Maria bounces into the room with a big laugh and a massive basket of flowers. When I admire their beauty she asks if it is her beauty I am admiring. I am clearly in for a fun chat.
I am talking with Maria, a resident at Opal Alfred Cove in WA. We are meeting via video conference of course, as that is how we do things in 2020.
Maria, 85, moved full-time into her Opal home in January this year. She arrived in a floral flourish, her room decorated extensively with the flowers she clearly loves.
Maria has lived a big life and is full of stories. Born in Portugal, she moved to Australia to be with her fiancé John who moved out ahead of her to save the money for her voyage. She was 22 when she arrived, penniless but in love.
Together they set up a home on a farm, a piece of land “in the middle of the bush” that her husband had saved to purchase. It had little more than a shed for comfort, they relied on a neighbor’s kerosene fridge to keep perishables cold and used a box as a table.
But Maria says that “for me, it was like paradise”. Even then Maria filled their home with foliage, collecting branches from trees and scattering them through their humble home, using tins as vases.
Maria continues sharing tales of her life, interspersed with her contagious laughter. She worked in a chicken shop where she became the guardian of its special recipe before starting her own deli where she worked long hours but got to cook for the Freemantle Football Club.
Maria’s flower career started when her priest asked for volunteers to help at the church. She was assigned flowers and as she says “once I started I never stopped”. For years she continued to make beautiful floral arrangements for her church, and began later to sell them in a fruit and vegetable store she owned with her husband.
Now at Opal she shares her enthusiasm and skills with other residents, teaching a flower arranging workshop every week. Her vast collection of silk and other artificial flowers provides the materials and each week the flowers are arranged and then stored to be used again the following week. This allows them “change them, do them in different ways” says Maria.
Maria’s flowers have become famous in the home, with residents’ family members regularly leaving with an arrangement in their arms. It has led to the idea to create an upcoming flower stall where Maria will raise money for Leukemia.
Maria tells me between laughs that she “never went to school” but she has proven herself to be the perfect example of a student of life. As she says “life teaches, the best teacher is life”.