Monthly Archives: March 2015
Yesterday I went to a funeral. A friend’s mother. She was 88, frail, with dementia. It’s a bitter pill we have to swallow, aging, but, as the cliché goes, it’s better than the alternative – although perhaps less so towards the end. As is the way now, there was a slide show of her life. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous and very fond of dancing – when Sydney still had dance halls. So hard to pay tribute to a life in half an hour. My own mother died at 85, frail, with dementia. She was gorgeous – model gorgeous – with a gap between her front teeth like Lauren Hutton. When she died I would fall asleep clutching her wedding ring and when my father died three years later, I had his wedding ring fused with hers so I have something visible to hold the invisible.
Most eulogies are a timeline of someone’s life – facts, figures – the skeleton of our years here. It was a torment deciding what to write about my mother because those final words circle the universe forever and I didn’t want to talk about the skeleton, I wanted to talk about the flesh and bones. So, once more for you mum because love never ends.
” The danger in writing a eulogy, especially for someone like mum who had such a long life and whom you so love, is that you feel you need to cover everything in their lives to somehow “do them justice” and it can’t be done – not even if you had hours to say what is supposed to be said in these 5 or 10 minutes so I thought to myself, how would I respond if a stranger asked me to describe my mother and only gave me one sentence in which to do it”.
And the amazing thing is, I didn’t even hesitate. I would simply say, “She was a good woman”. At face value, you might think it a rather old-fashioned, almost mediocre description but sometimes it is the small, common words that we use all the time – and not always with much thought – that carry the most meaning.
So, here are some definitions from the dictionary for that one seemingly simple word and when you hear them, you will appreciate why it is such a fitting tribute to my mum:
Of high or superior quality Worthy of respect, honourable, admirable
Attractive Competent, skilled
Reliable Genuine, true
Pleasant, agreeable Of moral excellence, upright
Loyal, sympathetic Dependable
Warm-hearted, considerate Kind, gentle, gracious
Now before I make her sound too saintly, I must say, she did have a temper but children tend to bring that out in you. I know this will come as a shock to some of you but I have been known to be a little stubborn and headstrong and for a few years of my life, I thought my name had been changed to “asina”. For those of you without the benefit of Italian, it means “donkey” or “mule”.
My husband’s favourite memory of my mother is her rather brutally honest observation to him before we got married: “Daniela’s wonderful as long as she gets her own way and when she doesn’t, she turns into a viper”. I guess she thought that forewarned was forearmed.
She laughed, loudly and often. She had a dry, wicked sense of humour. She sang as she did the housework. She hated cooking. She loved my father faithfully and unwaveringly for over 52 years and had that love returned. She was, the most amazing mother, and in her honour, I would like to read a poem entitled, “A Mother’s Love”
A mother’s love determines how We love ourselves and others.
There is no sky we’ll ever see Not lit by that first love.
Stripped of love, the universe Would drive us mad with pain;
But we are born into a world That greets our cries with joy.
How much I owe you for the kiss That told me who I was!
The greatest gift–a love of life– Lay laughing in your eyes.
Because of you my world still has The soft grace of your smile;
And every wind of fortune bears The scent of your caress. ”
One day, someone will be talking like this about our lives – make sure you give them a wealth of material to work with.
Religion is an interesting proposition in our house. I am – using a recently discovered and the most apt description of all time – a “submarine Catholic“, surfacing only at Christmas and Easter. My dad was an “armchair Catholic“, arguing that God could hear him just as clearly from our house as from any Church and my mum, whose Italian accent was still thick despite all her years in Australia, would attend the local ‘Viet-manese’ Mass because she loved seeing all the children even though she couldn’t understand a word of the Service!
My American husband, Jewish by birth but agnostic by nature, believes that if there is a God, he is totally disgusted with what has become of His earthly paradise and has most certainly moved on to other projects. His father, although not Orthodox, was quite devout while his mother was more inclined to social activism, marching with Atlanta’s African-Americans in their struggle for equal rights.
So, where does that leave our son? Baptised Catholic, he went to a local Catholic Primary School before moving to an Anglican High School where he treated Christian Studies with the same resigned boredom reserved for any subject he wasn’t particularly thrilled with. And then about 3 years ago something happened. I sent him away to a school holiday Sailing Camp. He was unusually keen to get home when I picked him up but assuming he was just tired, we threw his gear in the car, buckled up and just as I was about to ask for the week’s review, he stopped the question from even leaving my lips by not just beginning to cry but by sobbing uncontrollably which left me absolutely stunned and a little frightened.
