Thelma was a rare breed

Boy could she `make’.

My Nanna (Thelma Maree) Rees ... a bit of a trailblazer, a maker and a strong individual.

The invention of tea in bags was no big deal for my Nanna Rees.

In the 1960s we would meet her for triangle-cut curried egg sandwiches, grass-green, fondant-iced frog cream cupcakes and a cup of tea in the David Jones Food Hall.

We would find a table for three among a low-growing forest of blue laminex tables, stainless steel framed chairs on the lower ground floor of the Elizabeth Street (Sydney) store.

Unloading our wooden tray of sandwiches and frog cupcakes, my Nanna would open out her handbag and unfold a handkerchief which held her `top-up’ tea bag.

The tea bag was stitched together from recycled fabric on her treadle machine and plonked into a tiny, stainless tea pot, to give her brew extra strength.

She was a rare breed among ‘60s grandmothers, my Nanna. A socialist, I still have her collection of May Day badges from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and a pride in her individuality and creativity.

Nanna made her own jaunty hats of midnight blue, dusky pink and bottle green felts, which she always wore `into the city’ from her home, which was not much more than a garage way out of the city on the Great Western Highway. I saw it from the road once.

She lived with her dog, Santa, a black Labrador cross who arrived, dumped over her fence one Christmas Day.

Her best friend was Miss Allard, a well-heeled race horse owner. We were not allowed to visit her home and I never met Miss Allard. Hence, the tea and sandwich meetings in David Jones.

It is her making that surrounds me these days. She died in 1992. I wear a silver sunflower broach with ruby stamen on my winter black jumpers and a sterling silver ring with a giant half pearl on my pinkie.

Her ceramic baby booties in various shades of green and merlot sit on my dressing table.

Every morning I drink from a tea cup she won for breeding slinky black and tan dachshunds, ‘I prefer animals to people’ was her mantra, she was also a strict vegetarian.

She could not just sew, but tailor, close fitting woollen suits of masculine style, double breasted and tight-waisted, she cut a smart figure in ‘60s and ‘70s downtown Sydney.

She gave birth to three sons and my mum in the early 1930s and was left as a single parent after WWII when my grandfather, an ex-Merchant Navy German POW, did a runner to Melbourne.

On my last visit to my mum in August she recalled the respect of other poor inner Sydney families at my Nanna’s medical skill and compassion as freelance nursing sister.

So there she was, my Nanna (Thelma Maree) Rees a bit of a trailblazer, a maker and a strong individual who lived to 92, independently until the last six months of nursing home care.

``This is a lovely hotel – can we afford it?’’ she said in the foyer of the Strathfield nursing home where she spent her final days.

But here’s the sweet truth.

On her front doorstep, the night I left `home’ in 1990 with my two little girls, to drive to Tasmania and start work for this newspaper my mum revealed:

``Your Nanna was born in Tasmania, at a place called Cressy. She was a Greig.’’

But that’s a whole other story

On days when I think I should be more conforming or quiet, I think of my Nanna. I look myself in the mirror, and just get on with it.

TRUE BREW: There are many unsung women who quietly lived their own life and inspired with their strength and individuality. Their legacy lives on.

TRUE BREW: There are many unsung women who quietly lived their own life and inspired with their strength and individuality. Their legacy lives on.

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