Farewell to Mum: 17th October 2017
Today when I was getting ready for Mum’s funeral, I put on this dress and decided that it needed an iron. As I took it off I thought to myself, “I should be careful not to get lipstick on it.” But as I pulled it over my head my lips touched the fabric and there was a lipstick mark on the front.
I thought, “This is not something mum would deal with”. I would never have called her for advice on removing a stain. Mum was the person I called when I really needed something: someone to mind the girls at the last minute, help sorting out a personal problem. I did a Google search and removed the stain with a clean cloth and warm water.
It is important to acknowledge today that as a family and as friends we have been involved in a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Mum was diagnosed just after her 80th birthday but those of us close to her noticed it a while before that. Mum started doing things that were completely out of character. We noticed that she wasn’t driving confidently, she hid the waffle maker after mum and dad argued over the consistency of waffle batter and there was other stuff that we noticed and we hoped that she was not going the way her mother and her sister went.
We saw the best and worst of mum after her diagnosis. The best, up to the end she took Alzheimer’s on and she fought it as she took on most things in her life and fought for them. There was nothing wrong with her; everyone else was getting forgetful, whilst mum remained incredibly sane. Mum continued to cook creatively. Once she made a Pavlova for dessert and put chopped up tomato on the top because she thought it needed something red. Up until she went to Eden Park, she read the news to dad every morning; celebrated family occasions (including her 65th wedding anniversary) had lunch at the French café in Pakington Street every Friday.
She fought right up to her last breath. With Lyn just moments away on the last leg of her journey from Oklahoma, mum tried and tried to stay alive. We got Lyn on the phone as she approached Geelong and she just couldn’t fight any longer. I won’t go into the worst but suffice it to say that if you got on the wrong side of her … you joined the ranks of our ex mayor and were labeled a dickhead or a bogun or a fuckwit. It was a battle especially for dad, who continued to care for her at home for as long as he could.
So on to Mum’s life … a history that’s what I am supposed to be talking about
She was born on Friday 29th April 1932. It was a cool but generally fine day, a little cloudy with a few scattered showers in the north, south-westerly winds.
Her parents were George Kinross and Muriel Edith McDonald. Mum adored her father. He was a pattern-maker and carpenter and Nan was a housewife and for a while a milliner in Belmont. She lived in Upper Skene Street, and went to Newtown State School, Geelong High School and for a short time, to the Hermitage in Pakington Street. I am sure that it was mum who convinced dad that we three girls should all go to Morongo. I am so grateful to this day that mum valued education for girls.
Mum got Rheumatic Fever when she was about 10 and spent 6 months in bed. Bed rest and creativity go hand in hand. Think about all the famous writers you can and most of them spent time as children in bed … Robert Louis Stevenson, Kathleen Mansfield, Oscar Wilde … it’s a long list. Mum was incredibly creative. She turned her daily chores into very successful businesses. More of that to come.
When Mum got sick WWII was being fought for Australia in the Pacific and 1 million American servicemen were living or passed through Australia. There was an American camp just outside Geelong and Geelong was full of glamorous American servicemen. These service men were generally welcomed into our homes and Mum’s home was no exception. Mum told a story about one in particular who spent time at Upper Skene Street. A young handsome Stanley Ogle who I suspect mum had a crush on. The Disney animation, Snow White, was playing at the pictures and she was desperate to go but not allowed out of bed. Stanley Ogle persuaded her father George that they could wrap her up in a blanket and take her to see the film. Years later, with Lyn in America and mum and dad flying there to visit, mum decided to try to find him. With no Internet this was not an easy task. The Salvation Army had a data bank of people who had served in Australia and it was able to find and contact him an elderly Stanley Ogle living in Michigan. It was a happy and a sad reunion. Mum was thrilled to meet him again – he was as handsome as she remembered but disappointed that his wife showed so little interest in their story.
Mum left school and worked Straughan and Company on the corner of Moorabool and Brougham Streets. Geelong was then was a provincial city and the centre of Victoria’s the wool trade and wool processing industry. Mum worked as a secretary and did the admin and cataloging and for wool auctions, then sorted out all the payments
When Mum’s Alzheimer’s was advancing, we went shopping at Myer for a cardigan to wear to Sally’s wedding. She was pretty lost in Myers and remarked at how big the store was and how she had never been there before. As we drove out of the car park in the converted wool stores at Westfield and into Brougham Street towards home she looked out of the car window and pointed. She said, out of the blue, “I used to work in that office that one up there second floor.”
Mum was 19 when she married Dad at St David’s Church. She wore a dress made from Broderie Anglaise buttoned down the front with lots of small hand made buttons. Later she cut the dress up and made clothes for us. Mum and dad lived with Dad’s elderly aunt in Aberdeen Street. They had the three of us there. They saved and bought a block of land in Herne Hill a new post war estate just beyond Manifold Heights and borrowed 2 ½ thousand pounds to build the house at Karoomba Avenue with Bernie Kelly.
Mum embraced her role as a housewife with absolute devotion and creativity. She was a brilliant dressmaker – making all of our clothes and establishing a sewing business first sewing bridal wear – until the cat jumped in the window and walked muddy paws over a sateen wedding frock laid out on her bed ready for a fitting and then making blouses out of Liberty fabric. Eventually she imported fabric and always had a range of prints to show her clients.
She was a brilliant cook too. Every Friday she baked and the biscuit and cake tins were always brimming with home baked goods. Later she turned this skill into a business – making quiches for Paddy Leach’s Cheese Platter in Geelong. Our kitchen for a time was a quiche production line. She perfected a pastry and had several fillings – salmon, asparagus, cheese and bacon.
But Mum’s specialty was always her shortbread. Mum was terribly proud of her Scottish heritage. Her great, great, great, grandparents on her father’s side had been croft farmers in Talisker in Skye in Scotland and the family had come to Australia in the 1860s as assisted migrants. As mum was getting more and more forgetful she would always take a tin of shortbread to her doctor. He too was Scottish. I questioned her about her shortbread making skill. I asked her how you could tell when the dough was kneaded enough. She said that being Scottish she just knew. Then I asked where the recipe came from. This was problematic. Normally family recipes travel through the maternal line from mother to daughter but her father was the Scottish one. She said that it must have come from her father as her mother was no cook. Then I asked if I could have the recipe. She showed me her book and in it was a recipe for shortbread cut out from Mrs Drake’s cookbook – modified of course with the addition of more butter – a book many people of her generation will remember.
We have been baking shortbread, from mum’s recipe, and none of us have achieved the taste or the texture but we would like you all to take some with you as a last little memory of mum when you leave today.
I hand over to Lyn now.