On this day…. Happy 100th Birthday Manny!
My beloved grandmother, Alice Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Kirwan (nee McLeod), daughter of Angus McLeod and Alice (nee Jones) who I called (indeed named) Manny, was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia on 1 August 1912. Her father and grandfather were both horse trainers. Is it any wonder she was born on the horses birthday?
My memories of Manny are my own. She bore eight babies and raised 7 of them, in Norseman, Western Australia, on Western edge of the Nullabor. I remember her washing with an old tub washing machine with a wringer. She had tubs and washboards around, which she also used, and had a copper of water on the boil to do the sheets, with little bags of blue (to make them whiter). That was after she got a washing machine. When I was born, her youngest child was seven years old. Danny was the older brother I never had, being the eldest of Manny’s many grandchildren. Danny died two weeks ago.
Manny was a source of unconditional love and absolute nurture, to me. I never felt inconvenient, unwanted, problematic or awkward around Manny. I was certain that I was loved, valued and wanted, just for being me. Her hugs were real bear hugs – you were enveloped and held, with her arms wrapped around. There was nowhere safer.
One night, just after my own first baby was born, I asked her a question as we were saying goodnight. She stayed up all night that night, telling me everything she knew about mothering, children, breast feeding, my father, and life. She told me the story of the night her 6th baby, Susan Beverley was still born, and she herself was thought to be dead. She told me that she moved towards the light and there were two people there waiting for her, but she had a choice, and she chose to return ‘because it was almost Christmas and I had five children at home’. That was in December 1950. It was 36 years later that she told me that story.
I’m so thankful that she stayed up all night to tell me all those things. Manny had a number of heart attacks before she finally died at the beginning of April, 1989, when my first child, her first great grandchild, had not long turned two. I might have had many unanswered questions if we had not stayed up all night that night. As it turned out, throughout the lives of my three children, I have returned to that conversation many times for loving advice from my wonderful grandmother. I believe she knew the gift she was giving me that night. I have honoured the gift and will continue to do so, by passing her wisdom on to my own children as they have grown and when they begin to have children of their own. Perhaps one day I will be passing Manny’s wisdom on to my own granddaughter one long night in the far distant future. That would be the perfect full circle.
We are having a family reunion on the weekend to commemorate Manny’s 100th birthday. Many of her descendents will be there – children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I see her face in the face of my youngest daughter. I honour her memory by telling my children stories of the Manny they never met (or met briefly in the case of my eldest daughter) so that they feel that they knew her too.
Every birthday, I still find myself hovering by the letter box until I realise that once again, I’m waiting for my parcel from Manny. It has been 23 years since I had one, and yet the habit remains. She never forgot a birthday. One day when I was in my late teens or perhaps early 20’s, I asked her why, when she lived on her own, she had a cupboard full of every imaginable kind of breakfast cereal. She commenced telling me which of her grandchildren preferred which breakfast cereal. She could tell you the birthdays of every one of her children, their spouses and her grandchildren, without referring to her birthday book. She knew what everyone liked best for breakfast. My own special ‘Manny’s house’ breakfast was white bread with strawberry jam and fresh cream, with a cup of tea, on a tray, in bed. One of my uncles, husband of one of Manny’s daughters, got a full cooked breakfast on a tray in the lounge so he could watch the cricket. That was his special breakfast. Only happened at Manny’s. I find myself thinking of her at some stage in every single day that goes by. There is not a day that I don’t miss her.
Happy birthday my beautiful Manny xx