Sixty years ago I was a wide eyed, sharp eared kid growing up on Tasmania’s North West Coast.  One weekend my mother and  I visited her brother’s family in a nearby town.  Over afternoon tea my aunt  described an incident that had taken place a few days before. Always intrigued by ‘grown-up gossip’ (a sure  sign of a future writer)  I sat quiet as a mouse, hoping not to be banished outside.  I sipped my mug of milky tea and listened in.

My Aunt had visited a neighbour who had been operated on for  wide-spread cancer earlier that year.  It was  late in the morning when she called, but  her usually  house-proud friend was sitting reading her children a story, amid all the clutter of breakfast dishes.

My aunt made a lighthearted comment; “My word, you’re all taking things easy this morning”.

When the children were out of sight the neighbour said quietly:

“I know this place is a mess, but  lately I’ve been thinking that if anything happens to me, the kids won’t remember whether the washing up was done, but they might remember me telling them a story.”

My aunt and my mother were visibly moved. They both worried constantly about the state of their homes, perhaps at the expense of spending time with their children. I always remembered the story and I’m sure Mum did too, though I don’t recall ever discussing it with her afterwards.

By the mid ‘eighties I was married and living in Sydney.  My mother had separated from my father after a long, unhappy marriage and she came to stay with me quite often.  Her trips to Sydney were special for both of us. We saw so much of the city together that we could have been employed as tourist guides.

With my mother Myra at Circular Quay, Sydney.
With my mother Myra at Circular Quay, Sydney.

Free from the  strictures of small town life, Mum  was game to try anything, even riding a camel at the Royal Easter Show.  We took her out on our little  boat and when she caught her first fish in Sydney Harbour ,  onlookers spontaneously applauded.

Bravo Myra!
Bravo Myra!

In November 1983  Mum came to stay for what was to be the last time.  At 66, she had already undergone two major operations for  ovarian cancer. The pain returned during her holiday, but we told each other it was probably unrelated, knowing damned well it wasn’t.

My mother  was warm and friendly to everyone she met. However, at heart  she was a very private person; there were so many ghosts to keep at bay. She found it difficult to show  deep emotion, even to her children. Our closest moments had always come through a shared love of history, travel and  books.  There were special favourites among the latter;  Steinbeck’s ‘Grape’s of Wrath’, Richard Llewellyn’s ‘How Green Was My Valley’, Axel Munthe’s ‘Story of San Michele’. That year we had both watched the television series ‘Brideshead Revisited’, and subsequently enjoyed reading Evelyn Waugh’s novel on which the series was based.

Just before Mum flew back home we were spending a quiet afternoon on the balcony,  chatting about the novel.  Mum picked up my paperback copy and turned to the final pages, dealing with the death of Lord Marchmain.  Suddenly, she began to read aloud to me…….‘The weeks passed and still Lord Marchmain lived on………’

Although only briefly educated at a tiny bush school,  Mum read  beautifully. I remember feeling like a child again, completely enveloped by her love.  The memory of my aunt’s neighbour reading to her children was very powerful, but I didn’t mention it and nor did Mum.  She read right through to the scene where Lord Marchmain finally dies, having accepted absolution from the priest.

In February of the following year I went back to Tasmania to see Mum. By then she was very sick; far worse than I allowed myself to believe.  On April 14th, after I had returned to Sydney, she lost her long battle.

The last Christmas with Mum; so hot we ate in my sister's basement .garage!
The last Christmas with Mum; so hot we ate in my sister’s basement garage!

After Mum’s death, the memory of her reading those pages to me  was truly precious.  It was though in doing so she had given me some sort of absolution. It helped me deal with  my grief,  and with  the regrets one often feels after the death of a beloved parent. I felt it had bonded us as nothing else could.

I should add that Mum always read  to us  at bedtime when we were little. Sadly, I have no memory of specific stories, although my sister assures me she read us, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Strangely enough, I do remember searching for a magic door in our own wardrobe!  Reading  (and being read to)  creates  a magic door  for every child.

My first book  The Water Doctor’s Daughters was dedicated to  my mother.  She has always been my inspiration. If only she had been alive to see it published.


