Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grandma Bear

Grandma Bear was a bit of a snob.  After living with her sister in New Zealand for a few years, she returned home to Australia with a double-barrelled surname.  Somewhere between Gisborne and Brisbane, she had acquired ... a hyphen.

I don't know where her uppity ways came from.  We were a working class family and she had been a cleaner, albeit in a posh private girls' school.  She often started a sentence with: "When I was at Somerville House ...".  By her dowager-like bearing, you would have thought she had been the headmistress.

We all loved her.  There was, after all, more to Grandma Bear than her social aspirations.

Born along Lower River Terrace, Kangaroo Point in 1889, she had witnessed Brisbane's 1893 floods and also remembered Aborigines camping in her back yard.  Her mother, in typical European style, gave them flour and tea.  Grandma's mother was a strict, upright, God-fearing Scots woman, and a "bit fey".  Her father was a Dane who had run off to sea at a young age.  Despite being Australian-born of a Scottish mother and a Danish father, she still called England "home".

Grandma lived with us for several years.  I used to sit with her in her bedroom listening to her stories of the past as dust danced in a shaft of sunlight coming through a high window.  I don't recall much now, but I do remember the sound of her deliberate voice as she talked about "the Miss this" or "the Misses that", as she referred to the young women of her youth.  She didn't have a distinct Australian accent, but I don't think she was "bunging it on".  It was probably just the accent from her era.

One of her favourite memories (or was it partly a romantic fantasy?) was of the Italian count - Count Catanzaro - who would have returned to Australia to marry her had it not been for the torpedo that ended his life in the Mediterranean Sea.  Strangely, her sister in New Zealand shared this same fantasy, but with herself as the intended bride.  She even went so far as to give her son the middle name "Catanzaro".  How must the poor kid and her husband have felt.

I remember seeing an old postcard the Count had sent to Grandma.  In the shaky handwriting of her old age, she had added the word "darling" to his greeting.  This, I guess, was intended to add strength to her story that it was, in fact, she who he wanted to marry and not her sister.

In a photo she kept of Count Catanzaro, he looked like a real dandy with his perfectly coiffed hair and clarinette for a prop.  Maybe his title of "Count" had also been just a prop, added to impress the local colonial ladies.  Although, a glance at his foppish appearance had me wondering if he might have actually preferred the local lads.

Ah, what would my childhood have been without Grandma Bear?  And who else in the family could have provided me with such amusing writing material?

Often when I write flash fiction, I draw on real life for ideas, but use a bit of poetic licence.  However, this story needed no embellishment at all.  Every word is absolutely true.


  1. Another fine piece of writing, Gaye.

  2. Thanks David, you're a sweetie. And your prediction that people would start reading my stuff is coming true. This story and one I wrote for ThinkingTen was picked up by The #shortstories Daily ( on September 30.

  3. I wish I could do the same with the lottery. :-)

    You write well, Gaye, so it was bound to happen.



As I walk by the river or sit in my tiny garden, not thinking of anything in particular, thoughts sometimes seep into my brain. If you'd like to read my seepage, here it is ...