Friday, August 18, 2017

A sibling recalled

For those who didn't see the latest parish magazine, this is the text of my eulogy for my sister: 

Some of you may remember Gerald Durrell’s famous book MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS. I sometimes thought that if I wrote a book about Julie it would have been titled MY SISTER AND OTHER ANIMALS. Certainly most of you are aware of her love of animals. She started small with white mice and canaries, then cats and dogs before progressing to chickens, ducks, geese, goats and horses.

But that was just one of the many sides of Julie. From the moment I saw her in her cradle at the end of 1953, my life would never be the same. For example I saw every movie Elvis Presley made in the 1960s until she was old enough to go to the cinema alone.

There was Julie the student. She was a picture in her Collegiate school uniform, complete with hat and gloves -- heaven help any girl seen in public without them. After her years at collegiate, she attended the same school as Errol Flynn, though in a different decade. She took up archery, she sang in a gospel group, she won prizes for dressage riding. Later on she was to take up croquet. Probably not a lot of you know she did two years of law at uni, before leaving to work at the new Wrest Point casino, where she progressed from croupier to inspector. 

Julie the world traveller was another one of her hats, and she saw a lot of the world. Whether it was riding horses around the pyramids, dining at the Waldorf Astoria or going around Picadilly Circus on the rear seat of a motorcycle, she seemed to have done it all. One of her favorite destinations was Hawaii and I lost count of how many times she passed through Honolulu. In her wake she left a scattering of new friends and acquaintances, people of all types who fell under her spell.

But it wasn’t all glamor and jet-setting, though she was seen at times feeding her animals wearing a mink coat and diamond ear rings. There was the practical Julie -- when something went wrong in our house, I started wondering how we could manage without it, while Julie was unscrewing the back looking for the defective part. I once saw her build a hen house in my backyard out of some scrap timber, a roll of wire and a sheet of corrugated iron.

She had a habit of gathering up bits and pieces that might come in handy one day. Wood, metal, wire... one day she told some workmen who were clearing out a shop that they could drop off the shelving and such bric-a-brac at her house rather than take it to the tip. They accepted the suggestion immediately. 

Her back paddock remained an oasis of green grass as Lenah Valley was slowly enveloped by the urban sprawl. . The local children often called in to give the horses treats -- the horses knew this and would wait at the gate with anticipation after school let out. One neighbor told me that her visiting grandchildren would come into the kitchen every morning asking for carrots for Julie’s horses.

(In years gone by, some of the local children volunteered to watch over the animals while Julie was at work, sort of the Merry Men to her Robin Hood. One girl dashed across the footbridge during a storm and led the goats to safety before the creek flooded!)

Even the possums, considered a pest by most people, made friends with Julie. One mother possum came down with her baby in tow most nights to get a snack while Julie was outside feeding the animals.

Julie the artist was another part of her life. In the 1960s, she did a lot of painting and sketching, and a couple of her pictures hung in the dining room of her father’s hotel. She was over the moon when one of her pictures sold at an art show.  

Later on she took up photography with enthusiasm -- before Photoshop came along, she would force her animals to pose wearing antlers for her Christmas card photos. With the advent of digital photography she accumulated countless pictures of nature, animals and gatherings of her friends. At one point she was virtually the unofficial photographer here, capturing the events St John’s every week.

Julie was a regular here at St John’s from the 1970s, and she brought me into the fold ten years later. Her baptism by Alan Stubs was one of the high points of her life. I was there when she came up out of the water and I’ll never forget that smile. While she was working at Wrest Point, she stipulated that she wanted Sunday off every week. This probably surprised management, since they often disciplined their workers by not putting them on the weekend roster. But Julie was willing to sacrifice the extra money so she could worship with her church family.

And maybe that’s how we’ll remember Julie -- meandering through the wonders of this world and the next, admiring its beauty and the people and the creatures in it. She is always happy to see them, and I like to think they are happy to see her. 

I know we always were.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Winter days at the farm


As we bore through the heart of mid-winter, lots of things have to be done.

My sister married last year, an American from North Carolina.  Everyone asks me where they are going to live, but I have no answer.  At the moment, Julie and Gene are dividing their time between US and Australia, trying to fit in various commitments to the satisfaction of both sides. 

So I'm a bit busy, keeping an eye on her farm (farmlet if you want to be precise) -- I have help feeding the livestock most days, but it takes a bit of time buying feed, making sure the house is secure, and keeping the cats company for an hour or two.

Days when I am feeding, I go over twice a day and go in the front door.  Change into boots and go out the back door.   Start with going into the hen house and feeding the chickens;  check for any eggs.   Then go down to the creek and feed the ducks and geese, a noisy business.

After that I go across the creek and feed the horses - the big one Shadow and the miniature breed Trouble - before I hike up the hill in the back paddock with a carrot for Rosie, the donkey who lives next door.  This isn't too bad if it hasn't just rained, it can be pleasant with the sun on your back and a slight breeze blowing down Lenah Valley.  But I always take the hiking stick that Julie brought back from NC for me.

Then, carefully cross the creek and back to the house.   By the time I feel ready for a cup of tea or coffee, to be consumed while I keep the cats company for a while.  Silk likes to go outside afterwards;  Kes prefers to remain indoors, but she is almost 22 years old so that's quite reasonable.

And in the evening, repeat.  With the main difference that I lock the chickens up instead of letting them out into the run.  And I will probably watch the news on Julie's television set, since I don't own a working TV myself at home.

So the time ticks away, and one day I look at the calendar and notice to my surprise that they will be returning in less than two weeks.

And just when I'd got into a routine...