20 February, 2008, St Mary's Greensborough, Melbourne
Gidday … how are you going? … tough crowd … sorry, always wanted to say that!.
The others in the family don’t know this but a long time ago Mum said to me … ‘On the altar at my funeral I want a long stick … leaning against a priests cassock … on purple fabric … with a pair of large unworn men’s sandals’ … unfortunately I forgot all about it … but I turned up today and coincidentally the parish already had it set up … weird.
[It was Lent & I’d noticed the display at the previous night’s Rosary]
My name is Damian and I’m the youngest of Kathleen & Adrian’s Famous 5, though they are still yet to provide photographic evidence that would contradict rumours I’m adopted. Making me the Timmy of the Famous 5 … That’s the rest of the family down there … put your hands up … in laws & Bernie … grand kids … great grand kids … cousins … and if there are any illegitimate offspring out there, today’s probably not a good day to bring it up … I’ll introduce to the rest of the band … Aunty Dorothy on keys … Chris on guitar … and David on computer.
Dad said to me the other night that he had faith in me and I could say whatever I wanted to today … kind … but silly man. So hear we go …
I’ve been wondering over the last few days what mum has been up to she left us.
- I presume the first thing she would have done when she arrived at the gates of heaven would have been to explain to St. Peter that she is allergic to garlic and that mushrooms disagree with her IBT … and asked about the vegetarian options for when Helen, Jo & I arrive.
- She would then have made sure she had at least 2 remote control wands for the front gates for when she’s out after 7.
- Once inside she would have found the best pie shop.
- She would have then gone through the heaven gold book and pulled out any vouchers that members of the family could use.
- Joined the library; the craft group and flashed her Beef & Burgundy life membership at Bacchus.
- Once she got into her unit she would have made sure the VCR wasn’t too low for her to program … then put the kettle on, cracked a packet of jam fancies; sat down on her brand new Jason recliner and picked up the phone to ring God and chatted to him … for a fair while. She would have had a list of things to ask… mass times & happy hour times … made sure God reminded Adrian to put on his hat when he walked up to get the paper … & a shade cloth for the front of the unit would be good … & eventually the Lord would hold the phone slightly away from His ear and shake His head in wonder & finally realise that of all His creations, my mothers gift of speech was His indeed greatest triumph.
We’re not exactly sure what mum was doing in the fateful moment before the accident but one thing is certain … mum would have been mid sentence. What that sentence was, we’ll never know and it remains as one of the many ‘incomplete’ transactions with mum … Shell & David not getting to have the dinner with her they were about to enjoy … Paul not getting his Sunday night call in Townsville … Chris not getting to finish one of her crosswords … Net not taking mum down to Sorrento one more time before the rebuild.
But the great thing about mum is she didn’t die with incomplete thoughts. There was no ‘must get around to loving him a bit more soon’ … ‘must remember to tell her I love her’ … she did it all the time … a phone call rarely ended without a ‘love you lots.’ Even the tone of her voice instantly made you happy.
For those of you who don’t know her, here’s a beginners guide to my mum. I’ll start with something not many people know …
… ‘My mum could land an off break on a 10 cent piece!’ …
She’d always told us she played cricket as a schoolgirl at Santa Maria but we rarely saw any evidence … until one day. I was playing alone in the backyard throwing the ball against the garage wall then hastily taking a stance to dispatch the ball back into the hydrangeas. Mum came out with a basket of washing under her arm. Tiring of my Bradmanesque solo test, I pestered her to play with me and eventually she relented. She took the ball and went to the Jeanie Mac end which afforded only the briefest of run ups. Now just on a good length of our pitch was ‘the hump’, that looked like an elephant had been buried arse up. Chris used to exploit it by relentlessly peppering me with bouncers until one day I ran inside with a hump growing out of my temple. I thought mum knew nothing about the hump but she found it first ball and soon had me flinching as a ball after ball spat from outside off back towards me keeping me trapped in my crease … after awhile I just said ‘I’ll give you hand with the washing.’
