Friday, 5 August 2016

"And the biscuit tin was always

One after another her three children and then her eldest grandchild said that.
Yes, we went to another funeral yesterday, the funeral of a remarkable woman. She was the sort of person most people don't really know about until it is too late. 
B.... was part of my life for almost all my life. I can hear her voice now - quiet, calm, and reassuring. 
She was born on a farm on the "west coast" of this state. Her parents did not have a great deal. She had to repeat the last year of primary school twice because she wasn't old enough to leave school. She left at 13 - the minimum age back then - and went to work on her parents' farm.  It meant she could turn her hand to almost anything on the farm by the time she met her husband five years later. 
One of the photos in the montage being shown before the service began showed her milking a cow. I heard someone behind me say softly to someone else, "I didn't know B....could milk."
Oh yes, she could milk. She once showed me how it was done - on a cow belonging to a neighbouring farmer. The cow was startled - but cooperative.
We met her and her family when we moved from one school to another. She was the second person to arrive at our door - the first was the chairman of the school committee but he happened to be across the road when our car pulled up.
"No, I am most definitely not stopping. I just thought you might find it useful to have some food today."
She handed my mother a complete meal - and left. She knew when to interfere, how to do it, and how long to stay. We met the rest of the family at church on Sunday.
It went from there. B....and her husband ran a "colony" for alcoholic and homeless men. It was several miles down the road from us. There is a newspaper clipping somewhere. In it she is described as the "other-mother" of these men. Each Christmas she made each of them a small fruit cake -  using tuna tins which had been scrubbed to within an inch of their usefulness.
There were always other people at their table..."ministers and teachers" one of her children said yesterday. Yes, we were part of the teacher contingent - but we were more than that. Her children were much the same age. We grew up together at the important times in our lives. There were always other people who needed help. I remember one occasion when she was looking after two more children, not her own. There was never a lot of money either but she could, as her children also said, "make something out of nothing".
They eventually moved to the city. It made no real difference to B... there were still people who needed to be cared for. They went to a new church - and found new people in need. There were the boat people from Vietnam and, later, Sudanese refugees. There were English lessons, lessons in how to shop in our shops - and where to find the best produce at  the cheapest prices - lessons in gardening, sewing, and cooking.  B...and her husband did three stints in Canada as "not quite missionaries" working among the poor  in Vancouver. They worked at the hospital in Darwin, in Katherine, and in Ernabella - the last meant "camping out". They were used to all that. They travelled Australia towing a small van behind a sturdy car. They went to places where people only now venture with a 4WD and GPS. Her husband knew he could fix pretty well anything on the car - and she  would take her preserving pan in case there was a glut of fruit somewhere. Her "quandong" jam was legendary.
She won prizes in the Royal Show for her cooking - but only after  her children insisted she enter.  For her show time was about volunteering to organise the canteen which feeds the farmers early in the morning and late at night.
After my mother died B...she arrived with a large container of biscuits. "I know you will have to put the kettle on more than once."
She had the Senior Cat and me there for meals far more often than they came to us. I tried but it was "No, we'd like you to come here." She made bread especially for the Senior Cat. There would be a roast or one of her famous pasty slices - crammed with meat and vegetables. She always gave me biscuits to bring home. 
Once sitting in a chair she would pick up her knitting - pullovers and cardigans for her husband or children or grandchildren, blankets for charity. She made me a wonderful beret before I left for London - and mended it twice because I wore it so much. I made her a shawl, a lace one with a pattern of sheep on it. It was one of the few things I really did for her. 
And yesterday, yesterday I did the last thing I could do for her - the last thing but one. I went to her funeral. She was 92.
But yes, there is one last thing I can do for her. I can follow her example and try my best to help others when they need it.  I might not keep the biscuit tin full in the way she did but I'll try to keep it full of help for those in need.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Oh dear Cat, you have made me well up again. She was much too young to go at 92. We can only hope to try and carry the torch forward.

Melodye Traupel said...

If we all lived like your friend B, how wonderful the world would be. That is the greatest tribute to pay her, I believe, to live your life like she lived hers.

Yes, like Jean from Cornwall, the tears welled up in my eyes, too.

Anonymous said...

And me Cat - I have tears in my eyes too, Chris

Allison said...

What a lovely eulogy. Thank you for letting us know her just a bit.

catdownunder said...

I did want to share her with you. Thank you for listening!