Now in her nineties, my mother tends to remember the events of her childhood as if they happened yesterday, while the events of yesterday, events even of five minutes ago, she forgets. Things slip from her mind but not her childhood. Her childhood is her greatest companion and comfort.
My mother's family as she now remembers them.
These days when I make my routine weekly visit to my mother in her retirement village room, she will tell me again and again how happy she is in this glorious room that overlooks a small walled garden filled with roses and in the centre an overflowing mulberry tree, and she will remind me of the pleasures of her childhood.
‘I can’t get this song out of my head. You’d know it. Oh my papa.’ My mother shakes her head as if to dislodge the tune and the words, but they will not shift. All day long she has heard the music in her head.
‘I loved that song,’ she says.
I do not bother to ask for an explanation. It is obvious. My mother was her father’s favourite and he hers. Her beloved father with whom she walked to church arm in arm. Her beloved father, a school gymnasium instructor, a man of short but powerful physique, a man who disciplined his unruly sons, especially the second, the one below my mother, the one who was his mother’s favourite. The other five children missed out, or so my aunt, my mother's only sister, maintains.
By the time they arrived their parents were already worn out. My mother, the oldest, considers this a nonsense.
Long ago my mother told me about the influence of Frederic Truby King in her life. Her first babies were Truby King babies whenever my father was around. But in the middle times he was either away at work or off fighting in the war and she could mother as she saw fit.
My mother preferred the times when my father was away she told me because she was then left free to care for her babies, to follow their whims, to put them to bed when they were tired, to feed them when they were hungry, to hold them when they needed holding and not to follow the rigid dictates of Truby King as interpreted by my father.
As a follower of Truby King my father insisted on discipline. Four hourly feeds. The baby was to be held only for feeding and changing of nappy then back to bed for the next four hours with no interference from mother.
They might cry, these Truby King babies, but they soon learned it was pointless. Their cries would go unheard.
My mother talks about this time now as an aberration. She thinks it stopped when there were more babies because it was all too hard for my father to police. I was therefore not a Truby King baby nor the one below me, nor any of my mother’s other babies born in Australia.
Only the first three missed out.
I've read up on Truby King. His adopted daughter Margaret wrote a biography on her father whom she adored. He was born and lived at the same time as Freud, and although also a psychiatrist by training, he took an interest not in the psyche but in the body and in preventative health care.
He trained a troop of mothercraft nurses to deal with what he considered to be 'over-feeding' but the notion of systematized four hourly feeding came from a Dr Thomas Bull in 1850. Truby King pushed it further until people like Dr Spock and Donald Winnicott turned the tide and helped people to realise the importance of feeding as an emotional experience that cannot be systematised and deserves respect and encouragement.
It turns out that Truby king had wanted his mothercraft nurses to become friendly advisors to the mothers in their care but instead these nurses tyrannised the mothers and insisted on order and rule bound behaviour in much the way my father thumped the book of rules at my mother.
My mother then lost her confidence and her babies suffered.
But who am I to judge the past? I can only speculate and wonder.