It was 1969 and I was only 4 years old, waiting for the bus with my Mum, outside Coles New World Shopping Centre in Liverpool, a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney.
Before beginning, I should let you know that Mum didn’t have an easy life. She’d grown up in the war years in England, experiencing ‘The Blitz’ and at one point, coming close to losing her life (I’ll cover that in a future post, “How Hitler Tried to Kill my Mum and Almost Succeeded.”) My mother’s father wasn’t around much when she was between the ages of 6 and 12 (1940-1946) since he was fighting Germans in France. As he was storming the beaches of Normandy at the D-Day Landings, she was being shipped from home to home to avoid being killed by Luftwaffe bombs. My Mum immigrated to Australia in the 50’s. She met my Dad on the long voyage as he was working on the ship — he was in a boxing match when she first laid eyes on him. My Mum gave birth to eight children, had a difficult marriage to a drinking, hard-headed man, worked factory jobs, and somehow managed to raise our huge brood out of a four-bedroom fibreboard housing-commision house in Miller, one of the poorest of Sydney suburbs and aptly nicknamed Dodge City. Mum’s Christian faith helped her through the tough times. She also seemed to have an ability to switch off and go into a sort of dreamlike state on days when things became difficult. Maybe this was one of those days…
We had finished grocery shopping at Coles and we were waiting for the bus, which was usually quite full by the time it arrive at Coles. The old green ‘Miller Village’ bus rumbled up to the curb and stopped in front of us. I still remember the name of the bus driver. He was an old British bloke name Ray. In fact, everyone who lived in Miller and caught the ‘Miller Village’ bus knew him. He had wispy grey hair and was a loveable old fellow, with a Lancashire accent. Ray was well-liked and took of control of his bus, though he could be a little cranky at times. I’d say he’s no longer with us, as he’d be over 100 now, but I’m sure old Ray would’ve remembered this day until he took his last breath.
I don’t know why I was so slow to board the bus that day… most likely I was mentally in some far-away place, like my Mum. In the coming years, there would be many school reports with comments such as “Donovan is a daydreamer.” I was probably fantasizing that I was Sonny Hammond in an episode of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, saving the National Park from baddies. Occasionally I was Will Robinson from Lost in Space, trying to escape monstrous aliens.
In the unexciting realm of Liverpool, Mum was struggling up the stairs of the bus with her groceries as I grabbed hold of the exterior chrome handles and put my foot up to the first step. At that moment, the hydraulically-operated, bi-parting bi-fold doors closed violently onto the sides of my head.
At that point I wasn’t sure if it was the aliens from Lost In Space or the baddies from Skippy that had finally caught up with me.
I vivdly remember wondering in total amazement why my head hadn’t been completely crushed by the doors. I don’t recall feeling any pain, just panic. You see, my usually diligent Mum had drilled into me the treachorous dangers of those head crushing doors many, many times.
My feet were precariously perched on the outer edge of the first step and my hands were holding on to the outside railings. As old Ray started to drive off, I remember thinking How come nobody can see me?, Why am I still alive? and more importantly Why doesn’t Skippy or the robot save me?
There were two old ladies on the front row seat, only a metre from me and they hadn’t noticed me or my dire predicament. As the bus accelerated and began to gain speed, I started to think that I was going to be trapped until the next stop. I was beginning to greatly despair, to say the least.
Old Ray had driven about 50 metres up to the intersection at Memorial Avenue and I remember looking up to my right and seeing the two old ladies on the front seat. I only screamed at that moment out of shock at their horrible screeching. They had finally seen me, and raised a terrible noise. Old Ray slammed his foot on the brake, which was actually the worst thing he could have done. My body swung violently to the left as the bus came to a sudden halt. Ray opened the door and I ran up the stairs, into the arms of my Mum, bawling my eyes out and relieved to have been released from the terrible jaws of death.
This is where I want to say a few things ‘before the funeral’. You know how sometimes we say all really nice things about people at their funeral, and you think, Hmmm, why didnt I tell that person how amazing they are when they were still alive?
When I was a child, I totally adored my Mum. Now that I’m older, I still do, but I also understand more about the struggles that she has faced and I am really blown away by the incredible resilience and grace she has shown throughout the 40+ years that I have known her. My two earliest memories involve my Mum – one good, the other bad. My earliest memory is being at the window of our house in Miller. I was about three years old and it was pouring rain. I was crying as my Mum went to work for the day. The second memory is one that happened quite a few times. Mum used to take me to the upstairs cafeteria at Coles on the Corner of Macquarie Street and Memorial Avenue, Liverpool. We would go up the shiny silver escalator, all the way to the top and she would order two banana splits. To this day, I have a very strong affection towards banana splits. It was made with split banana halves and three scoops of icecream (vanilla, strawberry and chocolate), with whipped cream on top, then drizzled with chocolate and strawberry topping, lightly sprinkled with crushed nuts, and finally, a wafer inserted into one of the scoops. It was perfection on a little silver platter. I know my Mum enjoyed taking me there and I think she shared in the delight of my experience. I even remember being very young, chatting away about nothing and everything whilst we consumed our gastronomic delight.
Sometimes it’s these small things that we remember fondly as we look back on our childhood.
When Mum was 43 years old, she decided she had had enough of working in chicken-and-cigarette-making factories, went back to school and studied to become a registered Nursing Sister; a profession in which she worked until her retirement ten years ago. She also got her driving licence a few years later, so she could get around independantly. I admire the way she was able to improve her lot in life through hard work and toil. I often wondered why she stayed with my Dad all those years, since he didn’t treat her very well. In recent years, my grumpy old Dad has changed his ways somewhat and it seems that he finally is appreciating what a wonderful incredible woman he is married to.
I cannot recall Mum ever gossiping or saying nasty things about anyone. She always sees the best in people, she always encourages, always loves. I have never met a more gracious, loving woman anywhere. She also has a great sense of humour and a big laugh that is loud and incredibly infectious.
I dedicate this little story to my mother, Brenda Eleanor Shaw. You have shown me the way of Faith, Hope and Love. Your life and wisdom have been an inspiration to me and many others. I think about you fondly every day and I always will.
Your ever adoring son,
P.S. When you see old Ray up in heaven one day, tell him I reckon it was his fault…