My mother at five feet two inches was not a big lady but tough. There was not much grey in her life only black or white. If anyone stepped over the line of what she thought was fair play, watch out. She knew where her mouth was and was quick to use it. But as with the Fitzy business, everyone that witnessed that confrontation knew she was fair dinkum. If it had happened again, she would have done exactly what she said she was going to do (and Fitzy knew it).
At dinner sometimes my brothers would distract me by saying suddenly.
'Look at the spider on the wall.'
Stupid me would look and then they would pinch some special bit I was saving until last. This would result in a yelling and screaming match because I would get really upset. But mom would say to the others a wild.
'Stop it.' And then to me. 'It's no good yelling and screaming about it, it is your dinner, you have to watch it yourself. So I soon learnt.
My motherís best friend lived opposite us. Edna Benns. Edna wasn't married but was about the same age as mom. She had the same interests and the same sense of humour. They were good mates for many, many years. Edna loved dancing and if mom had no one home, she would go to one of the many local dances with Edna. This is the main reason I was the smallest at the overnight camping expeditions and also why I was going to Friday night picture shows and CEBS. When no others as small as me were allowed out after dark (so you see it was not only because I had the money). My motherís want of a 'bit of the elbow room' was what allowed me to go walkabout for a day with no questions asked about where I was going. Mom did not care where I was as long as I did not get into trouble. These same rules applied to my brothers getting home from school and not finding my mother there. She was always ready for a talk. This was very important for me and it was comforting to know she would always be there. All of us got our share of tanned backsides when we needed it but I do not remember too many cuddles or a hug sometimes would have been nice. But that is just the way it was.
My mother was Dutch and grew up in Java. The Dutch in Java before the war were the elite. Big house, servants and all the trimmings. She had a lot of stories she told us, some many times. Here are three of her stories. The ones that tickled my fancy a bit.
When I was young, I used to go to the nearest town with my sisters. The big market was run almost exclusively by Chinese. At lunch times, the Chinese businessmen would meet in an open paves square. About twelve of them would sit in a circle around a brazier with a big pot of boiling oil on top. A box with high sides beside the brazier. The Chinese would put their chopsticks into the box, pick something up and then dip it into the boiling oil. There would be a strange noise, 'eeey', and then they would eat it. We sat and watched them for weeks but could not get close enough to see what they were eating. Then one day some big boxes were stacked up beside the square where the Chinese had their lunch. This gave us an opportunity to climb the boxes and look down directly onto the dining circle and particularly into the box. The Chinese were eating a wonderful delicacy. Newly born live mice.
At home we had a pet monkey. A little thing she was. About two feet tall. She was a big part of our family and loved by all. She had the run of the house and garden. A favourite spot in the afternoons was the front veranda where fig trees cast shade over the whole house. It kept the veranda lovely and cool. At night, the monkey would climb one of these trees and in a comfortable vee up near the top, she would sleep. This went on for a few years. Then one day my father brought home a very small baby pig. The piglet was supposed to be a pet for us girls, but when the monkey saw the piglet, she fell in love with it. She would sit and cuddle the little pig whenever she could. The pig thought this attention was wonderful, so they were soon inseparable. At night the monkey would tuck the pig under one arm and climb the tree to here usual spot at the top. There, quite comfortable, they would sleep. Unfortunately, nothing stays the same and little pigs don't stay little for long. As here little friend grew, the monkey started to struggle under the increasing weight. The poor little monkey was becoming quite distressed. The pig too because they had grown very close. It was a sad night for all of us when the monkey finally could not carry the pig up the tree. The look of anguish on the monkey's face was terrible to see and we girls shed a tear as well. The monkey went up the tree and the pig slept at the base. The monkey came down every couple of hours to keep an eye on her friend. The pig learnt to open the flywire door and would walk into the house. This was OK with my mother as long as he was clean. When she heard the distinctive clip-clop, clip-clop, my mother would yell at the top of here voice.
'Have you got clean feet?'
The pig would stop, lift his feet one at a time, look at them, then turn and go back outside to the small creek at the bottom of the garden. There he would stand in shallow water and shake his feet, one at a time to clean them. When he thought they were OK, he went back into the house.
When I was first marries we lived in Hong Kong. Because we had servants to do everything, I got into the habit of walking on the beach in the mornings. One morning, I found the body of what looked like a newborn baby girl (Chinese). It was a terrible shock to me. I ran home and called the police. They arrived and simply threw the body into a bag. They could see I was distressed so the Policeman said.
'Don't worry about this Mrs. Oliver; we collect many bodies off the beaches. All girls, but many more do not make it to the beach; they are swept out to sea. You must realise that in China no welfare exists and for struggling working families, girls are a liability, just an extra mouth to feed. So new born girls are thrown into the river.'
After a couple of years, I had two boys. Whenever I went out to dinner and the Chinese women knew I had two boys, they would take the eyes out of the fish on the table and put them on my plate. This was great compliment to me, so everyone said that to refuse to eat them would have been a terrible sub to the Chinese ladies. We had just finished dinner one night at a well know Chinese restaurant. The meal was really excellent. We called for the chef to compliment him. I asked him what the meat was because it was really delicious.
'Ahh, madam, the meat was cat, very nice, yes?'
From then on, I learnt not to ask.