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Samantha Strauss

I'm pretty lucky. My life has been marked by inspirational people and I consider my Nanna Una to be at the top of that list..

I, of course, knew Nanna as a child when she came up with Pa to Queensland on holidays and especially when we went to down to that magical place called Patchewollock that my mum even now calls home.

Then and now she was my Nanna. A real Nanna, although never Grandmother, let alone Granny. She'd shoot me if she ever heard me call her that.

And Nanna was rose gardens and Siamese cats and frozen lamingtons out of a tupperware container that she's still got. A Nanna who would demand you have two tastes of any food before deciding whether you liked it or not. A Nanna of blow waves and lamb roasts, a Hills Hoist clothesline and a laundry outside. Cotton nighties, Paris perfume, Oil of Ulan, green Ponds soap.

The wonderful thing I'm finding out about growing up is that these relationships start to change. As an adult I didn't just know Nanna as my grandmother but I was lucky enough to get to know her as a friend. As Una. As her own person.

And what an inspiration.

We are all privileged to have witnessed Nanna's reinvention after Pa died. She could've just curled up and died with him but she didn't. Instead, Nanna went out and seized life and shook everything she could out of it. She blossomed with the thrill of new challenges, new adventures. At 65 Nanna became independent and happy in her independence.

And when she got sick and fought with everything she had to get better, Nanna really proved how strong she was. How deep those Mallee Roots run.

I watched her fight in Queensland several times. Tooth and nail. Each time we all expected the end to come and each time we were all very happy to be proven wrong. The medical profession gradually learned that you couldn't write Nanna off because she'd somehow turn a corner and surprise you. I suspect she had fun doing that.

You see, Nanna had absolutely no intention of dying and scoffed that we thought it could be a possibility. In the darkest moments, she never complained of anything but a twinge and she was always getting better. My Nanna loved living far too much to let anything stop her.

But it turns out you can't win them all. Not even Nanna. And in her words: It's a bit of a bugger.


*   *   *   *  *

As an adult I've found out that my Nanna had a naughty sense of humour. If a dirty joke was told she'd pretend that it'd gone over her head but really you could see a twinkle in her eye and that she was hiding a smile.

She had a cheeky giggle and if she was teased, Nanna could give back as good as she got with a surprisingly sharp wit. Although she still blushed like a schoolgirl.

She loved movies and stories and had good taste (although she hated The Simpsons) and lots of times we've sat together in dark cinemas, clutching each other and balling like babies. We've done daiquaris and the pokies at Crown Casino - but only ever losing $5, when disgusted we would call it quits.

And we've bought teddy bears and teddy bears. First because she didn't want to sleep by herself but later because she couldn't bear to leave the poor things with the sad faces behind in the shop. Nanna needed to give them all a good home.

We've had such a lot of fun.

Even when she was sick we had fun, trying to walk to the bathroom but falling in a heap together back on the bed and giggling and giggling.

Nanna shopped until she dropped. Literally. Even when she was too sick to move she wanted to go shopping and would come back with pinks and purples, aquas,  golds and greens. All the colours of the rainbow but never black. Black wasn't Nanna.

But a cup of coffee and a sit down was. And maybe a biscuit. Okay, just one. We've earned it. But Shhh don't tell! A naughty gleam in her eye.

More than anything, though -  more than biscuits, roses, teddy bears - my Nanna loved People. Loved talking to people. A taxi ride wasn't worth it unless the driver talked and if he talked she'd forgive him anything, even if he took her the long way round. Nanna would call them "Driver". Hampton St, Driver We're going shopping! a familiar catchry.

And in return people, the gruffest of taxi drivers, would open up and tell Nanna their life stories. She loved people and people loved her back.

Chemotherapy was just another opportunity to talk to people and Nanna became friends with the chemo nurses. I love the story that when she left treatment the last time she gave them each a present bag and in the bag she slipped an information pack about Kathryn and Arthur's company, Praemium. I love that story because that is exactly what my mum would do in the same situation. These Mallee girls never miss an opportunity. Nanna would have had a great career in PR.

She was accepting, generous and fair. Though she loved to talk, she never gossiped cruelly and always found a nice word to say about everyone. She understood people, what made them tick, and saw beyond the obvious.

Nanna was ridiculously proud of her five children and her grandchildren and never did things like play favourites. My Nanna was a woman of great style.

I haven't known many people who have died and so I'm only just working out that the very very worst thing about it is that when people die you never get to see them again.

That doesn't make sense to me. I want to see Nanna again. I want her to come to my wedding one day and get to see great-grandchildren. I want to invite her to the Oscars when I win Best Picture and I want my mum to have her mum. And Nanna would simply hate to be missing anything. She'd want to see all that too.

But maybe she can. Maybe we can take her with us. She's in us after all.

I have inherited Nanna's dark brown eyes - lots of us have. It must be a hugely dominant gene. And out of those eyes I will see the world and take a bit of Nanna with me. All of us grandchildren will. And hopefully, if we're very lucky, some of her strength, bravery and love of people will make it down the gene pool too.

I love you Nanna. I'm so glad I knew you.

Anyone for a glass of Baileys?






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