A century in the making

My grandmother was called Peace as a child. She was the youngest of three girls – the formidable McDougall girls. Her closest sister was born in 1914 and grandma in 1918 – war and peace. That wasn’t her real name though – her real name was June.

Peace suited her. The first-born was self-assured, confident, intellectual and renowned for her elegant beauty. The middle sister was feisty, concerned about appearances, passionate about social justice, and a trouble maker. But grandma was quiet, determined, passionate, devoted to family, and the peacemaker. She leaned very strongly towards the left in her lifetime of politicking, and had more than the occasional Peace sign hanging around the house. Born in 1918, she still took to being a child of the ’70s.

Grandma was born into an era where electricity, running water, and motor vehicles were rarities. Those new-fangled things came later in her lifetime – but as a young girl, she used candlelight and kerosene lamps, carted buckets from the well, and spent most of her early years with horses and carts. If they ran out of milk, she walked a few miles to the neighbours with bucket in hand, squeezed a little out of old Daisy, then walked home again.

They may have been simpler times, but they were active.

She developed a deep and abiding love of plants and animals. All three girls were outstanding gardeners and devoted pet owners. Grandma had an uncanny knack for reviving dead plants or bringing an almost lifeless animal back from near death. She spent many an hour sitting with a sick or injured animal, nursing it back to health. Her instincts with the sick and injured were spot on – every time. She nursed an orphaned wombat back to life after it’s mother was killed and it remained a beloved pet for years. She also remembered seeing a Tasmanian Tiger – a real one. Extinct since 1936, the last Tasmanian Tiger was in captivity at the Hobart Zoo and she visited it on a number of occasions before it died from cold in the night.

Her family also instilled in the girls, a great love of books, reading and poetry. Grandma became renowned for her little library – containing thousands of books – from Shakespeare to Readers Digest, fact to fiction, high brow to romance. She had everything, and read everything. She could recite the sonnets of Shakespeare, recommend a Dickens novel, or quote snippets of Kipling. She never traveled the world in person – but visited every corner in spirit. Of the thousands of books she owned, every single tome was read from beginning to end at least once. She could do without a great many things in life – but not without books. Every birthday and Christmas we were gifted with one of her books – something picked out especially because it had a special connection to the recipient by a name, place, or circumstance. Unfortunately she was also very attached to every one of those books and invariably forgot she’d gifted it, demanding its return anon.

Capping off the three great loves of her life, was family. Sometimes as a close family member it could be hard to tell – she was not demonstrative and was prone to high levels of expectation. But she also adored each and every one of us. All transgressions were quickly forgiven the moment we turned up with a smile and a fresh flower from the garden.

I was very close to my grandmother as I lived with her when I was a small child.

My brother and sister were only a year apart and quite a handful at times, so I would stay with grandma for weeks at a time. She spent her entire life taking in not just stray and orphaned animals, but stray and orphaned women and children as well. Her door was always open, and a spare bed always found, no matter the day or time. Financially always struggling, her table was never empty and all were welcome to share what she had. She was a champion of lost children and women.

In her 98 years, she led a simple life – she only ever traveled interstate to visit family and never went overseas. She had worked as a milliner before marriage and children. She devoted her life to raising her own children and any that crossed her path, nurturing every plant in the garden and turning bare dirt into a veritable rainforest, and caring for a menagerie of cats, dogs, birds, fish, horses, wombats, all creatures great and small. Intertwined with a love of all things Scottish, reading any book she could get her hands on, and listening to opera. She indulged in a glass of wine or two every afternoon, gave up smoking more times than anyone I know – finally giving it up permanently in her 80s, and ate simply. She was blessed with excellent health and longevity, a sharp mind and quick wit.

She died at 98 and 2/3 (life really does come full circle – there comes an age where we start counting the halves and quarters again). In other words, 1184 months, or 5149 weeks, or 36,035 days old. When she was born the population of Australia was just over five million, the number one song Over There by Enrico Caruso, number one movie Mickeyand the number one novel The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey. In the US, the price of gold was $20.67, a new home cost $2736 and a loaf of bread cost just $0.10.

She lived through the great depression, saw the invention of television, watched three monarchs crowned in Great Britain, and saw Dame Joan Sutherland live at the Hobart Town Hall. She welcomed new life into the world, and farewelled most of her loved ones.

Her life was simple and ordinary, extraordinary and unique. Now reunited with her adored parents, sisters, daughter and estranged husband. A grandson, granddaughter and host of family members. Countless friends, lost lovers and a multitude of pets. She will never be alone. She will not be forgotten. Fly free. Rest in peace grandma. xx