This week my amazing mother celebrated her 101st birthday.
For over twenty years I have dreaded having to say farewell to Mum after a visit. Living so far away from her I have always been afraid each goodbye could be the last. That hug, that kiss, they could be my permanent farewell to someone I have tried (and probably failed in most part) to emulate my whole life. We are so blessed to still have her with us.
It has always been my intention to write something about this incredible woman’s life, but somehow I’ve never managed to get beyond a few pages. Today I’ve realised I’d set my goal in the wrong medium and in concentrating on my romance writing, I’ve pushed aside thoughts of sharing her stories. It’s now time to stop procrastinating. What better place to share some of those memories than on my blog. I hope my readers will enjoy and possibly find some inspiration from whatever details I can share of her life. A life that has spanned an era with probably the most incredible changes ever.
On the afternoon of 6 January 1915 my mother was born in Invercargill, a small city on the southern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. She was the fifth daughter and seventh child of her parents James and Bessina. Three more brothers would follow later. Stories of her birth included details of terrific heat that day – mid summer in New Zealand. I’ve discovered the temperature high for the day actually sat at 58F (14C) degrees, so was unusually low for that time of year. I guess my grandmother misinterpreted the heat with labour induced energy. She had shared with Mum how the nurse had sat and wiped her brow all day long waiting for the birth.
Mum was apparently a breach birth. Her mother blamed this on an accident while pregnant where the horse bolted and Bess lost her seat on the cart, falling down onto the steps, and clinging on tight until the horse reached home. She only managed to avoid being thrown out altogether.
If either of Mum’s parents needed to go anywhere by train, they would need to drive the horse and cart to either Morton Mains or Woodlands where the train from Lumsden to Invercargill stopped. As the time for each birth got closer, Bess would take the train into Invercargill and stay with her sister-in-law, Maimie, until it was time to go into the nursing home.
Another memory Mum has of her arrival into the family is one of her older sister’s comments – frequently repeated for many years to come – that she was “the ugliest baby ever born” – possibly voiced because Mum had “long, black hair” when born – we were never able to determine how “long” this hair was, I suspect it was not particularly long at all.
Mum has always hated her name, probably because people pronounced and spelled it incorrectly, as well as commenting about its uniqueness. She was named after two World War I battle sites in France. We know her father set off in the train to register her birth with agreed upon names – we never found out what they were though. We can only suppose he was reading a newspaper (I’m still unable to find mention of these battles in newspaper archives) as there would have been no other way he could have gained access to the names. Another interesting fact that has come to light. My nephew, a military historian, has put paid to the family story that New Zealand troops were involved in these battles. They were nowhere near. When My grandfather returned to the farm, he had registered his little girl as Merville Lille. Sixty years later, Mum discovered he had forgotten which order he had used these names. Her birth certificate stated she was Lille Merville.
I have spent a couple of hours this morning going over some of her writing. Years ago I’d encouraged her to record some early memories and put together with numerous audio tapes I made over the years as we talked family history, I have a great source of detail. In sharing some of these stories with my readers here, I’m also able to compile a record for my family. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren see her only as she is now (or has been during their own life times). Last years 100th birthday celebrations showed us how interested they were in discovering the woman she has been.
Please join me as I begin a very personal journey through the twentieth century and beyond as experienced through the eyes of my mother.