Hardships and loves
AT the risk of meddling with an extraordinary Mother’s Day story, I am going to give you Pat Cook’s family figures, because sometimes a photo tells the story and sometimes it’s statistics.
At 84, the Warwick woman has six children, 21 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren and is still spritely and more importantly as modest as ever.
In fact she hesitates about giving up her place on the green at Warwick East Bowls Club to talk with me.
“I don’t think I have much of a story dear,” she explained.
“I haven’t done anything special.”
Yet it is possible every mother on the Southern Downs would, considering the aforementioned figures, wholeheartedly disagree with her.
Especially when Mrs Cook shares the detail.
Born in Stanthorpe to Scottish parents in 1926, she shifted to Warwick as a 10-year-old and has lived in the area almost every day since.
An East State School graduate, she went on to study nursing and was working at the local hospital when she met dashing young returned serviceman Jock Aspinall.
The couple married in 1946 and theirs was meant to be a story that finished with happy ever after, but life has a tragic way of interfering with dreams.
“I met Jock at a local dance; back then the other nurses and I used to go to a lot of country dances,” Mrs Cook remembered.
Newly wed, they went to live on a Freestone farm, where their six children – three boys and three girls – arrived in relatively quick succession.
Then tragedy unravelled the young mother’s plans for her family’s future.
“Jock went fishing with some mates at Stanthorpe and drowned. It was pretty terrible, but it was 54 years ago now.”
Yet the reality was she had six young children: the eldest was eight, while her baby was just eight weeks old.
“It was pretty hard, but I was lucky my mum and dad lived down the road and my brothers were in town so they helped enormously,” Mrs Cook said.
“Freestone had a fund for us and they rebuilt a burnt-out house for us and we were OK.
“But I really was on my own raising six kids for 20 years.”
Time has eased the torment of long nights rocking restless babies, comforting sick toddlers and easing teenagers through life’s rites of passage.
Yet there are some weeks which remained etched clearly on this patient mother’s memory.
“They all got measles at once, which was dreadful,” she said.
“It was a very, very tiring experience and one which involved litres of calamine lotion.”
Then there was the washing.
“At the start I had a copper and everything was boiled, and then I used to starch the children’s shirts and shorts,” Mrs Cook said.
“It was very busy.
“I remember polishing the floors at night.
“I did a lot of housework at night back then.”
Days were filled with school commitments, tuck shops and sports days because as a mother she liked “being involved”.
Two decades after her husband died she remarried, this time to her next door neighbour, Ted Cook.
In reflection, she agrees being a “mum” has made her extraordinarily proud, and lists with motherly detail the achievements of her six.
Later, becoming a grandmother – or “Ganny”, as her first grandchildren christened her with a misspelt moniker that would last her lifetime – was extra special.
“What do they say, you can spoil them then give them back?” she laughed.
“They are lovely kids on the whole and I love being their Ganny.
“One of my grandsons had eight children of his own, so I don’t think us being a big family put him off.”
Even being a great-grandmother and a great-great-grandmother has had its own reward.
But she admits it has become close to impossible to keep track of everyone’s birthdays.
“To be honest I don’t even try most of the time, there are just too many of us, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them.”
As for this Mother’s Day, she’s happy to spend the time at home remembering her own mum and the helping hand she offered when times were tough.
“I think I was lucky in many ways; yes I had some sad times, but don’t we all.
“You just have to make the most of life.”