Tag Archives: my story

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).

An Eel Escape


From memoir series JLeahy. Part 2

Click link below for Part 1.

https://tribalmystic.me/2014/11/12/an-eel-escape/

We had split the number of holes we saw on the creek beds as early as 8am this morning. Grandma took the right and I took the left. Each hole we dug into would have at least one eel. I was very excited. Sometimes I would find the eel and try to grab it before it knew what was happening. But they all got away. I knew Mother was waiting with our nets for them, so I was not too worried. Most times, the eels could sense the vibrations and make their way out very quietly. The eels were 20-30 centimetres long and had yellow and white bellies. Their backs were pale grey, dark green, mouldy grey and sometimes greenish black.

After at least two hours, Tinang, my grandma, called out to Mother in Bukawac.
“Have you seen any eels?”
“No! Nothing came down”, mother called back. That did not sound right and I peeked through the leaves at my grandmother.
“Keep digging Kalem”, Tinang said and pointed to the next hole.
We both worked our way upstream. We needed to at least catch a dozen baby eels so my two uncles would throw their lines for the ocean fish.

If we had gone to the river, the eels wold have been too big and hard to catch. The creeks were the best place for baby eels. Three hours later, I had exhausted every hole.
“Ok grandma, I am at my last one”.
“Good girl, finish and wash, we will sit down and have a betel nut”, Tinang promised me.
I tried to reach into the last hole and the eel quickly went out the other way. I saw it with my own eyes.
“It’s coming, I yelled out to Mother”.
“Ok, I am waiting”, Mother said.
I sat into the creek and threw the cool fresh water on myself, removing all the mud, rubbish and wiped the insect bites. There were red and swollen. I could not take all the dried leaves and rubbish out of my hair, so I left it there. I cleaned up, and walked out to the side of the bank.  Mother and Tinang were seated under a shade. No words were spoken.
“Where are the eels?” I asked. I was excited to see how many we had caught. Mother was very quiet. She had no expression.
Tinang looked at Mother and then me.
“Would you like a betel nut?” Tinang finally said.
Mother did not respond.
“Yes please”, I said. I wanted to chew and warm up, the water had cooled my body temperature.
I turned and looked at my mother. I searched her eyes and she looked ashamed.
“What happened?” I asked Mother.
Grandma was silent. I could see that “I knew it” look in grandma’s eyes and it was like, she could almost laugh.
“I am sorry. I lifted the nets and let all the eels get away”, Mother said.
“Why?”
“Because I could not bear the thought of touching them”.
It was too hard to get angry. I popped the skin of my beetle nut and sat down with grandma and gave her a hug. I knew how she felt. We sat awkwardly together. Then, I reached for the lime pot and the mustard to add to the betel nut. I had already mashed the betel-nut with my teeth. I began to chew. Grandma reluctantly reached over to mother.

“Here!”,  she said, offering her daughter a beetle-nut and mustard. Mother relaxed and accepted the peace-offering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvyC1xo3v1A

In the South Pacific Islands eel farming is quite common. In Papua New Guinea, eels are farmed and also treated like pets. Here in New Ireland Province Cathy’ Larabina’s eels are some of the biggest pet eels. They have become well-known in the PNG tourism industry.