27 October, 2012, Anglesea, Victoria, Australia
Hi, I’m Bec, Jean’s first grandchild, and she asked that I say something on this momentous occasion, which is both completely terrifying and an honour! I have really loved having the opportunity to talk with all my cousins about our memories of Nanna, and it has been an honour to try and sort those memories into a speech for her to be proud of...standing here today is the terrifying bit! However, it’s very typical of Nanna that she spent her last hours planning her own funeral, and it has been the lifelong lot of her grandchildren to ‘volunteer’ at her bidding, so here I am.
A long life deserves a long thank you, and this speech reflects the thoughts and memories of 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren! Deb, Jenn, Martin and I all called Jean Nanna. Naomi, Jemimah and Hannah knew her as Grandma, Graeme and Diane called her Gran and Jess, Finn, Zoe, Emily and Chloe knew her as Great Nanna Yule. Since I got to choose her name first, she’ll be Nanna today!
My earliest memories of Nanna are at Highett. Martin and I used to love having sleepovers at Nanna and Grandad’s. She was always good for a packet of juicy fruit (until my chewie ended up in Martin’s very curly hair and Mum laid down a ‘no more gum’ rule!) and she’d let us spend hours playing in the caravan they kept in the driveway. We weren’t so keen on walking to the shops with her as she seemed to stop at every second house so she could introduce her darling grandchildren to the entire suburb. Even at a young age, we recognised Nanna as a social networking maestro. A reflection of this wide friendship circle was the legendary number of christmas cards she received every year, festooning her house with them like a flock of birds perched on the rafters.
I remember watching Nanna and Grandad play tennis with great energy and discuss the game with even more energy afterwards. It seems like only a couple of years ago that she stopped playing tennis, and she was certainly still having an occasional swim at Pt Roadknight right up until last summer.
I remember the back verandah of the Highett house suddenly bulging at the seams with exotic, colourful handicrafts as my new ‘cousin’ TRADING PARTNERS arrived. As I travelled through Vietnam and Cambodia recently I was struck by how familiar all the traditional crafts felt, as I’d been surrounded by them from a very young age. Naomi recently helped Nanna to complete a history of Trading Partners, and really enjoyed that special time working together.
Two events stand out from the Highett years as good examples of who Nanna was in my life. I can’t remember in which order they occurred, but both changed my view of the world. I think I was about 8 or 9 when we arrived at Highett for easter lunch, eager to get our usual stash of chocolate. Nanna greeted us with the exciting news that she had decided to stop buying us easter eggs each year, and instead she would donate the money to refugees who needed it. I can still remember the look of hope in her eye as she watched me struggle to pretend that I agreed this was a great idea, while inwardly screaming NOOOOOOOO! I doubt it was meant as a test, but I felt I’d failed it...this watershed 12 second conversation definitely scarred me for life but, perhaps ironically, I also spent 6 years volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in my 30s, so her message eventually reached it’s mark!
Probably around the same time, I couldn’t sleep one night (no doubt dreaming of long-lost easter eggs!) and got up to find Nanna and Grandad watching a movie. Nanna let me stay up to watch it, as she said it was the story of a very important man. I was glued to the screen for the entire movie, totally enthralled by the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer… I don’t remember much about the movie, except for the final scene where he is taken from his cell, marched out to the firing squad and shot in cold blood because he wouldn’t recant his view of God (or something like that!). I’m not sure that this helped me sleep, but it gave me a clear idea of the values my grandparents held dear and again, it’s either scarred me for life or helped to form my views!
Jenn also has fond memories of Highett and reminded me of Nanna’s amazing porridge, which has never been possible to replicate, possibly due to the exotic bonlac she used in it! Nanna loved telling tales of her children and grandchildren, and Jenn in particular provided her with many laughs... she loved telling the story of the day she found Jenn cleaning her pet kangaroo’s teeth with Grandad’s tooth brush, and the look of sheer horror on his face! Eating fresh apricots from the tree and cooking custard will always remind us all of days spent body surfing at Anglesea and nights filled with Mahjong and 500 while scoffing down Nanna’s crystalized ginger stash.
