When I was a child my grandmother and I circled each other in a familial gavotte – no touching; casual glances only allowed; routine conversation permitted when spoken to.

Grandma was the classic Victorian Lady – the real McCoy, she smelt of rosewater and talcum powder, never ventured out without corset and hat, extolled the virtues of junket and one good bowel movement every day. Her hands were never idle, creating beautiful needlework; delicate crochet, knitted jumpers for us all (providing us with the only decent clothing we possessed), little beaded covers that popped over milk jugs, embroidered table wear. The house was run with genteel correctness, visitors were received and duly fed tea and cake on fine bone china.

Grandpa had hit a bad patch and been forced to accept the benevolence of my father who built him a house on the far corner of our property. From upper middleclass Sydney to scorching rural Cumberland Plain must have been a stretch, particularly as it came with 7 strange children plus my eccentric father who kept a wild vegetable garden at the front door and who had the hording sensibilities of Harry Steptoe.

I was sure grandma didn’t like me.

I was too wild.

Too bolshie.

Too left-handed.

Too red-haired

I’d gotten down and dirty once too often as far as she was concerned and little girls should be seen and not heard and like the lilies of the field they toil not neither do they spin.

She tried, in a rare fit of generosity, to teach me to crochet. Through gritted teeth she complained about my technique and the impossibility of teaching anything to lefthanders. ‘Your sister does beautiful work, ’ she told me with that Queen Victoria look she could work up (she was never amused). She liked my only non-redheaded sister.

When grandpa died, she faltered. Times had changed, she was lonely without him, he had been her rock for 50 years. I was surprised when she asked me to come and spend my nights at her place because ‘she was scared at night’. I didn’t tell her I too was terrified of the dark but dutifully raced on winged heels across the paddock to her place each night. I couldn’t ignore her plight, by then all my siblings had left home except my brother who refused to take a turn at ‘grannie-sitting’. We still didn’t talk much, I sit here with a wisp of remorse for my ill-disguised annoyance at my nightly trek.

In old age she was mistreated by my mother and mostly ignored by my family. It was her old bete-noir who rode in on the white charger. Every fortnight I would bundle up my new baby and make the 2 hour drive to her nursing home – she’d had a nervous breakdown, was a little fragile but loved seeing the baby. We still didn’t talk much, but I know she anxiously awaited my visits – the other patients told me she did. We must have looked a picture – grand Victorian lady, 60’s flower child with baby at breast.

As I write this many of the objects she so carefully dusted and polished are around me. I inherited most of them after she died – my family don’t like “old” things, fortunately I do. Unfortunately little of her needlework survived the rush to cast out the old and bring in the new.

In 2010 I go to visit my mother who is 97 and living happily in a small aged hostel – the place is lovely, caring and not far from where she has lived for the past 70 years. Mothers’ matriarchal sword is somewhat blunted now and I attend out of a sense of duty – how stilted that sounds but I’m reminded of the saying ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’, we speak in generalities, or more precisely she tells me what she’s been doing – I listen; we mention politics. I am as usual, dutifully polite but as usual, it won’t last.

‘Did Grandma teach herself to crochet’, I ask.

‘I think she did – but did I tell you she didn’t know she had Glaucoma and had gone blind in one eye’, mother warmed to other memories, spoke of grandmas sister who was a well known Sydney seamstress, spoke of the people she had worked for.

I spoke without thinking, ‘What happened to Grandmas needlework after she died’.

A familiar battering ram suddenly entered the room, her back straightened, ‘why would you keep stuff like that, it was old, she’d had it for years’.

My voice was throw-away casual ‘there’s a resurgence in needlework it would be great to see it again!’

‘But there was nothing there that was any good – don’t know what your talking about.’ She gave me that old familiar God you’re stupid look.

I quickly changed the subject but the visit had taken a nose-dive – we spoke of safer things and said our goodbyes.

These familial threads no longer tie me as they have for so long. They have been cut and cut, sometimes I think about what could have been, I hope I haven’t repeated those old patterns. I look in the mirror and I see my mother, I sound off at the world with a waspish tongue – what I also have now is the fabric I have created with my children, not perfect but beautiful and based on the pursuit of truth.

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