29 December 2008

A loss in our family

Phyllis Kathleen Ilwina Fairfoot Gillespie Marshall.

If I haven’t remembered it correctly, forgive me, as it’s been a long time since I last heard Auntie Phyl proudly rattle off her name. Now, I won’t get to hear her say it again, as she died at 3am on Christmas morning. At the age of 84 she had still not lost her gift of impeccable timing.

Auntie Phyl came into our family by marrying my mother’s brother and my uncle, Keith. Early memories include visiting their Suva Point house in Fiji. What a huge place that was for us kids. My brother and I spent a lot of time playing in the back room while the adults talked, and I can remember gazing out the window at the circular garden in the back yard. It was a place of mystery and magic, that big round garden with its tall bushes.

I also remember the day when I was eating a chicken leg, and Lisa, their German Shepherd, jumped up and stole it out of my hand. Before I could protest my innocence, I was told off for feeding chicken bones to the dog. I held my silence, but there you go, Auntie Phyl, now you know the truth – Lisa took it from me!

Phyllis is the only person I know who has flown from Taveuni to Suva with a bucket, containing water and goldfish, wedged between her feet in the cabin. Try doing that today!

When Dad was convenor of the Fiji Trade Show, Auntie Phyl was his secretary/assistant. With glee, Dad used to tell us about how he paged her over the show’s PA system and requested that she head over to the show-jumping arena to pick up the horse poo!

When we moved to New Zealand, we joined the rest of our family who had made the move away from Fiji before us. The first Christmas in 1976 was spent in Auckland and Auntie Phyl gave white T-Shirts advertising Sea & Ski Suntan lotion to the whole family. When we walked into the Waiwera Hot Pools fo a day of swimming and BBQ and all wearing our shirts, we had people coming up to us and asking if we were part of a team!

Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties were big family events, and we had so much fun. Apollo Street in Tauranga was the time of Saturday Night Fever, and we all danced the John Travolta number which, because of one of the actions, became known to us as the “picking up coconuts” dance. Auntie Phyl would be up with us, embellishing the dance with a few new actions of her own.

One of the times that Owen and Decie Glenn joined us will forever be remembered as the dinner party where Mrs Glenn wore a white bra under her black blouse. When we got the photos back, we could see that the camera flash had penetrated the thin fabric of the blouse and Mrs Glenn’s voluptuous bra could be clearly seen! I can still hear Auntie Phyl’s peal of laughter when she saw those photos!

Our move to Whitaker Street to a bigger house with a pool meant that even more fun could be had. My Space Age 21st party had Auntie Phyl in a mini dress with leggings. I can still remember one of the photos taken of her where she has struck a pose with one arm raised above her head, and the mini skirt also rising up her legs.

Charades was a popular game after dinner with the family divided into 2 groups to act out books, movies and plays. Phyllis took to it with gusto and one particular performance produced a lifetime memory. Her title to act out was “She came in through the bathroom window”. Going out onto the verandah, and using the verandah door as a prop, she stuck one leg into the lounge and waved it around in the air. Because it was dark outside, we couldn’t see the rest of her body, so it appeared as if the leg was acting on its own. Between tears and howls of laughter, we took stabs at what she was trying to do, with neighbours walking past chipping in with suggestions of their own, such as “It’s a giraffe! No, it’s a chicken!” We never did guess what she was trying to tell us.

When work took me to Auckland, I sometimes stayed with Auntie Phyl in her Lake Road house. We would eat dinner, chat and watch TV, often accompanied by a whisky or a gin - or two. Coronation Street could not be missed. Her home was always open to us, and we were welcomed and spoiled whenever we visited. It was the venue for many family gatherings.

When she got together with Mum and Auntie Connie, it was inevitable that the conversation would soon turn to India. Such a defining time for their Marshall generation. The 3 sisters would sit; reminiscing in their clipped accents which were a legacy from so many years spent on the Asian sub-continent; cackling out loud at some of the funnier stories; regaling all within earshot. With quiet resignation, we “non-India” family members would endure the same tales retold countless times in verbatim, but always in such detail it was if they had happened yesterday. For me, times like this were special because we didn’t know when it would end, and inevitably there would come a time when Phyllis, Maureen and Connie could no longer sit together and tell us the India stories, and I would miss those moments.

That time has come. Change. Death. A loved family member no longer with us.

No longer will I hear her call me “love dove”.

As I sit on a sofa in a small town in the middle of Germany, half a planet’s distance from my side of our family, I recognise that, at times like these, the space between us may as well be to the moon and back. Phone calls and emails cannot replace being there. It’s easy to feel isolated, stranded and out of touch: a lack of connectedness with what’s going on at home.

It was exactly a year ago that I last saw Auntie Phyl. A quick trip back to NZ between Christmas and New Year in 2007 gave me 2 occasions when we were together and I was able to talk with her. How precious that time now feels.

10:30pm Monday night, Germany time, will be 12 hours behind Tuesday morning in New Zealand: when people will be coming together to farewell a friend, aunt, great-aunt, sister-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother.

How can I best farewell my aunt when I’m on this side of the world and not able to be at her funeral?

There’s one way in which I know she will approve – with a big drink and a “Cheers!” to the best kofta curry chef that I’ve ever known!

Rikka-tik-tik Auntie Phyl.

Love always
M xoxo

Footnote: When one of my cousins rang my aunt's younger brother (Eugene) in the US to tell him about Auntie Phyl, we discovered that he had died 6 days earlier. I bet they were surprised to meet each other again so soon!


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your loss.

You are lucky to have made beautiful memories with your Auntie!

Seabee said...

Nice memories M.

Pandabonium said...

Thank you for sharing those wonderful memories of your Aunt Phyl. Our sincere condolences at her loss.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

I am so sorry for your loss nzm!

Many prayers of comfort to you and your family.



"Δημήτριος ο Ταξιδευτής" said...

the most proper post for new year.
very optimistic....
and happy new year

nzm said...

Thanks, all!

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thanks for sharing your lovely memories of your Auntie Phyl. Even though you are distant, your remembrances of the times together can still be read by your family in New Zealand.
I was at a funeral yesterday - an elderly man who in his 89th year joined an art class and made about thirty lovely drawings and stories telling his life. His relatives made them into a couple or more books which was nice and they were on display yesterday.

Jayne said...

Awww, so sorry to hear about your loss hon - but wow, what a superb post. You've described Auntie Phyl in such a way that I can virtually picture her, sitting chatting with grandma. I wonder what the odds are that they're having a few shots now & getting to know one another?
Y'know, we used to tease grandma somminc chronic when it came to playing games. I remember once, when grandma, grandad, hubs & I were playing Trivial Pursuit. With a dead straight face, grandad asked grandma a 'geography' question:
"Who dug the Mariana Trench?"
bugger me if she didn't answer, with just a straight face:
"The Irish?"

Gawd love 'em all