November 13, 2004


She's doing fine. Massive thanks to everybody for earlier messages of support. Yesterday's best conversation followed a comment from my aunt Jill, who for the past decade has lived with and cared for her mother:

Aunt: "Why do you suppose they decided to race horses? Why not race cows?"

Grandmother: "It would be fun if they raced cows over the jumps!"

A steeplecowchase! Bring it on. As a teenager, Id watch all the major televised sports events with my grandparents; my grandmother has a particular fondness for tennis and boxing, although any big-time sports occasion attracts her searing attention.

Her prevailing attitude -- dignified amusement -- is remarkable considering the sadness my grandmother has endured. One child died at birth; her two eldest sons died in their early thirties; I was at her youngest son's bedside when he died in 1995. Only one of her children (my aunt, her only daughter) has survived to this point.

If you met my grandmother, you'd love her. I do.

Posted by Tim Blair at November 13, 2004 04:03 AM

She sounds like one fine lady.

Posted by: Ash at November 13, 2004 at 04:08 AM

If you want to know what a cow race might be like, try to find / check out Bone by Jeff Smith, in particular the Great Cow Race episode.

Posted by: Mythilt at November 13, 2004 at 04:21 AM

I wish I could meet her! My grandmother on my father's side was a kind of powerhouse. Us kids used to visit my grandparents in their summer place in the mountains of North Carolina (no need to cue up the banjos; it was a part of the Smokies that was full of the summer homes of well-off Florida retirees) and I remember being dragged complaining by my energetic grandmother over what felt like several mountain peaks on a "walk." Even though my grandparents were relatively wealthy (they got to travel all over the world; I still have a stuffed koala-toy souvenir they brought back from Australia) she still handmade most of her and our clothes and cooked three huge meals a day, was active in the church and charities, etc. etc. She grew up on a farm in Vermont. They don't make people like they used to; compared to what people who are old now had to do to live and what they went through today's average Westerner leads the life of a pampered harem eunuch.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at November 13, 2004 at 04:25 AM

It seems like her grandson came out okay.

Posted by: Damian P. at November 13, 2004 at 04:43 AM

That exchange explains a lot about you, Tim . . .

Posted by: Crank at November 13, 2004 at 04:56 AM

Glad to hear your Grandma is doing well, tim! A fine lady indeed.

Posted by: The Real JeffS at November 13, 2004 at 05:01 AM

I'm very glad your grandmother's doing well. Best of luck to her, and to you.

Posted by: John Nowak at November 13, 2004 at 05:10 AM

She sounds like a terrific lady, Tim. Glad to hear she's doing better.

Posted by: Emily at November 13, 2004 at 05:11 AM

Good to hear she is doing better Tim. Best regards to her and you.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at November 13, 2004 at 05:11 AM

My best wishes to her.

Posted by: Donnah at November 13, 2004 at 05:16 AM

A steeplecowchase! What an udderly delightful idea! My best wishes to her, and to you.

Posted by: Ernie G at November 13, 2004 at 05:21 AM

Both grams and aunt seem like great gals. And yeah, that exchanges does explain a lot. Best wishes for both.

Posted by: ken at November 13, 2004 at 05:29 AM


Posted by: test at November 13, 2004 at 05:40 AM

G'day to your grandma! I want to be like her, and like my own grandmother, who walked from Tennessee to Texas in 1910, beside an ox-drawn wagon, with a baby on her hip, because she and my grandfather were too poor to take the train. She was 17 years old, and if I had been smarter, I would have gleaned every story from her that I possibly could. Listen well, Tim. Your grandma is more valuable than rubies.

Posted by: Rebecca at November 13, 2004 at 05:47 AM

she sounds like a hoot, tim. enjoy every moment.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at November 13, 2004 at 06:03 AM

On ya Tim, done ya grannie proud.

Posted by: jafa at November 13, 2004 at 06:03 AM

She sounds delightful. Tell her 'Hey!' from an admirer in Georgia. I'm still chuckling over 'steeplecowchase'.

Posted by: BrendaK at November 13, 2004 at 06:04 AM

A sense of humor in an old person is proof that life didn't get them down. Cheers to your granny, Tim.

