Tuesday, 29 May 2012

It was a celebration of

a life well lived. My father and I went to a funeral yesterday for a man of 93. It was one of those bitter-sweet occasions - knowing we would never speak with him again but also knowing that he had lived life to the full.
We had known this man for more than fifty years. My siblings and I grew up with his children. Our parents stayed in touch even when we were moving around the countryside.
He started out as a child on a farm on the West Coast of our state. Farming there is even more difficult than it is in most places. He and his siblings walked four miles to school barefoot because even among the poor farmers his family was considered poor. He had to leave school early to help to bring in some income.
When the war came he joined the airforce. It meant travelling to the city for the first time in his life. One getting his first pay packet he went to the market and bought a dozen bananas - for him these were the height of luxury.
He saw active service too. In February this year he went back to Darwin with his son for the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Darwin., something he felt most Australians knew (and still know) far too little about.  I felt an odd sense of pride at seeing him interviewed on our international news service about this.
He married his partner of 64 years after the war and they worked the farm together eventually buying his father out. They did without electricity and a septic tank until almost at the end of their time there. What a difference a 32v power plant made to their lives! He passed the farm on and changed not so much jobs as responsibilities and took up a role as the manager of a farm which was run by the then Methodist church for homeless men and alcoholics. He and his wife ran that, with all the many problems it presented, for sixteen years. It was typical of his deep faith and his belief in other people.  Eventually he moved on, still within the church, to another job.
At that point he talked to my father about doing something else he really wanted to do. He wanted to do his Matriculation certificate. He wanted to feel he had "at least finished school".  It was a big challenge for a man who had barely finished primary school. My father, recognising his undoubted intelligence, encouraged him and helped him. His Matriculation certificate was there on the table of memorabilia today. There were the family histories he wrote too. I helped to proof read and edit those.
           "Cat, I cannot find the mistakes in my writing!"
I told him nobody could do that. Typically he wanted to know why!
Many family histories are not well written or even well researched. These were real pieces of research, the sort of thing that might have been awarded honours in history. There was the short article he had accepted by an academic journal - challenging the location of a South Australian landmark. When he talked to me about how to set about it he spoke of maps, sources and trigonometry.
When he retired he went with his wife and worked on a project with indigenous communities in the far north and with refugees from several locations in Africa. They spent a year in Canada doing similar work there. He was awarded and Order of Australia Medal - and said it was awarded to both of them.
His wife had a stroke about eighteen months back. She is frail. Yesterday she was having great difficulty putting a sentence together. I sat with her for a while after the service. People spoke to her briefly but did not know what to say, especially when she could not respond easily. Her three children were there. Her grandchildren were there. All of them have done well. He was justifiably proud of their achievements. They circulated among the many people who had come knowing I would help their mother, the person I turned to when I needed one.
Her conversation was halting but she said one thing clearly.
        "I have lost the words," she told me, "but the music was right."
His service had ended with the Ode to Remembrance and then the "The Ode to Joy", that extraordinary outpouring of joy that Beethoven managed in the last movement of his last symphony even though he could not hear it for himself.  Yes, the music was right.

1 comment:

Miriam Drori said...

He sounds like a very special man, whose life was well celebrated.