Thursday, October 19, 2006

Remembering Nanna Smith

A year ago today, my paternal grandmother, Belle Smith, passed away.

The woman I grew up knowing as “Nanna Smith” was born Isabel Mary Simmons in Gunnedah on April 29, 1919. She was the youngest child of Jim and Emily Simmons of “Flodden,” a property in the Purlewaugh District of Northwestern New South Wales. Her elder siblings were sister Phyllis and brothers William (Billy) and Harold (Tommy).

After her father’s death in 1934, Belle remained on the family farm until her marriage to Aubrey Bayly in 1937. Their son, Gordon (my Dad), was born that year and the young family moved to the nearby town of Coonabarabran.

When Aub joined the army in 1940, Belle returned to “Flodden.” In 1943, Aub was lost when the hospital ship
Centaur was torpedoed and sunk off the Queensland coast.

At war’s end, “Flodden” was sold and most of the family moved to the nearby village of Tamber Springs.

Above: In 1950, Belle married Leslie (Bill) Smith, a sharefarmer in the Tamber Springs District. Later that year they moved to “Balgowrie,” a property Bill acquired in the Curlewis District. In 1951 they built a home in Gunnedah. They moved into this house on a permanent basis after the Curlewis property was sold in 1960.

Above: Belle (at right) with her friend Midge in 1949.

Above: Belle and her second husband, Bill Smith, at my parents’ wedding in 1959. To my brothers and I, Bill was always “Poppy Smith.” He died in Gunnedah on May 30, 1993.

Above: Nanna was an avid (and good) tennis player. Here she stands (second from left) with fellow players Bernice Pople, Beatrice Noble, and Annie Stewart.

I remember how as kids, my brothers and I asked Nanna about this particular photo.

“Where was it taken?”, we asked.

“At White City [in Sydney] during Country Week,” Nanna replied.

“How did you go?”, we asked excitedly, meaning, “Did you win?”

There was much laughter when Nanna replied, “By train.”

Above: Nanna with her sister Phyllis and mother Emily (Gran) in 1976.

Above: For many years Nanna and her good friend Dawn Weakley (pictured at left) worked as catering managers at the Gunnedah Servicemen’s Club. This photo was taken at the two women's retirement party in the late 1980s.

Above: With my Mum and Nanna and Pop Smith - Christmas 1990.

Above: Dad and Nanna at my younger brother’s wedding in 1990.

Above: Nanna and her first great-grandchild, Ryan, in 1992.

Above: Me with Nanna Smith in 2003. I was back in Australia, visiting from the U.S. where I've lived since 1994. This would be the last time I would see Nanna.

Above and below: Nanna spent Christmas 2004 visiting with her family in Port Macquarie. She died ten months later, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, back in Gunnedah on October 19, 2005. She was 86-years-old.

A few days later I wrote the following to my sister-in-law: “I think [Nanna's death] took everyone by surprise. It’s like she slipped away from us very quietly – not wanting to make a big fuss of it. I’m just thankful that in the days before she passed, she received a letter and some photos I’d sent her from my time with you all [in England]. I’m also grateful for the good conversation we had via phone at the end of July – when Mum and Dad were here visiting [me in the States]. I remember telling her that I believed I had inherited her green thumb, as all my indoor plants were thriving. So my sadness was alleviated somewhat by these opportunities to connect with her before her passing – and by the fact that she didn’t endure a long period of suffering. But I still find it hard to think I won’t see her again, or hear her voice – at least not in this world.”

Nanna was loved by many and is missed by many.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gunnedah (Part I)
Gunnedah (Part II)
Gunnedah (Part III)
Gunnedah (Part IV)
One of These Boys . . .
A Lesson from Play School
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
The Bayly Family (Part I)
The Bayly Family (Part II)
The Bayly Family (Part III)
My Brother, the Drummer
A Rabbit’s Tale

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