Thursday, November 19, 2009

'A garden of Love grows in a Grandmother's heart.' Unknown Author

There is an old saying that 'grandmothers never run out of hugs and cookies.' The source of the quote may be unknown but the sentiment perfectly describes my paternal grandmother, Jemima Florence MacDade (m.s. White). If any one of Nana's grandchildren were to be asked to recall their most treasured memories of her , I suspect that ahead of her hugs and devoted unconditional love, would be her scrumptious cooking. I well remember her mouthwatering Irish Bap , tempting Gem Scones, rich thick Caramel Custard, tantalisingly delicious Rosella Jam (if you are a Queenslander you'll know how good Rosella Jam was! ) perfect shortbread biscuits delicately patterned with the bottom of a crystal glass, pikelets, every single one, so incredibly light and fluffy, so absolutely even coloured and so perfectly round that they defied the laws of possibility, and the creamiest home made vanilla ice-cream I have ever tasted. All served with lashings of love. My memories of my Irish grandmother , begin at 16 Garfield Drive, Paddington Heights in Brisbane were she lived with my Scottish born grandfather, Colin Hamilton MacDade. I have warm memories of that house, with Nana's fern room at the entance and patterned carpet and comfortable big couch in the lounge room , the big picture window at the rear, overlooking the steep hills and deep valleys of Paddington, Bardon and Ashgrove, the window seat in her bedroom where I loved to sit and read, louvre windows on built in verandahs. There was the delightful thrill of exploring the dark world beneath this house built high on stilts in Queensland. Most significantly, it was a place where I spent many contented hours in the company of this very special lady. My earliest memories are of trips to the beach at Redcliffe or Wynnum with my grandparents in their two toned blue and white holden, picnics and frollicking in the shallow calm water. I recall holidays and weekends spent at Garfield Drive, playing with cousins, Scott, Mark and John and the children next door, Terry, Tony, Alana -Lee and Lorelei Lewis (children of later police commissioner Terry Lewis ) as well as sisters Jane and Robin Shaw who lived across the road. Together we climbed the huge mango tree that grew in the corner of the backyard, ate delicious sweet mangoes whilst sitting high on the branches of the old tree, swinging legs, dripping juice to the ground below, laughing and sticky. We picked cumquats for Nana to make jam with, and sweet paw paws from the tree which grew at the bottom of the back stairs. Shrieking and laughing, we slid fast down the steeply sloping back yard on pieces of cardboard and though forbidden, we continually tried to climb the big council water tank that towered on the block of land adjoining the house. My grandmother worried terribly that someone would fall and be injured and I'm sure we would have tried the patience of a saint. Perhaps my memory is mistaken, but I can't recall Nana becoming cross. I'm certain that we, her precious grandchildren, gave her cause to worry a great deal and I am amazed now, looking back, at how calm she remained as we hurtled through her garden, racing each other through our 'secret' paths with careless regard for the hydrangeas and the frangipanis that she had planted. Recently, I returned to look at the house at Garfield Drive and quietly pirated a cutting of one of Nana's frangipani trees from near the front fence. I have planted the frangipani in my back garden in Sydney where it reminds me every morning of Nana. Sadly, the mango tree is gone from Garfield Drive and the house is greatly changed, but I recognised much of the garden that my grandmother planted. If I am to be truthful, I must admit, that I do recall one incident where my grandmother became quite angry, but her anger was directed at my grandfather and as for me, I thought the whole incident rather funny. It happened that we, my grandparents and I, were returning from a lovely day's outing to somewhere at the beach, perhaps Southport, when a very strange sight befell us. As we drove along the road, a wheel off a car went rolling past us, gathering speed as it flew along the road towards a steep hill. As clearly as if it were yesterday, I can hear my grandfather laughing as he said, "Some poor fellow has lost a wheel." No sooner were the words out than the rear right side of our car hit the road and sparks flew as the realisation sunk in to my poor grandfather's horror! He had changed the rear tyre not long before , and had obviously forgotten to replace the wheel nuts. My recall of this encounter has always been one of immense hilarity, but I am not certain if this is due to the sheer unexpectedness of seeing that wheel rolling at high speed past us, or the absolute incredulousness of hearing my usually calm and composed grandmother, shrieking, ' You stupid man, Colin! You stupid man'! I have no doubt that I can attribute her response to shock, but as for me, I could hardly contain my fit of giggles as I struggled to remain sitting upright in the steeply inclined back seat. The car is pictured in the photograph above, although pictured here with the blue and white Holden is my mother, Alwynne Jean, her mother Hilda Lillian and myself and sister Reece. My poor grandmother continued to mutter something about 'stupid' the entire time,while we waited for my grandfather to make the long trek down the hill to retrieve the tyre. It had landed in someone's front yard, much to their surprise. Years later, in the retelling of that event, Nana did see the funny side, but explained that at the time, her concern had been that I, her precious first born grandchild might have been injured. A special treat for me as a child, was a bowl of Nana's caramel custard, which was, without a doubt, my favourite. Many years later, Nana divulged to me the 'secret ingredient' that made her custard so rich and delicious. At the time she told me, Nana was blind from glaucoma, and was visiting my own family in Sydney. How she laughed at my surprise when she told me that her secret ingredient had been nothing more than simple golden syrup! 