Recently my uncle who passed away after suffering with cancer and severe lung problems was farewelled in a poignant memorial service. Held in the place where he had worshipped for over twenty years, the service was remarkable in many ways. Firstly the two clergy presiding were senior clerics of the Newcastle Diocese, a Bishop and a Dean. Secondly they were female.
It seemed fitting somehow that this was so, especially as two of his three children are strong, independent, professional females. The other is a sensitive kind man who was brought up ahead of his time to be a SNAG by his mother, my late and much loved Auntie Shirley. My cousin Stephen gave a truly wonderful eulogy, which had humour and truth mixed in with so much love and pride the tears flowed down my face. No sound, just tears of empathy for my cousin Jayne and her husband who had helped my uncle live at home by being live in carers for the past two years. For my cousin Louise who had been there for her mother who suffered so with cancer over twenty years ago.
I also felt a deep sense of kinship, of family bonding which had been nourished so much when we were younger by our parents. There were times when I had such vivid flashbacks of memory as Stephen recounted how the family had first joined us here as migrants in the sixties. I remember sleeping in our small fibro cabin while they were out the back yard in an even smaller fibro one.
I remember the debates about which TV channels to watch. We watched Channel 9 and 7 while Uncle Eddie insisted on ABC. Thank God for the little bit of intelligent viewing we had for the weeks they were with us! I remembered how glamorous I found Auntie Shirley, how I could not wait to show her my Heidi and Little Women books.
The girls had long hair and it was Uncle Eddie’s task to brush the knots out of their hair. Jayne particularly used to let out blood curdling squeals of protest but Uncle Eddie was no pushover. He tamed their often seawater and salt laden hair and the time doing this created a wonderful father daughter bonding.
We had been here for some years by the time the Elsom’s arrived and while my sister and I had quickly integrated into school and made firm friends my mum had been increasingly isolated by my father who did not like neighbours inviting her regularly to dinner and afternoon tea. Dad worked all hours and though he took us fishing at night in summer after he finished work our next door neighbours became our family. Mr Cadogan had become a proxy dad to us, teaching us to swim and snorkel at The Rock Pool, later on having the most delicious sausages he had barbecued in soft fluffy white rolls. We prawned with nets at Canton Beach, cooking the prawns in boiling salted water in pots over fire pits right there on the sand.
I can only imagine the sheer wonder of this outdoor life for my cousins. Once they were settled in a gorgeous old house with a huge covered verandah in Lorn in Maitland we had regular get togethers whereby Uncle Eddie drove the family down to our house. We either ate the food both families provided at home or if the weather was not too hot we loaded up our car with food and went to The Rock Pool or The Lighthouse or Soldier’s Beach, wherever there were picnic tables.
Oh the food! Food was love in my mum’s mind and she adored her nieces and nephew and my little brother who was born not long after The Elsom’s arrived here. Auntie Shirley was just brilliant at anything she touched. So we usually had a huge cold home made steak, potato and vegetable pie from her and a big homemade Pork Pie from mum. Plus all sorts of side dishes including Aunty Shirley’s famous coleslaw and her incomparable slices for afternoon tea. It was like the feasting of The Famous Five or The Secret Seven during their long summer hols, but this was twice a month! As soon as the clothes for Sunday church were removed and casual things thrown on the Elsom’s were on their way. And I was SO impatient!
We also visited them regularly on Sundays at Lorn where we would go for walks on the most amazing things. Paths! We eventually meandered across the bridge and down the High Street. This was town life to us and always thrilled me. Even if my sister was a right witch in the back of the car and we both got into HUGE trouble with a very angry dad we still both wanted to visit our only family.
So now that Eddie is gone I feel there is an ending of an era. We cousins are now the older generation, the keeper of these memories. It is why I am determined to get them down now. I am not very mobile but do my best work sitting down so am capturing as much as I can here and in my other blog kissmekate. Eventually I want to join the two blogs together into a memoir and then I can put the whole story together, because as events happen in my life I remember more of the past. So much was hidden before due to emotional trauma in childhood and as a teenager.
Eddie and family, along with The Cadogans made my life normal. Because in seeing them as such happy family units I knew how it could be. How it should be. I will never ever forget what Shirley and Eddie meant to me, including the adult me. They accepted me. They loved me. They showed Christ’s love to me and they were the first people I told when I found faith in my twenties. Uncle Eddie looked out for mum until I got up here to look after her. We chatted on the phone regularly and he was a great support to me when I was live in caregiver to an extremely violent father. When he became very ill I offered to take him regularly to his specialists but he said confidently and kindly that Louise would take him. His children and grandchildren came together to make his end of life quiet and peaceful. Qualities learned at Eddie’s knee.