Quirky Cup Day connections

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, Francophile, single mother of three young adults and creator of diywoman.net. She shares an unusual but enduring Melbourne Cup day tradition. 

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I am not a gardener.

I have written about tending friendships as you would your garden, but my DIY credentials in the actual gardening department are non-existent.

My mother, however, is a ‘Daisy Lady’ – a member of the Native Australian Daisy Study Group. For the past 40 years, she has met regularly with other Daisy Ladies. Sadly, there are no longer any men in Mum’s posse, but the four remaining Daisy Ladies are as passionate about native plants and native daisies in particular, as they ever were.

I can hear them in the next room, happily comparing the merits of Tetratheca with ti tree. It’s Melbourne Cup Day and, as any self-respecting Melburnian knows, that makes it the first Tuesday in November. And the first Tuesday of every month is Daisy Day.

Mum has always hosted the Cup Day daisy meeting. There’s a sweep and a prize for first, second and third in the form of, you guessed it, native plants. This year there’s an extra bonus – a pair of secateurs for every place-getter.

As an apartment-dwelling plant-murderer, I’m relieved not to be in the sweep, especially now that the numbers are so small. Everyone’s going to be a winner because Mum refuses to keep her own prizes, and the other Daisy Ladies are too well mannered to accept more than one prize each.

I have written before about the privilege of being invited into the workings of my mother’s mind.

Last night, during one of my regular sleepovers, she and I talked about the Melbourne Cup and her childhood with a race-going mother. On race days, Gran would dress up and head out the door, leaving behind a note on the kitchen table: “Gone to the races. Chops in fridge.”

From a very young age, Mum and her father formed a race-day coalition of the abandoned. One Saturday, they wrote a poem about it. Mum doesn’t think they showed it to Gran, but she remembers it being hilariously funny and not very complimentary.

She describes Gran as “the sun around which our planets revolved”, but neither Mum nor Grandpa were ever entirely sure of their place in Gran’s universe. Except on Fridays, when Mum was the most important person in my grandmother’s life. Because that’s the day the Salvation Army’s weekly newspaper was delivered to their door.

On the front page of The War Cry was the week’s ‘Tip for the Race of Life’.

For most readers, it was a homily on ways to be kind unto others. For my grandmother, it was a coded message from on high for the next day’s race meeting. And, according to Gran, only my mother could work out what that message was. Mum was as surprised as anyone to know she had a hotline to the man upstairs, but she worked it to her advantage, as any attention-starved only child would do.

After school every Friday, armed with ‘The Tip’, Mum would turn to the racing pages and wait for inspiration to strike. If the week’s tip was, for example, sympathy-related, Mum would tell Gran to put her money on ‘Kind Stranger’ in the fifth, or ‘Good Samaritan’ in the eighth. Like most regular punters, Gran never admitted to any losses, so Mum could only conclude she was a very good tipster.

Seventy years on and a couple of suburbs away, she’s not keen to resume the role.

She has cut out the names of the horses from the morning paper and placed them in a hat. No one asks her for tips as they line their crumpled bits of newsprint on the arms of their chairs. She’s very pleased about that.

I have been invited to join the Daisy Ladies to watch the race that stops a nation. I have reluctantly agreed to take the last horse in the draw because four into 25 won’t go. For the next three minutes I am going to be invited to be an honorary Daisy Lady. I will bask in the honour bestowed upon me and knowing the extent of my gardening prowess, I will share the imposter syndrome my mother felt every Friday of her youth.

I just hope my horse doesn’t win.

This article first appeared on diywoman.net.

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