The baby dresses still hang in my mother’s wardrobe. They’ve been there since 1956. That was the year that Anne died. She was 14 months old.
Today, Mum is 85 but she remembers the accident as though it was yesterday. The back of a truck, the lights of an oncoming car, then the face of an angel – a nurse at a hospital in Melbourne, hundreds of miles from her last memory.
At some point, she can’t remember quite when, Dad broke the news that would break anyone’s heart. Their daughter was gone. Torn from her arms, never to return.
For Mum, Anne would only ever live in her memories. They were memories of a smiling baby but they were also dreams for a daughter who one day might become a mother or a missionary.
But those dreams were gone, replaced only by the grim reality of life on a dairy farm. Milking twice a day, raising a son, giving birth to another, then another, then another, then making the long trip across the Nullabor Plain in a scene torn from the pages of Grapes of Wrath.
She raised her brood of 4 boys in a tent that moved from a Paperbark swamp on a farm in Esperance to the windswept sand plains of a virgin bush block near Hopetoun. She had no spa and no ensuite, no hairdryer and no electric blanket. She didn’t even have running hot water.
Despite all of this Mum was always happy. She cooked and laughed and washed and smiled and made me feel that the city kids with their fancy clothes and fancy bikes were the ones missing out.
She taught me how to wash sheets in a copper, how to not get my hand caught in the clothes wringer and how to collect eggs from a clucky chook.
And she taught me about my sister. About how she was so quiet and gentle and beautiful and about how she died.
She taught me that sometimes life doesn’t turn out quite how you’d like it to, but you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep moving on.
The baby dresses still hang in my mother’s wardrobe. In my mind they always will.