My maternal grandmother was a ‘good ole girl,’ much loved by her grandchildren.
Taller than many of her vintage with lovely long hair and although no longer the good looking young lass by the time I came along, she had the beauty of maturity.
Being the oldest grandchild I had certain liberties with her, mostly though, I had to take responsibility for anything the younger ones did.
When young, I spent many months on the farm between Armidale and Bundarra in the New England district of New South Wales. It was super-fine wool growing country where the family ran about 2,000 head of Merinos and about 100 Hereford cows.
Their average wool micron size was 16-18, in other words, super-fine and suitable, in its day, for the finest Italian suits.
The family secret
Now Granny never lived in town until her last couple of years, she was a country girl from start to finish and had all the skills to go with it.
She came from a well-to-do family who were pioneers in the district and how she came to marry my less-than well-to-do grandfather was a family secret. The truth being, she became pregnant at 18, he was 28, the result being my mother and we were never supposed to know.
She taught me how to crack a whip, she taught me how to shoot snakes with the ‘orchard gun’ (.410 shotgun) – the farm had an over-abundance of Eastern Browns, the most deadly of common snakes in Australia – she taught me to ride with only a corn-bag for a saddle, she loaned me her horses (she had been an outstanding lady rider in her youth) and she made me learn to drink black tea from wine bottles when out in the paddock away from home.
One abiding memory is of us kids searching through the farm sheds, under sheets of iron or in the creek bed looking for snakes.
They weren’t hard to find.
As soon as we found one, the shout went out for Granny to bring the gun.
We’d stand back and the old girl, with her skirt hitched up and her long legs going ‘10 to the dozen’ would come running from the house, loading the gun on the run and shooting the snake before she stopped.
I’ve never seen a better shot on the run than my grandmother.
She’d tell us to stay away from the old sheds but was no sooner out of sight than we were back on the search again.
I never felt more at home than when I’d help her light the kitchen fire at daybreak and make toast with a wire fork held in front of the coals before the men went out to milk the house cows.
It was a farm which supported five families in those days and now barely supports my cousin with his family having left for town jobs.
Later in life I spent many happy hours with Granny and was there toward the end when she passed away.
Granny had been brought up with Christian values; she’d attended church as a teenager and had been to many church functions with her family, as was fairly common in the early 20th century, until she married my grandfather.
Unlike my paternal grandfather, a wonderful Christian man, my maternal grandfather was anything but.
So now I often wonder about my loving grandmother. Did she hold onto those Christian values to the end?
Did she believe in Jesus as the Son of God? Had she been born again?
I also wonder if I should have asked her these questions before she died. I had the opportunity, I had the faith and desire but I didn’t.
If she died an unbeliever, where does it leave me?
I loved her so and yet I may have let her pass to the next world as an unbeliever and it challenges me to this day never to let it happen again.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 7 grandchildren.
John Skinner's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-skinner.html