What I hadn’t realised is that the organisation that runs these camps is a Fundamental Christian group, one of whose camp leaders had informed my son, quite seriously, that his father was going to hell because he was Jewish – which I managed to ascertain after several repetitions of “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” – sob – “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” Shame on me for not doing my homework but who, in their wildest dreams (or nightmares), thinks someone is going to say that to an 11-year old on a bloody boating camp?
It took the entire trip of explaining why that couldn’t possibly be true, to calm him down but obviously it played on his mind because some time later he asked the question of someone at school and in another jaw-dropping response, was told that like cancer, no-one wants to hear the diagnosis but you have to accept that that’s the way it is. I’m sorry – I laughed. I just found the whole thing so ludicrous and fortunately, so did he because in the interim I had managed to reassure him that you could believe in a God without believing in ‘religion’. We are attempting to raise a compassionate, tolerant, broad-minded child and the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, birth control, pre-marital sex and female clergy has no place in the world-view we are trying to give him.
You could try and condense every directive from every religion and still not surpass the simple exhortation of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” and if this is the only ‘religious’ path my son chooses to travel, well that’s a guide that will never let him down.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS.
1. Thou shalt not have any false idols like that bum-baring Kim Kardashian although I might make an exception for really talented musicians.
2. Thous shalt not make any graven images unless it’s of Grumpy Cat because he’s almost as awesome as Me.
3. Thou shalt not take my name in vain when Justin Bieber’s works just as well as in, “Justin f….king Beiber, my head hurts.”
4. Remember to keep the Sabbath Day hol(e)y. Eat Swiss cheese.
5. Honour thy gym membership even when you’re tired and/or hung over.
6. Thou shalt not kill. Applies to everybody. (Indonesia, are you listening?)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. And don’t think not being “officially” married lets you off the hook.
8. Thou shalt not steal – unless it’s all those cute little toiletries in hotels. No bathrobes though.
9. Thou shalt not lie because you have to have a very good memory to stay out of trouble.
10. Thou shalt not want what others have unless it’s patience, kindness or maybe a winning Lotto ticket.
GO FORTH AND BE HAPPY.
I was 13 the first time I travelled internationally. It was 1971, Alitalia still flew out of Sydney and smoking was still allowed on planes. People would dress up to fly and it was still a big deal. We winged our way to Rome via Bombay, as it was called then, in a smoke-filled metal tube with no personal entertainment — and it was fabulous. It was my parents’ first visit back to the country of their birth in 14 years and my first encounter with my Italian extended family. I was hooked.
Travel has been one of the great joys of my life and if I’m not re-incarnated as a Travel Writer, I shall be bitterly disappointed. Could there be any greater bliss than being paid to visit the far-flung corners of this glorious, diverse planet? People dream about becoming wealthy so they can afford prestige cars, luxury homes, jewellery and clothes whereas I wistfully think I could live in a shack if only I could jet off to some new location whenever I wanted…. (School term permitting of course. Your daydreams have to be somewhat modified when there are other people to consider.)
This nostalgia springs from my girlfriend’s daughter having upped stakes for 12 months of travelling, as I did at 24. And for those 12 months I roamed the world like a true gypsy. For 12 months I answered to no-one but myself. No restraints, no responsibilities – just complete freedom to come, go, stay, eat, drink, take risks, learn, marvel, do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be. I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now but if a time machine were ever invented, I know where I’d be going. Plus, I was skinny.
Reflections of a face that is sometimes not your own…
I watch your eyes like twin chameleons change with shades of other lives.
The aquamarine of Grecian seas when indolence was all there was
and farmers wearing hats of straw worked the beaches selling fruit
to bodies baked to nutmeg brown.
The cloudy grey of Paris skies when baguettes and brie went hand in hand
with lazy walks along the Seine and an angry young man
whose Irish blood could not disguise the poet’s heart.
You turn your head to catch the time
and curse the need
to run your life to dull routines
when neon digits take the place
of sunlight through a shuttered door.
(C) Daniela Scalcon
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher