Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Love is Strength... My Inspirational Family
Mum in the back, next to her father;
My Aunty Jean in the front left, next to my grandmother.This would have been taken in the early 1950's. Having written the eulogy for my Aunt, I am still basking in the love and admiration I feel towards my family, and thought I'd like to expand on my last post which included a copy of the eulogy of my Aunt. When my Aunty was born in 1934, she had only one eye and was also hearing impaired. The doctors told my grandparents that Nanna must have had Rubella while pregnant without even knowing it. Aunty did not have a true eye socket on her right side so could not be given a glass eye, she had a skin graft over the 'eye' giving her a flat face on that side. When she grew up and for the rest of her life she would be issued eye glasses with a prosthetic eye attached to the right side. With her left eye, she could not see well. I can only imagine the concerns my grandparents must have had and the difficulties getting help for aunty when they lived in the country on a dairy farm. While my grandparents worked, they also had to ensure that their daughter was safe from harm. Perhaps some people might have been persuaded to give up a child like this to an institution, but this was a loving family determined to make the best of all that came their way. My mother was born in 1937, a younger sister for Aunty but someone who would grow up more in the role of elder sister, and who went to school ahead of Aunty, who was kept out of school by the local principal. Aunty would stay home watching her younger sister go off to school, making playmates, and mastering the reading, writing, and mathematics. Not that my grandmother was happy with this arrangement! She persistently confronted the school principal demanind education for her eldest daughter, yet he adamantly maintained a negative attitude. Nanna knew that Auntie's best chance in life was to be educated, and she also wanted her to be part of the community, not an outcast or a loner. She constantly put her pride on the line to fight it out for her daughter only to have to go home with disappointment simmering in her belly, and of course, she had to behave as a Christian lady even if she was dealing with a hard hearted and uncharitable man. I recently asked my mother if children picked on Aunty for her strange looks, mum told me they didn't say anything but they always stared. The blessing was that Aunty could not see them gaping after her everywhere that she went, though mum admitted she used to feel angry and wished she could 'punch them'.
When Aunty Jean was 10, the school got a new principal, and my grandmother once again summoned up the courage to fight for her daughter, fortunately this new principal was very willing to arrange for Aunty to be taught at home via correspondence lessons (as Aunty could not see or hear well enough to attend a regular classroom). My Nanna would take time out of her busy daily life to supervise Auntie's lessons and Aunty completed her first four years of primary education in this way.
Alas the demands of the lessons soon exceeded what my Nanna could manage, as she was not a trained teacher and also had a lot of work piling up around her... a farm life is no walk in the park! Aunty had to drop out of her lessons but would seek education and betterment all the days of her life.
Unfortunately the sight in Auntie's one eye deteriorated quite badly due to cataracts, and at first the surgeons were very reluctant to do anything, knowing if they made any mistakes she could become completely blind. A scary prospect. Meanwhile at the age of 18 Aunty was finally fitted with a hearing aid, and this greatly improved her ability to communicate. She would later get her cataracts removed as the sight got to the point where it couldn't get any worse. Aunty could now see and hear the best she ever had, a new world was opening up for her.
To help Aunty in her quest for education and to communicate, she was taken in by her paternal grandmother and aunts, who willingly escorted her on a several leg commute every time she had a hospital appointment or classes in Braille at the Institute for the Blind. I am completely in awe of all the wonderful women in both my grandmother and grandfather's side of the family!
Although Aunty never finished highschool, or attended university, she did continue to learn and was an incredibly well spoken and intelligent person. She had a very large collection of dictionaries, reference books, Australian History and English Literature books and often contributed information to radio and newspaper debates and research questions, in fact she had many thank you letters from journalists and few would have realised just how little formal education she had.
Aunty was also someone who had incredible and beautiful Christian faith and would minister to her extended list of penpals from around the world, always gently encouraging them through their personal trials and tribulations.
After my grandfather passed away, my Nanna and Aunty were offered a home in Adelaide, where the Housing Trust promised my grandmother that her rent would never be raised during her lifetime, a promise they honoured from 1975 to the year 2000 when she passed away.
Once they were living in Adelaide the horizons expanded, Aunty could become more involved in the BlindWelfare Society, and Nanna also worked tirelessly for this charity, being awarded the title Life Governor for her work. Both Nanna and Aunty knitted all the time to provide items for the Blind Welfare stalls and raffles. Aunty also submitted many award winning doll outfits to the Royal Adelaide Show and on occasion, the Melbourne Show.
I have never met two people who have never given me the tiniest inkling of self pity such as these amazing women, they just got on with living, always humble, always willing to take happiness in the small things around them, and always demonstrating that love is strength.