In my 30’s I read a book titled “The White Chrysanthemum changing images of Australian Motherhood” .It was a collection of stories selected by Nancy Keesing published in 1977, the year before the arrival of my third child.
I recently found a copy on line and I am salivating at the prospect of getting it again so that I can reread it from the perspective of a seventy year old mother of four adult children, four dearly loved and lost unknown daughters and grandmother of six.
It is only today, while searching for the book online that I found another book with the same title by Lynn Bracht, which tells of the horror endured by Korean women and girls sold into slavery by the Japanese military in the second World War. I’ll be reading that one too.
The thing I most remember about the book is the introduction. (I think) It was a wonderful expose on why the White Chrysanthemum is the perfect flower to represent motherhood in celebration of Mothers’ Day. It describes the glorious bloom of the flower. Purity personified. Undefiled shining white. Placed reverently and with love in a beautiful vase. Positioned on mantle pieces, side tables or centered carefully on dining room tables. Lovingly given and received to celebrate the wonder, dignity, joy and beauty of motherhood to which I, as a young mother, aspired!
Pristine and abundant in its beauty and form it remains in its place of honour for days and days. Sometimes weeks and weeks until there is the slightest whiff of something off in the air. Not as strong as gone off citrus, but something suggesting a little pong, a bit like the kitchen sink when it is a bit blocked, needing a good dose of Draino!. The pong rapidly develops into a malicious odour that pervades ever corner of the home and the happy recipient (usually) is shanghaied by the other residents of the home, into action!
And what follows is perfect proof of the appropriateness of the bloom for the maternal celebration day! Received with joy! Carefully positioned in a spot of reverence! Admired by onlookers! Bringing smiles! Demanding no notice or attention whatsoever! BUT!
What follows next is horror! Once released from the confines of the Waterford Crystal or Royal Doulton vase, or the Mothers day gift vase made by the 10 year old in craft class the great leveller of what goes on down below is there for everyone!
A gluttonous, reeking, foul stink bomb of stems and leaves. Stomach turning when seen, almost toxic to the point of collapse when inhaled, it lies there! Flowers a little wilted perhaps but still white and pure, the rest of it, well on the way to decomposition!
I remember feeling at the time of reading this that it was perhaps a little unkind to the “white Mums” that could be purchased all over town. But not anymore! I have become one!
From the top of my head the thick, dark locks of my youth are white! Still struggling under the constraint of my hair follicles, they grow thick and strong and uncontrollable requiring five weekly cropping!My face has signs of age by has not yet turned into something that resembles my husbands long since ironed shirts! My hands are a bit swollen courtesy of arthritis. Osteoporosis makes standing straight a bit like winding the handle on the Hills Hoist but I get there, but from there down?
“I used to have an hour glass figure but how the sands have shifted”! That’s not all bad news though because the shift in the “sands” has provided me with a sort of “modesty flap” once used in Jantzen one piece swimmers for men and women! Not a pube (what’s left of them) to be seen. The other day I had a wonderful yarn with a friend from way, way back and she spoke about the challenge of the need to exercise (walk) while maintaining an irritable bowel! The challenge for me , which I know can be fixed, is either fluid retention or fluid release! I know I do not need to expand on reference to odour either suffice it to say the lyric “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind” has a much more particular interpretation than when Bob Dylan wrote the words!
So, here I am. Gladly embracing what is left of my “blooming” . I never really liked the flowers. I like the different hues of them even less. But in hindsight, I do see their relevance! I hope I remain constrained by my “containers”, my kids and theirs and my friends for a bit longer. At least when I am “released” I won’t have to put up with the next bit!
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