Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My Nanna turns 90

Today is my paternal grandmother’s 90th birthday.

Phyllis Gwendolyn Roberts (nee Martin) was born during WWI in 1916 in Walmer near Deal, Kent, England. She was one of nine children. Phyllis attended primary school and the first year or two of high school before leaving to work as a nanny. In the mid 1930s she met my Welsh born grandfather George who was working as a pastry cook in Deal. They courted and subsequently married. In 1938 at the age of 22, Phyllis gave birth to their first child and my father An(tony). During the 1940s she became pregnant again a number of times but all were lost to miscarriage. In 1950, at the age of 34, Phyllis gave birth to their second child and my only Uncle, Martin. In 1952, the family left post-war England and set sail for a new and better life in Australia.

In Melbourne, Phyllis and George worked together in the hospitality industry managing restaurants in hotels and later established at least two cake shops.

In the early 1970s my grandmother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over subsequent years, she was confined to a wheelchair. My grandfather did a sterling job looking after her while he continued to work as a pasty cook in his own small local cake shop business: Samantha, Tiffany and Drew Cakes.

My grandfather died unexpectedly from septicaemia in December 1997 after a fall from a chair. My father drowned in the bath in April 2000.

My grandmother continues to live alone in her own home with the aid of numerous personal carers.

My Nanna has two biological granddaughters (me and my sister Tiffany) and one grandson (my cousin Drew); and two step granddaughters (Lisa and Donna); one biological great-granddaughter (Riley) and two step great-granddaughters (Morgan and Molly) and one step great-grandson (Tyler).

All my grandparents lived until their 80s: my maternal grandmother Lorna until 83 (road traffic accident); maternal grandfather Albert until 80 (pneumonia); and my paternal grandfather George was a week or so shy of turning 83 (septicaemia). My parents on the other hand have died young: my mother Helen at 32 (liver failure due to Hepatitis B) and my father Tony at 61 (drowning).

When I told “our” Timorese family that my grandmother was turning 90, they were seriously shocked. People simply do not live that long in Timor; in fact, most are dead well before that age. In Timor, the average life expectancy for men is 55 years. The President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmão will be 60 in June and therefore will have lived five years beyond the national average.

What a difference having access to good food, health care and education; and a secure income does for one’s life chances. What an unjust world we live in.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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