RIP Myra,  and blessings to  all  mothers who inspire their children with  spirit and courage, and who  take  time to read to them.

Of course parents who read for enjoyment themselves encourage their youngsters to do the same, even in this age of electronic devices.

Mothers on a bench, one a phone addict, one a book lover.

Yes, before long little ones will be reading all by themselves. 😍

A book, some bickies and glass of milk…Bliss!

UPDATE – In these troubled times I hope mothers are reading to their children even more. There is truly nothing more comforting.


To leave a message, especially about your own mother. Don’t forget to scroll down and complete the anti-spam sum before you press SUBMIT

  1. Beautiful, reflective, touching, and moving. My Grandmother read to us when she came to visit, and my Mother occasionally. I read to my children as well. And as your Aunt’s neighbour so rightly said, ” What will people remember? That the house was a mess, or that you spent time with those who are important to you?”.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Susan. My Grandmother (paternal) certainly never read to us, or offered to baby sit etc. When she came to stay my mother had to wait on her! Different world back then. Our sixth grade teacher Mr MacLaine used to read to us just for pleasure…it was heavenly.

  2. What a lovely tribute to your mother, Pauline. Today I remember my mum, who passed away in 2001, and her love for me and my children and think of my daughter and her, and my, love for her children.

    • Pauline

      Must be such special day for you Chris. Hope you get to talk to your daughter and the little ones in Italy!

  3. Thank you Pauline for generously sharing such a moving and deeply personal story. I wish I had met our Mothers.x

    • Pauline

      Well dearest Annabelle, I can tell you that their joy at knowing we connected after so long would swell their hearts to bursting!! xx

  4. A very moving account of your mum and her relationship with you. Thank you for sharing.
    I still miss my mum. She lived until she was 87 but I had lost her many years before to Alzheimers. Nevertheless, after she died I would see, hear, or read something, and the first thought was “oh, I must tell mum” before being pulled up short.
    I don’t ever remember either of my parents reading aloud to me or my siblings, but we could all read well at an early age, and were signed up for the local library in Chelsea the minute we were old enough to walk there.

    • Pauline

      Alzheimers is so cruel Marcia. I can relate to you strongly about wanting to share things with your mother after she died. I also used to dream all the time about meeting Mum in the street; was sad when I woke but the dreams were so warm and lovely.

  5. Story reading has been part of our bedtime routine: I distinctly remember my mother reading “Coral Island” to my sibs and I. My wife and I read the Narnia stories and others to our 3 daughters. When they were small our girls loved books by William Steig and Mitsumasa Anno particularly. We treasure those books now for our grandchildren.
    I grew-up in the west of Sydney in a “working class” suburb and many of my school-mates were less privileged with literacy. Our teacher of English was wise enough to simply read many books to us teenagers. Axel Munthe’s “Story of San Michele” was one; some of Conrad’s books, and Chesterton’s stories and essays I remember.
    Thanks for the recollections Pauline…

    • Pauline

      Thanks for your delightful contribution Tony. How interesting that your teacher chose to read The Story of San Michele. When my mother visited Europe before she died San Michele was one of the places she most wanted to visit..and she did. It was a pilgrimage on two counts because she loved Gracie Fields, who retired there.
      Must be such a joy to read to your grandchildren.

  6. Pauly, I just read your story and it brought back so many memories of your mum and your family they were the best childhood years. I often find myself remembering our south road years. love those memories.
    our mum has alhziemers so she can’t remember our great life on the farm.

    • Pauline

      So sorry to hear about your lovely Mum,Helen, it’s a truly cruel disease. Yes, they were simple and happy times!

  7. What a beautiful homage to your mother. And I love your writing style. I remember my mother reading to me from Grimm Fairytales. It was a heavy book covered in tiny faded flowers. Every night my mother sat at my bedside to read to me. What I vividly remember were her long pauses. That’s when she read on in silence, because she thought some parts were too brutal for my child ears. I kept asking what’s wrong – what’s wrong, studying endlessly the fainted flower print – till I finally fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. Thank you Mom for sparing me Grimm nightmares. 🙂

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