‘We were pretty lucky to see that, weren’t we?’
I AM standing in a garden, careful not to tread on the green-lipped plants, and my sister is also standing - regulation distance away - among the greenery, and we are both looking up to a veranda, where my mother sits.
Her silver hair is brushed into a bob, and kept in place by a black, velvet headband, her shirt is crisply ironed and a long, strand of beads is looped around her neck. She has black trousers on, and a pair of twinkly, red shoes on her feet.
The shoes cannot, by the way, compare with her twinkly eyes.
My mother is 95 years old.
Last month, she broke her hip. This month, she is in isolation, and calling to us from her nest - a mother bird, still, checking on her chicks.
How are you? My mother wants to know. Are we eating enough? Getting enough sleep? How are the children coping? Do we need anything? What about school? School holidays?
A $10 note flutters down from the veranda.
"For Easter eggs," my mother says.
I give the nurse a bag of books to give to her in return, as well as a letter from my 11-year-old daughter that tells my mother that she is doing well, but that she misses her "deeply".
My mother reads the letter and laughs.
"I love that girl," she says.
I look at my mother, and think the same thing.
A car comes down the street, a banner that says "Happy Birthday" slung across its side, balloons hanging like washing from its windows.
We all look to where it pulls up outside a house across the road as another car, with more balloons and banners, pulls in behind it.
A man comes out of the house to stand on his veranda, a squirming toddler in his arms.
The visitors get out of their cars and stand in the driveway, waving their arms and letting the balloons float up to the sky, while the little boy watches, his expression somewhere between bewildered and delighted.
A woman comes out, holding a birthday cake with one flickering candle on it, aloft.
My mother smiles as everyone on the driveway begins to sing Happy Birthday.
"Well," my mother says, as the song ends, "we were pretty lucky to see that, weren't we?"
I have asked my mother again and again if she is all right, if she is lonely in this strange time, if she is frightened of the virus that has all of us frightened, and she shakes her head, no.
Last time I asked, she said, "Don't worry about me, I am a big girl, Frances," then, "I can handle this."
Of course she can. She has lived through a world war, a depression, losing her husband and most of her friends.
She has brought up four children and seven grandchildren and it will take more than this to quell her spirit.
I hope when I am old, I am exactly like her. All her children do.
The people in the driveway start to call out their goodbyes and return to their cars, and the nurse comes to tell my mother that her lunch is ready.
"Thank you," she answers, "I'll be in shortly."
The man and the woman take their little boy back inside and I think that he will never remember this, his first birthday, but I know his parents will tell him the story of it again and again.
It will become the stuff of family folklore, told at every birthday party and gathering…
"When you turned one," it will begin, "there was this pandemic, a highly contagious virus called the coronavirus and we couldn't go anywhere, nobody could, so your grandmother and grandfather, and aunty and uncle came to you…"
But I will remember this day forever, and what a 95-year-old woman and a one-year-old boy, almost a century between them, showed me.
From one side of the street, where my mother sat smiling, hair brushed, clothes ironed and her walker beside her, I saw the power of courage.
From the other side of the street with the little boy held aloft in his father's arms and his family singing to him, I saw the promise of hope.
And between them, spanning all those decades and meeting somewhere in the middle of that street, I felt the one thing that walks beside all of us in times of trouble - the sure, steady step of love.
Originally published as 'We were pretty lucky to see that, weren't we?'