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Soup of This Day #82: Part 4, Her Green Plastic Watering Can

October 9, 2011

Beverley Swimming Pool
The Beverley District High School Swimming Carnival of 1990. Longworth72 is the guy in the yellow receiving an award, I think for the most successful senior swimmer on the day. Yellow was the colour of the house faction Forrest. Longworth72 was not wearing a Red Sox cap because a.) He didn’t want it thrown in the pool and b.) He knew they’d let him down in 2011. He just knew it – Photo: Longworth72, 1990. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The afternoon of Saturday, April 11th, 1992 I was focused on a football game. Not 1 I was playing in or even for that matter that I was planning on watching. Nope, this was Liverpool FC away to Aston Villa and my only connection to the game was to be me listening to the Football Classifieds read out on local radio at 6:15pm the following evening.

This separation from the actual game mattered not to me. I sat down with team sheets that I had cobbled together from the previous week’s match reports and worked out formations, plays and points of interest. I played out the game in a virtual world wholly existent in my mind, years before computer gaming made this a more visual prospect.

I remember that it was a cloudy day, a grey day that was neither too hot, nor too cold. My Nanna was pottering in the kitchen and my brother had driven himself to the local pool to use the swim club weights room. I know too that I had been outside, idly kicking up dirt at the side of the driveway as I convinced myself that Liverpool would surely win 2-0. Satisfied that this outcome was now set I had headed inside through the back screen door at around 4:00pm. As I came through that door and made to turn right into my bedroom the phone in the hall rang. My Nanna got it before I did, speaking tersely to the unseen caller for less than a minute. After she hung up she turned to me and announced that my mum, her daughter, was dying and that we needed to get to the hospital.

Mum had always been health conscious. Actually she was barking mad about it and her culinary rules, which admittedly bespoke love and care, were the bane of our lives growing up. She eschewed any of the normal foods that regular kids consumed in boundless quantities. Chocolate, icecream, fizzy drinks, lollies, these were all foreign contraband to us.

They had sugar in them. Or salt. Or some chemical.

Nope, none of that for us. We used to go to kids parties and while the other attendees left with the obligatory lollie bag the hosting parents were forbidden from passing such good stuff to us. There was 1 party where a sympathetic Mrs Murray gave me a small sample tube of toothpaste instead. Mum confiscated that because it had too much sugar in it. I’m not quite sure if she thought I was going to eat it but to be fair to her if it had been sweet, such was our deprivation, I might have mainlined it straight into a vein. This was not something you would have done with the ‘natural’ toothpaste we used. That had not a trace of sugar or anything at all that bespoke ‘nice’.

Mum was also big on exercise, playing netball when I was very young and then getting into swimming as time went by. None of this meant that she got to avoid cancer though. It struck her twice, once in the early 80’s and then, after close to 10 years of remission, the devil returned. The 2nd time curtailed her swimming. She’d been a Beverley Swimming Pool fixture throughout the latter half of that decade, clocking 20 laps most days, swimming a km in a measured and unspectacular way.

It was probably fitting then that on the way to the hospital that day we had to stop by the pool to get my brother. There were no mobile phones then and the pool was locked up for the coming winter so I had to jump the gate to get in. Then, with me riding shotgun in my brother’s Toyota Corona we drove the short distance down John Street to say goodbye.

We each had a couple of minutes alone with Mum. She wasn’t conscious and I don’t remember exactly what I said. Maybe I told her that Liverpool were going to win that night and that she should stick around for that.

I was a little obsessed with sport.

Mum knew that – She’d been instrumental in getting me a 1989 Liverpool shirt for my birthday 1 year. In the days before the Internet it had to be ordered via International airmail from Liverpool, no easy feat. She’d also taken me to buy my 1st Red Sox cap and some years later put a cloth Red Sox badge into my stocking 1 Christmas. The shirt doesn’t fit anymore but it’s hanging up in our home office. Likewise the cap doesn’t fit but it sits on the head of a stuffed toy devil that someone had given Mum in hospital and that she had passed on to me, mostly I think because it was red and so were my 2 teams.

I think whatever I said it was probably on the theme of ‘I love you Mum, it’s not your fault, I’m gonna be ok and please don’t go.’

‘Please.’

Those were just words though and cancer is such a bloody bastard of a disease.

A short time later, with what little family we had mustered around the bed the nurse quietly took her pulse and announced, ‘She’s gone.’

I cried instantaneously, almost reflexively. Sobbed really. Balled my eyes out for all of 30s and then I remember looking at my Dad and brother. Neither was crying so I stopped. You just didn’t cry in my family.

My brother drove me back home, stopping off at the pool to collect his gear. While he was in the weights room packing up I stood at the edge of the pool looking down at where my mum had so recently swum her metronomic laps. Only this time the water had been drained so nobody could swim. Instead a solitary, faded tennis ball sat in a small puddle at the base of 1 of the lanes. I looked at the ball and convinced myself that I was done with grieving. ‘Well, that’s that then,’ I announced to nobody.

And for then that was that. We went home. Dad ordered fish and chips for dinner and my brother and I picked up a football and headed out for a late kick. I wore a pair of my dad’s old boots and my Red Sox cap. My brother just wore sneakers and we belted the ball backwards and forwards between us for a time, ironically having to work around some AFL goalposts.

I don’t think about that day or Mum that much, certainly not as much as I should. I remember it each year on the anniversary and most years I shed a few tears (In my family now, you get to cry). The day came to mind 1 Thursday morning recently as the Red Sox stuffed their 2011 season at the close with a drawn-out loss to the Orioles. Not because the 2 events are comparable – They’re not – In 1 my baseball team played some pretty ordinarily ball down the stretch and got what they deserved. In the other my mum died, a piece of me died too and there was nothing fair about any of it.

No, what got me thinking about April 11, 1992 was that as I headed out for lunch, feeling down at the baseball choke that had just occurred I caught myself saying, ‘Well, that’s that then.’

For the record Aston Villa won 1-0 that Saturday night in 1992. I didn’t catch it on the Classifieds the next day and actually only just looked the result up. I guess I’d figured in my mind that Liverpool had won. Reckoned at the time that they must have won, part of a cosmic payoff for taking my mum.

Except it doesn’t happen that way. Liverpool couldn’t win enough games to make up for Mum going and Boston couldn’t make enough post-seasons either.

And now, for tonight at least, that really is that then.

Her Green Plastic Watering Can

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