Monday, 15 September 2008


My lovely grandmother, known to us all as Garn, passed away last night. Garn was a Shirley. Her first name was Lois but she went by her second name Shirley. There's a group of women in Australia called the Shirley Club whose motto is fun, friends and food and the only criteria is that you have to be called Shirley because being a Shirley means you just naturally enjoy those things. I remember seeing the Shirleys on TV setting off on an adventure in their minibus, laughing and chatting and I thought how Garn would fit in perfectly with a group of 'shirls'. Garn was outgoing and generous and made friends wherever she went, at her garden club, with her neighbours. She was the kind of person that people always asked after.

When I was little I got a her a monogrammed hanky for Christmas. I searched until I found the perfect one and was perplexed be her reaction when she opened the parcel. Garn laughed till she cried and she showed it to everyone. Everyone else in my family started laughing too. Between hoots of laughter she would gasp, "G for Garn!" and start off again. Puzzled I laughed along with everyone and it wasn't for quite a while that I realised that she was laughing because the initial on the hanky I had bought was G. Well, we called her Garn, what other letter would I have chosen? And Mum told me today that when she was at the home today it was in her drawer with her things.

Garn was funny, naughty. I remember the first time that I asked what was for dinner and Garn answered,"pigs arseholes and cabbage." I nearly fell over. Garn rarely swore but I could see how delighted she was by my reaction. Apparently it was something her mother used to say to her and she had reacted in a similar way. She was not big on political correctness, much to our delight as we'd giggle away at something she'd said.

Garn was the queen of custards. I remember the bone handled knife she would use to swirl around the dish of custard to spread the nutmeg just before it went in the oven. Then when the custard was cooked the knife was dipped in to make sure the custard was just right (it always was). She made baked custard, rice custard, bread and butter custard, all of them so delicious. Without realising it, whenever I went to visit Garn I would sniff the air as I walked in to see if I could detect the warm smell of egg, vanilla and nutmeg. And Garn's piece de resistance for special occasions was Garn's pudding. It was a tapioca custard that was topped with beaten egg whites, whipped into soft peaks. It was always served in a cut glass bowl, the egg whites were always flavoured with a hint of lemon essence and there were always sprinkles. Craig and I would compete to see who could devour the most pudding, leftovers were not an option. Tummy aches sometimes were. The sound of an old fashioned egg beater will always remind me of Garn.

Garn was a real old school domestic goddess, what with the pressure cooker and the rib sticking stews with dumplings, the custards and cakes and coconut ice at Christmas and of course the ultimate in naughtiness, fried scones. So delicious. She made a Lemon cake that became very popular with my friends who all asked for the recipe and always called it Garn's Lemon cake. Whenever I went to visit Garn and Pa, Garn always tried to feed me up. She'd make me sit in the sun with a book and bring me morning or afternoon tea, her lemon cake with a glass of milk. She had the most amazing pantry absolutely chock full of food, row up on row of cans. Just in case.
Garn loved her garden and gardens in general and when we visited the Blue Mountains for holidays and after she and Pa moved there, we would go on long walks, where she'd tell me the names of trees and flowers and we'd hop onto a bench to peer over the fence at Reg Livermore's wonderful garden.

I remember simple things with Garn, eating banana sandwiches in bed watching Carson's Law or Sale of the Century. Looking at her collection of buttons and beads. The voluminous nighties that she'd leave out for me to wear when I stayed over. Her monkeys that I was never allowed to take home (they now belong to Jack). How she looked gorgeous in pink. How she taught me how to look after my nails and when I was little helped me blow my nose. How she loved a 'nice fish meal'. Her Dame Edna glasses and her beautiful hair. She always felt better after it had been 'set' with soft curls. No wonder the ladies at her nursing home called her poodles.

When I was at Uni, Garn and I went to Honolulu for a holiday. We had a ball eating at all you can eat for 3.99 breakfast buffets, shopping, drinking cocktails and watching the TV Shopping network. We couldn't believe that such a thing existed.

At home Garn would take the back seat, singing in the kitchen while Pa fussed with his records and tapes. She'd lalalah along with the music and occasionally tell Pa to be quiet when she thought he'd said enough. She loved Magpies and saved scraps for them which she'd fling to them from the back door while she called to them in her distinctive sing song way.

She always spoke about her parents with such love and respect. Her father was a schoolteacher in the Bega Shire. He once sold a pig to a neighbour then unhappy with it's treatment reclaimed the sow, not realising that when he brought it home it was now pregnant. He felt he'd done well out of the whole transaction and Garn would've been happy as she always adored pigs.
The bits that Garn told me, the bits that I remember sound like she had an idyllic childhood. Picking fruit off trees (and getting a bellyache because they weren't ripe) , owning chickens, climbing a tree because someone said she wouldn't be able to and going for a joyride in Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's plane.

Garn had lovely handwriting and would send me letters telling me what the weather had been like and what she'd been doing. Invariably there would be a newspaper cutting or two about something of she thought I'd be interested in. For awhile it was the shenanigans of the AFL player Wayne Carey and she seemed to delight in keeping me up to date with his exploits. And on the back of the envelope there was always a stamp of dancing pigs that I bought her in 1991.

I know that when Pa met her he said she had the best legs on the tennis court and she was a great player. She always hoped that we might show some of her skill, but in spite of the lessons I remained a mediocre player.

She had a way with words. A large bottomed person would be "two pigs fighting under a blanket", a mini skirt was a 'bum freezer' and my favourite expression was 'the last shakings of the sugar bag'. I still remember her telling me I had good, sturdy thighs. She meant it as a compliment of course. She also used to tell me that I looked like Grace Kelly.

When we had Jack she told me that she thought that Simon and I were great parents. She said she hadn't been sure if we would be but we were. And she made me promise her two things. One that I would never walk so fast that Jack couldn't keep up with me (I don't think that will ever be a problem) and two that I would never make Jack take elocution lessons. I think I can manage that.
Goodbye Garnie, we're going to miss you.

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