Mangroves and memories

The mangroves peeping up over the high tide looked like they were hanging on for dear life. It seemed that at any moment they could go under, and that would be their finale. But they are brave little soldiers and stand upright despite the creeping tide. How admirable.

The mangroves have inspired me to stand tall in the face of all-encompassing grief. My mother was an admirable woman who migrated to Sydney in the 20s and grew up during the Great Depression in the streets of Newtown, when it was a very different place to what it is today – a popular destination for newly arrived migrants from Southern Europe, and totally deplete of fancy restaurants and art galleries.

She told us stories of discrimination that occurred before words like bullying and racism were in the common vernacular.  She proudly recalled throwing a classmate’s school shoes into the creek (back when shoes were precious commodities) after he called her a “dago”. She also regularly recounted another tale – when crossing the Harbour bridge soon after it opened,  a girl with red hair had called her a dago in the public toilets. My mother waited until the girl was locked in her cubicle, and then sang her the song “Go home to your mother you dirty red bugger, you don’t belong to me”. On hearing the song, the red-haired girl came out in anger and ripped my mother’s dress. My mother then had to return to Newtown by train while holding her dress together. She did it and remained above water!

These stories were from the early years of my mother’s life, and she went on to endure more situations that caused her pain – I guess as most of us do. She was able to maintain composure and strength, inevitably picked herself up, and went onto experience more joy and pleasure. She taught me that it isn’t what happens to you but how you deal with it that is most important. Her adage was “enjoy your life”.

So when I look at those mangroves peeping over high tide down at the bay and then see them again in their full splendour standing tall at low tide, I can only think of my mother.