Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Eulogy for Mum
Firstly, I guess I now have the baton of being patriarch of our family and so on behalf of all of us may I thank all of you for being part of this celebration of Mum’s life. You’ll hear a bit from the three of us about various aspects of Mum’s life and I’ll apologise in advance if we overlap one another because none of us have any idea what the others are going to say.
I am of course hoping that my sisters don’t burst into song because unfortunately whilst they may have gotten Mum’s good looks they also got her very bad singing voice. I on the other hand inherited both Dad’s good looks and good voice. I’ll will try desperately not to outshine them if they do.
I am fortunate to have a copy of notes Mum and her sister Aunty Nancy made for me about their childhood and I’m going to start with some of that. Mum gave me strict instructions last week to only speak for 2 minutes so I’ll finish up now and hand over to my sisters….just kidding.
So with apologies to Mum let me begin.
Mum was born on 26th July 1930 at Carlton, second child to Lil and Bill Smith. My Grandfather Bill’s cousin once said to me that Smith wasn’t a common name it was just popular. Mum had a brother Billy [known to us as Uncle Phil] and a younger sister Nancy.
She lived in a few houses as a kid – a 2 storey terrace house in Park Street, Brunswick, a free standing 5 room house in Bent Street, Kensington and a 4 room plus kitchenette in Davison Street Brunswick, which is the house that we kids remember best.
Mum said that the most important room in any of the houses was the dining room. It was there that the family gathered around the briquette heater and the radio, listening to Martin Place, Dad and Dave, 50 and over, and most importantly the news, during which they had to remain silent. When they lived in Park Street, Brunswick the extended family, Aunts and Uncles and cousins all lived nearby and the home became a congregation where they would sing songs and hold concerts.
Mum had many relatives come and live for periods of time with the family, her Aunty Jean and her husband Laurie [after whom I am named and who served with the 2/22nd Lark Force in Rabaul and was killed on the first day of the Japanese invasion]. They were followed at various times by Aunty Rose, Uncle Alf, her cousin Betty Dodd and maternal grandmother, Granny Woolley.
Mum also had a lot to do with my Grandad’s side of the family as well and spoke of the times she spent with her Smith grandparents. In fact during the war years she spent the weeks with them whilst her Mum and Aunties were working in the munitions factory at Maribyrnong coming home for weekends. I remember her telling me that Grandad Smith kept birds and had a number of magpies that he actually taught to talk.
The homes were pretty Spartan. No running hot water – the kettle was boiled in the kitchenette and that water was used to sponge off each morning before they went to school. After school they’d come home, do their home work, listen to the radio, sponge off and go to bed. Once a week water was boiled in a copper in the lean to laundry out the back and topped up as each member of the family had their bath.
Times were tough during the early years and whilst Mum was very young during the latter years of the depression it had a profound impact on the family. My Grandfather went away to work on the Great Ocean Road and Mum remembered being told that her Uncles were lucky to earn threepence which was brought home put into a common pool to pay for food and rent. They used to visit the Vic Market and pinch stuff from the bins or buy the fruit and vegies that were cheap because they were on their last legs. Her Dad learnt how to re-sole the families shoes but Mum remembered times when he brought new shoes home after winning tug-of war bouts.
Several of the uncles became SP bookies during those times and the kids often kept cocky in the blue stone cobbled laneways at the back of the houses. For those who don’t know what keeping cocky means it was keeping a look out for the coppers. One of the uncles, Alf, who had won the Military Medal during World War 1, was an associate of Squizzy Taylor’s who was a regular visitor to my great grandmothers house.
Those laneways were also the place where the outdoor dunnies had a rear latch where the night cart man replaced the pan. Mum told us of the time that one of her Aunty’s, May took a feather from a duster and hid out there to tickle the bum of the first unsuspecting sole who came along to squat and relieve themselves.
There was also scope for fun times though, plenty of card games and my Grandad Smith showing rare displays of anger only when playing euchre. There were picnics at strange faraway places like Ferntree Gully and Mordialloc where the whole extended family used to climb in a truck and venture out for the day. There were holidays to Rosebud and with family at Murchison and Koondrook.
There were also major excursions where they went out mushrooming, yabbying, rabbiting and fishing.
The kids also made their own fun playing games of skippy, hidey, Charlie over the water, keepings off, hopscotch, knuckles, marbles and various card games. During those times Aunty Nancy got the nickname of Smiley and Mum of Miney.
It was a time when you showed respect to adults with people addressed as Mr or Mrs, or if you knew them, they were called Aunty and Uncle.
Mum started school at 5 years of age and went first to Holy Rosary Catholic School in Kensington and later to St Ambroses Girls School in Brunswick. They walked to the first each day but when they moved to Brunswick Mum used to con Aunty Nancy into loaning her a penny for the tram which she used to have to pay back with a halfpenny interest.
