Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Life's little day


Once, long years ago now, an experienced Australian geriatric nurse came to the village, at the time when my mother-in-law, whom I always called Yiayia (Granny) because the children did, had reached the stage of reminiscing endlessly and repetitively. She was in her early 80s, and I admit that I moaned to the visitor about this tendency. Robyn, however, brought me up short.

‘Your job at present is to allow Yiayia to replay the past, to process it.’

‘Replay it!’ I grumbled. ‘Sometimes she’s like a broken record.’ And immediately felt ashamed, for Yiayia’s past, after all, had been marked by years of war, poverty and struggle, by the kinds of hardship I had never known.

‘It doesn’t matter. The old have that right. With luck, we’ll be old ourselves one day.’

And now I am old, although not as old as Yiayia was then. And I think of Robyn and her wisdom quite often. I hope I’m not repeating myself too much, although I know I regularly forget to whom I’ve said what.

But the business of life review is definitely engrossing me, the more so as flashes of memory leap rather than swim into my ken apparently out of nowhere, but obviously out of deep recesses of the ageing brain. I remember my grandmother repeating what her mother had told her: You get it all back, Doris. I think the ancient ancestor might have had comeuppance rather than the cyclic nature of life in mind, but still.


'They were always loving and kind: they also taught me a great deal about the value of hard work and of persistence in the face of adversity such as drought, financial worry and persistent ill-health. All their lives, they clung to what was good, and managed to be entertaining and fair as well.'


I also think that with age, we become more aware of the people, apart from the obvious examples of our parents, who helped form us. They march through my memory now, these people: my grandparents and their many siblings, my teachers, the ministers and Sunday School teachers, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins. And my friends: I am still in touch with three people I met when we were all seven, even though oceans divide us: I wonder how many people can say that? Although my mother could, almost: she met her best friend when they were both aged 12, and in the first form of high school, and that friendship lasted for 60 years, until my mother died. But her best friend lives on, and has met two of my grandchildren.

The places are there, too: the farms, the townships, parts of suburbia, that sense of space dwindling. It was a less nomadic age: people usually stayed put, mostly doing their best to flower where they had been planted.

I suppose I remember my aunts best; my parents each had a sister. My father’s sister Fay had been a spoiled only girl: she was never allowed to do the washing up for fear of the effect on her pretty hands, but at 21 she married a dairy farmer (even though she was scared of cows) and had to change her ways. In between milking ninety cows, rearing pigs, and being a stalwart of the church and the Country Women’s Association, she raised four daughters, all of whom turned out well, as the saying goes.

My mother’s sister Muriel, always known as Moo, also raised four successful daughters. When she at last had a boy, she was quite bewildered at the novelty. But of course he also turned out very well: how could he miss, with four big sisters and an understanding mother? For Moo had had early maternal practice : eleven years older than my mother, her little sister, she often stood in for their own mother, an overworked woman who had been widowed early, and in the bad year of 1929.

Fay’s farm was part of a community, but so was Moo’s modest weatherboard in the western suburbs of Melbourne: everybody in the street knew everybody else, and one woman was even able to lay out those who had died. Moo knew all the neighbours, one of whom wept when Moo’s daughters came on a sentimental journey after her death. Another world, another era.

I spent long periods of time with Fay and Moo, both of whom are long gone. But how well I remember them, and how glad I am that I knew them. They were always loving and kind: they also taught me a great deal about the value of hard work and of persistence in the face of adversity such as drought, financial worry and persistent ill-health. All their lives, they clung to what was good, and managed to be entertaining and fair as well.

They taught me by example what a woman could be, and so did Yiayia: I hope I learned.




Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration. 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Memory, Age, Past, Family



submit a comment

Existing comments

I was visiting my 93 y.o. mother just recently. She lives in a town on the western slopes of the Great Dividing ranges. As we do - our conversations range back from the present to the distant past - invoking radical changes in our world from when her father was born in rural Kent, her grand-mother born in the 1850s in Sydney but married and raising a family in pre-colonial then post-colonial Fiji. My mother sits with her memories - she shuffles some photos - all the elderly women at our church who kept a friendly eye on her and her two little boys - the pastor and his wife equally protective - the wife with whom I was in contact when I was an Education Officer - she a lecturer in early children's literature. The pastor from India (partition era or just before the war - who married my parents in 1948 - my mother filled with loving memories of all those people who had guided her. She worked hard - all her life. It was not an easy life yet she is grateful for those who played and now play a part in her more restricted life - though still in her own home...as now none of those she loved - a younger sister and brother excepted - are still living. We trade our memories - I'm only 18, 19 years her junior - back-and-forth - and those important figures from her past come alive again as we talk. Thanks for this theme, Gillian.

Jim KABLE | 20 September 2023  

'The past is another country.' For many of us the past is, at least partially, in another country and in an almost vanished era. In Australia we currently seem to be rewriting the past in a very unflattering manner. I am not sure this rewritten version is true. History is about ordinary people: their life; loves; friends; families; houses etc. Our modern society seems to be somewhat transient compared to the past. What memories then will Gen X have? I wonder. I have done a lot of reminiscing recently, mainly to myself. Some ancestral memories, like what my great-uncle George did to get kicked out of the Ooty Club in the days of the Raj will stop here. A cousin did ask me about him once. At that time there may well have been retired ICS or Indian Army men in England who remembered him as 'that bounder.' Thank heavens my grandfather was nothing like that!

Edward Fido | 21 September 2023  

Lovely tribute, Gillian, to the memory of your aunts and the theme is so apropos to us "getting to be oldies" where people and places from the past "march through" our memory more and more. (This often happens uncontrollably in the middle of the night.) As you say, the important thing is to learn what those who came before had to teach us.

Sherri Moshman-Paganos | 21 September 2023  

A lovely piece, Gillian. Inspiring, too. Like you, we can only hope to absorb and practise the great qualities that made such women an invaluable part of life, whether in the country, the suburbs or the city.

Juliet | 22 September 2023  

Another thoughtful article Gillian, thank you. It seems to me that although your aunts lived ordinary lives they have had a wonderful effect on the lives of the people around them, by leading kind and good lives. That's a fantastic thing to contemplate.

Stephen | 28 September 2023  

What a rich background and memory you have, Gillian, of people and places long gone. Clearly you have mined them and are yourself happier and stronger for what you have found -- and loved.

Meriel Wilmot-Wright | 02 October 2023  

Similar Articles

Wifedom and the casual patriarchy

  • Bill Uren
  • 26 September 2023

Why has Orwell's wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, been strikingly omitted from his many biographies? As Anna Funder's Wifedom delves into this oversight, we're prompted to question: have we truly moved beyond the casual patriarchy?


Lightning Ghosts

  • John Kinsella
  • 25 September 2023

I sense them in the air when it’s said there’s little or no chance of a storm — they are apostrophes to themselves, shaped like diacriticals. This is a mundane observation to offer up when the flash closes the light out —that loss of speech to pyrography.