Things My Mother Obsesses About – Story

Obsession JK. Leahy memoir

The kitchen in Bellbowrie house was marvelous. It’s Wednesday today, but the kitchen also looked marvelous on Tuesday and Monday.  I simply wanted to make chicken soup tonight, but I was afraid to dismantle this piece staring at me.

I looked at the stacked white cups, plates, and silver bowls that made this strange beautiful body and then the cutlery that made its arms and legs. Each item was part of another. It was a tidy dishwasher look without all the sections, except it was arranged to come together as one piece. If I had built a kitchen sculpture like that myself, it probably would have already unraveled when I got to stacking the spoons and the forks. And right now, if I tried to remove one cup or spoon to use, the rest would come crashing down like a dismantled sculpture. My son Nathan washed our dishes sometimes, but this was not his work of art – it was clearly my mother’s. My mother is obsessed about cleanliness and obviously tidiness. She has her own unique way of doing it.

Our kitchen has been so clean and different in the past six weeks since my mother has been with us in Brisbane that I’m inspired. I made a promise to myself; I could live up to this new expectation after she leaves. May be I could cut down on writing, art, a job, the garden, birds…It was not that we lived in a dirty house, but when my mother does something, especially cleaning, she takes it to a higher level, and makes you feel really good about it.

I could not have made this kitchen any cleaner in the past five years. Mother was not only obsessed with cleanliness, but getting any job done. Her gardening was the same and she began early and worked long hours. She was determined to clean the whole area and I reminded her some parts of our place was meant to be bushy for the animals. My siblings had asked me to bring our mother away from PNG to rest – but you think she would listen to me – no. She loves working hard. She attributes her strict work ethics to her parents, nursing, and her early learning from the Germans and Americans after the war.

I was grateful for her help now, but I fear when her holiday ends, this kitchen would return to the way my sons always left it; filthy with empty containers, piled up dirty dishes, peeled purple onion shells and spilled beverages. I clean it but it was never easy to maintain that pristine state for more than two days.

I took out the thigh fillets and started making chicken soup for my mother, my younger son Chris and I. Nathan had cooked his own meals for nearly a year and since he started a special fitness programme.

Across from the kitchen, my mother was folding the clean washing. Her knitting was on the dining table, colourful and laid out in neat bundles of colours. Mother folded all our clean washing like the way a machine would have done. We did sit and tell stories while we folded, but I soon gave up folding with her because she tended to unfold and re-fold the clothes I folded. And, if I told her she wasted her time because the clothes were meant to be worn again, she just giggled and said she preferred they were ‘properly folded’.

As I watched the boiling pot of chicken soup, I pictured Mother laying out all her medical tools on the shiny trays and pushing them from ward to ward on her tall shiny trolley. She is staring ahead with her white cap and apron crisply ironed and sitting in the precise position on her green uniform. She walks with her head held high and exuding a presence of authority when all around her is turmoil. I wondered if anyone had ever messed up her display of shiny metal pieces on the trays when she was a nurse. I once asked and she told me – never!

I think Mother’s cleaning and folding obsessions started from the hospitals and later, H.C. Leo a Chinese clothing manufacturer in Port Moresby hired her to fold completed garments. She was so precise with her craft that customers thought the cellophane packed and sealed shirts were done by machines.

My mother’s dedication to what she loves doing is second to none.

(To my regular readers – I wrote this draft/story yesterday, a part of a longer piece for Isabel D’ Avila Winter and our last Creative Writing Workshop group next Tuesday in Kenmore). If you expected drama while reading this – well there is, but it is in the rest of this story in the memoir – thank you for reading).

14 thoughts on “Things My Mother Obsesses About – Story”

  1. I really enjoyed reading some of your work again, Joycelin. It’s a long time since I have done, and I’ve missed it. The picture you paint of your mother is wonderful – so graphic in its detail. You leave me with vivid images of this immensely proud lady about her work, so meticulous in her need for order and cleanliness but, at the same time, so creative in the designs she made. As for sons in the kitchen . . . they’re all the same, as far as I can see! 🙂 A lovely descriptive piece, all round.
    Hope life down there in Brisbane is treating you and your sons well, on both work and personal levels. I’ll be in touch very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Time flies, doesn’t it. I knew your mum was visiting, and hoped you were all enjoying that. I used to love my mum’s visits but, like yours, she had a way of taking over the house! I suppose, many mums still feel the need to be the one in charge. We love them to bits, all the same.
        It will be lovely to have another catch-up chat. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s my Susa, I know the feeling. I can create a mess working but as soon as I lift my head and see it all, I have to stop, clean up and work again. If I don’t I am not very creative or productive.
    Love that Mum still takes pride in her ability to create order and examples. But good luck with the males of any household; not usually heeded advice! Give her my love and hope to see her soon.


    1. Thank you very much Claudia – I will try to capture a picture at some point, if the dishes don’t get messed up. My mother’s nursing pictures have all disappeared; some taken by her family members and some were destroyed. I will keep trying for you. Thanks again.


      1. Oh, don’t put yourself to trouble, I just was fascinated by the images I was getting in my mind, and I love how your mother makes order out of chaos, something really hard to do in this world. I felt a bond – I never feel more at peace than looking at a closet I have just straightened up. I once had a job for a local non-profit clearing out a storage trailer (the kind parked outside from off a truck). I salvaged documents, organized them, threw out such things as a piano (yes, in the trailer it was) and I felt the world was a bit more level the day they hauled the empty thing away! So your account really touched me, that, and the obvious feeling you have for your mother.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 🙂 Thank you Claudia. I was hoping to help build a picture…so I’m glad you identify with the story – my mum and the images. I am weaker than you and my mother. I tend to hang onto things that remind me of someone or something, it’s not always healthy. It helps me when she is around.

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