Rita was born in November 1915 to Mary (May) & William (Bill).
She had no middle name and always wished her mother had called her Rita Mary. She gave her daughter Mary as a middle name and at one point I was considering giving my own daughter Mary as a middle name.
Many people called her Reet.
I called her Nan.
I was very fortunate to grow up on a dairy farm and my Nan lived just next door, just a jump over the fence, we hardly ever used the gates.
We had to walk past her house to get to the dairy and almost every time we did we would hear her calling, "Hello Darling. Can you come in for a cuppa?" from her front door.
My parents never had to worry about finding a baby sitter. Her house was really a second home to us.
Nan was the spoiling kind of grandmother. Every time she went somewhere she'd bring something home for us. And every Saturday we would drive with her to the local shop for the papers and she would buy us a bag of mixed lollies or an ice-block. I always had a Have-a-Heart or a Jelly Tip.
My Nan gave the best cuddles and was quick to boast about our achievements to everyone.
One thing we did a lot of at her house was baking. My Nan was an excellent baker. Her specialty was sponge cakes, heart shaped ones with pink icing were my favourite. And her mulberry pies were to die for. One of my favourite childhood memories is picking a bucketful of mulberries from just beside the chook-pen. We'd come home with purple feet.
Her nephew, the TV chef Peter Howard, says his love of cooking came from helping his Aunty Rita in the kitchen.
My Nan would take my brother and sister and I for picnics down by the billabong (yes, we really did have one of those!) She'd pack all sorts of goodies and apples. She used to scrape apples with a teaspoon for us, delicious!
I have a distinct memory of watching her from our kitchen window as she walked slowly with a heavy bucket to feed the calves, something she did every afternoon until her ankle became too bad to walk on. I must have been about high school age. I thought, "One day we won't have Nan with us anymore." That was a painful realization.
I lost My Nan five years ago next Sunday. But to be honest we lost her long before that. Her memory went. The last time I saw her was at her aged care facility with my husband, my 17 month old son, my mum*, my brother, his wife, their 7 year old daughter, my sister, her husband and their three children under five. It was a room full! She was very frail but talked away like she knew us. As we were leaving she asked my mum, "Where's Thea's baby?" She had been asking and asking for weeks to see my baby. I had just been showing her my boy but I turned around and said, "Here Nan, here's my baby." She said, "Oh, isn't he lovely?" I told her I thought he looked a bit like my uncle, her first born. (She forgot a lot of things but she never forgot her own children.) She told me to tell him that, "He'd like that." And I never saw her again.
Mum called one week later to say, "Nan passed away in her sleep last night." We were all so glad we had been to see her. I still get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat thinking about it.
I do not remember if it was the day I heard that Nan had gone or the day after, but I do remember walking outside into our back courtyard and having the most incredible sense that Nan was everywhere. I felt like she was totally filling all of the space around me. It was beautiful.
My Nan may no longer be with us in the physical sense but she is very much with me spiritually. I talk to her often and I can hear her say, "Hello Darling," "That's alright, Love," and "Isn't she/he lovely."
She's my angel now, of that I am sure.
* My Dad was in hospital after surgery to remove a melanoma.
Disclaimer - I did not draw that sweet Nana Angel, I found it in a Google image search.