I wish you could tell me, Mum

May 23, 2016 at 5:00 am | Posted in Australia, Family, Family History, heritage, History, Love, Memoir, Polio epidemic, Reading, Reflections, Writing and Life | 29 Comments
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Today, the 23rd of May, would have been my mother’s birthday.  Sadly,  however, Mum lost her battle with illness almost 22 years ago, on the 13th June 1994, at the age of 74, less than seven years older than I am now.

I was close to Mum as a child, though I knew little of her earlier life. The selfish perspective of youth meant that I knew her less as she aged. Then, at the age of just twenty, I married and left home.

For almost all of the next twenty-five years, I lived some distance away, having children, seeing them grow up, getting divorced from their father, entering what was then a forbidden relationship, moving even farther away in both miles and understanding, visiting briefly only once or twice a year. It was only when Mum was on her death bed that I returned home, helped Dad nurse Mum there for two weeks before attending her funeral.

I have always regretted that distance between us. As I grew into my forties, I wanted to know her better, but it was already too late. Illness had made the last years difficult for her.

A few years ago, while Dad was still alive, I wrote a poem called. “What’s your story, Mum?”. Recently, Dad having died in June 2013, I edited the poem and re-named it “I wish you could tell me, Mum”. Here it is, on what would have been her 96th birthday.


Agnes Thompson 1941 front

Mum aged 21, 1941


I wish you could tell me, Mum


What’s your story, Mum?

I wish you could tell me.

Dad told me his when he was still here,

when I could finally visit from far away

But you had already left us then.


We often talked about you, Mum.

He’d tell me of when you were young.

Like how beautiful you were, how popular,

and how, even before he’d met you,

there was never any other girl for him.


His eyes lit up as he told of how you’d laugh,

And how the joy of it made his heart sing.

Of how you later ‘walked out’ together,

through wet, coal-blackened streets,

and for miles over cold and windy moors.


He’d remember how you both loved to dance,

as if the two of you were one,

Still gliding and twirling when the band

And everyone else was exhausted.


Dad told me, Mum, about the births of your children.

The first, a son, and the paralysis his arrival caused.

He told me how he couldn’t defend you against the pain

whilst flying his plane far away in defence of your country.


He said how wonderful it was later,

to assist in the births of your three daughters,

at home, in the bed where we had been conceived.

He told me what a great home-maker you were,

always making the best out of very little.


But what’s your story, Mum – in your words?

Dad could tell me how much he wanted to migrate

to a country free of class and arrogance,

but he couldn’t tell me how you really felt.

Did you want to go as much as he?

Or did you go simply because you loved him?


It was easy, I think, to leave your selfish father,

but oh, how difficult it must have been

to say good-bye to your gentle, loving mother,

to go to a new country; a strange land.


Heat and drought and wide expanses replaced

the cold and damp of a bustling ancient township.

A tiny caravan, then a little fibro house, replaced

the solid security of your old stone terrace.


Venomous snakes and spiders brought unwelcome danger.

Barbed-wire fences and eucalypt forest replaced

soft green fields bounded by hedge and mossy stone.

Oak and ash, bluebells and buttercups were left behind.


How did you adjust to the changes?

What fears and insecurities did this bring?

Oh, what did you really think, Mum?


Then, in this new land, another traumatic birth:

my baby brother healthy, though his twin sister died.

And you, alone in a hospital bed, not allowed your own,

denied even the comforting presence of your husband,

as you fought, alone, for life.


Is that when the fearfulness began to creep in?

Is that when you began to think you might lose us;

had to always know where we were, so you

could feel some measure of control in your life?


Or did that happen in 1961, when two of your children

and Dad, all contracted the dreaded polio?

Was it when we thought Dad might not even live,

And there was no money to even buy food?


I remember that awful time, Mum.

I was only thirteen and could only guess

at the fears that burdened you.

The responsibility you had to take alone.


Dad, crippled and unable to help,

your father taking away the mother

that you needed then

more than you had ever done.


What I do know is that you kept our family going.

That it was your strength, dredged from

some deep, unknown place within you,

that fed and clothed and housed us.


It took its toll on you, I know,

but I thought of you as strong, Mum

in those desperate times.

But what did you think and feel then?


Dad struggled to overcome the ravages of polio,

to get back on his feet, figuratively and literally.

You were by his side, his partner in all ways,

as he set up a steady business

– concreting, of all things!


And how did it make you feel, Mum,

When, after so many years,

he took you dancing again?


The years that followed were mixed sorrow and joy,

With three daughters and one son married.

I remember the light in your eyes and your smile

as you welcomed my son,

your first grandchild, with more to come.


But as time went on, I realised that something

prevented you taking those little ones to your heart.

Not just because mine were always far away,

and you didn’t like or trust their father.


What was the barrier, Mum?

Did losing your own mother close your heart

against the awful possibility of hurt?

Was there something inside you that said,

‘if I don’t open myself to love, I won’t lose it’?


We grew apart – not only because of miles.

I saw you too seldom and we could not share

the things that mothers share with

daughters who are also mothers.

I missed that, Mum. I still do.


Dad and I nursed you at home,

night and day, until you finally left us.

Was it a relief to go; to give up

the burden that life had become?


Dad missed you so much then, Mum, lonely for you.

He always loved you – there was never another.

He never forgot the day you first spoke to him,

when you asked, ‘how old are you?’


He re-lived the days of your courtship

and listened to the music you’d loved together.

I am sure he felt you once more in his arms,

twirling yet again around the dance floor – until he left us too.


But I want to know more than that, Mum,

because I think that many parts of me –

my insecurities, my fears, my depression –

have come from you.


So I want to know how you felt; how you loved.

