It’s Christmas Eve in Melbourne, Australia…I’ve eaten half a box of Chocolate Celebrations in my bedroom and I’m alone watching Carol’s by Candlelight. I’m not feeling sorry for myself understand, but this Christmas my mind is on my mother. You see Mum recently went into nursing home after being sick for sometime. When she was admitted I had accepted it as another fact of life, but as time rolled on I felt sad, very sad. Over my holiday break in private I’d think about my mother and life with her as a little boy. In many ways Mum had a tough life, more than her share of heartbreak, not to mention bad luck. She’d married twice, both times with disastrous results, with my father dying when I was just ten and mum left alone in her mid thirties. It was a tough on everybody I guess, and tough on me. My Dad’s death made Mum more neurotic than she already was. To be honest my mother could be a difficult. She dealt with life the way women of her generation dealt with hardship, she became workman like in her emotional identity and pushed aside pain. As a kid in Sydney most of the women I recall were all made of the same emotional makeup, strong women ready to fight for their beliefs…and ready to drag their husband’s home from the pub on a Saturday arvo. Aussie battlers is how you’d describe them. But, underneath my Mum’s stubborn exterior there was a frightened woman who hid her emotions. My Mum had some very frustrating habits I remember from when I lived with her, privacy when my mother was around was…well, it simply wasn’t possible. Everything was mother’s business, if you lived under her roof then it was her rules, no discussions.
Mum’s Rules of the House
Rule 1. Do as I say, not as I do.
Rule 2. Never tell anything but the truth no matter what?
(She was however exempt from this rule)
Rule 3. No privacy and no locked bedroom doors, ever.
I obeyed the rules, mostly. She was, and still is, a generous woman who would give her arse away and shit through her ribs to use an old Aussie expression. But her generosity was often conditional. If she did something for you then you could bet within hours she’d have a list of chores as long as your arm that she wanted done…pronto! Should you cross her you would never be forgiven, no explanation acceptable! However, this side of Mum was kept for the people who held little place in her heart. I was never struck as a child and for most part was well-behaved particularly in my teenage years. I was given freedom to do what I wanted as long as I told Mum the truth. Which I always did, and still do to this very day. Lying has always felt like a waste of time to me. I’m not someone who makes up stories unless it’s in a creative sense. As a kid it’s winter evenings with Mum I remember the most, her in a pink dressing gown, me in my pajamas often doing homework in front of the heater.
“Nobody will ever love you more than mum does” she’d say to me and give me a the biggest hug. Always a hug, never a kiss.
One night, Mum became aware of a strange sound coming from inside the roof…above us. I remember we stood together looking up at the ceiling. What could the racket be? Mum was convinced there was a family of rats living above us in the roof. I wasn’t so sure, I thought they were possums, but Mum would have nothing of it! At first Mum was terrified by the critters…and Mum being terrified, made me terrified too. But, gradually she plucked up courage to have a go at the noisy litter buggers and she started to fight back…shouting and screaming at them, and demanding that I do something to stop the noise above us!
“What can I do Mum?”
“I don’t…Kill’em” she screamed.
“How? What with?”
“Oh, how would I know.”
“Well, Mum if you don’t know, how should I know”
I was after all only thirteen years old at the time.
“Get a stick!”
“Yes. Well don’t just stand there, son. Oh, get out-of-the-way Noel, I’ll do it myself.”
“But, Mum…!” In a flash, Mum returned from the kitchen with broom and proceeded to bang the broom handle violently on the ceiling.
“Get out you bastards” she screamed. The noise she was making was deafening, louder than any noise the little creatures were making. The banging sent mum’s rats into a frenzy and they began hurling themselves about, from room to room above us. It was nothing less than a commotion. Then everything went silent…Mum and I dropped to the floor, eventually sleeping soundly from exhaustion. The next night, same thing… brooms, banging and a helluva lot of commotion by Mum. If the possums/rats had any common sense they would have packed up and moved abode, maybe to Darryl Ford’s place next door…sadly for them they decided to stay and stick it out. This bizarre ritual went on for weeks. My mother becoming more crazed with every sound in the roof, the rats (or possums) refusing to leave, defying the madwoman banging the broom on the ceiling, dressed all in a pink. One day at the local supermarket I watched as mum reached for the rat poison. This was it, I thought…the final showdown. The possums/rats were dead unless I did something.
“Mum I think they’re possums.”
“Oh Noel they are not possums, they are very big rats.” Mum was always right!
“Mum I’m sure they’re really possums.”
“Rubbish son, I know rats when I hear them” she barked and pushed the trolley towards the checkout, rat poison on top of the grocery pile. That night the house was quiet, the possums must have known there was something up. Confused by the silence, Mum started banging on the ceiling an hour early than normal. Grabbing the step-ladder, she reached up towards the manhole in the hallway, and pushed it open.
“Noel pass me the poison” Mum said.
“Mum, they’re possums” I said.
“Noel, please” she shouted. I reluctantly handed her the rat poison. What followed is too ghastly for me to write about…I still feel a little sick when I think about it to be honest. Let’s just say the little critter’s in the roof met their match that night…with my mother! Damn! I just noticed the time…it’s New Year’s Eve 2014, I started this story about Mum a week ago. How long have I been writing today? I dressed, called a taxi and waited outside in the night air for it to arrive. The Indian taxi driver adjusted his mirror as I got in then asked politely where I wanted to go…? “Collingwood thanks, mate.”
“How’s your day, mate?” he continued.
“Not bad ” I replied looking at the time on my iPhone. “Yours?”
“Very good. I’ve been celebrating.”
“What have you been celebrating? New Year?”
“No, mate. My mother arrived from India yesterday and all the family are celebrating.”
I smiled to myself… I guess that’s exactly what I’ve been doing too.
“Nobody will ever love you more than ya mum” I said to him.
“Yeah I know” he replied as the taxi turned into Punt Road. I opened the passenger window and looked up at the night sky and thought to myself…Happy New Year Mum!
About the author: Noel Anderson completed NIDA’s Playwright Studio in 1996. His play Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame will be performed at the Jewish Museum of Australia Saturday nights in May 2015.
Noel recently co-wrote a musical called Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets which secured its first financial backer in February 2015….but he is still seeking more financial angels. The musical is a six-year labour of love…you can find the songs on YouTube and you can like the musical on Facebook. http://australianplays.org/script/ASC-1542 http://youtu.be/80d8gZ7Dghk