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Got talking to Pete last Friday down the local … the subject got onto the passing of one’s parents … I s’pose because we are both old now ourselves and it comes as no longer an immediate sorrow, but rather one lived through so many years ago … And we got onto the reactions one experiences at the funeral, what with all the rellies gathered there and the friends and some strangers one doesn’t know but is informed in hushed whispers or so later on. There is that bottled-up grief, that reserve in the English tradition, especially amongst the men to not be seen to blubber or weep uncontrollably at such sad gatherings … and the language used is interesting in its sparsity of emotion …

Then Pete took a sup on his beer, reflected a tad, wiped the beads of condensation from one streak on the glass, looked into the distance and made a motion with his pointed finger …

“But I do remember one chap I worked for, a builder in the financing / speculative line … stiff-upperlip sort of bloke … John M’ … old Adelaide family, that sort of thing. You couldn’t get an emotive comment from him if’n you smacked his thumb with a hammer … which I did once – accidently – as he was holding a length of bracing for me … hopeless at physical work … all thumbs … an’ I hit his thumb and you know what he said? Where you or I would’ve swore blue murder, he just spun away (dropped the prop!), cried; “bother!” … and stuck the thumb in his mouth for a second to comfort the pain … that’s the sort of chap he was … ”old school Oxford” …

The job was winding down, the contract reaching near completion so there were only a couple of trades finishing some final touches to the ground-works and I was there as supervisor of the job from go to whoa. That was when John turned up. He was walking the site by himself, looking like he was inspecting the finished job … not his usual occupation … he usually waited for the handing-over ceremony for that sort of thing … but there he was. Now .. I knew he had been to his Mother’s funeral the day before, and I put his meandering down to a listlessness that one gets when first “orphaned” … that ”you’re on your own now” feeling … so to say. But I was surprised when he pulled up a drum to sit on and joined me and Keith the plumber for smoko …

John was the project builder … a developer rather than an actual builder … not your sort of tradie-evolved into builder, but a bloke from an old family with old money involved in multi-faceted projects, of which building was but one. I was his go-to man for building … I was the “knowledge-base” for that side of his investments. He would leave on-site management to me … and that included timetables, subbie hire and materials delivery scheduling. We had worked together for years, but not in a close familiar way … I was still just the “hired help” … just a business sort of thing … so it was quite surprising when he opened the conversation with the announcement that he had just buried his mother. Of course Keith (another long-server) and I both knew this, but we gave our condolences kindly and fairly … we had no gripe with the man or his family. He thanked us and then after the usual quiet on these occasions, he cleared his throat and spoke in a confiding manner … to neither of us in particular, but rather while looking at the ground somewhere between us.

“You know, it’s a funny thing, language … the expression of certain words. I have been to the best schools and university where language is treated as a sacred thing … the pronunciation, the grammar, even the timing of delivery of thought or repost … how to speak and speech, you could say … ”

John went quiet while he reached to pick up a twig which he used to scribble on the ground by his feet ..

“I gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral yesterday.” He continued, ”All the usual blather and history … all about the family, her work in the district and committees she was on and such like … all written there on my notes, some highlighted in yellow marker … it went over well … as I was trained to do … a solemn finish before we all made our way to the cemetery for the placing of the casket.”

John drew some hieroglyphics in the dust as he thought it out a bit. I could see all this idle chatter was taking its toll on the man … but he was on a mission to explain something to himself, I felt. We remained silent … to give him space.

He continued with a sudden exclamation …

”Dammit!  You have to hold yourself together at these … these events. It doesn’t do to make a fool of oneself weeping and carrying on … one must maintain structure … dignity. After all, it wasn’t as if my mother’s passing was a sudden tragedy … it was a long tiring business for all the family … a kindly relief for all when she passed away, to be candidly honest … for her most particularly, I’d say … so it was .. should have been a solemn, dignified affair … the placing of the casket in the grave. Except for Loretta.” John stabbed the stick into the earth .

