Half her age

In just under a week’s time I will not be able to say, as I have been able to do for the past 2 months, that I am half the age of my beloved grandmother Oma.  On 8 March she will turn 95, and the neat mathematical division between us will cease to exist.

It occurred to me recently that she became a grandmother at the age I am now, and that astonishing thought lead me to reflect on the differences in our two lives. In fact it’s almost impossible to comprehend just how different our lives have been, but I thought I would give it a crack, as we go back to a point a week before Oma’s 47th birthday.

Oma Me
In March 1963, Oma is about to turn 47. In March 2011 I have been 47 for 2 months.
She and her family are immigrants – or postwar migrants as they were called then. Along with her husband and family, she became an Australian citizen soon after arriving in 1951. I was born in Western Australia and am an Australian citizen by birth.
She has been married for 19 years, and was 27 when she married the love of her life, who was 3 years older than her. I have been married for 15 years, and was 28 when I met the love of my life, who is 12 years older than me. He has been married twice before.
Her oldest daughter is 18, soon to be 19, and will be married in just over a year. 

Her second daughter, like her older sister, was born in Holland and is two months away from her 18th birthday. She is also one month away from becoming pregnant, five months away from getting married and 10 months away from having me. The fun-loving, dashing, father-to-be from the church youth group has been her boyfriend for four years. He is also an immigrant from a Ten Pound Pom family, and is welcomed into the family.

Her third child and only boy, born in Indonesia, is 13 and a half.

Her fourth child, another daughter, is 8 and the only child born in Australia.

My oldest son is 9, and my youngest son is 6. Both were born in Perth.
She lives with her family in an old, crumbling limestone cottage right on the banks of the Canning River in Perth. Although a great river playground for the kids, and having a large plot of land to grow vegetables and keep chooks, every year the river floods the house and gardens and it is not easy for her to maintain. Life is hard. I live in sturdy suburban brick home on Perth’s coastal strip which provides all the comforts of the 21st Century. Although a great playground for the kids, and having a large plot of land to grow vegetables and keep chooks, we chose to use most of it for a pool and outdoor entertaining area. It is easy to maintain. Life is good.
She is the black sheep of the family, having not only married ‘lower’ to a teacher but also been the only one in her family to make the big move to Australia via Indonesia after the horrors of WWII. Both she and her husband experienced things in occupied Holland that they do not talk about. I am the ‘only sheep’ (loosely speaking; another story) of the family, and have married a tradesman.  I have never experienced war in my country and have never had reason to leave it.
She is the only one of her five siblings without a university degree, although she has college qualifications in Home Economics.  She is a full time housewife.

Her husband works as a teacher.

I have a university degree, and am currently studying part-time at postgraduate level. I work casual contracts to supplment our income.

My husband works as a middle manager for a company that services the mining industry.

She grows her own vegetables and raises chooks which help sustain the vegetarian household. 

She makes and sews clothes and manchester for the household.

I manage to keep a few herbs, a struggling lemon tree, abandoned compost systems and dreams of vegie patches better maintained. I eat meat. 

I can sew a button and trouser hem, and dream of seams better maintained.

Although not her first language, she speaks English at home to help the children fit in to school. Thanks to her schooling, she can also read, write and speak French and German. I speak English, and can understand conversational Dutch but not speak it. I understand conversational Italian and did a six-week introduction to French course once.
I think she misses her family in Holland, but is proud of what she has achieved in her new life in Australia. She finds the time to write to her siblings and parents, and is planning a holiday to go back and see them. I have visited her family in Holland, and am proud that I have Dutch heritage in my life. I struggle to find the time to stay in touch with my family around Australia, although I have many more ways of doing so than Oma ever did, and have planned a holiday to see some of them soon.
Although she doesn’t know it, she is about to become a grandmother. And what a grandmother she will be. Lucky me. I know I will not be a grandmother for a number of years. When and if the time comes, if I can be even half the grandmother she has been, the grandkids will be lucky indeed.

Happy birthday Oma x

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