… ‘My mum could cook the apron off Margaret Fulton’ …
She could work her magic on everything … except rabbit. Her pavlova is the stuff of legend. The Andersons only used to have us over for Christmas ‘cos of mums Pav. Her scones were to die for … bad choice of words. Mum’s favoured cookbook was the red & white checked Women’s Weekly ‘Simple City.’ However, she began to outgrow the CWA style of cooking and sought nouveau cuisines and soon a ‘Mixed Grill’ was being replaced by ‘Kai Si Mingh’ and ‘Shepherds Pie’ by ‘Apricot Chicken.’ Paul says there was a minor revolt in the early 60’s but by the mid 70’s mum’s kitchen had put down the insurrection and her empire reached its zenith. It was at this pivotal moment in our family history that mum attempted a dish called … ‘Brazillian Casserole’ … I’m not exactly sure what it was but given it’s name we can presume that it was perhaps a casserole without hair. The only two ingredients any of us remember are beef and … instant coffee. We put salt on it … pepper on it … even ice cream, but nothing could make it stay down. It was the only time dad ever wanted a dog so he could have slipped his plate under the table.
Her other triumph of recent years was the ‘Flying Bed & Butter Pudding.’ While mums cooking skills never faded, her mobility wasn’t so good of late. One night in Armstrong Street after another stellar entrée and main, mum popped into the kitchen to bring out the piece de resistance … ‘Berry Infused Bread & Butter Pudding’ She appeared in the door frame with tray in hand and then just as quickly disappeared as she tripped sending the entire dessert sprawling across the floor in a text book funniest home video moment. But rather than get upset she simply helped us pick up the least dodgy bits and we ate it anyway.
‘My mum could sew the apron off Tonia Toddman.’ …
Many in the room were the beneficiary of her skill and generosity of time. Net & Shell … & her good friends Dorothy & Gerry … & Aunty Joan … who would already have mum playing bridge up above by now wearing one of her frocks.
Having a mum who sewed a bit was probably more of a boon for my sisters than my brothers & I. For Net & Shell it meant an endless supply of dresses; skirts … even klots from the latest fashion magazines. For us it meant endless hours standing looking into shop windows staring at the clothes we would never wear. If I pointed out a garment in a shop a mum would take it off the rack, turn it inside out and say … ‘I can make that!’ She would then ‘have a go’ and make something just far enough away from the original for it to stand out … t-shirts with a skateboard motif but with a boat neck … denim shorts with pleats … Paul, Chris & I lived in fear of casual clothes days at school.
… ‘My mum was a bit of spunk’ …
Have a look at her!! … Being the youngest, mum was in her mid 40’s by the time she was dropping me off to school & even at that age I’d look around at all the other younger mums and think … not a patch on my beautiful mum and no-one … no-one dressed as well as her … she made the 70’s her own!!
… ‘My mum was grouse fun to go on holidays with’ …
Our family had many holidays, none more famous than the trip to Townsville to stay with the Dorney’s, most of whom have made the trek to be here today. 5 kids in a Holden station wagon for 2500 kilometres. I was only 3 at the time but I can remember some things. It’s funny when you are the youngest by some distance you tend to be absorbed into family stories whether you were there or not. I often think I can remember particular events I was part of simply because I’ve heard the stories so many times. Just after Pearl Harbour in ’41, we were all listening to the crystal set and mum said to us … ‘Remember the time we got held up by Ned Kelly?’ and I said … ‘Yeah … he took my ipod’ … and mum said … ‘Don’t be silly, you weren’t even born then … now go and get the mutton from the meatbox like I asked you before.’
Over recent years Jo & I have been lucky enough to have many trips way with mum and dad … and mum was such good company. She was so appreciative of us but the truth was, when one finished I couldn’t wait to plan the next one. The next plan was to take them on tour with me in June… mum and dad roadies of sorts… now dad has to show his bum crack and carry the speakers on his own.
… ’My mum is the most loving person I’ve ever known’ …
The only thing dad asked me to make sure I mentioned today was that her love was ‘unconditional.’ I thanked for them that in one of my shows and it meant a lot to both of them. But what does it mean? It means in mum’s case, an unfaltering love for dad … us … and Margie & John & Dorothy & The other Callinans & Andersons & Dorneys & O’Connells … there were no category 4 restrictions with mums love. And I’ve seen in the faces of my nieces, nephews and cousins today and in the hospital as we said our goodbyes to mum, how far that love spread.