'My' caramel custard is now legendary and oops, now I've let the secret out! Even after losing her eyesight, Nana still made a treat for us to have after dinner every evening when she was staying with us. Her pumpkin scones would have given Flo Bjelke Petersen's a run for their money! My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 7 years old. She patiently demonstrated each complicated stitch, back to front, for this left handed grandchild. Years later when I tried to pass the skill of crochet on to my three daughters, I marvelled at how she did that. I couldn't teach my right handed girls! She taught me to knit, although I must confess that I was not as interested in knitting, but crochet really became a relaxing and enjoyable hobby for many years of my life. My sister, Reece and I, as children, wore with pride, the beautiful crocheted tops and dresses and berets that Nana lovingly made for us. To this day I still possess one of her creations - a cream, long sleeved jumper that one of my own daughters, Rhiannon, also wore as a little girl. She treasured this lacy patterned top all the more because her Great- Nana had made it for me. I was very proud of my Irish Nana as a child. I considered myself quite Irish despite my very scottish surname. Nana's stories 'of Ireland' were legendary in our family. The most memorable of Nana's stories was one about how she almost drowned in a flax bog as a very young girl in Brookend, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. This incident, which happened when she fell and became trapped beneath the heavy layers of flax on her 'gentleman farmer', father's farm must have quite traumatised my grandmother, for although she came to live in Australia on the Darling Downs aged 11 years, she never learned to swim and always remained frightened of going into water. I requested this story every time I saw my grandmother and she never tired of telling it. I sat quiet and wide eyed, mesmerized by every detail. No matter how many times I listened to that story, it seemed more exciting with each narration. For some reason, most of the stories of childhood, that I recall my grandmother telling, were set against the background of her home at 'Carrig-na-gule', Brookend, Co Tyrone. I wish, now that I had asked her about the journey to Australia by ship or the long train trip to Kaimkillenbun on the Darling Downs in Queensland. What, I wonder, were her impressions of her new home? How was school different in Australia from that in Ireland? As a child and even as a young adult, I didn't think to ask these questions and so, now as a family historian, I must surmise as to what life was like as a new Australian child. I am fortunate to have some evidence on which to build a picture of her life, such as local newspaper articles and family treasures including a testimonial presented to her father when the family left Kaimkillenbun. Although from these I can discover a story of my grandmother's past, no story will be as vivid as those that she told me herself, in her soft, still slightly Irish, lilting voice. In another blog, I will attempt to tell the story of Nana's life, but for now, I will remain with my own memories. Whenever my parents went away for a weekend, which was always to stay at the Pink Poodle Motel or the Chevron Hotel at the Gold Coast, Nana would come to stay with us. She also stayed with us while my mother was in hospital having my youngest sister, Stacey. My only memory of that stay was of how she settled an argument between my sister, Reece and myself. I can clearly see her patiently trying to calm us down as we fought over a broken toy rolling pin! Each of us was claiming to own the undamaged one. There is another saying, that,' Grandmothers are people with more patience than when they were mothers.' I don't know if this is true of my own grandmother, but I do know that she possessed the patience of a saint that day. In the end she removed both the offending rolling pins and left the argument for our poor mother to settle when she returned home with our new sister. Such are the privileges of a grandmother! Nana started losing her eyesight, as far as I can remember, in her 60's. Our memories of childhood are often flawed, so this may not be correct. Age is not something that children are accutely aware of. I seem to remember that, as a child, every adult seemed 'old'. I remember my grandmother sitting before her dressing table mirror in her bedroom at the front of the house in Garfield Drive, brushing her long brown hair 100 times before going to bed. I thought she was quite old then but now, as I revisit that memory, I realise that she would have only been 58 or 59 years of age. To my four or five years she seemed a 'a very old lady'. I can see her just as clearly in my mind today, brushing her hair, as I did when I watched her almost 50 years ago. By the time I was 17, Nana had very little eyesight left. She was 72 years old. She could no longer see enough to use her beloved Pfaff sewing machine. My grandmother sewed magnificently. She made all her own and her daughters' clothing and she was always the most beautifully dressed woman in the room! Nana and my mother had each bought a Pfaff sewing machine