A grandma’s lessons never really leave you

At the time of writing, it’s as though the world has taken a nana nap. The Thai boys have been rescued, it’s the middle of the afternoon, and it’s raining at a respectable rate. The weather bureau says it feels like 4.2 degrees.

The corgis are sound asleep on their mats near the kitchen and the cats have colonised their preferred floor heating ducts. Even the chooks have fluffed up next to the dog-flap, sucking in whatever warmed air leaks out.

There is no wind. No traffic noise. The phone’s not ringing. No one is demanding my attention for anything just now. Things seem oddly in balance. So … why am I edgy?

To fill this shocking void this afternoon, I started to think about something my late grandmother Nellie Kealy said to me when I was about 10: “Why can’t you just sit there are enjoy doing nothing? That’s the trouble with people today: they don’t know how to be happy doing nothing.”

She was a remarkable woman: married to a lovable rogue who probably deserved a slap, but more often got hugs. They raised eight children in a weatherboard house with two fibro bungalows in the backyard. She mastered time, meeting the needs of her own children and the swiftly growing mobs of grand and great-grandchildren.

If she was alive and raising her family today, people would probably say she was disadvantaged, needed more government support, was a victim and so on. I don’t recall her ever claiming any of these things.

My memories of her are of a relentlessly cheerful, battleship of a woman whom everyone loved unconditionally and who chuckled and offered interesting insights.

Not that we knew they were insights at the time. For example, she once observed that her generation (she was born in 1900) was the last to know how everything around the house worked. She disliked complicated stuff – except for the black-and-white TV which brought Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton into her life. Whenever any of the far-flung cousins, nieces, nephews and others get together, they can still surprise each other with things they learned from her.

But today – this quiet, cold, introverted day – I’m reminded of her calmness.

She passed away in the early 1990s, and even then, her extended family were discovering fascinating depths to her life and character. How could such a suburban woman have made such a profound impact on so many people. She’d scuttle around her small kitchen, stuffing shillings in the gas meter regularly, and never seemed to get in a Gordon Ramsay fluster as dozens of meals magically appeared every day.

Always at the right time, or to meet someone’s needs, and it was always delicious: roasts, gravy, mashed spuds, fresh vegies (often grown in the backyard by my grandfather, unless he’d lost them in a game of cards with his post office mates). Cocoa has never been so rich or refreshing. Gallons of steaming black tea all day.

She trusted everyone to do the right thing. I can remember as a primary school kid being sent off down the road to get some cakes on a Sunday morning, or some milk and bread. We had to cross a very busy road. I now know it was the Princes Highway, not far from the Shopatropolis of Chadstone. Parents would have nervous breakdowns at the thought of that now. Nellie didn’t.

She’d be embarrassed to read any of this. “You don’t always have to have something to say. Sometimes nothing says it all.”

Maybe. But on this intensely quiet afternoon, I wish I could be as quiet … bugger! There goes the phone.

WAYNE GREGSON