No matter what we did she loved us the same. Dad does unconditional love at Olympic standard as well. Mum had multiple gold medals in the discipline. Through relationship breakdowns; career changes and whatever life threw at all of us … she has been the constant … the reassuring voice that would love you through anything … it sounds easy … it’s not. Most of us at least on occasions love with judgement and conditions … she never did.
On Saturday night … the night before the accident, Bernie my cousin and her husband Graeme had invited me to perform my show “Sportsman’s Night” at their Yarra Valley winery as part of the Grape Grazing Festival. Chris & Lisa offered to drive mum and dad up and soon it ballooned into a family reunion of sorts with siblings, cousins and friends of mum and dad as well. At one point in the show I said something wildly inappropriate about Mary McKillop, which I won’t mention in these hallowed walls lest they come down upon us, but see me outside where its safer & I’ll fill in the gaps. Anyway I found myself looking at mum as I spoke. Dad leaned over and put his hand on her lap, but mum looked at me like I’d just told her Chris Judd had had a change of heart and was going to Collingwood … she was beaming at me.
I loved my mum! And more and more as I got older. Sometimes I just wanted to squeeze her cos she was so cute and proud and loving. Sometimes death makes you leave out the bad bits but there were no bad bits.
Sure she used to bang on a bit, and she used to talk about doctors and priests too much … don’t worry, it was all good about you Steve, Jim & Owen … and she used to repeat stories all the time but we all do that … sure she used to bang on a bit and talk about priests and doctors and repeat stories but …
But most of all, my mum loved my dad … and he loved her! I’m so proud to have them as role models.
There’s been many varied chapters to their lives together … their post-war courting; electricity free Myrniong, Bacchus Marsh, Warragul, Watsonia; international travels … but to me it’s been the 24 years since dad retired that are the happiest. They have enjoyed every second together and have been like giddy teenagers.
They’ve loved their time at ‘The Village’ as they call it and happily call themselves Village People. Mum has lapped up life there in the same way she has attacked new challenges late in life … like the computer & the George Foreman grill … I went to happy hour with them one night and it was like being in the film Cocoon. I loved it … but I left hastily at the end in case I got invited to an orgy.
My dad has been heroically strong this week in the face of the most devastating event in his life but he has honoured mum and us and let her love carry him through. And his strength has helped me see mums spirit carry on in the family … I love my dad.
To finish I’m going to produce a document that will shock even my immediate family. Much has been made in recent years of dad and his long awaited memoirs, but unbeknownst to us, mum tiring of his slow progress has written her own.
I’ll just read a couple of extracts now … the rest will be published soon.
EXTRACT 1 – Splades
“I discovered the most marvellous thing in Myer yesterday. It looks like a spoon at first but when you look more closely, you can see that it also looks like a fork. They call it a splade. It’s beaut for eating canteloupe. I’m going to make it my life works to ensure that everyone in Australia has a set … then I’ll take on America!!”
EXTRACT 2 – Meeting Dad
“I was at the football this afternoon watching Brunswick YCW and I met the man of my dreams … boy was he a looker. Anyway he was about to ask me out when Tom Duffy barged in and introduced me to some coot called Callinan who wants me to come on a date to watch him in the theatre. He’s got Buckleys.”
EXTRACT 3 – Myrniong
“Adrian has got a teaching post in the country. We will be living in a place called Myrniong which he tells me is a huge town with a warm climate and all the mod cons. Its close to everything so we won’t need a car”
EXTRACT 4 – Coffee Casserole
“Sick of the family not appreciating my cooking so tonight I’m going to throw some instant coffee in a crockpot with some rabbit and call it something exotic … Brazillian casserole! Yeah that’ll do.”
Jo has put together a photo montage with the assistance of Paul & Michelle and others finding their favourite photos. That’s right, my eulogy has a ‘film clip.’
But before we do that. Whenever we went away I would always buy something for mum. We did buy her a salad dressing but then suspected it may have contained garlic … but we did get her some loquat jam, which has been sitting in my car as I kept forgetting to give it to her. So to make sure I have no incomplete business with mum … here’s your jam mother dear.