A Glass Factory Turned Café… And My Grandma

I sit here today in a thriving café. The good old whirr of the coffee machine, glass cupboards full of little bits and little posies in water on every wooden table.

Meal comes out. The pink rose petals scattered across the usual avo toast suspect matches my pink herbal tea. Succumb to obligatory social media photo.

“Have you tried the coffee here yet?”

“No,”I say, slightly embarrassed. It appears that many people of my home town already have: I am a late goer.

“You’re in for a real treat.”

Usually I’d just go with it. How can I say no to that, the excitement and pride on his face is evident… and yet, I explain that I can only have half strength coffee and that sometimes coffee doesn’t agree with me. They lose interest a bit.


Gosh, this breaky tastes great. I wish it would go on for a longer time. I try to prolong it – I should have requested two pieces of bread…

Outside are cyclists, looking content in their flock. Admirably practical in their gear and weather friendly accessories; three tables across two tall businessmen discuss budgets and monies over paninis.

But this wasn’t always like this. It’s only been a café for a few years. Before then, it was something else and before that it was a glass factory.

In the more gilded age of manufacturing, it stretched over acres worth of land and would have employed hundreds of people, paying the mortgage of many local families.

This is where my grandma, upon finishing her triple degree of music, education and opera, applied for a job after completion.

The young pianist, also a gifted singer, had fought for her studies. In the 1940s, it was not de rigour for women to gain degrees, and a triple one at that. But Beryl (because grandmas have first names too) was one to achieve her goals.

Music was what she lived and breathed: and it was worthy of travelling on an old train up and back to Melbourne a few times a week. Music, her passion, was worthy of carving out her own path in life. A unique journey to her only handprint. Music, and what it represented, was made to grow better and grow larger yet more refined. Other things were worth this too: like her family to come, and the kindness she gave all she encountered and her love of swimming too.

In an old college boys’ world she’d made an impact as a woman on the swimming team and was competing in state-to-state university competitions.

During her university commutes, she’d met her husband, a soldier from Sydney stationed in Queenscliff, during the train ride.

After graduating, there must have been other things on her mind because she applied for the glass factory job. There must have been an alluring simplicity about it; in contrast to the highs and yet uncertainty of musicianship.

The manager, a very nice man, sat her down and told her something in a kind way: she was too qualified for it.She wouldn’t fit in there.Sorry but no thanks.

The next opportunities were ones which fitted her training, and she began to pursue her dreams with focus and passion. She began to teach in prestigious schools and established a successful home piano school.

Her consistency, certain way of doing things and care of her students still follows her today. Many of her past students are pianists, opera singers, teachers and musicians of all kinds.

“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.”

Trust the next song to come on in the cafe to be that one: the melancholic harmonica gets under my skin and seems to stay there for a good while.

Musicians who are poets just lift my heart a little higher, and especially on this day as I reflect on my beloved grandma.

She lived her life with love and care and carried her dogged, gentle passions with her all her life. Even in horrific circumstances, they were never snuffed out.

So many people pour their lives out in an honourable story, which lives on for future generations to come… and my grandma was one of one. I love her for it, and the legacy she has left her family, her students and all who knew her.

Today, while I’m in the glass factory-turned-café, I think of her.

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