The mornings started with prayers then had the standard reading, writing and arithmetic lessons writing with chalk on a slate and remembered and chanted back to the Nuns parrot fashion. It wasn’t unusual for the Nuns to dish out a bit of corporal punishment by way of cuts to the hand with the edge of a ruler.
Mum had her first job at 11 years of age working at Uncle Laurie’s parents grocery store where she wrapped pounds of butter and weighed sugar and flour. She’d work 3 or 4 hours a day and earn around threepence and hour.
Mum sat for her merit certificate in Grade 7 but was too young to graduate so had to sit again in Grade 8 finishing in the Top 10. She left school at 14 ½ at the start of 1945 and went to Melbourne Technical College where she studied shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.
During the war years there were at least 13 close relatives away – uncles, cousins, father and brother. There were relatives in the Middle East and in the Pacific Theatre. Grandad Smith, Mums dad was a Rat of Tobruk, and her brother Billy after running away from home a number of times to join the army as a 16 year old eventually found himself in New Guinea. Uncle Perc was a prisoner at Changi and on the Burma Railway.
Going to the pictures was a treat costing a penny and Mum was also given another penny to spend on sweets. She said that when the newsreels showed aspects of the war that were going well to crowd would stand up and clap and cheer. In addition to the movies, dances, walking around, swimming and playing basketball [netball] were Mums pastimes.
Mums first office job was with Henry Co. which was advertised in the paper. It was office duties and she earnt 30 shillings per week. She stayed 15 months and then went to work at Lloyd P Goode, solicitors in Collins Street, where she was paid more. She told me last week that she was offered the chance to do her article clerks course but declined and that she regretted not taking the opportunity.
She then moved onto Bowen and Pomeroy, stayed there until she got married and then moved onto Aeronautical Supplies opposite Vic Barracks and stayed until I was born.
Weddings were generally celebrated in Halls and then back at the house for a feed. Funerals were wakes with the coffin in the front room of the house and the family taking it in turns sitting with the coffin until the burial the next day.
So that’s what I managed to piece together from what Mum wrote. I have no record of the questions I asked her but the answers are all numbered and we can make out what they refer to for the most part. There was one answer to question 38 which was circled and marked “For your eyes only” and it said – “We both wanted to murder our partners”. For those who knew Dad and our Uncle Harry there are any one of dozens of questions we could have asked that would have prompted that as an answer.
Dad met Mum at Daylesford. They were both on holiday there with some friends and travelled back to Melbourne together by train. When Dad found out Mum lived in Brunswick he offered to walk her home from the station. The next night he was going out with a Miss Victoria entrant but he promised Mum he would call her after that and he did. [Aunty Gwen told me after Dad’s funeral that the other girl didn’t endear herself to Nana Joyce because she turned up in a low cut dress with a split that revealed a fair bit of leg].
Dad went off to Perth after he started dating Mum and got involved with the daughter of some trotting trainer, but on return to Melbourne came back to Mum. They had met before her 21st birthday and got engaged before her 22nd when whilst away on a rabbiting trip in the bush Dad proposed.
They married at the Brunswick Methodist Church on the 28th March 1953 and all the family gathered with Mum and Dad in 2003 to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.
Their reception was held at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street, with 75 guests and a three course meal, and they spent their wedding night there. Mum said at the time that she might even still have the receipt for the reception.
For the first few years of married life they lived in a bungalow at the back of my Grandparents place in Orvieto Street Merlynston, but around the time Karen was born and I was 18 months old, moved way out in the sticks to a new estate in Box Hill South on former orchard lands to number 10 Richardson Street where we all grew up.
The roads were unmade and the drains open ditches infested with weeds and rats. I knew there were rats because most weekends Dad would stand in Massey Street and pour a couple of gallons of petrol down the drain then light it with a match and the rats would often scurry away after the explosion. He was a bit of a pyromaniac and loved to build fires and burn leaves which I think was something he got from his own father.
In about 1960 Mum gave birth to our brother Stephen who lost his life a little before that and she too almost lost her own life. She was told that it was unlikely she would get pregnant again but in 1964 after a pregnancy where she spent a lot of time confined to bed, gave birth to our sister Debra.
We kept the same traditions that Mum had grown up with, immediate neighbours were called Aunty and Uncle, those a few houses away were Mr and Mrs. Like Mum we spent most weekends visiting family. And with Dad’s family at Merlynston or Mum’s in Brunswick there were always cousins around and we always had nearby relatives we could walk to.
Friday nights were fish and chip night – we’d go to Bennettswood shops order the fish and chips then walk around to the Paper shop where Mum would buy each of us a comic and herself Best Bets and the Truth.
Mum and Dad both loved the horse racing. She spent many Saturdays around the kitchen table with Aunty Hazel, sipping their sherries and listening to how their bets went on the radio.
