Thursday, April 2, 2009

GRANDMA MAGIC: true stories by and about grandmothers

GRANDMA MAGIC: true stories by an about grandmothers
Allen and Unwin, RRP: $29.95

This is a beautifully produced collection of stories about grandmothers. The stories are filled with wonder and love and the mystery of being - and having - a grandmother. As a reader they made me jealous. I never knew my grandmothers. Nanna Williams I met, but she died when I was only 9. I never met my father’s mother in Austria, and I always felt ripped off when I was at school and kids would talk about the wonderful things they did with their grandmothers.

So I relished reading the stories here, especially those by Aboriginal women, one as a grandmother, one as a granddaughter. Both I admire and respect as women and as writers.

Ruby Langford Ginibi is affectionately known as ‘Gumi’, which is Bundjalung for grandmother, and she writes about her grand jahjam Ronald James Nicholas, whom she calls Ronny Boy. Suffering from a lack of love and attention from his father – a legacy of his own father’s childhood – Ronny Boy naturally was affected in a way that impacted on his journey as a teenager, seeing him in and out of boy’s homes and eventually in Long Bay Jail (where he remains).

Ruby’s unconditional love for her grandson comes through the absolute honesty with which she writes about the hardships, family dramas and sad realities of her family life. She writes: ‘I’m distressed almost every single day of my life about my grandson.’

The other contributor I want to mention is Lorraine McGee-Sippel who was of course The Yabun Elder of the Year in 2008. Lorraine’s piece title Extra Lucky describes the joy of having not two but four grandmothers. Lorraine’s Nanna Mason was her mother’s mother, born in Wollongong and the first grandmother she knew. One of her favourite people, Nanna Mason was a ‘Sally’ or as we say ‘Salvo’, she loved to crochet and her house smelled like musty mothballs. I loved that line in the story; it reminded me of lots of grandmother’s houses I’ve been in.

The woman know as Lorraine’s ‘Grandma’ was the second wife of her Dad’s father who lived in Kurri Kurri. Lorraine thinks she may have met her once, but can’t be sure.

Lorraine’s 3rd Grandmother was Dinah Myrtle McGee, a Yorta Yorta woman, and she only learned of her when she spoke to her maternal mother Hazel for the first time on the phone in 1981. Lorraine describes the first meeting with Dinah out at La Perouse and it’s a magical scene.

Finally, Lorraine never thought she would meet her paternal grandparents, but in 2002 she found them, unfortunately in unmarked graves in Botany Cemetery. But Lorraine chose to write to her grandmother Emily and say all the things she would have said to her in person. This is a magical piece of writing also.

I don’t want to give away too much in each story, because both worth reading in full so do get a copy for you or your mother or grandmother or granddaughter!

Other names you might recognise in this anthology are Anne Deveson, Angela Catterns and Gabrielle Lord.

It’s important to mention the editor of this collection, it’s Janet Huntchinson who also worked on books by Tara June Winch, Stephen Hagan and Lorraine McGee-Sippel, who’s memoirs Hey Mum, What’s a Half-Caste will be launched at Gleebooks in May. Janet seems to wave a magic wand and make good books great!

Give a copy to someone this Easter: GRANDMA MAGIC


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