Your Century

The year 1905 began on a Sunday. If you had been born
In Korea you would already have been one year old then.
Instead you chose Australia as your entry point into life,
Just weeks before the founding of Sinn Fein in Ireland –
Surely these things are connected. This is your century:
The following year radio first burst onto the airwaves.
A poem was recited and I wonder if upon your birthday
Someone else was also inspired to sing a song, as you
Lay in your crib in Bittern? Perhaps you don?t remember,
Being only one year old, or two, at the time. Does the
Batsman remember every run he makes to reach his
Century? Perhaps he does. Your stamina astonishes
Us all. You?ve outlived Bradman, seen off Deng Xiaoping.
For you, the Great Depression was eighty years ago
But nevertheless a real, tragic and desperate thing.
Perhaps it?s nothing to you now. You?ve never driven
A car which is, I?m sure, good. Now I remember the
Blue Volkswagen in the garage of your Mildura house.
Only recently have I come to know some of the finer
details of your grand and long life. The Mornington
Peninsula days, Papa?s work in the Mallee, mum off
To school in Somerville, her marriage at Shepparton ?
You?ve seen it all, seen a thousand people come and
Go, held newborn babies and cried by gravesides,
Cajoled your grandsons into making cups of tea and
Straightened out the crinks in flanellette sheets like
A steam press, the muscles in your fragile arms
Working overtime as you knead scone dough, pick up
Little children or count the Rosary. We have been so
Lucky to have been just a small part of your life and
Times, your century that never seems to end. Not
That we begrudge you your longevity ? far from it.
It?s just that I wonder how long your daughters will
Live, not to mention your many granddaughters &
Great granddaughters. We men don?t seem to be
So lucky, passing on just when things get interesting,
During our sixties and seventies. Of course, you
Were too old for all that fuss, the swinging sixties
and so on ? but what do you remember of the Beatles?
I bet you didn?t like them. I?d really like to know.
And what about television? Cinema? The Internet?
Well, I?m sure it?s all old hat to you, and not a patch
On the football. Collingwood, Collingwood, who?s
Going to help out poor old bedraggled Collingwood?
I think that if you were to go to a match, grannie,
They?d perform a thousand times better. As it is,
You know everything there is to know about it,
Just by watching it on the telly. So you see there
Is a use for all this new technology. It lets us
Speak to you when we?re faraway, as I am now.
I wish I could be there to celebrate with you and
The whole family. This century, your century.
Those other old ladies in the nursing home ?
Well, I?m sure they?re speechless now. You?ve
Certainly given them all a target to aim for, eh?
But, in the interests of brevity I think I?ll end
My poem here. No one likes a windbag gabbing
On when there?s food to eat, champagne to drink
And Moya hovering close by with the camera, so
Happy birthday Gran, may you live a hundred more.

[For Mary Fitzgerald Unthank, nee Hurley – born 8 November 1905]

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