Posted by: Retread at November 13, 2004 at 06:28 AM

I hope your gran makes a full recovery.

Imperial Keeper

Posted by: Elizabeth at November 13, 2004 at 06:37 AM

Glad to hear she pulled through. My grandmother was a peach and one of the most important people in my life. I'll always be glad I had her, and I wish you the same.

Now about steeplecowchasing. We will be udderly annoyed if she milks that joke dry. We will not be cowed!

Posted by: Gary at November 13, 2004 at 06:59 AM

All the very best to your lovely grandmother, Tim. From what you write about her and from how you write every day, your family must approach life with an abundance of grace, grit and wit.

And thank you for reminding the rest of us of how much we have loved our grandmamas. Mine also was fun- she wrote poetry and played on the tennis team at William and Mary in the 20s and was the sweetest and most gentile woman I ever knew who could skip stones across a lake and teach her grandkids how to make grasshopper cages out of tall grass an hour or two before throwing a formal dinner party for the all too serious grown-ups. She was so perceiving and kind to everyone she ever encountered.

Posted by: charlotte at November 13, 2004 at 07:10 AM

My gran always liked to mock "Yasser's tea-towel". It was her only real obervation on foreign affairs, apart from the standard "they are all mad over there".

Pass on my warmest regards to Tim B's gran and I wish her a speedy recovery. And Tim B, if I correctly infer his lineal relation to his gran's youngest son, is welcome to my belated condolences on the news of his fathers death in 1995.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at November 13, 2004 at 07:32 AM

Hmmm. A cow steeple chase? Entertaining but risky. I am on the horns of a dilemma on that one, I admit. But what a hide of your Granny to raise that one.

Posted by: Aaron at November 13, 2004 at 07:56 AM

It's probably trite to say, but our grandmas and grandpas seemed to be made of stronger stuff than we are. Perhaps it is because they had to be.

Regards to the family Blair.

Posted by: Darlene at November 13, 2004 at 08:24 AM

Grandmother: "Really? I wonder who'll get his tea-towel." Excellent point, Tim's Grandma! I, for one, will be watching with interest to see. While the cows jump over their steeples, of course. I hope she makes a super-fast recovery. It sounds like she has exactly what it takes...

Posted by: Liz at November 13, 2004 at 08:39 AM

Your Gran sounds a great lady Tim.

One of my grans died before I was born, but I wish I could have known her. She brought up 6 kids through the WW1/ depression era.

Her husband and her eldest son were painters, can't imagine how hard she had to work. Just think of cleaning all those clothes by hand for a start!

Two of her sons were killed in the war within 6 weeks of each other - they were both flying R.A.A.F. bombers and died in planes which exploded in crashes.

She survived all that, but died in the early 50s before I was born.

Their generation was tougher than ours I reckon - they survived the flu and TB and diptheria epidemics, the rigors of the depression, the war.

We owe them a colossal debt.

Posted by: Supernintendo Chalmers at November 13, 2004 at 09:20 AM

Not that he'll see it way down here, but let me add my positive strokes to Tim about his Gran, and long may she reign! You don't know how lucky you are, boyo...

Posted by: geezer at November 13, 2004 at 10:14 AM

A cow steeplechase? What a grand idea. It's that kind of the inspired thinking that the AJC needs right now.

Just to make it more fun, let's make the jumps say, 9 metres high and run the race over 4,000 metres.

And of course, we get to eat the losers.

My best wishes to your grandmother and I trust she makes a speedy recovery.

Posted by: Peter Hoysted at November 13, 2004 at 10:14 AM

Best to your grandmother - glad to hear she's doing better.

Posted by: Sonetka at November 13, 2004 at 11:11 AM

Count me in, Tim. Glad to hear your gran is doing well.

Posted by: Dr Alice at November 13, 2004 at 12:53 PM

Get all her stories and anecdotes while you can,I always meant to get my mother's life story down but I was overtaken by events.It is amazing what you don't know about them and your family history and when they are gone it is lost forever.It is something I will regret for the rest of my life.
Best wishes to your Grandmother.