I remember visits to our grandparents on Sundays and if we happened to be home Dad would meet the other blokes in the neighbourhood across the road at the Scott’s for a pleasant Sunday morning.
Sunday night meals were often toasted sandwiches watching Disneyland because if we’had been at home we would have had a roast for Sunday lunch and the same if we’d been out somewhere.
We also spent a lot of weekends out driving around the state having BBQs or picnics with the Brown family.
We too continued the family tradition of camping holidays, Myrtleford firstly and then Corowa. Mum would deny it but a major attraction of the border town was the poker machines and we spent 4 weeks there every Christmas where Karen and I would have a race to see who would get the darkest tan over summer.
When Debra got to around school age Mum went back to work and spent a lot of years in the office at Wiredex Wireworks in Huntingdale.
Growing up she set us pretty strict curfew times. Even last week she reminded me of the one time I got home after that 11pm curfew. It was after a Jackson Brown concert in around 1976 or 77, I was 19 or 20 years old and the concert started late and finished in the early hours of the morning after public transport had stopped. We had no money for a taxi so my mates and I walked home from Festival Hall. It was around 3am by the time I walked in the door to find her up and waiting to tear strips off me. She told me I should have telephoned her but in those days of course there was no such thing as a mobile phone and most telephone boxes were out of order so that was easier said than done. Besides I hadn’t asked her to sit up waiting for me.
Mum loved reading. When growing up she enjoyed TV shows like Peyton Place and Coronation Street, Mannix, Columbo, MASH and a lot of the mini series that were regularly released during the 70’s. In more recent times she became a fan of 24 when I loaned her the series on DVD.
Mum didn’t vacuum, she electroluxed. She didn’t say things she turned around and said them. She’d spend hours sitting talking on the black bakelight phone and then give a verbatim I said She said record of the conversation back to anyone who would listen. She could give the most withering look if she didn’t like you or disagreed with something you said, but she also had a huge capacity to love. She welcomed Gerry, Andrew, Lyn and most recently Raelene into the family and gave each of them a special place in her heart. She was very proud of her 11 grandchildren and her two great-Grandchildren and took great delight in their company.
Karen will pick up on Mum’s life from when her and Dad moved in with them at Warrandyte and Deb will talk about how last week unfolded for all of us.
Before I finish up I just want to explain the slide show a bit. I culled a lot of photos out of it to get it down to around 5 minutes but you’ll find about 3 and a half minutes I there is a bit of dead air [if I can say that at a funeral]. There’s a few seconds of silence before the song starts again – I couldn’t take out any more photos to cut it down a bit. Every one of them tells a story for those of us who were there. Pay attention and you’ll see old cars, mum’s Vauxhall that took us on holiday down to Aunty Gwen and Uncle Keith’s at Point Lonsdale, a Mini Minor that was loaded with a pack rack full of suitcases that took all five of us to Adelaide a blue HR that I foolishly did 100 mile an hour in on a straight bit of road between Corowa and Howlong. You’ll see glimpses of the homes Mum lived in – there’s one of her as a 2 year old in the back yard looking a bit lie a gremlin. There’s holiday snaps – my grandmother standing on a sand dune surrounded by family pointing a 22 rifle at them. There are of course many of events – Mum’s 21st, her wedding, my graduation from the police force, birthday parties and Christmases. Each of them very special for us.
Mum gave us many things over her lifetime – bikes, dolls for the girls, lego and train set for me, comics on Friday nights, good food, shelter and a house that was truly a home. More than anything though she gave us her time and her love. Last week she gave us her final gift. Having said goodbye to people on Monday through Thursday I am absolutely convinced that she decided it was time to go, and that the reason for that was not because she didn’t want to suffer, but because she hated the thought of us suffering through a lingering departure. It has been an incredibly sad time for us over the past week, but we also recognise how blessed we were not only to have shared our life with our Mum, but to have had the opportunity to say goodbye properly and leave nothing unsaid. Just as we know she loved us, she knew that she was deeply loved by all of us.
I found a letter she wrote to my son Luke on his 18th Birthday in which she recounted to him a conversation he was overheard having with one of his mates when he was 4 years old. My Nana, his Granny had just died and his mate Lucas said “What happens now Luke?”
“I don’t know. I guess they’ll put her in a box and ship her off to the Indian burial ground in America” he replied.
We’re not going to do that but I do want to say this. There is an old Mexican Indian proverb that says we die three times – firstly when our spirit leaves our body, for Mum at 1:15 am on Saturday 9th September, the second when our mortal remains pass from the sight of men, for Mum today, and finally when our name is spoken for the last time on this earth. For those of us who loved Mum that will be a long time coming.
Sorry for taking so long to get through this Mum.
A good friend of ours who is a naturopath has mixed up a concoction for my sisters and let me tell you they are very mellow. If there is a bit of Cheech and Chong about what they say you’ll know why.