My Margarita Mother-in-law

By , January 17, 2013 11:13 pm

It’s been two years since I stood in disbelief on her cream carpet, watching the muddy Brisbane River swirl around my bare feet. This is really going to happen! My elderly mother-in-law’s home in Indooroopilly will go under in the flood. We nearly cry, but don’t; it’s pointless.

I stare in disbelief as my barefeet leaves wet footprints on her new, cream carpet.

In the distance, through the windows and past the bending, yielding mangroves, you could hear it. The Brisbane River galloped past us like an unbroken stallion, a monster of a beast, its back hunched with fury and a wild, untamed mane of foam and flotsam.

This house also went under in the 1974 floods, we weren’t rescuing stuff, we were rescuing memories.

Another pontoon breaks loose. A very expensive speedboat is perched on it, gaily sailing down the river; sightseeing, spinning slowly.

She will lose the house that her father built,  the house that her husband passed away in; the place she raised their five children it will all go under, but not her home.  I’ve packed it all away in boxes, for now.

Today my mother-in-law sits in a unit at the Sunshine Coast, reading books until she can motivate herself to look once more at her house plans.

Don’t get me wrong, she was one of the lucky ones. After 17 weeks her insurance company paid up, and she has alternative accommodation at the coast, but her age, she finds it harder each passing week to remain interested and motivated in the rebuilding of her new home in Brisbane.

She’s over it.

The broken house was bulldozed, allowing the vacant land to be covered in weeds. The bamboo grew back, unchecked.

It’s heartbreaking stuff at 78, to start again, but finally she started building in January 2012, after wrestling with Council by-laws, and illogical decisions that would have seen her rebuild flat on the ground. This time the house would be raised, making it flood-proof.

To cheer her up, I make margaritas. “To my Margarita Mother-in-law and your new house!”  I exclaim.  We toast to her good health and hold our glasses high, savouring the iced tartness of home grown lemons. It begins to rain again.

Originally the builder told her she would be in by August. It rains more. We all looked at the calendar in dismay as the months ticked by and there was no sign of the house even reaching lock-up stage by winter, or spring.

“By Christmas, for sure” he cheerily responded, to her growing concerns about moving back, to reclaim her life and once again live amongst her friends and neighbours.

She frets about the rising costs. Can she pay for it all? Tradesmen don’t answer their mobiles. Work slows to a trickle.

We had planned a wonderful Christmas Day, complete with celebratory drinks in her swimming pool. Alas, that didn’t happen. No swimming pool completion. No margaritas for us!

If you ask her about her new house, she will look at you with the saddened eyes of a woman who has been through too much. It’s difficult for her, but the only way to solve this settling depression and angst is to complete the house, and move back to reclaim her family memories, re-establishing her old stomping ground.

It’s heartening to see other flood victims already in their new homes; it’s a special part of our human spirit that we can re gather and build once again, taking on each chore and commitment with enthusiasm and energy. Rebuilding takes an enormous amount of decision making. What sort of light switch do you want? Where do you want it? Every day requires more energy, more decisions, that once made, cannot be undone. It’s exhausting.

I admire people who can make the most out of what nature and life throws at them.  People who live their lives with gratitude, and who hold a glass-overflowing attitude.  I look at my Margarita Mother-in-law’s glass.  Her glass isn’t even half full. It’s just empty. The lemons remain unsqueezed.


This was published in the Courier Mail:

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