I want to know your story, Mum – in your own words.


But you’ve been gone now for many years,

and I must rely on fragments of memory,

and find you in the words of the man

who loved you.


But I wish you could tell me, Mum.


Agnes&Ern Thompson 1974

Mum & Dad dancing, 1970s.



In loving memory of Agnes Mary Thompson;

born 23rd May 1920; died 13th June 1994.

I wish I had known you better, Mum.


Also in loving memory of Ernest Thompson;

born 24th June 1921; died 18th June 2013.

I am proud to have been your daughter, Dad.


(c) Linda Visman,  May 2007

Edited 7th May 2016




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  1. A very moving tribute to your mother and father as well. I too wish I had asked my mother more questions. She gave me a summary of her life when asked but not how she felt about things. Feelings were often suppressed and not discussed in that generation. Writing family memories has made her absence more strongly felt.

    • We realise more how little we know about our parents after they have gone. Those who could speak often and openly about their lives with their children have given them a wonderful gift.

  2. So heartfelt and emotionally moving, Linda. This is a beautiful tribute to both parents, and the love they felt for each other shines through the years. You are so right that in our youths we don’t tend to see our parents as having inner lives of their own. It’s the way we’re built, I think. That wisdom comes much later with age and experience, and quite often too late. We don’t get all the answers to all our questions, but I think it’s good to wonder and acknowledge the mystery. I don’t believe that love is ever wasted, even when someone is no longer in life. It adds to the fabric of the world. ❤

    • Beautifully put Diane. Yes, the love is never wasted. 🙂 We who were the products of that love are fortunate indeed.

  3. I love to hear other people’s stories, Reading this has made me go back in time and think of my own Mum and what I want to hear from her before she leaves us. This is such a lovely tribute to your Mum who obviously went through so much in life, I wish you could go back in time and hear your Mums story from her.

    • I wish I could go back too Karyn!
      Take every opportunity to talk with your mum. She has a lot to share with you, though she probably thinks her life was just ordinary. None of us are ordinary!

  4. Linda, this is such a beautiful, heartfelt poem. It makes me realise how lucky I am to live close to my parents, to see them almost every day. It also makes me realise the importance of learning as much as I can about their early lives now, before it is too late.

  5. A wonderful tribute to both parents, Linda.

  6. Beautifully written!
    I did ask mother her story many years ago and I remember how even though I didn’t get it all, just her childhood. She expressed herself in feelings, (not all of course but some) sharing how she felt, what it was like living in such poverty and envying those who struggled less during the depression. I was taking an English class and so she was willing to share for my class assignment. You are correct though, that generation did not share well. There was so much more I wish I’d learned.

    • At least you have an overall impression of her childhood. I am sure you are thankful for that. 🙂
      Thank you for your comment.

      • I am lucky because mother had so many mental issues that when I could pin her down, I soaked it in. I think I was always looking to learn the why as if something in her past had inflicted her. I’ve learned a lot about mental illness since.

      • It is so hard to see your mother succumb to mental illness – I think that’s one of the reasons we couldn’t interact with her as we wished we could.

  7. So moving, Linda. As I read, I started to feel, beyond the sadness and inevitable regrets, your deep love and appreciation for your parents, their struggles and triumphs, and all that they bequeathed to you. And in some ways, I think you have the answer to many of your questions within yourself, in that, as you said, many parts of you have come from your mother. And perhaps not only your fears and insecurities, but also your courage to face the unknown and your deep inner resources of strength. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you so much for this comment Josna. I think I need to hear and affirm her positive aspects, to remind me there was a lot more to her than the negatives.
      I certainly know that Dad was a pretty good judge of character and he was impressed by her spirit when they first met. He wouldn’t have married someone who was always negative! 🙂
      And, as I say in my poem, she did display a great deal of strength when it was needed.

  8. Beautiful story, Linda. As much as we ever get to know our parents, it’s never enough when they are gone. So sorry for your losses.

  9. Beautiful Linda. It must be hard not to know so much about your Mother. Thinking of you.

  10. So exquisitely honest and heartfelt! A fond memory of a strong woman. I would guess you have her character too. But you have no reason for regret, because you had a life to work out, just as she did, with just the same joys and falls. The last great gift we can give our children is their independence, so she did the right thing. And if she kept her distance, well, maybe she was just tired. I know that’s how I feel, when I think of my family now. I can’t keep up with them, and I shouldn’t ask them to slow down and wait for me. So I don’t. I’m there when they want me, and if they don’t need me that means I did a good job.

    • Thank you so much for these words of wisdom, Frederick. It is a different way to look a it, but a very valid one.
      I very much identify with your last sentence as I relate to my kids (who live far away). 🙂

  11. A beautiful tribute to your parents, Linda.

  12. So beautiful, Linda. It makes me want to know her story, also. It is sad, isn’t it, that so many moms give so much and too few people really know who they are inside.

  13. I’ve been meaning to leave a comment here for a while, but have only just reactivated my account here. I especially love the poem for your Mum – so heartfelt. This is a beautiful tribute to a very special lady

    • Hey, Sarah! Glad to have you back. 🙂
      Many thanks for your kind words. I will have to get back to my blogging!

  14. This is such a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful lady. I’m glad I was able to read this. It makes me value more the moments I spend with my mother. These past 2 years we have been getting to know each other – with work and responsibilities not getting in the way now that she’s retired, and I have a job that allows me to have more time for personal things.

    Thank you for sharing with us the memories your father shared with you. This was a very poignant read, full of love and I’m sure that wherever she is, your mum is smiling with love.

    • Thank you so much Rosanna. You are fortunate indeed that you can have time with your mother. Do make the most of it. You will never be sorry. 🙂

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