Thursday, 11 February 2010

My Granny - Eulogy

This is the text of the eulogy my Dad spoke at my Granny's funeral:

For Mom - Remembrance Thoughts at the Funeral.

With Mom gone that leaves Aunt Marina and me as the senior members of our family. Aunt Marina, I don’t want the burden and I’d like you to be around for a long time please.

Mavis Florence Purchase entered the world on the 1st of January 1920 in Piet Retief. She married Dad in 1943 and they had nine children. There was a still borne baby girl called Charmaine who is buried in Potch and of course the eight boys. She was very proud of the bunch of us even if she couldn’t remember our names most of the times. Well that’s not quite correct - she had the names but applied it to one of the others. So we were quite used to be called John Ag Merwyn ag Terry. We teased her about it and it was one of the great things in our family was the amount of teasing and laughter and tall tales that grow with each gathering.

Over such a spread of time 90 years, there were a lot of changes. So the survivors here have all known a different Mavis, Mom, Granny and Aunt. Sadly little Arielle has only known a bent over frail old lady who watched very loud TV but there were other ladies hiding inside there and I’d like to share a few of them with you.

I was born when Mom was 23. That was only a few years after she had sent a photo of herself in a swimsuit to the Miss South Africa competition. When Dad came back after the War and they set up house, they were young and active. I can remember them playing tennis in Potch and Les, Terry and I loved that because there was some kind of paddling pool that we used to play in while they were on the court. So that First Mom was tall and slim and protective.

Housekeeping was more complex then because modern appliances were still coming. We had a brick evaporative cooler in Potch that had to be wet down to keep things cool because there was no fridge. Fruit and Veg were still in the future and so was Pick’nPay and supermarkets. Todays frozen chicken were running around the fowl run and that’s also where we got eggs. Milk, cheese and butter were in the two cows which were milked morning and evening and fruit and veg in season were in the garden. I seem to remember that when I was young there was always things cooking in the kitchen and jam and canned fruit and pickles and chutneys and stuff was being made. So the Housekeeping Mom I remember was pretty busy and on top of that she also had to cope with the Wild Bunch.

What strikes me most about that Young Mom was the freedom we were given. We had a lot of veld around the house in Valhalla and from our house to the Swartkops kopje was all open and it was all ours to roam. We were pretty active boys and not stuck at home with TV and cellphones and ipods and digital games. A lot of the toys we made had lethal potential – bows and arrows and spears and any sort of throwing device that had been shown at the Saturday afternoon movies. Not to mention explosive things that we managed to concoct from those chemicals we could liberate from the school and find around the house. And in Durban there were fires and lead and sinkers and snakes. Luckily she had been a nurse and could handle blood because we spilt a bit. It couldn’t have been easy but we seem to have turned out alright so the love and protection she had for us worked out pretty well.

Once we got to Durban my own life started taking off and that Mom seems to have been pregnant a lot while I was on the beach and doing sport and chasing girls. As a typical rebellious teenager, to me she seemed to become middle aged Old Fashioned Mom who didn’t like rock and roll and regarded Elvis as the disciple of the devil.

Then I left home and was into my sea career and didn’t get home all that often. Anthony arrived after I left home so the mother he knew was a lot older. Once my girls were around, my Mom became the Granny Mom. In 1975 at Easter when we were in England, Mom came over and spent some time with us. We took her on the canal boats which meant a lot of time outside in the English weather. She’s always had such a thing about her hair and the wind and I’m sure that she wore a doek to cope. So the girls have this view of the Granny of then as this elderly woman who twitched about hair and wind and especially the cold. Especially the English cold!

When we moved back to Pretoria in the mid-eighties, we saw a lot more of Mom and Dad again. By then our brother Jeff was died, Dad had retired and even Anthony was out of the house. I spoke to Mel yesterday and she talks about the Granny she knew then and she mostly remembers things to do with food. The famous swiss roll and tipsy tart which Mom used to put on immediately a visitor arrived. And the home made ginger beer in that big black enamel pot. With all the boys out of the house, she really made a big thing of feeding people and they had a lot of visitors and there was always a lot of food. She kept track of all her cousins and second cousins and I am sad that we have lost track of so many that used to pop in to see them. That was Food Mom or Food Granny.

By then of course there was a TV in the house and the soapies ruled the roost. There are many funny stories where she got distracted by what was showing and only smoke revealed that there was problem in the kitchen. I can remember one day when we were there for a braai and she popped some cold butter into the microwave with the intention of softening it. It is supposed to take ten seconds but at 30 or 40, it became a bowl of oil. When I went into the kitchen to collect something, she had just destroyed the second one and I took over to save the meltdown of the third. That Absentminded TV-verskrik Mom from those days was pretty scatty but it made for some great family stories.

Then of course there was Gambling Mom. The casinos which were started here in 1979 created a whole new area of joy for her as the nest emptied. If we arranged to come and visit, her first question was “Are you going to take me to the casino?’ and she would then start saving her housekeeping and cutting back on the ironing lady to gather her gambling money. I can remembering taking her to the new Carousel one morning in 1991 where I went to seen Terminator 2 and she played the slot machines. We had lunch and she went back in so I saw another movie and she played the slots again. She must have been in there for about 8 hours. She really enjoyed the casinos and two years ago we could tell that she was becoming weaker when she could only manage a couple of hours at Montecassino.

When she became Widowed Mom in 1999 we started worrying a bit. She made the house into a bit of a fortress but was dead set against going into a retirement village or that sort of environment. At this stage we were really grateful that Frank and Anthony were nearby. She used to come and visit the southern family at Xmas but it was the Cape and there was wind in the hair. By now the Doek had given way to a green jacket with a hood which we called the Garden Gnome outfit and irrespective of the weather, that was what she wore outside.

These last few years, she has suffered the problem of outliving anyone who shared her interests and memories and became Lonely Mom. From what I have heard from our family here in Pretoria, she has not been enjoying this final year. The aches and pains have been attacking her, she has been getting deafer and the soapies have not been making sense any more. She has been getting frail and weak and the food that she used to enjoy had become a battle to eat.

So those were the Mom’s I knew. I know my brothers and the other folk here knew some different ladies and have some very funny stories and I hope they can share some with us afterwards.

Her sons have travelled around the world, her granddaughters are scattered and still exploring, and she has a crop of great grandchildren extending our family some more.

Professor Henry Harold Pearson was the first curator of the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town. He is buried there and the epitaph above his grave says "If ye seek his monument, look around." I think when Mom looked at her sons and their families and the happiness and laughter that we all share, she would be proud. We are her monument.

Really a Great Mom. We will miss them all.


Shona (SFrangipani) said...

What a beautiful speech. Your Grandmother was a right character and I think by the way the speech is written, Your Dad is not only a very clever cookie but a character as well!!

Thanks for sharing this.

Nat said...

Sounds like your grandmother was an amazing woman.

Very touching memories.

Hope you are all doing OK x

Kat said...

What a lovely eulogy your Dad gave. I will remember the granny that toasted you at your hen night, and enjoyed watching the antics of us all!!