Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A wake to remember

my fathers sister died on January 7th 1995; her funeral took place on January 11th. It was a stinking hot day - it must have been over 40 C with humidity to match.

After the funeral service we went back to my aunts house for the wake.

I remember the day well; we drank, we ate, we told jokes and laughed; we remembered my aunt in all her glory and with much affection. I learned, for the first time, that she'd been a typewriter mechanic during World War 2 doing her bit for the war effort. It was exactly the sort of party that my aunt would have revelled in.

Very late in the evening as the sun sank we drank to her memory one more time and my cousin Kerryn unveiled a photo montage of my aunts life. Photos from 1926 when she was naked upon a rug before the fire (she was 1 year old). Photos from the 1940's when she was astonishingly beautiful; photos from the early 1960's (I appear in one or two of those ).

I lost contact with her in the late 1960's but one afternoon in 1973 I turned a corner in Ascot Vale and ran across this woman. She started, stopped and gazed at me. I was not quite sure who she was. She asked; 'you're Rob Manderson aren't you?'. I couldn't deny it! About half a second later I knew she was my aunt! Cordial reunion time. We swapped stories and addresses and went upon our ways. A day or so later I went to the address she'd given me. It was a boarding house in St Leonards Street, Ascot Vale and as I went in I realised how down-market it was. My aunt and Kerryn were living in a single room. I had little or no tact in those days; without even thinking I blurted out 'Betty, you're poor'. To my dying day I'll remember the expression in her eyes.

We lost contact again in the late 1970's but (as I remember it) one of my sisters ran across one of my cousins in the late 1980's and we were reunited once again. This time I made sure we didn't lose contact. By that time things were looking up and she was in relative prosperity. Many's the time she and I sat on warm summer evenings, me with a glass of red wine, she with her beer, reminiscing about our family. But how I wish I'd thought to tape our conversations!

I had the pleasure, about 1991, of conducting her through Footscray Cemetery to her parents grave. By then I was the only one left who knew the location and that only because I'd done the search in 1972. It's not marked (and isn't to this day so far as I know). Along the way I was able to show her the grave of her grandparents (my great grandparents).

Her dying wish was to be buried with her parents and her brother (my father) but it was not to be. There wasn't enough depth available; so she was cremated and her ashes strewn over her parents grave.

Rest in Peace Aunt Betty!

No comments: