*This is an edited extract from Life As I Know It by Michelle Payne with John Harms (MUP, RRP $32.99, eBook $14.99), out now and available for purchase here*
As I was growing up, Therese then became the motherly figure for me and us all.
She just took up the role, taking over the duties, making sure we had dinner, making sure everything was done.
She definitely had plenty of little helpers to order around but it amazes me how she coped with that role at such a young age – and without warning.
When I first started to realise what had happened I was about four.
The kids were giving me a terrible time, pulling my hair, and making my life a bit of a misery as brothers and sisters do.
I yearned for Mum, for her protection.
“Can we go and dig her up?” I asked. “Then the kids won’t pull my hair anymore.”
Some days I think my whinging and complaining about being picked on became too much for Dad.
He used to say he would run away from home if I didn’t stop. That really scared me. But the next time someone was teasing me I went to tell Dad.
“I’m sick of this whingeing,” he said. “I’m running away from home.” And he got in his car and off he went.
I was devastated.
Who was going to look after us? I stood on our front verandah calling out for my other parent, “Mum, come back. Please come back!”
When my dad came home I was very angry with him.
After that, whenever I was sad, I used to go to the verandah and call for Mum. I’m not sure if anyone heard me.
Eventually I realised she was never coming back.
This must have been heart wrenching for Dad. But he never showed it.
His approach wasn’t a stoic position. And I cannot remember a single moment of self-pity.
It was total acceptance, a deep-seated optimism, and a belief that all would work out for the good.
Father Keane says that Dad is “a man of almighty faith”, and throughout my life Dad has given me no reason to doubt that.
When I was younger he would tell me every day how much he loved Mum, what a lovely lady she was.
He wished he’d told her that every day.
He was very affectionate with me and we used to have a little ritual where he would hold his thumb and his index finger about an inch apart and say, “Your daddy loves you this much.”
I would always say back to him, “No he doesn’t, he loves me thiiiiiis much!” and hold my arms as wide as they would go.
My dad’s outlook has had a massive impact on us all.
He always thinks things can be fixed, that he can fix them. But then he says, “If you can’t fix something with baling twine, you can’t fix it.”
He usually made things worse but he did always use baling twine for a belt. It did the trick.
When Mum died he knew we just needed to get on with it, and live life as best we could.
I think the depth of that feeling of sadness for my father, and for my sisters and brothers, has contributed to how I understand life.
I feel close to life. I try to have a sense of what’s important.
And I believe that things happen for a reason, even if at the time that reason is not obvious.
Click here to go back to Part One as Michelle Payne recalls the moment her family were told of her mother’s passing.