|On July 13, 1912 my grandmother Marjorie Olive Pearson was born in Millswood, lying in the first ring of suburbs outside the green-belt of parks that enclose central Adelaide. |
Her father Walter Harold "Wally" Pearson was of Swedish-Irish stock, fourth child of Sven Persson whose ancestry I recently discovered and outlined on this blog. Her mother Olive Videon had Anglo-German ancestors who bred like rabbits in 19th century South Australia. A 1988 edition of the Videon family tree in Australia ran to over 450pp.
I don’t know that much of her early life or at what point she got to Sydney, except that her family was quite well off before her father lost most of their money through gambling ( an acquaintance with the gangster Squizzy Taylor was mentioned ) and other bad luck around the time of the Depression. She would say that her father bemoaned this fall in fortune saying “you should be in furs” rather than working at a ladies’ haberdashery counter in a department store.
She married my grandfather Griffith Williams (5mo her junior) in 1936, and they had six surviving children over the next 17 years, with fifteen grandchildren following.
The first photo is taken on Bondi Beach about 1940 with her first two sons Peter and Graham (my dad), and her mother-in-law Beatrice. The next is taken I think in late 1964 where she’s holding me, again with Beatrice and my mother. It just occurred to me that I’m the only blood relative of all the women in that photo as there’s two lots of mother-in-law relationships.
From earliest times I called her “Marj” – which I always spelled as “Marge” in correspondence. I picked up the habit of calling both my grandmothers by their first name, but by the time I realised that this was unusual the habit had stuck and I’d passed it on to my younger brother.
My clearest memories of her are after my grandparents retired to a unit in Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches in the early 70s. During the 80s when I had moved up to Sydney to go to university I’d visit them on weekends as time and money permitted – it took a series of buses and ferries to get there and back. I’d often try to surprise them with my visits, knowing that they’d just be behind an unlocked screen door on the top floor of their block of flats. My grandfather would be further in watching TV, but Marge would be in the bedroom – perched on the side of the bed in a cloud of cigarette smoke, armed with crossword puzzles, magazines, a radio reciting horse-racing results, and occasionally additionally in conversation with one of my cousins (like Melinda above).
|It was easy just to “hang out” for an afternoon with her, while she alternately reminisced, asked about what we were getting up to, explained for the hundredth time her horse-racing system (which were mostly just paper bets which she recorded meticulously in a little book). Everything was punctuated by a deep smoker’s hacking cough and laughter – often the two were difficult to distinguish – which were much imitated by her grandchildren. |
There was something about the rhythm of domestic life that appealed to her. A few years ago I got hold of a set of her little diaries covering decades of life from at least the 60s. I thought there might be some mention of her children dating, or the birth of grandchildren, but there was almost none of that: it was notes that her husband had called to talk to her from work, something he must have done most days, or a reminder of minor chores.
|The last time I saw her in “full swing” was at my Master’s degree graduation in 1993 about six months after she had been widowed. |
I remember queuing up to enter the main hall with her and my father, and she asked me to remind her what I was getting awarded. Not missing a beat I told her I was getting “seven honorary doctorates, two Nobel Prizes, a Knighthood and a special certificate for my knitting prowess”. A woman behind me gasped indignantly and said that I shouldn’t lead her on like that, but Marge just squeezed my arm and laughed like a drain.
We had lunch at the Lamrock Cafe on Bondi Beach after that, probably the first time she’d been there in decades, not missing a thing that was going on around her.
Passing a little shy of her 83th birthday she left a large family who adored her. Here’s to you, Marge! xo