“Loretta?” Keith encouraged …

” Loretta,” John breathed. “Yes, Loretta … an Italian woman, the wife of one of the nephews … lovely woman, in the Italian dark-lady of the sonnets mould … if you know what I mean. It was quite a surprise for the family when the nephew returns from a working stint on the continent with an Italian wife … shocked! … you could say … a real eyebrow raiser, the whole affair. But they settled down and had a couple of kiddies and got on with the married life routine … but dammit … she’s got that dago emotion thing in spades … weeping all over the place, at weddings and Christenings and such like … so she had to almost be dragged from the grave before she threw herself in it on top of the coffin … damn display to say the least!”

And here was the long silence .. .here was the nub of the new “congenial John” .. here he became uncomfortable …

”You know, one has to hold oneself together as an example for the younger ones … it doesn’t do to put on too much display … and … and I was there beside Father O’Loughlin as he read the rites and the coffin was lowered down. Certainly, I had some tears to shed, but held in check for the dignity of the moment … but I could hear Loretta wailing somewhere behind me … and I thought I would give her husband a bit of a talking to after the funeral … at the wake. But as we stepped back from the grave to let the mourners file past to throw the bit of dirt onto the laid coffin, that damn Italian woman suddenly called out a word in perfect imitation of our mother’s voice … here was this woman … who could only speak a kind of garbled mish-mash of Italo-English saying in perfect enunciation that one word so familiar to all of mother’s children and grandchildren … and by time-lapsed, especially to me.”

“You see,” John continued in a kind of self-reflection tone, ”Mum was a country girl and she had an infuriating habit of “cutesying” words by adding an “ee” sounding to the end … like “bunnee” instead of rabbit. She’d say; “Oh we’re having a couple of bunnys for dinner … ” and one really infuriating one she’d say when I was a young tear-away, home from the college with a friend or two and we’d been ripping it up a tad at a local dance and in the morning she’d wake us with a much too cheerful; “Come on, boys up we get … I’ll make you some bacon and eggys for breaky.” It used to so infuriate me … and here we were at the final lap so to speak of the funeral, and I had held myself together so well and then that weeping Italian woman has to drop that bombshell that took me by complete surprise and … and … well … ” John threw the twig over his shoulder … “I lost it … I just lost it. Loretta just halted right next to me, looked directly at me in a flood of tears, then to the coffin in the grave and wept out a string of damn indecipherable dago words to finish with that one perfectly enunciated damn softly spoken parting word Mother always called to us as we left her home; ”Cheeriozy!” That one silly, muck-up of a perfectly good, common English word …

“Cheeriozy! … cheeriozy! … ”

Loretta called out and I just lost it and I wept and wept … and I still can’t get over it … And I don’t know why!”

Then John abruptly stood up, turned around and left … without a word, but we could see the tears …

Of course, neither Keith nor I ever mentioned it again.


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  1. Shaun Newman

    Another brilliant post Joe, thanks again.

  2. Joseph Carli

    Ta, Shaun…

  3. DrakeN

    This bluddy dust – getting in my eyes again.

  4. David Fitzpatrick

    Complain to the barman, the pipes need cleaning. The draught beer is prematurely aging you.

  5. Joseph Carli

    ” Complain to the barman, the pipes need cleaning. The draught beer is prematurely aging you.”

    . . . It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key . . .

  6. Karen Kyle

    Good one Joe.

  7. Bronte ALLAN

    Thank you, once again Joseph! Your tales are always very well written & really convey great “pictures” of your life.

  8. helvityni

    Joe, enjoyable read, Anglo/ Italo behaviours nicely juxtaposed…

    I watched the ABC series, Victoria, when in France she felt a bit plain and sent her ‘servants’ to get some make-up for her…hubby was not pleased to see her painted face…

    Another one of her helpers demanded “tea and toast” amongst all the lovely French delicacies. When back in England ,she was pleased to eat mutton and turnips….

  9. wam

    A good read, Joseph, and, with me having bits of ‘john’, thought provoking stuff of the old trilogy, the memory, the now and the future.

