Don’t Read This on a Japanese Train

Mama and Me

After reading a delightful post by Misadventures in Craft  about Crafty Minx’s nan, Lillian, I learnt about the “Granny-a-Long” hosted by Meet Me at Mikes and I couldn’t resist joining in.

My Mama lived at home in my big and noisy family when I was growing up and is a big part of who I am today.  I’ve been feeling a little emotional about my lovely Mama of late, so you might find this post a bit of a departure from my usual cheerful style.  I also wrote it in present-tense-second-person for no good reason.  Deal with it.

Mama and Me

Last night I visited you in hospital.  You have a brand-new hip now, but I don’t think you understand that.  Lost in a bewilderment of tubes and bleeping machines and white linen, you look so small.  You have always been little.  We used to tease you about it.  In the noise and laughter of our dinner table, you would stand up to get our attention and bang on the table to cancel out the five-conversations-at-once.  We would giggle and say, “Mama has an announcement! Stand up, Mama! Stand up!” And you would laugh and swat at us with your napkin and call us cheeky.  But now, in that bed so high off the ground, you look tinyLike a baby bird, too weak to fly.

Harry is excited because he can see a train out of your window.  The hospital is next to the train station.  I remember when I was a little girl, you would take me on the train with you on your excursions to Town.  How we would emerge from the exciting, subterranean station, pay a visit at St Francis’ church, and wander through the department store wonderlands so you could run your errands.  After this, if I had been good (and you always thought me good) we would have a special treat for lunch before catching the train back home.

The train pulls away, a snake of lit windows in the night, and Harry and Christopher Robin wave at it.  You don’t like this hospital.  You hate being sick.  When I was a little girl, I loved being sick.  You would bring me downstairs to your big Queen Anne bed and bring me cups of tea and fried eggs on a tray with flowers.  After lunch, you would perch on the bed with me and watch your “serials’, Days of Our Lives, The Young and The Restless.  You thought them very silly, but you never missed an episode.

Last year, when things got really bad, the doctor said you would have to live in a nursing home, where you could have full-time care.  We had all thought you would live at home forever.  We had never realised that one day that would become impossible.  In my grief, I swung into action mode and sought comfort in lists and research and pros and cons.  The home you live in now was number one on our list.  Tall trees, warm nurses, close community, fun activities.  But it’s not home.  And you know that and we know that.

The hospital confuses you.  “Is that George over there?  That can’t be George can it?”.  It isn’t George.  George is one of the other residents at Cottage Four who has a great-grandson just Harry’s age.  Actually, George isn’t even George. His name is really Walter, but you’re never one to let silly facts like these get in the way.  Walter just doesn’t realise his name is actually George.  Christopher Robin says that you’ve given Walter a nickname and I find it hard not to call him George myself sometimes.

You’re getting tired, it’s time for us to go.  Harry bounds over to give you a hug and a kiss and Annie bounces in her dad’s arms saying “Mama!”.  Christopher Robin gives a small, sad smile and a wave and Matilda lingers reluctantly at the foot of the bed.  But you don’t notice this.  “You have a beautiful family, you should be very proud” you murmur sleepily.  Pride in your grandchildren used to be a full-time sport for you.  If one of us came home with a glowing school report or a certificate from a science competition or pretty much anything with a gold star on it, you would whisk it away to some hiding place in your room, only to mysteriously produce it again whenever important visitors came around.  It was so embarrassing.  But you had the sort of personality that could get away with anything.

Matilda is subdued in the car ride home and as I tuck her into bed, she is crying.  “I wish Mama was living at home with Grandma again.” she whispers.  Matilda remembers what you were like before, when you were only a little bit forgetful.  We talk about the little impulsive gifts you bought her and the special lunches at the food court of the local shopping centre.  By now we’re both crying, but it’s dark, so it’s not so bad.  “I know it’s harder for you, Mum”, Matilda sniffles, “because you’ve known Mama for longer.  But it’s still hard for me.”

I want to say something really wise.  To talk, maybe, about how some goodbyes are swift and jarring, whilst others are slow and gentle.  To reflect on the ways in which love and relationship can transcend language and intellect and even memory.  But the words won’t come, so instead I hold Matilda tight and smell her beautiful hair.  And we stay like that for a very long time.

