Very special lady

Mumzum with my daughters
Mumzum with one of my daughters
Mumzum with one of my daughters

Mumzum and the gals

One of the things that I love about being part of my family is also the same thing that drives me and others crazy. Honesty along with bombastic over talking manner can be completely intimidating. What I love about this is the feisty manner of conversation is assumption of equal interaction. That we all contain worth, we assume the other is an equal. The hard thing about this is that it can go wrong, we are all human. When this happens the blunt, bombastic, big personalities can clash and crumble. In our family we can thank our parents and grand parents for encouraging intelligence and strong opinion.

Mumzum drove me absolutely mental as a teenager. I could not see why others were so gushing about her, to admire a cantankerous distant lady who hardly acknowledged me at the high school we both went to every day. To be honest, it was difficult to be around her as an adolescent.

It takes the distance, a list of things to be grateful for as well as my visiting all of her children’s houses that led me to insights about humans in general, the ‘Sutho’s’ and Mumzum more specifically. In each place I found hospitality, intelligence, warmth, and engagement in life. I loved how each treated me with respect, as a part of the family. To give me the extended family I needed. Each of them spoke of Mumzum in a different way, but there was an overriding consistency, she was an important part of all of their lives.

It turns out that my perception was tainted by what “Grandma’s” were supposed to be like in the media and the other warm and cuddly ones my friends had. As I travelled and was hosted by some of the most amazing adults it has been my pleasure to be with, I learned that Mumzum had created and encouraged 9 children to achieve in their area of skill. I learned that the girls were encouraged equally. ALL of the 9 siblings welcomed me whenever I was in needed support or company.

Mumzum was the first Adult I know who had a computer, and used it. As a teenager I was frustrated by her meddling in my lackluster literacy. Several attempts at tutoring by others ended swiftly. She had me sit at the computer to tumble out all of my words, regardless of error and edit it later…….this then became and is now my savior in arranging my thoughts. It brings tears to my eyes to write about her thoughtful gift of attaining clarity in text. Others did this as well, but I have to acknowledge that she had a big part in my ability to improve, to not see my lacking skill as a fixed state, to see that I could be more.

So much of my worth is tied up in perceived intelligence and my assumption that I did not have enough. She shifted my thinking three times. The computer was one, encouraging my art making was another by gifting me books on illustration and thirdly by surprising me with membership to the National Gallery when I was still in high school. This saved me when I was struggling as a teenager. To be able to go to the gallery and stand in awe of Blue Poles with tears of admiration rolling down my cheeks, to sit peacefully leafing though art journals in the members lounge with many grey haired adults who I assumed I was there with someone else. Two years ago, when I was feeling hideous about my life and needing to get away, that is where I went, to sit with blue poles as company, then to sit in the members lounge writing letters of gratitude. I sat, thinking of Mumzum and the gift of sanctuary that she gave as a teenager and as an adult. It gave me a place to be grateful for all that I have in my life. All the big characters who made me who I am.

It was an interesting conversation with my mother that showed me who I was during those difficult high school years, years I would not wish on anyone. She asked me what kind of personality did I have, who would I describe my character like. I, the ever self-pitying quiet, unassuming person I thought I was said “Charlie Brown.” I was certain that was how the whole world saw me. Mum laughed and said that I was much more like “Lucy”. This shocked me. It took me a long time to assimilate this information.

I now see Lucy clearly, I am not quite her, I would not take the ball away from Charlie. I can see what Mum saw - I do speak my mind, I like to get my own way, I want people to see the world the way I do, And I am bold which also means I am hard to handle, difficult to get along with sometimes, but I am loyal, hardworking and love with honesty.

Mumzum also had this Lucy in her. Before going to Canada we visited Mumzum at Kate’s place, we had tea and I saw my gals watching in quiet angst. I could see that they were not comfortable speaking with her because the girls thought she was being blunt, strong and confronting. I saw this as interested and urgent, I smiled and helped the gals with their responses about our trip. Before we left, Mumzum said she wanted to say a proper goodbye because “I will probably be dead before you come back” - to my 4 and 6 year old. I chuckled, we talked about it at length in the car ride home about her strength of character. More recently I took my family to Beechwoth and my gals now 8 and 10 to the nursing home, where she spent some of her time sternly making sure my gals had enough layers on, she insisted going through her draws to give them each a scarf. My gals once again were not sure how to take the gruff manner. I reminded them of what I had said the last time we saw her. About how Mumzum is blunt, but she is caring and means well. Hazel understood very well and held Mumzum's hand whilst Mumzum asked about her school and our trip. It pleases me greatly that they are old enough to remember spending time with this very special lady. As they get older I hope that they can see the strength in character as a powerful asset in life.

Being a Lucy, and knowing that I am strong in character, I can see it in others. I used to think that it was an insult. I now see it as a super power. I have also chosen a job where my boldness is a great asset. Those who she created all have this boldness and strength of character. It is easier knowing the impact that I have on others.

Little did I know that Mumzum saw in me, a strength of character and ability that I did not see in myself. I did not know she cared because it is not in her nature to throw complements about like confetti. She showed her heart in a different way.

Like Hannah one of my most precious moments in my life was when I heard that Mumzum enjoyed my writing. It shifted something in me, about my self worth as a 42 year old, to hear that you are worthy. It does not matter to me one jot that the words did not come from her mouth to my ears, that it was through another.

It is not for me to criticise another strong character who was shy.

Barbara Livingston (Granddaughter)

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