traffic and I leave Beaudesert.