whilst shopping together. It was quite an expensive purchase but it was the rolls royce of sewing machines at that time. When Nana gave me her precious Pfaff machine in my early 20's, I wondered what on earth she was thinking. I hated sewing! Some years later, when married,with two young children of my own, I pulled that machine out from its packing box and soon understood the pleasure that my grandmother had found in sewing. As I appliqued beautiful little dresses, romper suits and T-shirts for my children, I also appreciated the faith that my grandmother had in me when she gave me her precious Pfaff. I know that she was overjoyed that I had not wasted her kind gesture. I loved that sewing machine right up until its death in the 1990's. I have never enjoyed sewing so much with another machine. My own mother had also been a beautiful seamstress but she had never been able to pass on to me her enjoyment of sewing. One of my grandmother's most beautiful gifts to me was that Pfaff sewing machine which I gratefully treasured. Even with her eyesight failing, Nana was undaunted. In her private moments, I have no doubt that she must have felt that her life had taken an unfair turn, however, I never heard her complain. When I attended teachers' college at Kelvin Grove, in Brisbane in the early 1970's, I often drove to The Gap where Nana lived, to have dinner with her in the evenings. Despite being almost completely blind, she always had a wonderful meal cooked for me and would not hear of my helping her. She knew that I especially loved her meat loaf and so she often cooked it for me. Many times I marvelled at how she had managed to cook such a delicious meal and always a dessert for me as well. We never tired of each other's company and never, ever, ran out of conversation. Over those meals we laughed together and talked of things of the present and things of the past. One of the things I admired in my grandmother was her sense of humour. When staying with us in Sydney in the mid 1980's, she told us a story that to this day makes me laugh. One of Nana's legacies to me is the ability to remain positive in the face of misfortune, and to see things in the light of good humour. This was her story. One day while living with one of her daughters at the Gap in Brisbane, Nana, who was completely blind by then, decided to make lunch for herself. She took the black sausage that she knew was on the top shelf of the fridge, carefully sliced it and placed it on buttered bread. That evening as the family sat down to dinner, Nana announced that she had very much enjoyed the black sausage for lunch. Being blind, she was unaware of the puzzled glances exchanged around the table. Finally someone looked in the refrigerator and found that poor Nana had neatly sliced the Pal dog food that had been removed from its tin and placed on a plate in the fridge. When Nana heard what she had eaten, she sat quite silently for a moment and then announced," Oh well, it was delicious!" For me, that was the true character of my grandmother. She chose to laugh rather than weep! Blindness as well as a heart problem necessitated a move for my grandmother to Sinnamon Retirement Village at Jindalee. By coincidence she was now back living right next door to the farm at Seventeen Mile Rocks where her family had moved when she was 19. The neighbouring Sinnamon family had owned much of the land where the suburb of Jindalee now stood (where I myself had spent all of my teenage years). Despite being blind, Nana attended weekly craft classes. Christmas was a treat for my own children with always a special gift, hand made by Nana, such as crocheted coat hangers and a variety of ornaments all created at her classes. Since a child, I had collected many beautifully made 'glory box' items that Nana regularly made for me. When I married, I used the place mats, table cloths, tea towels with crocheted edges and aprons that she had lovingly sewn for me through the years of my childhood. At my wedding, I felt honoured to kneel on the 'wedding' cushion that my grandmother had knelt on at her own wedding. This photograph on the right is of my grandmother, Florence Jemima MacDade at my wedding reception. She had been known by her middle name since she had arrived in Australia aged 11 in 1913. She told me that she had thought the name Jemima to be 'very old fashioned' and that Florence was 'much more modern'. I gave my second daughter the middle name Jemima after my grandmother but she couldn't understand how I liked the name. But I think she was secretly pleased, and I had, after all, spent my childhood with a favourite big walking talking doll named Florence in her honour! My grandmother was a great presence in my life. I am sure that she had her faults as we all do, but to me she was a wonderful role model and in my admiring eyes, close to perfect. She loved me unconditionally and she always made me feel special. I know that other people will have their own memories of Nana that probably will be quite different from mine. I believe that it was a wonderful privilege to be graced with the grandmother I had. She gave me many gifts throughout my life, the greatest of which was herself. I have been blessed to know and love her. Jemima Florence MacDade (White) 19-12-1902 - 15-10-1995


  1. Oh, Sharn, what a beautiful tribute... I wondered about Primrose's names, knowing I had read them before, but hadn't gotten back to look through your blogs.

    I have clipped this for rereading...your love shines through and I'm sure she will take good care of Primrose.

  2. I was so touched by the love you have for your grandmother. Without a doubt she will be caring for your own precious granddaughter Primrose.