    Both my mum and dad went hard. Mum a gentle lovely woman of the boundless patience, make do with what you have, style became a violent unknowing, unpredictable kinghitter. Dad had throat cancer and we ‘forced’ him to the knife using blackmail tactics depriving him of a stand on his feet finish and replacing it with a wasting silent slide.

    I have been to 5 long term friends’ funerals this year and spoken at 3. At my longest friend’s, I read his daughter’s eulogy and needed john’s upper lip as she confessed that she only knew her dad(an older severely disabled son took 24/7 care) at the palliative care on the last day of his life. Divorce of parents, on 91, for a girl of 15 can be traumatic.

    Sitting here, I look at the possessions, 8 lovely paintings (plus my darling’s jewelry) for 4 grandchildren(3 girls and one boy) and consider whether there is there is a risk of a rift between children?? A puzzle, should I send photographs and ask for preferences, to alleviate the risk?

    ps Helvetyni my grandson applied to go to Finland. at the announcement meeting, he stood and made a speech in finnish shocking the conservatives who had a problem accepting something they couldn’t understand but there wasn’t a dry eye in the family. He had quietly use the computer to translate his words. He is darwin born and bred so will have a marvellous time

  10. Sir Scotchmistery

    Well done that chap.

    As you note, as we age, the passing of a parent fails to surprise much. Eulogies may end up being the best thing we’ve said about them for years, depending on the parent. Or in truth for some these days, a grandparent, still meandering through the corridors of memory past, now lost.

    So thank you Joe, for putting the pen to modern parchments, to remind us that even in death there are memories brought to the fore, the odd guffaw around an anecdote, shared and shared again, forgotten over the years as we move towards our own last great step in life, as my father used to opine.

    Words really are a thing of beauty.

    Cheerio indeed.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Scotchie, I’m not a whisky drinker – never acquired the taste – but Carol and I found one to kill for when in Scotland. In a little town in Wick (up north) there is a distillery – Old Pulteney – which produces a liqueur whisky worth going back to Scotland for. Pure ambrosia.

    I have a photo I took at the distillery: 10,000 barrels of whisky! It’s enough to make a whisky drinker cry.

  12. helvityni

    wam, all the best for your grandson, my oldest grandson is going trekking somewhere in Indonesia…I hope he’ll not suffer from a heatstroke…..cold versus hot…LOL.

  13. helvityni

    Nicely said, Sir Scotchmistery….

  14. Michael Taylor

    He’ll love Finland. The people are friendly and laid-back.

  15. Joseph Carli

    Thanks for the comments people…much appreciated..
    I am glad the words conveyed into language converted into feelings translate across so many minds into those pictures and emotions…I say that of the major arts ie; visual, musical, written “word”….of the three there, only the written word (be it in whatever shape or form of intention), is the singular human-constructed communication…visual can be transferred from what we see in nature around us, musical from what we hear in wind or birdsong, but the written word must take constructed hieroglyphics (alphabet), form them into known words and phrases and then..most difficult of them on a page in an order and form that allows a reader to “imagine a picture” and “hear the music” of the desired story-line.

    Some do it well, some do it lucky, some do it as best as they can but it is all a beautiful example of human civilisation.

  16. Joseph Carli

    helvityni…..May I remark how similar your gravatar pic there resembles the face of Linda Ronstadt from a musical clip of her early days with the “Stone Ponys” ..singing : “Distant Drum” …
    certainly not exact, but close…

  17. helvityni

    Michael, yes they are the best, the very best…Smile.

    Joe, picture chosen by a selection committee, consisting of three boys aged between four and six…

  18. Joseph Carli

    ” picture chosen by a selection committee, consisting of three boys aged between four and six…”…..well..there you go..just shows that Linda Ronstadt’s music has universal appeal!….good choice on them!

  19. Joseph Carli

    Who is that man?

    I am a collector of souls ,
    I hear people talk ; I ken,
    I see what they write,
    And I collate,
    I am the watcher on the rim of a far horizon.

    I lay words upon a blank, white page,
    As been done upon an age,
    Wither such be wise or no,
    Best you judge when I go.
    Prithee more than; I don’t know.

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