The title of this post is a warning to my older brother.  In Japan, public displays of emotion are kind of frowned upon.  Except that frowns are too expressive for Japanese public transport.  My brother complains when my posts make him laugh out loud when he’s on the train.  It makes everyone around him quietly tense.  If he were to get a little teary, his morning commute would get very uncomfortable.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Mama had known about my blog.  Mama was never tech-savvy at the best of times, but I can imagine her brandishing print-outs of my best work to distribute amongst all her Church Lady Friends.  I can hear her hassling the parish priest after Mass:  “Did you know Katie got a Liebster award last week?  Let me give you something to read…”


20 thoughts on “Don’t Read This on a Japanese Train

  1. Bianca Cooper

    This made me cry!! I love mama and her warm hugs and welcoming smile. She makes me feel a part of your family! I wish this was easier for you and your beautiful family.
    I did however have a good laugh at your terrible outfit!

  2. irishsignora

    I just wanted to hug you as I read this; it stirred up very poignant memories of my Granny, who never knew her great-grandchildren. Peace be with you, Kate – Kelly

  3. kw06

    This is so beautiful, you have captured MaMa so well. I would like to say so much more, but I don’t need to, you’ve said it all- so beautifully.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      There’s so much more I could have written about – her brilliant sense of style (even if she was overly blunt in letting you know that what you were wearing looked terrible!); the way she always liked to be in the kitchen, even when she had no business there; the card mornings she took me to; the way she abhorred baking and handicrafts and other things self-respecting grannies ought to do!

      I really enjoyed writing this post, even though it was emotional. And it does make me laugh when I think of what Mama would have made of this blog had she known about it!

  4. Ros Hiser

    Thanks so much for posting this Kate I am currently sitting on a Melbourne train having a little teary!!! It’s so true sometimes you lose people suddenly and other times they drift away thanks for posting this your mama was and is an amazing woman xoxoxo

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thank you so much, Ros! Sorry I made you teary on the train! It’s funny, when I think of Mama’s sphere of influence, I always think that it’s small, though potent. But when I read your comment, and also Bianca’s earlier, I realise how many people my beautiful grandmother has touched. Thank you xxx

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thank you, Karen. It must be so much harder when it’s your mum who’s going through it. My own mother is an only child, so she bears a lot of the hardship on her own. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  5. Lucia Maya

    I’m so sorry about your grandmother, but very glad that you found my blog and that led me here. Your writing is delightful! I look forward to reading more.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Oh, thank you so much, Lucia! The whole blog thing still feels rather new to me, but I’m really enjoying ‘meeting’ other bloggers and reading their posts. It’s been lovely to ‘meet you! Thanks for your lovely comment!

  6. Mary Rose

    This is a beautiful testament to an exceptional woman. My mother adored her sister. As I recall she was always looking for a cuppa in the kitchen! She taught me how to make “a proper cup of tea” when we visited. I still make it that way. Thanks for sharing.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Ma Ma adored Aunty Kathleen as well! And she was so strict on how to make tea and drank it all day long. There was always a pot going and when Ma Ma knew Mum was on her way home, she’d put the kettle on for a fresh pot. One of the strange effects of the dementia was that she forgot how much she liked tea. She always asked for coffee with four sugars and when I made tea for myself, she said I was strange for liking it! That was a little loss. When she stopped doing the crossword every day and forgot how to spell “accommodation”, they were little losses too. I think that’s the thing with dementia – it’s not so much shocking and traumatic as a whole lot of little losses. It hurts just as much, but in a different way.
      Anyway, I didn’t mean to get sidetracked – what I meant to say is thank you so much for your comment, Aunty Mary. Ma Ma had (and still has, somewhere in her heart) so much warm love and admiration for her nieces and nephews in America, whom she always portrayed as such heroes to us here in Oz.
      “Scald the teapot, spoil the tea, unless the water boiling be”!

  7. Tam

    Amazing blog and sentiment about an amazing lady Kate, she will be missed. I join the Melb population that you bought to tears on the train xxx my heart goes out to you and your family at this time Kate xxx

  8. emilyofoldmoon

    I am so glad that I took your advice and didn’t read this when I was alone overseas! So beautifully written, sister! My iPad has lots of little salty water droplets on it, I had too keep wiping it as I read through! How blessed we were to have Mama in our lives 😀

  9. Pingback: Art in August – Week -um- Two? | Laptop on the Ironing Board

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