is the one about how she as a gifted artist and young girl of 18 met and fell in love with a charismatic painter who swept her off her feet and only began to play around when the first baby came and then another and she put up a brave front and did her best only to find another pregnancy arrive unexpectedly, and a message from her love that she would never see his face again if she brought that child into the house so she did what any mother would and packed up her suitcase and her two three year old children and roamed the streets looking for a flat which her mother helped her pay for while she gestated and finally birthed this child and then gave it up for adoption not just for the man who would never return to her or his children but cos she couldn’t feed it and she buried that grief in her heart and never spoke of it again, not even to her own children who longed to know the brother or sister that they never met.
And then she settled for a richer straighter, more conservative man who had his own three children he needed a mother for and he took her hand and she said yes and survived to see her children raised in family while she made a deal and created a back studio and painted flannel flowers and created a huge garden with a willow tree under which she raised her first born boy to be the kind of man that would never, ever abandon a child not even when he knocked up my mother at 16 and had to abandon his Byron Bay surfing gig to do right by this girl.
And their child was a girl and she adored her grandmother and her willow tree and let her raise her with stories and paintings of fairies and gum nut babies that lived in the roots and foliage of that magical tree. She taught her how to keep magic alive even in the darkest of days and that the river that flowed beyond the willow tree would transport your fears and replace them with love if you could make it to the other side where the yellow buttercups danced with dragonflies in the long grasses. And when that girl turned 25 and knew her first real heartbreak She was the only one who really knew what it meant when she held my hand and said “so the sunshine has left your life for now.”
And as I sit with her now as she turns 95 I can’t explain to her in any way that she can understand what it meant to have her in my life when my own parents were still children and didn’t have a clue about artists and charismatic men that know they are entitled to take everything from you to build their heroic tower of song and that your scramble for a mention in the footnotes will leave you parched and dry till you take up that room of your own and just start painting your way out of it.
And as i look up at her straw gardening hat hanging on the back door of a house she will never return to now that the nursing home will mark her passage to beyond, i see flash before me the life that was lived in that hat and to me it has more value than any of the heirlooms that will be divided among her children some of whom could “do with the money” and i wonder what a life is for and why everyone is so obsessed with stuff and leaving material legacies on a planet that can’t hold them anymore.
And my grandmother stares vacantly and knows nothing of ‘things’ anymore, only smiling occasionally now when she thinks about children and if everyone has enough to eat and i still look up to her as the wisest, most heroic woman I will ever be lucky enough to know.