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My Grandfather Alexander May died long before I was born. He owned some excellent cattle country in Gippsland. When he died my Dad, Noel, took a quarter of the legacy and moved to the big smoke of Melbourne. My Aunt, “Sister Nancy May” stayed in Yarram and worked for the local GP Dr Martin – then she nursed Grandma May until the old lady died. After this Nancy purchased a house in Gray Court, Beaumaris, I have just rebuilt on this site.
The two brothers, Ron and Harry, who kept half the holding, had enough to run 2 large farms themselves so Alexander must have had a decent patch.
I was chatting to one of our most intriguing residents several years ago. I was interested in her background she had been a teacher and though her brain was slowly deteriorating due to the insidious “Big D” she was sharp witted and penetrating with a rapier tongue when it suited her, but a very fine long term memory.
It turned out she had come from Gippsland, and even more amazing … Yarram. I mentioned my Grandfather and she said “oh yes when we were young we played in May’s paddock”
I was astonished. This 90 year old woman played on some of my grandfather’s land when she was young; 80 years ago and 250km away we were to share some distant history.
The residents name was Ettie Pullman.
The redoubtable Ettie
The unique Ettie
A professional genealogist Ettie had published a book on one of her ancestors – James Wentworth Davis (Davis was Ettie’s maiden name). James had travelled from Ireland to Hobart in 1832 He became a farmer, horticulturalist and an expert purveyor of agricultural seed. His son, also James Wentworth Davis lived in Gippsland – in a house in Yarram, an Edwardian home “Waverley” which still exists.
Ettie had a prodigious thirst for knowledge. One of her major complaints when she first moved into Fairway was that she wanted to secure some ongoing sessions in higher mathematics and no one in lifestyle could oblige! An outlet was secured.
In those days Ettie lived down the end of House 2. The sitting area outside her room was a lovely sun drenched nook we still call “Etties Lounge”. She would preside over this room with her cup of tea, newspaper crossword and her magnifying glass. She would peer over the near, and after she told some young children to “F” off and kept her neighbour awake singing hymns and having “differences of opinion” with Night Staff, Ettie was moved to House 4 to provide a change of view and some relief for old neighbours.
Mathematics ceased to hold the old fascination for Ettie, who became more bewildered and belligerent but still had times of graciousness and humour.
Extreme deafness added to her tendency to drop the odd social faux pas. Ettie did not realise she was thinking out loud and would make some very derogatory and indelicate comments about fellow diners in the dining room. References to body parts and reproductive functions were blurted out much to the bemusement, and often discomfort, of her fellows. Ettie needed further support and when a bed in Premium Care came up 3 months ago her devoted son Ian graciously accepted the offer. Now this is a road frequently travelled by many downstairs folk who grow into needing a higher level of care with a more generous staff ratio, proper lifting equipment and a more intimate and personal environment.
But no matter how much more appropriate the care may be to meet growing needs, it is often a challenge to move people from their known room and known routines … and we get this, we really do, and fully understand that the brain may see the benefits but the heart longs for normality in its own cocoon.
I faced this with my mum 5 years ago.
A resident at Fairway, mum was also bedevilled with a dose of the “Big D”. She did not insult people but had a huge predilection for booming out excerpts from ‘South Pacific’ – Bali Hai being the regular favourite. This would happen in group activities, over soup in the dining room, under the shower – in short whenever Mum felt that Mario Lanza and Mitzi Gaynor were just a palm leaf away….yes she did ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ as well, but it was Bali Hai with the soaring vibrato which she did best.
Her table mates were most obliging – dear departed Joan Lang would giggle away and so did Patricia Sinclair who was unfailingly lovely to my mum (as she was with Ettie Pullman who she many times tried to placate).
Mum was a very big lady (what a surprise); she could not walk and was heavy nursing. I knew she was needing Premium Care but there was no bed.
One day I happened to be in the dining room and saw Mum at table with her besties. She was just entertaining all with a South Pacific melange though she started to falter as it appeared she had something between her front teeth.
Quick as a flash she fished out her denture and dunked it into the water glass on the table. She jiggled it around with great speed as she coo’d ‘Younger than Springtime’. I watched in mesmerised horror as the water in the glass became a swirl of cauliflower cheese and parsley.
Mum had meals in her room from then on.
When loved ones become a ‘turn off’ or affect other resident’s quality of life it has to be addressed.
Now mum loved her room and the view outside but I knew when a bed became available she needed to move. I also knew that no matter the short term wrench she would get to love the staff upstairs and our family would sing the praises of this very special unit. Every family does this, without exception, and the letters of gratitude we receive are a great testimony to the care and skill provided.
Mum joined Rodgers and Hammerstein in Heaven so missed out on Premium Care. She must have been one of their most ardent fans and I hope they are not tiring of her still belting out their romantic melodies.
Ettie would hum a tune too but mainly overnight. She was fantastically cared for in ‘Premium’ (as she was down stairs), though could be a tad resistive at times. As the months ticked by she became frailer and more vague but she would fire up if she felt a shower was NOT required – and was certainly able to deliver a verbal cattle prodding if she felt it was apt. (Read …frequently!)
A few weeks ago one of our lovely carers – Brenda – was going off duty and looked at me ruefully; half sad but also with a tinge of humour “It is my birthday today” she said “And Ettie called me a **** and told me to get ****. What an unusual birthday greeting…!”
I watched Brenda walk to her car and thought how amazing our staff are – even though they are taught not to personalise the comments and behaviours of those with cognitive disorders it’s sometimes just a little dispiriting to give of your best and get insulted.
I brought a card back the next day and handed it to Brenda, it said:
I want to wish you a happy birthday for yesterday and also to tell you how very grateful I am for what you – and all the others do for me every day – Before my brain got tangled up it would have been easy to say this but now I need help. You are all wonderful.
With my very best wishes
The real Ettie spoke just once more. I was simply the pen, she the messenger. Ettie joined my Mum in the celestial Club Med just 2 weeks ago. What a pair they must make!
Blessings to all
Written with permission