Posted by: PeterUK at November 13, 2004 at 01:11 PM

Mine left school at 13, but could quote Robert Burns, Winston Churchill and Henry Lawson into her 90s; she was widowed at 50 but raised 12 kids including two league footballers and for many years rose at 4am to hand-milk cows. Although very frail she made it to 100 and was more pleased with congratulations from then-PM Bob Hawke than the queen.
Two weeks after reaching the ton, she fell asleep for the last time.
What do you call the parents of The Greatest Generation?
Look after her, Tim. Grannies are one of life's great gifts.

Posted by: slatts at November 13, 2004 at 02:58 PM

Glad to hear she's on the mend, Tim!

Posted by: Andrew at November 13, 2004 at 04:13 PM

Best wishes for your grandma.

Google and you shall find: Cow Racing - a Fine Bovine Tradition.

Just add cows with guns and you could even have a summer biathlon style event going.

Posted by: Andjam at November 13, 2004 at 05:26 PM


I started reading your column in the Bulletin a few years ago on one of my frequent trips to Oz. I felt then that you were a decent and thoughtful person.

You have indeed confirmed my opinion.

As a recent grandfather, I wish your grannie all the best. You as well.

PS: sad news about Mark Steyn's site.

Posted by: jlchydro at November 13, 2004 at 08:47 PM

Talking of cow-racing, on Michael Palin's "Himalaya" tonight, they had racing involving a pair of bulls pulling someone riding something that looked like a sled.

Posted by: Andjam at November 13, 2004 at 10:22 PM

Thanks again to everybody for their concern and very kind words - and for the moving descriptions of your own grandparents. (Slatts -- wish your gran had met my maternal grandmother, who lived a remarkably similar life.)

Condition update: still improving. Tonight we spoke for 30 minutes about refrigerators. Grandma didn't own one until 1948, after four children (two born before the war, two afterwards). Prior to that she used an ice chest, which her infant son Ron once tipped over on himself in a frenzied attempt to reach the delicious meats within. "Hungry little bugger, he was," reports Grandma.

Just to clarify for Jack S. -- my father was the eldest of her children, and died in 1970 (a few months after Ron). Graeme, her youngest son, died in 1995.

Posted by: tim at November 13, 2004 at 10:53 PM

I'll add my best wishes for your granny tim, if I'm allowed.

Posted by: cs at November 13, 2004 at 11:28 PM

She sounds like a real treasure. I'm glad she's doing well.

You should use your writing talent to document her life. I wish I had collected thoughts on my grandmother and mother before they left us. Time blurs the memories but doesn't dim the desire to tell my son and nephew all about those two great ladies. I deeply wish I had put to ink some of their history and character long ago when they were present and fresh in my mind.

That I didn't is one of my greatest regrets.


Posted by: lunacy at November 14, 2004 at 12:11 AM

She sounds like a great woman to have as a grandmother. Both my grandmothers were feisty women well into their (late) 90's.

I pray your family will enjoy your grandmother's company for many more years.

Posted by: Chris Josephson at November 14, 2004 at 04:28 AM

Tim, Best wishes to your Aunt Jill, too. She must be a wonderful person and loving daughter to care for her mother so.

Posted by: charlotte at November 14, 2004 at 11:40 AM

Cow racing happens closer to home than Michigan - at Mount Compass, South Australia, to be precise:

I remember this event as a reliable source of 'silly season' TV news in Adelaide when I was a kid.

My best wishes to you and your grandmother, and thanks for an entertaining and informative blog.

Posted by: Richard at November 14, 2004 at 02:50 PM

My apologies - here's the link (I'll read the instructions next time):

The Mount Compass Cup.

Posted by: Richard at November 14, 2004 at 02:55 PM

Sounds like your grandmother was a lot like mine! I grew up with her my next-door neighbor, and spent as much time in her kitchen as I did in our own. She'll always be a special person in my memories. Unlike my younger brother, I also knew two of my great-grandparents, and several of my other relatives from that generation.

If you run out of family, I'll lend you some of mine - 20 aunts/uncles (9 still living), 142 cousins (most with spouses and children, quite a few with grand-children). The annual family reunions are a hoot!

Keep posting, and keep listening to your grandmother's stories - they'll stay with you forever.

Posted by: Old Patriot at November 15, 2004 at 08:31 AM