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Mum

A story by Beryl Bowden

Patience Bourke2

Patience by name and by nature

My mother, Patience May Jacobs, later Bourke, was a saint!

Born at Kurri Kurri in 1887 she attended Maitland High School and graduated from Newcastle Teachers College.  Age nineteen she was posted to Booral Public School where she boarded with Lizzie and Pat Bourke. Also boarding there was Les Bourke a nephew of theirs who lived at Girvan. It was not long before Les and Pattie fell in love and married.

The young couple lived at Dungog for some time before settling in Stroud. This was during the Depression when Les was out of work for two years. Pity the shopkeepers…everyone lived on credit those days. One day Mum met Mrs Gooch, one of the local shopkeepers. Mrs Gooch commented. “We don’t often see you, Mrs Bourke.” Mum replied “I don’t like to face people when I owe them money”. Mrs Gooch said “Mrs Bourke, we know you will pay us when you can.” Her faith in Mum was later proved correct. When Dad obtained permanent work, Mum kept the current accounts paid up and gradually paid off the back debts.

The family grew to six children in ten years…five girls and one boy. Even though we had no money we children didn’t feel deprived. Mum saw to that. Our birthdays were always special. A cake with candles and a little gift marked the occasion and there was always something in our pillowslips on Christmas morning…courtesy of Santa Claus?

BEryl 1

Esme Jack

When Esme, a five-year-old niece of Mum’s, was knocked down by a car and sustained brain damage, her mother couldn’t cope. Mum took Esme into our home and raised her as one of us. She undertook her education and taught her to read and write so that eventually Esme was able to attend school with us. Mum’s hours and hours of diligent teaching paid off. We used to say, she was ‘Patience by name and patient by nature’! With a good deal of justification.

“To raise one’s own child is nature’s way
To raise another’s is the work of God.”

In the 1920’s, Mum and a friend, Olive Lowrey, were both pregnant. When the babies were born in May 1921 they were both girls. Mum’s baby was healthy but Olive’s baby didn’t survive and she was told that she could never have another  child. Mum’s new baby, Betty, was her third daughter in three years. I don’t know how it came about that Betty went to live with the Lowreys. Even though they reared her, she was still Betty Bourke and our parents were still Mummy and Daddy Bourke to her. She always signed her name Betty Bourke. She spent most weekends with us, so was still part of our family life. Mum had three more children…two girls and a boy.

Mum was a good housekeeper. The beds were changed every Sunday in preparation for the sheets to be washed on Monday morning. They were boiled in a copper in the back yard then lifted out of the boiling water with a ‘pot’ stick. This was dangerous and heavy work… especially for one of Mum’s size. (She was a tiny person…less than 5 feet tall and 7 stone in weight.) The sheets were then rinsed, wrung by hand and hung on the line. Neighbours envied Mum the colour of her washing; her ‘whites’ were so much whiter than theirs. The only time I can ever remember seeing Mum cry, was when the prop broke one day and let the washing, sheets and all, down on the ground! It had to be done again.

In addition to the challenges she faced on the home front, Mum found time to be active in civic affairs. She was secretary of the Parents and Citizens Association for 43 years and died in office. She was also secretary of St John’s Anglican Guild for 23 years and was awarded a Life Membership. For much of this time she didn’t have a telephone or any transport. We children were very often called into service when notices needed to be circulated. Before the annual Church of England Ball I was always sent to each Anglican home to find out what they were prepared to donate towards the supper. I kept a record of their giving in a little notebook provided by Mum. The day of the ball found me retracing my steps, collecting the promised items.

Both the C of E Guild and the P and C Committee held annual bazaars. (Called fetes these days.) A lot of organisation went into them. Mum was involved with both committees, so we children were too, and living beside the School of Arts where these functions were held, we were often called on to run errands; fetch string, nails or a hammer when stalls were being erected. Unfortunately, we were also expected to assist with the dismantling of the stalls when it was all over!

BEryl 2For the last ten years of her life mum had cataracts on both eyes. She used a magnifying glass when writing minutes or attending to correspondence. In addition to her P and C commitment, she became secretary of the Stroud Red Cross for the last eight years of her life.

One of her grandsons was heard to say “Nanna has always got anything you want, whether it is a rubber band, safety pin or a piece of string… and she always knows where to find it!!”

Mum was widowed for fourteen years. During that time she was a loved and valued member of our immediate family. Though not actually living with us she was part of everything we did. If the children needed to know something we couldn’t help with, they would say “Never mind, we’ll ask Nanna.” If she didn’t know, she pretty soon found out!

Years ago it was thought to be a waste of money to educate girls. “They only marry and have children”. Mum disagreed. She maintained, “If you educate the mother -you educate the family.”

Mum died of a stroke following a major operation in August 1976. She was seventy-nine years old. In 1977 a bronze sundial was erected to her memory in the Stroud School grounds by parents and past pupils of the school. A tribute to her 43 years of service as secretary of the Stroud Parents and Citizens Assn.

I repeat. Patience May Bourke was a saint. And I am proud to be her daughter.

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4 Comments on “Mum”

  1. Annabelle Lewis November 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    I loved this story and though not a local, I enjoy reading the personal vignettes published on this site.

    • Beryl Bowden November 20, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

      Pleased that you enjoy my stories..thank you for commenting.Beryl

  2. Jillian Lister (Adderley) November 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    A lovely story about your Mum! I remember her well when Anne & I would go in to her home when we were at dances at the School of Arts.

    • Beryl Bowden November 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

      That was a long time ago Jillian. Glad you enjoyed the story. Beryl

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