I Wish I’d Asked: Eileen Torney edition

About a year ago my wife Eva and a friend of hers, Danny Finley started working on a program designed to tackle loneliness through intergenerational contact. Kids  are paired with older people in their community through contact between schools and aged care institutions. This is all developed with local communities, the first cab off the rank being Shepparton. A range of activities are ensuing, including story telling leading to the building of online oral histories, the teaching of recipes and cooking, dancing and the ‘reverse mentoring’ of computer literacy. It’s origin in the first of these initiatives is captured in Danny’s fantastic name for it – I Wish I’d Asked.

There’s growing enthusiasm from local institutions including Rotary, the local council and Latrobe Uni which has a campus there.

Anyway, the trigger for this post was Eva showing me some poems from Eileen Torney who is her 80s and lives in Shepparton Villages – a fantastically good aged care provider in Shepp. I liked them and reproduce them below:


Generations of work and expertise
had been repaid the farm was doing well
my mother decided I should board
at Genazzano a prestigious Convent school where her Aunt Mary was a nun
not one who taught but a humble cook and cleaner pious unworldly subservient
at the bottom of their clearly defined pecking order

Dressed in our best clothes
we visited Aunt Mary and in the stylish parlour
my mother announced that she wished to enrol me
and Aunt Mary went to fetch the Mother Superior
who refused to come
We cater for the rich was the message she sent
send her to Vaucluse our cheaper school
in vain my mother argued that she could pay the fees
she thought that was what being rich meant
Your home would not be suitable
if she invited friends (though she had never seen it)
send her to Vaucluse

As I rise in the mornings my cat demands her treat she is a registered vet-checked and privileged cat. Outside the glass door a stray meows and pleads an illegal refugee but I couldn’t let it starve
I poke a tray of pellets through the door and close it again tell it I run a soup kitchen not an adoption agency.

I call one cat Genazzano
and the other one Vaucluse.

This video was not filmed in Shepparton and has nothing directly to do with I Wish I’d Asked, but it would be fun if it could be brought off!

Wives and Mothers

When she died in 1898
her obituary made no mention of her name nor of her motherless baby daughter
she was the ‘wife of Mr. John McManus who was the son of Mr. Bernard McManus and daughter of Mr. Patrick Seymour’
I sent an email to her grandson’s wife informed her the family was cloned
`Not a woman in sight’, I said
daughter and wife

not a real person

Still in the nineteen-fifties
we were wives and mothers
we formed a committee
to establish a kindergarten
in a town which never had one before
and many didn’t see the need
we rejoiced when it opened
and my children in turn attended
I was committee secretary, duty mother when rostered
still wife and mother and not much else

not a real person

By the nineteen-seventies society was changing
adult education, equality for women
my children independent now
and grandkids would soon go to kindergarten
I seized the opportunity to study, qualify and work
and felt that I was Me at last

perhaps a real person

They held a reunion for the kindergarten’s founders
I heard about it after it was over
and a friend asked why I hadn’t gone
“Why wasn’t I invited?” I asked the president
rather peevishly
“I didn’t think of you”, she answered

not always a person

I wonder where the years have gone
some things are less important now
I have knowledge enough to enjoy a good book
eyes that still work though other things waver
sunshine that warms and pictures in clouds
time away from life’s pressures to take it all in
people who care and are there when I need them
for each day I am grateful

to still be a person.

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