Life was never easy for my mother. Born in Williamstown, Victoria in 1917, she attended Williamstown North Public School between the ages of 6 and 8 until her mother took her away from her home and father and resettled in Glebe Point. There she attended Forest Lodge Public School. At the age of 11 she moved again to Charleville in Queensland. Kay arranged for Elsa to board with a family and attend the local high school in Roma, Queensland. My mother felt she was being exploited as she was asked to do increasing amounts of housework and ironing so when she turned 15 she begged to leave school and the family she lived with.
She must have a trade, of course, so like her mother she became a dressmaker. After six months as an apprentice in Charleville she was able to obtain a position with Lucy Seekers in Melbourne and boarded with her Aunt Harriet and Uncle Ed in Williamstown. She told me how she would spend weeks perfecting one skill, such as collars, before moving onto another, like buttonholes. This way all the machinists worked together to make garments.
Why she was working at the Victoria Hotel in Goondiwindi at the age of 17 I don’t know, but that was where she met my father. She insisted she wasn’t a barmaid. She would have been too prim and proper for that. Her job was at reception where one of the guests she checked into the hotel was Linden Price.
Six months later they were married. It must have been a much more exciting life than she had experienced. Linden drove fancy cars, went to the races and ate out at the best restaurants. Life with Linden was a roller coaster but it wasn’t boring.
I used to think my mother was the most beautiful, courageous and capable woman in the world. When my father died she had a lot of decisions to make. The business was running at a loss and the bank was owed a large amount of money. One option was to sell the property and move to Sydney near her mother in Mortdale. She contemplated getting a job in a hardware store as she jokingly said her knowledge of crosses, tees and elbows, male and female threads, nipples, couplings and unions was second to none. Then again, she had spent years running a steel and piping business, as my father was often away so why not stay on at The Waterhole?
Within a year she had repaid the overdraft. No-one was allowed to buy on credit. She travelled widely through NSW and bought second hand piping whenever it became available. Because she was a widow and a woman she was afforded unexpected respect from her male counterparts. The men who worked for my father were asked to leave and she outsourced jobs such as welding for making gates. She employed a house cleaner so she could devote herself to the business. She had a large bedroom built on the back of our house so she keep a watchful eye on her mother-in-law and Mr Munro who were by now living with us.
Life was not easy. Ella was devastated by the loss of her only son, Linden, and eventually became bedridden. Every night she rang a bell three or four times asking for my mother. Elsa was sleep deprived and exhausted. Finally Ella moved to a convalescent home in Oatley, near my other grandmother so we visit her every school holidays. My mother had a new kitchen built to replace its dark and dingy predecessor and redecorated the lounge room. Mr Munro relocated to a renovated building on the property.
Despite the loss of my father I had a secure childhood and felt loved and wanted by my mother. Our relationship had a closeness that she had never experienced with her own mother.