Her name was Nora Lucy Frances. Family members called her Ned, I don’t know why, and friends and neighbours called her Nora. She was a large woman in stature and had a heart to match. She lived in a small, two-bedroom conjoined unit opposite the East Perth railway line. I called her Nanna. I loved her more than I have ever loved anyone else (besides my children) in my entire life. She married a Scotsman who died before I was born and she had four children, one stillborn, one died in the war and my father and Aunt Barb. I stayed with her a lot when I was growing up and they were the happiest times of my life.
Nanna lived in a time when you did anything to make ends meet, when you were kind to others and your door was always open. I still recall the neighbours standing at the front gate, after they had all swept the street, directly outside their units, spotlessly clean. Nora would listen intently to their woes and invite some in for tea and cake. They all relied on her advice, even the fruit and veggie man who came every Friday. She never complained about anything, although she had diabetes, suffered from leg ulcers, and had a bad heart, which killed her in the end.
When I was a child, she would put a note and some money in a small purse and place it in my pocket, covered with a handkerchief. I would then catch the bus into the city and go to Boans. It was a big department store like Myer. I would go to the bakery department and give them the purse. They would put my purchases of two different cakes in a bag and the purse back in my pocket and I would catch the bus home. I was six years old.
Nanna told me stories of my grandfather and always had me laughing at the description of her chasing him down the only street at Mornington Mills with a rolling pin. He worked at the mill and would often come home with his pay in his belly in the form of too much whisky. I attended the local school while I was staying with her and I remember the day she marched up there and used language I had never heard before because the nuns had tied me to a chair when I didn’t know an answer to their question. She was a devout Catholic, but believed God would forgive her for swearing that day and every Saturday that her beloved football team lost.
She took me to the football on Saturdays. It was a big occasion. She would have two baskets loaded with a variety of sandwiches and cake and thermoses of coffee and Milo. She sat in the same place every week for 30 years and fed the masses. She was an East Perth fan, back when there was no AFL and when Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer started his career. She was in the newspaper twice for clobbering the umpire with her walking stick. I can’t remember his name, but he was quite famous.
Nanna made the front of her unit into a sleep-out, so she could take in young mixed race boys from Sister Kate’s Home when they were too old to stay there any longer. They worked hard, paid board and she treated them as family. I grew up watching her cater for all their needs, from hot milk on cereal to a big Sunday roast, to washing and ironing, but mostly to her undying love and loyalty to these young men.
I miss the Sunday roasts and the singalong with her playing the piano, until the arthritis prevented her from doing so. I miss the visits from Polly Farmer who adored her and was my hero. I miss her telling me that I “was kissed by the sun” when I was teased and bullied at school because of my freckles. I remember her telling me the first boy I was engaged to, who cheated on me, “would be only half the person he could be without you darling”.
I could write so much more about Nora. She touched everyone who ever came in contact with her with her kindness and love. I was not quite 18 when she died in her vegetable garden while picking tomatoes. The doctor said her heart was just plain tired. Polly Farmer and a whole heap of footballers came to her funeral. Her beloved boarders – and there were many over the years – were all there that I could remember. Nora Lucy Frances, if I am only half the person you were, I will be happy. If there is a heaven and you are looking down on me, I love you Nanna.