Friday, April 23, 2010


"Is your mother picking you up?" I asked Oscar.
"No, Oma is, I think," he said, taking for granted that I knew he was speaking of his grandmama, as indeed I did. As would plenty of others.
"Oma" is the only non-Anglo word I know (in Australia_) which is used and widely understood, and is still "foreign".
Obviously, words from boomerang to zeppelin have been shanghaied into English: "Oma" is different from these. Anglo-Austs use variations of nannas and grands: when someone has an Oma, I assume that they have a Dutch heritage.
Why did "oma" survive with people who have mums, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins?

Oscar's Oma is a smiling, crisp, well-groomed , grey haired figure: her pleasingly round shape seems to offer grandmotherly comfort, but she has no problem with gently chiding Oscar, or his cousin Hannah, when she comes to collect them. "Hannah," she sighs, "Here I am just trying to help you to become a lady." I find it desirably old-fashioned. Oma sets the family standards. That a family member actually comes up stairs to collect these 13 year old children, rather than have them conveniently wait on a darkening pavement, seems to be a part of these standards.

This Oma was, she tells me, one of 14 siblings. She says that her mother used to sit the children down in a semicircle, after dinner, and drill them in such as the multiplication tables. 14 children! What heroines these mothers were.

My mother taught school, at one time, in a "migrant hostel" - actually a grim and dismal collection of corrugated iron huts. I recall her telling us of a Dutch mother of 12 who had just walked out and left her family. "Wasn't there even one of them that she liked enough to take with her?" my mother said.
I still find this an unsettling attitude. Still, it's easy to love and value your children equally when, like me, you have only two.


Susannah said...

Very unsettling attitude indeed! I really wish I had had the chance to get to know Gran better.
The woman who lives next to us is an Oma (although I don't know if that is what she is called). She is 1 of 10 and her husband was 1 of 11 (both dutch). I don't know how many children she has, but I met one of her children the other day who has 1 son and no plans for more. It is the only grandchild I have seen visit in 18months. 11 children to 1 in 3 generations, quite a fascinating transition in society.

Frances said...

Very interesting numbers ... I wonder if there is a tacit criticism there.