Grandparents' changing role is an experience

26 Jul, 2001 07:12 AM
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"YOUR granddaughter" was my daughter's immediate answer when I asked her for a topic to write about this week, a suggestion I thought had so much merit that I asked the youngest one for her advice also.

"Shopping" was the response I received before I had even finished asking the question, although it's an answer she gives to a lot of comments, questions and even statements made in the house.

I suspect that my daughter's answer was payback for the fridge magnet that she spotted in my house, the one that says, "If I had known what fun grandchildren were, I would have had them first."

I know that my granddaughter's answer - no, statement - was because I have established a dangerous precedent when I take her shopping, a mistake I make either here or in their hometown of Carnarvon.

She always directs me to the lolly section of whatever shop we are in, knowing that I am an easy target for her wheedling when she asks, or demands, "lollies!" even throwing in a "please!" when the going gets tough.

I am enjoying a visit from my Carnarvon rellies, with young Jordyn Christina relishing the change now that she has a full-time servant cum playmate, while her parents are just enjoying the change.

It was to have been a very brief encounter, but the local winter viruses have found very receptive hosts in the summery Carnarvonites, laying them both low and giving me almost full time access to Jordyn.

To steal a line from Spike Milligan, Jordyn's parents are now "well enough to lie down unaided," but not exactly doing the mile in less than four minutes either, so shopping expeditions and walks rank high on our agenda.

Both of these options are carried out with the aid of a pram, left in Perth for just these emergencies, although yesterday's pram ride was a problem when she decided to walk the second half and I had trouble keeping up.

Although a mature two and a quarter, Jordyn remains suspicious when I assure her during our early walks that the shops are not open, although she hasn't yet asked me the difference between a shop and the 24hour service station where I buy my morning paper,

I sometimes ponder over the changes that have occurred over the generations that separate the two of us, for a start, when I was her age the world was involved in a major war.

The Pacific war hadn't started and Australia was yet to discover just how close it was to come to our shores, but if the US carriers had been in Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941, the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea would probably have been lost and Australia would have been invaded.

But those "good old days" were very different, rather than walking a few hundred yards to get the paper in the morning, my parents relied on trains from the city each week.

Meat was a strictly do-it-yourself operation, with mutton being the staple protein source and fish coming with two options, tinned sardines or dried "South African Fillet," a food that still makes me shudder when I think of it.

Most farmers' wives milked the cow(s), made butter and bread and had a vegetable garden, although that tended to be a bit seasonal as the water supply was generally suspect.

The family fridge (if there was one) ran on kerosene, was very small by our standards, and was very fickle, with death and destruction threatened on people who opened it too often, causing it to "go off the freeze."

Rural and Regional WA were serviced by only five senior high schools with only two non-coastal options, Northam and Kalgoorlie, while roads were appalling, cars few and buses non existent.

On the bright side, there were probably more doctors in the country, although facilities and medications were pretty basic by our standards and, as one doctor told me, "that was when the Medical Department was there to solve problems, not to create them as it does now."

The more leisurely lifestyle we read about was also a myth, with machinery, parts and money scarce, labour almost non-existent and farmers probably having to work harder than at any other time, before or since.

But one great difference between my early years and Jordyn's is that I have virtually no knowledge of my grandparents, having only a few memories of my paternal grandfather who died when I was four or five.

When Jordyn was born, she had three grandparents - and she knows them all - a state of affairs that probably owes a lot to the enhanced standard of health care that is now available.

More accessible education, more options and a totally new basis for global communications means that Jordyn's generation will have more chance of fulfilling its dreams and aspirations.

In fact, Jordyn could grow up to be a brain surgeon, astronaut or the President of the new Australian Republic, but having been under her orders for the past few days, she also has the makings of a great Sergeant Major.

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