Mother’s One Hundredth Birthday Party 

I’ll invite my brother and his family and Mum’s nephews and nieces, her great-nephews and great-nieces, and my children and their children, as well as some of my friends who were also Mum’s friends. But Aly Ong won’t be there. He’ll be back on the plantation in Malaya. My sister Margot won’t be with us; she lives in New York so she’s excused. It was all Margot’s idea, really, this idea of a family party. She’s inviting her kids from New Rochelle and Philadelphia and Boston and all their children and they’ll tell stories and eat pavlova in Margot’s pavilion by the Hudson. And we in Melbourne will feast and reminisce by the Yarra. Well, within cooee of that river.
 
 
In their generation Mum and her younger sister Doreen were masters of the pavlova, grandmasters really. The meringue edge was firm, the interior light and mallow, the whole edifice of air stupendously high. When Dennis ran his restaurant he turned to Mum to bake pavlovas which he’d serve in massive slices topped with whipped cream and passionfruit and strawberries …. and lust. Now the mantle has passed to Margot.
 
 
Will it spoil the party that Mum won’t be coming? Well, it would be lovely if she were to attend, but it’s big ask. Mum will be there, though. She never really left.
 
 
(Let me tell you about Mum and Aly Ong. Back in the ’sixties Aly came to Melbourne under the Colombo Scheme, a government initiative whereby Australia would educate Asian students and send them back home to become leaders in their own, developing countries. Aly studied Accounting with my brother Dennis and the two were close friends. That meant Aly became an habitue at number 15 Atkinson Street, Oakleigh, eating pavlova and Mum’s form of fried rice that must have made him laugh. But Aly was too polite to laugh.
 
Aly was shy. Left to himself he’d never have raised the courage to ask Mum for the loan of her car. But having Dennis as a friend meant you were not left to yourself. ‘Mum, Aly needs to borrow your car tonight. He’s got a date.’
Aly blushed: ‘Oh, no Mrs Goldenberg, I really don’t need…’
‘Of course you can use the car Aly. With pleasure.’
So Aly took the car.
 
He returned a few hours later, looking shaken. I asked him what was wrong. He shook his head, saying nothing. I saw tears forming. ‘I must speak to Mrs Goldenberg, was all I could get out of him. Mum was in bed upstairs, in one or other of her various states of partial consciousness. I told Mum Aly needed to see her. He was in some distress.
 
 
Mum descended: ‘Hello Aly darling. Did you have a nice time?’
‘Mrs Goldenberg, something terrible has happened. I crashed your car!’
‘Oh, Aly, are you hurt?’
‘No, Mrs Goldenberg, but the car…’
‘Are you sure you’re alright, Aly? And your friend? Is she alright?’
‘’Yes, thank you Mrs Goldenberg, quite sure. But I’ve smashed your car.’
Mum’s car was new, brand new. It was a Holden Premier, top of the range, with iridescent green duco and beautiful tan leather seats, Holden’s first foray into luxury.
‘Oh, never mind about the car, Aly. Sit down and have a cup of tea and some pavlova.’)
 
 
Mum was born on June 8, 1917, and she did not have to wait very long to become acquainted with death. Her father died when she was twelve and she lost her mother three years later. Falling happily into the care of Gar, their miraculously liberated and liberating grandmother, the girls thrived. After her parents died Mum accepted the reality of death. On visits to Melbourne Mum would drive us past the Brighton Cemetery and remark, ‘Mummy and daddy are in there.’ It took me a while to work out what and who was ‘in there’, and why. It was disorienting to hear ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’, words I attached to living, loving, parents, indispensable supports of my being. But Mum’s tone was blithe. Death held no fears for her. Not personally, not for herself.
 
 
But for Doreen, Mum trembled. In her middle and later life Aunty Doreen fell sick often and fell hard. Once or twice I found Mum in tears: ‘I’ve told Dor I have to peg out first.’ In the event Aunty Doreen did Peg out before Mum, dying in her late eighties of heart disease that exhausted her will to live on. Then Dad died, and my younger brother Barry said, ‘Don’t you go getting any fancy ideas, Mum.’ Only two years later Dennis died, Mum’s firstborn and first loved. Mum said, ‘I’ve always known death is part of life.’ And I said, ‘Mum, don’t think you’re allowed to die.’
‘I’ll do my best not to, darling. I’ve never died yet.’
 
 
One week before her ninety-second birthday Mum’s best was no longer sufficient. She won’t be at her one hundredth birthday party, but we will excuse her dying. She can be forgiven one lapse.
 

DROUIN, SCOPUS, SCOTCH

The Drouin High School graduate phoned the former Mount Scopus college boy in early March. He said: “It will be fifty years next week, since we met at Monash and started Medicine. We should all get together.”

Monash University was three years old in March 1964 when the Drouin boy and the Scopus boy met and became friends, together with Mirboo North Boy, Malayan Girl and Scotch boy.
One week previously, Scopus said to his Mum: “I think I’ll drive out to Monash and look around.”
His mother said:”I’ll come and have a look too.”  She added, “Incidentally, you pronounce the name wrongly.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s pronounced Moan-ash, not Mon-nash.”
“No it’s not Mum.”
“Yes it is, darling.”
“Look Mum, three thousand students go there every day of the academic year, and one thousand academics, and they all pronounce it as I did. They all say ‘Mon-nash.'”
“Do they darling? I must be wrong then. It’s just I knew the family and they all pronounced it ‘Moan -ash'”.
Last Friday Scopus and Drouin and Scotch met at a cafe and compared illnesses, diagnoses, remedies, side effects and grandchildren. They knew already about each other’s wives and children.
At first Scopus did not recognise the stocky, aging man seated reading the paper. He looked more like Scotch’s late mother than the thin gangler of 1964. That boy soon became a distinguished specialist with a gift for translating medical jargon into words of crystal clarity. His patients crossed the state to see him. Scopus sent all his relatives to him. All swore by him. Now Scotch wintered in the south of France where his French was too refined for the young to follow.
Drouin was there, a shadow of his spheroidal middle aged self. A self-repaired diabetic who turned away his car and walked and rode everywhere, and worked for 90 minutes a day in a gym, Drouin retained the sardonic humour of 1964, the wife of 1973, the free-ranging facility for mastery in both Sciences and Humanities that had impressed Scopus in 1964. Drouin studied English Lit. in first year Med: Scopus, who loved and excelled at English, had never heard of Jean Anouilh. He envied Drouin’s facility. Scotch’s too. Those two graduated from Monash near the top of their class.
Scopus was there, resembling his father in looks and in religious habits. Proudly he showed his friends a flyer for his latest book, his maiden novel. They were happy for him. Scopus knew his friends always valued and respected him, despite – perhaps for – his peculiarities and eccenticities. They never condescended.
The three talked a little of the past, much of the present and not at all of the future: not in a prognostic sense. They knew that they knew something precious, friendship that endured. Doctors all they knew it would not endure forever.
It had been eight years since they last sat and talked.They arranged to meet again soon, together with Mirboo North and  Malaya and one or two others.
Soon. Soon.