THERE IS THIS QUIETNESS
I have not been shopping since my Mother died three years ago.
Well, I have shopped, but not shopping.
When my Mother died my life stopped; maybe this is auspicious as ‘stopped’ rhymes with ‘shopped’.
In reality of course, my life did not stop – it simply stopping feeling like my life, the life I had had for almost sixty years before that.
Shopping was a career for my Mother, like mothering, cleaning, and doing the laundry, and one of the many things she taught me was how to do it well, and she loved us to shop together. Feeding those she loved was one of her missions in life and Coles and Woolies and Aldi were her foraging grounds. She was a simple, North Country woman who left school at 13, a survivor of hunger and war and she especially loved a bargain - her most favourite shop of all was Vinnies. She worked there two days a week for twenty five years until she died, two months before her 87th birthday. She would bring home all manner of bounty, and it became a family joke when anyone remarked on what we were wearing, she would smile with the pride of a Great White Hunter and say “It’s from Davey Jones ….” , her code word for Vinnies.
Sometimes, on expeditions, she never bought anything. Like an old fisherman, content with tossing his line in the water, unconcerned with actually catching a fish, she simply trawled for the pleasure of trawling. So perhaps it was not only shopping butpreparing to shop - these were some of the ways she connected with the world. She knew each sales assistant by name– they all knew hers – it seemed to me, she knew as much about their lives and children and health as she did of her own family. Her heart was just as engaged and she was just as interested. She kissed and she hugged and nobody escaped. Babies drew her like a magnet, she could detect one at fifty paces – and was able to pacify even the screaming infants of strangers in minutes. (The Baby Whisperer.) Children adhered to her like chewing gum, and her shopping bag always contained contraband for them. She gave with her whole heart. Her reputation grew far and wide for the oven loads of mince pies, apple pies, scones and sausage rolls she baked and gave away to grateful bellies crossed continents. Once she flew from Kitwe in the north of Zambia to Lusaka in the south where my husband and I were living, and on opening her suitcase, unpacked a frozen leg of pork, another of lamb, two dozen scones and as many sausage rolls.
There were hundreds of people at her funeral. All the women who loved her wore pink feather boas and our brightest clothes to wish her luck as we waved her goodbye. I also saw the granite man who makes the roads there, strangely attired in a suit, weeping for my Mother. Three of her favourite Butcher Boys were there too, the baker, the chemist, the doctor, the physioand all her colleagues from Vinnies, who made a guard of honour, and legions of sales assistants, all weeping.
I have a photo of her taken on our verandah on one of her Big Birthday Parties that depicts so vividly how she lived her life. She is dressed in white and wearing a floral garland around her neck, singing a song so loudly, and with such gusto, that I can see the epiglottis at the back of her throat.
She and my Dad loved music and loved to dance. They were happy people, party people, dancers, singers, and tellers of stories - and lovers, until the end. Like many tragic love stories, the ending was bittersweet, sad and beautiful, as after a lifetime they could not live without each other. Her heart literally split, a burst aorta, and she joined him on their wedding anniversary, six months after he died.
And the sound and colour in my world drained away.
So now there is this quietness.