Monday, 13 March 2017

A Family of Strong Women

 My mother, Pat Wright and my niece, Tania
My nieces Tracy, from Perth, Western Australia and Jasmin, from London, with my sister Valerie in whose house we were gathering.
 
 Clemency and Ada. 
Sandie and Jane, my cousins, with my Auntie Julie.  Jane is an old flatmate of mine. Sandie a very accomplished painter. And no Julie , I do not cheat at scrabble. I just have a better than average ability to imagine possible and PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE grammatical constructions, that's all.

Tomorrow my mother is 90 years old, though her memory is fading a bit and she may not quite realise it. This weekend past my whanau gathered in Nelson to celebrate her contribution to us all. My brother Guhyavajra was here from Stockholm with his daughter, Jasmin, from London. My niece Tracy, whom I had not seen for 45 years,  came in from Perth for the weekend with her daughter Anya.  My nephew Hamish excused himself from the wedding of a close friend to fly across from Sydney and another 30 or so of us converged from all parts of New Zealand. We had a lunch at my sister's house on Saturday which went on til about midnight and a midday barbecue the following day which was still going strong when we left at 7.00 pm.

Mum lives in a nursing home in Nelson and she is not as sharp as she used to be. She has a bit of trouble distinguishing her grandchildren and she sometimes lets a few minor details - such as where I am living now and, occasionally, which one I am, exactly - drop temporarily off the autoprompt. She can often forget that we have all heard this anecdote before, five minutes ago, actually, and her horizons have shrunk back until now they don't extend much beyond the walls of her little serviced apartment. But no-one minds her little fadings because we owe her so much.

She was born in 1927, and married in March 1948, when she turned 21 and could legally ignore the objections of her family. She had her first child in December of that year and had 4 more  in pretty close order. In 1963 my father began to manifest signs of mental illness and was hospitalised for the first time. He continued to struggle with his grasp of reality for the next couple of decades, improving as the years went on but he was never an easy man to live with. Mum has been a widow since 2008, and at the time of his death we were all a bit surprised at the depth of her grief. My mother raised the 5 of us pretty much on her own, and managed my father who at times acted like another child, albeit a very large, strong and expensive one, but they did have a measure of companionship and mutual dependence.

My siblings are some of the most interesting and able people that I know. All of us boys are in either one of the family businesses, shipping or religion. My brother Stuart has managed both. All of us are are in, or have recently retired from positions of leadership. My sister retired in her late 40s from her string of businesses and sailed, with her husband, around the world in a yacht for 7 years before settling down in first one then another fairly astonishing houses. I look at where we all started and where we all are now, and know that it is down to one person. Patricia Wright.

My mother, underneath the ravages of age and gummed up neurons, is a highly intelligent, practical, resourceful, courageous, unflappable and wise person. She has a deep Methodist faith which is strong on acceptance, care of the disadvantaged and tolerance. I think she could, at one time anyway, have done anything she set her mind to. I remember once when we moved house and  the only place to put a bed in one of the tiny bedrooms was just a bit short to accommodate a single bed. So Mum disassembled the bed, shortened the runners by 4 inches, reattached and restrained the sprung wire mesh and reassembled the whole thing, which now fitted the space intended for it. All in an afternoon. I hope I am at least a bit like her, but apart from the benefits of her genes, she gave us all a gift which has proven life changing, for every one of us.

We grew with the example of strong, motivated, principled womanhood. The one of us who was a woman expected to be like that, and those who were not, expected to be partnered with women who were like that. On Saturday I looked around the room at the astonishing women my brothers have married; at my strong, self aware, capable nieces; at my own daughters. I saw my sister, my cousins and aunt, each assured and confident and articulate, and each with their own particular successes. I noticed the young women partnered to my nephews and to my son and the feisty little girls who are the latest fruiting of my mother's legacy. Here were four generations of  interesting and articulate and vital women.

And here in this room; here around the barbecue on my brother's deck were some dozens of people each one of whom I knew and was known by and each one of whom I liked and respected.  I was so pleased to be there, so proud to belong amongst these to whom I didn't have to explain anything. And I rejoiced to know  that the real character and uniqueness of this family was marked by its women.

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