Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

January 2013

‘God Bless Us, Everyone,’ as the sainted Tiny Tim, of Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, was wont to say. A good thought this, and a wish most of us are in sore need of, particularly at the start of yet another year. For 2012 has not been the best of years for the world, and that’s putting it mildly: the American satirist Will Durst has referred to 2012 as the Year of Living Stupidly. Wars, shocking atrocities, miscarriages of justice, persecution and exploitation of groups and individuals, abuse of the environment, and man’s inhumanity to man continued in all sorts of awful and often unimaginable computations and permutations. My eldest son has told me that he did not read a single newspaper or view a single newscast for the whole of 2009, and felt much the better for it: one can understand his point of view.

I try to keep up with what’s happening in the present (WHY?), but every so often the effort becomes all too much, and I slip back gratefully into the past, into my deep well of memory. This is what happens when one is on the brink of old age, I am learning. I struggle to remember what happened yesterday, but can remember, in shadowy fashion admittedly, certain things that happened when I was three. And that, gentle reader, is a very long time ago, when my original family and I were part of a much simpler world. I remember, for example, tearing at what I felt sure was breakneck speed down a suburban street in Melbourne: the plane trees were in leaf, and formed a canopy overhead. I was riding my tricycle on my way to meet my great-uncle and his sister, my grandmother.

The men of the family are remembered, certainly: they were the bases of power and general security. But they came and went to work and to their sporting interests, while the women were the ones who were always there, answering to immediate needs and, if a child were lucky, providing a stimulating environment. And I was a lucky child, no doubt about it. Mine was a generation that, because of a post-war housing shortage, lived with grandparents very often: I lived with my paternal grandparents until I was seven, although my maternal grandmother and a great-aunt had a turn at providing accommodation as well. To this day I feel sorry for people who have never known their grandparents.

Now I recall voices, and feel a sharp pang of regret that I have no recordings, for voices change from generation to generation and under the influence of various factors such as Estuary English and American accents beamed constantly around the world: people no longer speak Australian English the way my grandparents did. And my grandparents and parents were restrained and polite: the only four letter word I ever heard inside their houses was a very occasional damn! (Outside the houses could of course be different.)

The women in the family (and it usually the women who transmit the culture) were all quietly religious; they believed in good and conscientious behaviour. And were not restrained in passing on what they considered to be cast-iron rules.

Always be a lady. Be considerate and obedient. Be scrupulously kind, honest and generous. Think good thoughts. Respect your elders. Put yourself last.

Those instructions were part of the secular list, as it were. But my grandmothers’ other lists were biblically, proverbially, or poetically based, and were long.

No hymns of hate. Birds in their little nest agree. Pot calls kettle black. The love of money is the root of all evil. Beauty is only skin-deep. Put not your trust in princes. Do not waste your sweetness on the desert air or cast your pearls before swine. Do not let the sun set on your anger. Evil wishes come home to roost. Let your light so shine before men. Turn the other cheek. Fight the good fight. Be of good courage. Go the second mile. Do unto others.

Such exhortations make the grannies sound like deadly dull people. They weren’t. They loved jokes and riddles and word-play, and did not hesitate to send up well-worn Biblical texts: The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come forth!’ But he slipped on a banana skin and came fifth instead. Or: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If God doesn’t get you, the Devil must!

I am quite sure the Devil hasn’t got them, but then I haven’t, either, for they are all, my grandmothers, mother, and sister, long gone. But I remember them, and call them back, and not just on New Year’s Day.

And in doing so, I remember another important grandmotherly instruction: Count your blessings. And so I try to do just that. Three generations of women were all a great blessing to me, and remain so. 

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018