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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Farewell: Reminiscences of Uncle Tom

Here are my cousin Elizabeth's reminiscences about our dear Uncle Tom, which she shared at his funeral. [In square brackets my own explanations of some points, which you'd have to be in the family to know, and which needed no explanation for those attending the funeral.]


1911. Uncle Tom was born in Bridport in Tasm
ania, spending his early years on Flinders Island.

1930. At school in Warburton, aged 11, he told his mother he was in love with a little girl called Isabel. Although forbidden to do so, he continued to walk her home from school. She walked on the path and he walked o
n the riverbank. She received birthday cards with a red rose on them for the rest of her life.

1939. He enlisted in the 2nd AIF in Tasmania, with his two favourite cousins. He says a sparrow saved his life, by pecking his forehead as a teenager, and blinding his right eye. He was a good shot, but was made a medic, and his cousins died in their first week.

While on New Britain, he competed as a gymnast against the Americans, and won.

After the Armistice, he helped a Japanese doctor save a patient with head injuries, and received a letter of thanks, and a painting. They corresponded for some years, and the original letter and a photo survive. On leave from the war, he discovered that Isabel had married. He met Ev at his mother’s boarding house and they corresponded, and fell in love with each other’s letters and similar sense of humour.

1946. Back from the war, my cousins and siblings and I fell in love with Uncle Tom. He could ride a bike with no hands, walk on his hands over the furniture, speak Japanese, eat flies [swallowing them out of the air], play the mouth-organ, and had an invisible dog. I remember crying in the yard at Grandma’s place in Northcote, and he soothed me on a swing. I was lucky enough to visit that house and backyard earlier this year, and I also paid a visit to the Melbourne Shrine, to see cabinets he had made for the Remembrance books. [Uncle Tom was a carpenter by trade.]

1949. John was born, and Tom and Ev attended John’s school functions together. They attended a sports day and won the Parents’ Piggy Back Race. It brought the house down when Ev [a large lady by then] threw [the slightly-built] Tommy on her back and took off.

They also took in and cared for
Uncle Ossie’s two children, Rosemary and Denis while they attended Melbourne University. [i.e. my younger brother and me. Denis first finished High School while living with them, before going on to university.]

In the sixties they moved to Perth, a move never regretted by Tom. John worked with him for a few years, at his shop called The Place, and loved to play practical jokes on his Dad. Tom kept diaries all his life, and continually wrote of his concern and love for John. [John was born intellectually impaired and has always had the mental age of a young child, but is "very well socialised" as a doctor once remarked, complimenting Aunty Ev on her excellent mothering]. We still meet people from all walks of life who remember Tom from The Place. Isabel had j
oined him in the business, and they had 11 happy years. She taught John how to choose frames best suited to his posters. Two years ago, we took Tom to visit her older sister, in her late eighties, and still going on field trips to paint. We were able to pass on Isabel’s paintings and a photograph album to her daughter, who is an artist in Daylesford. She was very grateful, as all her family photos were destroyed in a house fire.

After Isabel’s sudden death, Tom had a brief second marriage, and several other short loving relationships. We are very grateful for the long and loving companionship and care given to him by Kathy Ivers, and her d
aughter Trudy.

Geoff and I had always tried to visit Tom when in Perth. He had visited us in Melbourne and loved our Junk Shop. I became much closer to him when I moved alone to Bassendean; I met Tom’s friends from all walks of life. He loved to call himself a Philosopher, and belonged to the Rosicrucian order. He always said we were friends first and family second.

For many years he had succinct and witty letters published in the West Australian, and one friend, Pamela Klacar from Onslow, was still sending letters up to the day he died.

The Caring Years. It was wonderful to be able to do something for Tommy, to enjoy his quirky sense of humour, and his love. We have many stories of the last few years. Sometimes he called Darryl a Dictator, usually for something I had done, but many, many times he thanked us and told us he loved us.

He was very happy with his 90th birthday, and the motor-bike ride [in sidecar]. He also loved his fish and chips with us and John and th
e ducks and seagulls, on the Murray River, for his 91st birthday.

We are happy that John was able to live in the same place, and keep him company for his last years. Sometimes Tommy pulled the plug on John’s computer. Sometimes John frog-marched him out of the room. Many times John helped Dad to feel settled and at home.

The staff at Tanby have many lovely stories and photos of Tom, and we can’t thank them enough. He had a special conn
ection with Tanya, and loved being photographed with funny hats. He played his mouth organ to them, and only three weeks ago I was amazed at him singing What a Wonderful World.

John was very attentive in his last days, organizing nice music and checking his breathing. He chose to-day’s music, and he is delighted to be able to list all the family in heaven, holding out their arms to Dad.

[Then the family member who conducted the service read my poem "Favourite Uncle", (posted in my previous blog) on my behalf, as I was unable to be there.]

This is what Elizabeth told me when I asked if I might blog the above:

Dear Rosemary

Of course you may blog the Tommy notes. I keep finding things I could have mentioned, but all went well and the service w
as long enough with all John's music selections, and [Tom’s cousin] Stan Hart's memories.

John was magnificent and dignified. He love
d the Power Point Presentation which Darryl did. He had earlier identified the body at the funeral parlour, and signed that it was Dad. He stared for ages, then sat and looked around, and said it was such a nice chapel, that we should have held the service there.

It rained and even hailed as we arrived at the Cemetery, but 19 people attended. Staff from the Hostel came. Many of them shed a te
ar when he died, and all had anecdotes about him.

John chose The Old Rugged Cross, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and The Lord's Prayer. I chose What a Wonderful World with Louis Armstrong, as our arrival music. Tom sang it beautifully a week before he died. We had an Aussie flag plus a single red rose on the coffin, and we had extra roses to place individually. The Last Post was played too. We closed with Time to Say Good-bye.

I think Tommy would have said it was all unnecessary, but the ritual was for John (and us).

90th birthday bike ride


  1. I am very sorry to hear about your uncle. Characters like that don't die easily. His memory will be alive in all for you for the rest of your lives. It's a small comfort, but it's there.

  2. Thanks, Jenny. You're right, and it is a comfort. :)