Friday, 22 March 2013




My mother is 92 years old next month.

   She recently wrote her first short story. It’s about a Siamese cat named Sam. Sam was an integral part of the family for 10 years and mum’s story is so full of unbridled affection and joy, it’s a tale that warms your heart.

   For mum to write this was an amazing achievement when you consider her background. She had to leave school at 13, in the middle of the Great Depression, because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her there. What with three brothers and three sisters, life must have been very difficult for the family, especially with her father in and out of work. She managed to secure a job as a shop assistant and her earnings helped to keep food on the table.

   She married my father in 1939 when she was 18. My sister was born after a year and I made an appearance three years later. My father was a builder, but was prepared to try his hand at anything to provide for the family. We lived in a coastal town 50 miles north of Sydney where work was always hard to come by. However, because he was an ardent gardener, as well as very competent in backyard poultry keeping, we always had good, nourishing food to eat.  Mum was the primary child raiser, keeper of the house and maintainer of the flower beds that surrounded our modest house.

   In 1978 she had a major breakdown and after months of treatment was placed on Lithium, a mood stabilizing drug, after being diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Over the years she’s had a range of health problems to contend with, including a heart condition. However, always lurking in the background was the specter of depression. Her despair surfaced big-time about five years ago and she became virtually incapable of looking after herself. A rearrangement of medication didn’t help much and it was obvious she needed full-time care, above and beyond the home care and meals that were being provided. My sister, Carole, lives about 1,000 kilometers north in Queensland and it was wearing her out driving all that distance to assist mum through her bad patches. I was of little help because I lived 800 kilometers south in Melbourne and had a full-on job demanding my presence. To our relief, mum agreed to move north to an aged care center near where my sister lived.

   My mother had always been a keen reader and letter writer. However, both of these pastimes fell by the wayside as her depression enveloped her. Her first 12 months at the aged care center (a new, impressive facility near Moreton Bay) was a difficult and challenging adjustment for her, having left the family home where she’d lived for over 60 years. Fortunately she struck up some immediate friendships which made the upheaval easier for her.  After some months, her reading began to gradually pick up, but my sister had to do all of her writing for her. However, her attitude was still predominantly coming from doom and gloom.

   Then, late last year, her best friend at the center had a stroke that impacted on her mental ability as well as on her mobility and mum found herself spending more and more time supporting her. Within a month, I noticed a shift in my mother’s attitude whenever I talked to her on the phone. She was definitely showing signs of being more upbeat and positive. This positive change of mood continued to grow and in January she wrote me a half page letter, laboriously written with a very shaky hand. A three page letter arrived a few weeks later and her handwriting had improved noticeably. In between time, unbeknown to me, she was working on her short story.

   Mum thinks her improvement in attitude and moods is attributable to changes in her medication. My guess is that her attitude took a turn for the better when she decided to put her friend’s needs ahead of her own. I believe her concern for her friend’s welfare and her dedication in demonstrating her love and support for her was the catalyst for her attitudinal change. Regardless of the cause, it was a miraculous turnaround.

   A couple of weeks ago a parcel arrived in the mail. Inside was a folder with typewritten pages, together with drawings, inserted in plastic sleeves. It was mum’s short story – ‘SAM’ by R.J. Leane. My sister, Carole, had done the typing and drawn the illustrations – mainly of cats of course.

   Carole also wrote a piece - ‘About the Author’. Here is an extract:

What makes this story rather special is that, on the 2nd of April 2013, Jess turns 92 and this is the first story she has ever written.

She has already started on her second story called ‘Tess’.

Jess wishes this story called ‘Sam’ to be dedicated to her daughter Carole, her son Don and her grandchildren Michael, Greg, Lisa, Harvey and Hannah.

My mother exemplifies the fact that it’s never too late to change our minds and change our lives.

I’m very proud of my mum!


  1. My mom is 94 and was a Depression era kid, and it changed her whole life. She still lives in fear that she will lose all her money and sometimes I think rightly so.

  2. Having to leave school at 13 was something that left her unfulfilled. I can't even begin to imagine the difficulties of living through the Depression. I recall mum telling me about, at times, the family having fried bread and dripping for their evening meals.