It can’t be said that Nanna was a traditional granny type. Her cooking was functional at best (though she did a cracker roast, with good crumble and custard to follow). However she was totally tuned in to the world around her and always had something to say about politics…as you’d all know she ran for state parliament as a democrat, back when they were still keeping the bastards honest. Politics was about the only topic that could potentially cause arguments, but she was always more than happy to set people straight and help them to see she was undoubtedly right! We all grew up listening to Nanna loudly listing the inadequacies of any given government, and all the ways they could be doing things better. I know I yell at the tv in just the same tone of voice she used!
All of us, including my children, were taught to play our favourite games by Nanna, so look out if any of us challenge you to a game of 500, scrabble, mahjong, chinese checkers or Mastermind. We’ve been trained by the games Ninja, world-renowned for always having a ‘Yule-rule’ to get her out of a tight spot!!! You’d be nearly cleared in Mahjong, and Nanna would cough, say ‘kong’ at some discard, pause, and then triumphantly say ‘and mahjong!’. Competitive to the end, no quarter was given for age or infirmity... If you couldn’t beat her fair and square then you didn’t win!
We’ve done a tally and the only one of us to actually beat Nanna at scrabble in our last game with her was Deb… even at 94 she ran rings around us! Watching her run her hands through her hair until it was a white mohawk as she tried to guess Finn’s mastermind challenge recently is an image that will stay with me forever. She got the answer, too, looking like a gleeful cockatoo!
However, everything took a back seat to conversation – even scrabble. “Come and talk to me” she would say, patting the chair beside her. The conversations would be wide-ranging and would always seem to meander, but there would be something she wanted to ask about. She always had her own view but she was also keen to hear another perspective.
Nanna was supportive of anything and everything we did… but she wasn’t afraid to tell you what she thought, either. When I was 20 I started up a business making and selling silk and ceramic giftware in a shop/studio in Fitzroy. I’ll never forget Nanna saying ‘It’s a lovely thing to do, darling, but when do you think you might get a job that uses your degree?’ Diane remembers often having to bite her tongue as Nanna told her exactly what she thought of a particular behaviour...the more foolhardy among us (Jenn and I for example) were more likely to fight back than bite our tongues but looking back as adults we can all see how much she shaped us as people. She taught us to value our minds and our education, but we all knew she was proud of us no matter what field our accomplishments were achieved in. Hannah says, “as long as I was happy, she was happy” and Jemimah remembers always feeling special when Grandma clapped her hands and said with genuine joy, excitement and interest “Good for you darling girl!”
This joy, excitement and interest was extended to everyone who was ever brought to visit Nanna. All of our friends, our partners and of course, our children, were always treated with the same enthusiastic welcome and a searching conversation in which Nanna would find out which 6 degrees separated her from this new friend. Those of us who had time to introduce our partners and children to Nanna are aware of the blessing received. She was certainly very special to my husband and children and for that I will be forever grateful. I remember how excited she was when Jess, her first great grandchild was born, and she was just as excited with each of the subsequent great grandchildren to arrive. Her genuine interest in people and their stories meant that she could connect with any age and any background. The circle of children who grew up visiting Nanna Yule far exceeds the bloodline, as is obvious here today and the example of a life lived out in passionate and intelligent action against injustice has shaped our journeys and left a legacy within our family and beyond, that is truly inspiring.
Nanna was a genuine matriarch, always ready to arrange, organise, connect, bestow and provide love, if not actual food. Although she WAS very generous with her large supply of biscuits so you’d never totally starve if relying on her pantry. As we got our P plates and started driving ourselves to Anglesea we all learned to stop at Freshwater Creek and buy lunch to take with us... it was that or go hungry! While I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, she’d hate us to portray her as a saint, so I will point out that she was also very good at getting cross and I doubt there is a single one of her descendants (or house guests!) who hasn’t received a withering rebuke at least once. This trait became more noticeable in her later years... she definitely felt her time was running out, so if you took your time in a scrabble move you’d get a hurry up glare or worse!
On one of her last trips to Anglesea Deb stopped at the butchers (how our family of wordsmiths loves the fact the anglesea butcher is called Mr Stab!) and picked up a chicken to roast for dinner. She cooked the chook to perfection but for some reason absolutely massacred the bird when it came time to carve. Nanna finally became so enraged that she banished her from the kitchen with a scathing ‘It’s ridiculous, this carving effort of yours!’ and finished the job herself. Although they laughed about it afterwards, Deb has now sworn off chicken carving for life!
