Mother’s Day, with Gram

My grandmother lived on Canterbury Road in Middle Park, just over the road from the aquatic centre and the lake and the driving range and the Grand Prix track. Number 50, the building, her building, was always this awful beige colour.

 

Car rides to Gram’s always ended with a challenge: spot the flat first. I’d fight with my two sisters over the result. Once we’d parked, we’d race out of the car, trying to be the first to press the intercom for flat 21. Then we’d press our ears to the speaker to her voice.

 

“Come up.”

 

She never said any less or any more, but her voice was always welcoming.

 

The next race was between the stairs and the elevator – which would get you to the second floor the quickest? We’d split up, one of us galloping up the stairs two at a time, the other patiently waiting for the elevator. The stair runner would always be the first to find Gram, who would be stood at her door, waiting for the race to end.

It’s Mother’s Day today, late on a chilly May afternoon. I’m off to see Gram. It’s been a while. Outside of Spencer Street Station – she always refused to call Southern Cross – I jump onto a 96 tram.

 

The 96 tram is the first I ever remember catching. Its arrival, usually after the footy, usually in the cold, meant I was headed home. Or at least, headed to Grammy’s, which was as good as home.

 

This one’s full of Richmond and North Melbourne supporters. Gram used to call these football trams Sardine Cans, and this one fits the description. My own football scarf, yellow and black, is a Grandma-knitted special.

 

A Richmond fan asked me about it on the train earlier in the day.

 

“Looks old – what year?” he’d said.

 

I uncovered it in an old box on top of my wardrobe earlier in the week. It’s from the nineties, when we were kids.

 

I get off the tram at Wright Street, though they’ve changed the stop name to “MSAC”: Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. Then I walk towards Gram’s apartment block, which is now an awful shade of khaki.

 

The walkway up to the intercom is still the same, a mix of grey and white tiles and cracks we used to make sure we didn’t step on because it was bad luck. But now, if I walk up and press 21, I won’t be told to “come up”.

 

Instead, I walk myself to the Middle Park Hotel, where Grammy’s wake was held. I was still living overseas, and she didn’t want me to come home for her sake. That was two years ago.

 

Between the day she was diagnosed with cancer and the day she passed away, I somehow forced myself to enjoy the taste of gin. Gram loved gin, or at least, she did until the chemotherapy dulled her tastebuds.

 

I drift to Middle Park every so often now, just to hang with Gram.

 

Sometimes I hit golf balls at the range, usually badly. Gram used to take us for walks the whole way around the fence line, and we’d pick up all the balls that had slipped through. We’d put them in plastic bags and return them to the front desk at the range, and they’d let us have a putt to say thanks. The extra practise hasn’t helped me in adulthood.

 

Sometimes I walk along the seafront, or around the lake. After Christmas lunch, it was mandatory to go for a walk, and they were the best spots. At first, we’d moan, but really, we had energy to burn, especially after extra helpings of turkey and forced helpings of Gram’s overcooked broccoli.

 

Sometimes I just grab a coffee, somewhere on Armstrong Street, where she used to take us out for lunch. Tonight, I’m just here for a gin.

 

Gram still reckons my hair looks better short, and that I need a shave. She doesn’t understand why I’m stressed about university. She reminds me that as a girl at boarding school, she used to catch the train home for the holidays and throw her report out the window on the way.

 

I still struggle to imagine her as a kid, though I can easily imagine her school report drifting out of a window of a train that surely looked like the Hogwarts Express.

 

I want to ask her about, well, almost everything. I guess that’s the thing that nags the most – by the time I grew old enough to think to ask more questions of my grandmother, the time for them had passed.

 

We used to talk about the footy a lot, but only because it mattered to me. She took me once, to a Collingwood v Richmond game. We sat in the members, where the old pavilion with the green roof still stood. The only other thing I can remember is sitting in the middle of a courtyard, on a wooden bench, just waiting for her.

 

As a kid, my only reoccurring nightmare was that she’d leave me behind. Once, we went as a family to Arthur’s Seat, on the Mornington Peninsula, to ride the chairlift. I naively thought that a chairlift was literally a lift with a chair in it, until that trip. And even after the myth was dispelled, the image of a lift with a chair in it kept cropping up at night. Grandma would offer me lollies, but the catch was that I had to wait in the lift, on that chair, and go back up to the top by myself. By the time the lift reached the bottom again, she was gone.

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Kasey Symons says:

    Beautifully written Jack. A lovely tribute.

  2. E.regnans says:

    Well.

    Well.
    Thank you J Banister.
    I’ll raise a gin to your Gram. And to you. Play on.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Hi Jack. I feel I’ve just spent a little while with your Gram. She feels like a great soul. Thank you.

    I think the grandparent relations are so precious and yes, cruelly, we often realise later in life, when for some it is too late. My maternal grandmother died only a couple of years ago at 98. And I feel the ongoing fortune of the times I spent with her as a woman and then as a mother to her great grandson. But if I think about it, the same temperament and humour, calm and acceptance that I knew of her as a child – from even the small things like the way she welcomed us home – was what informed those later years too – the non intrusive advice, the observations, the quiet offers of experience. You might find that even as you grow older, on some level you know what your Gram’s responses would be, right there and then alongside you. I hope you do. And I think your travels and gins are the perfect links. I shall raise one for her too.

  4. A beautiful tribute to your grandmother.. and well done on putting pen to paper before you forget those special moments .

    I love these varied pieces that pop up on this site.

  5. JBanister says:

    Thanks all!

    Mathilde – so very true. i quite like the Lion King song, “He lives in you”. Which I guess is kind of true of all our ancestors, in little ways we don’t even realise. Play on!

  6. Peter Fuller says:

    Jack,
    Congratulations on this lovely evocation of your relationship with your Gram. I’m sure it resonates for any of us who have been lucky enough to have a doting Gram in our lives at least for some time – mine died just before my 16th birthday.
    I also found the geographic reference relevant. Even though I’ve never lived in the inner south, or for that matter the inner suburbs, I do have fond memories of the dog box train on the St. Kilda line, heading to the footy at the Junction or the Lake Oval. I’ve also spent a bit of time on the playing fields of the Park both before and after the Grand Prix re-development. I played a match on the Oval alongside the old South Melbourne Tech., which if my memory is correct is where the MSAC now stands.

  7. Joe De Petro says:

    Great stuff, JB. Hang on to those memories, Grandparents are the best.

  8. JBanister says:

    Thanks PF – I love that end of Melbourne. I just drift down when I can, for nostalgia’s sake. And it’s lovely. Just a quaint suburb. And that one sweet promenade…

    Cheers JDP – grandparents are the best, indeed!

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