The extended Yule family is way overloaded with forceful Capricorns, and january is always a busy month as we all celebrate our birthdays, but January 20 is the Yule equivalent of the Queen’s birthday, and we all made sure every year that Nanna was fully appreciated on her day. Naomi has the mixed blessing of sharing this birthdate. While this made Nanna very proud, Naomi has spent years having her birthday overshadowed every year by watching never-ending Australian Open tennis games and Nanna getting FAR more birthday cards than her.
In a speech at her 80th birthday, Martin nicknamed Nanna the telephone exchange, and it is true that not much happened without her acting as the information hotline. In later years the accuracy of the reportage sometimes slipped due to her hearing... when I gave birth to Finn I rang her to let her know and was very surprised to hear her say ‘wonderful news, darling’ and hang up. I later learned that she’d hung up so abruptly in order to ring the rest of the family as quickly as possible. It was lucky that she rang Janie first, because she proudly announced that I had had a baby boy and named him SIN. Jane managed to persuade her that she must have got it wrong before she spread THAT rumour around the entire Yule clan!!
Naomi sums up our collective sense of loss well: “Our family and my life will never be the same now that she’s gone and I honestly don’t know if I will ever not miss her. I am grateful for the time I’ve had with her, the force she has been in my life and the love and acceptance she has always given me. I pray that the rest of us are able to carry on the legacy she has left us, with the grace and energy she had.” I would add to this that I’ll miss her sense of humour, her endless goodwill to all, and her unfailing attempts to change the world for the better. She certainly worked hard to instil these qualities in all of us and we are lucky to have had such a long time with her. As Martin puts it “She managed a special relationship with everyone. All of the contributors to this speech clearly feel they had a special connection with her. They did. Because people were her priority, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
I think all of us feel a very special bond with Pt Roadknight, and that has been inherited from Nanna. Diane put it perfectly: “The trip to Anglesea was always so long for us, coming from Yackandandah, but there was always the same feeling of anticipation and homecoming as we turned down her road, knowing that she would be coming out on to the balcony as we pulled up, waiting to give me a hug and with a roast in the oven. The feeling of warmth I always felt upon arriving at her house and seeing her is something I have never felt anywhere else and I will never forget no matter where I go in the world.” I think wherever Nanna was, her visitors felt that same sense of homecoming, but Pt Roadknight particularly will always feel like a place we can find Nanna when we need her.
Martin’s children Emily and Chloe want to say this: “We love you great nanna, and we miss you now you’re in the sky. Hopefully you can play with our Pa.”
My daughter Zoe wants me to read the letter she wrote to Great Nanna after her death.
Dear Great Nanna,
I loved having you around.
I was lucky to have you.
I wish you were here with us.
Every time I went to your house I would smile when I saw you waving.
It was ANGELsea to me because it had your spirit.
But now you’re going to the real ANGELsea.
Great Nanna I love you.
This letter was cremated with Nanna last week, and I know it will make her very happy to have it with her as a reminder of how much we all loved her and how much we will miss her.
Having been lucky enough to get the chance to actually say goodbye to Nanna I’d like to finish with our last conversation. As Finn sobbed into her arms and told her how much he loved her she gave him a big Great Nanna squeeze and said ‘Oh, darling, no-one can live forever!’ which made me realise just how much I hadn’t believed that of her. If anyone was going to carry on energetically running things it would be Nanna!
Mike took the kids out and I realised that she already knew most of what I had to say...a 90th birthday speech and a deathbed speech are worryingly similar apparently! I started to tell her how much she has always inspired me with her passion for human rights, and how she has always known how to do the right thing seemingly effortlessly and it was all getting very earnest and embarrassing when she interrupted me with a glint in her eye and said ‘... and I’ve had FUN, darling!’ and we laughed and hugged and I realised that she had got it in one. My enduring memories of Nanna will always be of her laughing at something, playing games with the joy and enthusiasm of a child and being excited by absolutely everything. What a gift she was.