I am to deliver the tributes to Margaret, having been volunteered by the rest of the family, by the simple expedient of everybody else stepping a pace backwards when I wasn’t looking; Fortunately on receiving this commission, Margaret’s three children, Graham, Judy and Jimmy, agreed to each write a script for me to read.
Graham, who you all doubtless know, lives in France couldn’t make it here today; One of the grandchildren, namely our daughter Melanie, also wishes she could join the family today but the journey from Seattle was beyond consideration. Let me share first then, just a few memories that Melanie shared in an email.
Imagine Melanie speaking now. It’s a stretch, but give it a go;
She was a lovely grandmother. I ALWAYS looked forward to seeing Nanna and Papa as a kid. Even as an adult! I really enjoyed the time I spent with them both when I was about 22 years old, on my own. That was a different experience.
Even though Papa wasn’t the best by then, and I also had to drive them to _rissy for Uncle _ill’s funeral, so the timing wasn’t the best either. And I enjoyed staying with them when you guys went overseas for a couple of weeks and we looked after Richard.
I also remember fondly Nanna sending Christmas presents from Queensland wrapped in a dozen layers, one layer being a cereal box for protection! And she always brought us presents, one of which would be some cute toy that she had knitted. My kids have them all now in their stuffed toy collections.
And I remember Nanna sitting on a swing in the playground near our Melbourne home, singing Marsy Dotes and Dosey dotes and little lambs a divey.
It’s nice that she is with Papa again;
That was something by way of a tribute from Melanie. And so to the Beeston children. First on the scene was Graham John Kinross Beeston. He sent the following missive translated from the French. You now need to imagine Graham speaking, which is a bit easier than it was imagining Melanie speaking.
Dear family and friends,
Sorry not to be there with you all at this moment for the funeral of my old Mum, or, as I’d taken to calling her recently, « ma petite mère » (my little mother), since she’d become a bit on the skinny side – and that, not because she harboured any ambitions of becoming a top model in the latter years of her life, but simply because, after Dad’s death in 2005, she’d lost the taste for eating; and even three weeks of eating Françoise’s cordon bleu cooking in September of last year didn’t really fatten her up; but then again, who wants to be fat?
Yes, we’re not able to be with you today; It’s a decision that we took with the help of close family members. But we were able to come over last September, and we are ever so grateful for the blessing of being able to spend a lot of time with Mum and other family members and friends at that time. We cherish these memories which bring to mind the words of the psalmist: How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard…*Psalm 133+ I know Mum enjoyed this time together, though I’m not so sure that she would be impressed by the comparison with perfumed oil flowing everywhere. She would have surely preferred the comparison with a lovely cuppa tea!
Yes, we were privileged to have had this time together. At the same time, I became more and more aware of Mum’s growing fragility since we last saw one another in 2005; She’d become like a little child that you have to watch all the time; One false move and she’d ripped the skin off her leg; You turn your back and she’s fallen over; becoming old is not always much fun. A few days ago I had to prepare a service for French National Radio. The text chosen in the Bible, Isaiah 40: 6–7, made me think of Mum.
A voice says, ‘Cry out!’ and I said, ‘What shall I say?’ All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the fields. The grass withers, the flower fades…
Yes, it is an appropriate image for human ageing, and it may make you think of Mum’s condition during the last few days of her life, when she slowly faded away. The grass withers, the flower fades. But, wait a second, because the text doesn’t finish there! The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. In our weakness, God becomes our strength; That’s what the people of Israel were on the point of discovering, and, from what family members said to me about Mum’s last days, that’s also what she discovered; that’s what she was waiting for.
What actually was she waiting for? An angel coming to pick her up in an old Ford falcon in order to drop her off at the gates of heaven? Or just the assurance in her spirit, in spite of her extreme feebleness, that, as St Paul said: nothing.., neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things presents, nor things to come…, nor economic crises, nor global warming, nor Alzheimer’s disease, nor… you name it ! … nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. [Rom 8: 38–39]
Yes, beyond the traditional language which sometimes hinders us from entering into spiritual realities, there’s the reality of God’s love for which Mum reached out in order to lay claims to His faithfulness, an instinct prepared by years of prayer and meditation, prepared also by the love and faithfulness of all those who took care of her during many years. Believers or not, you were in many ways, angels, bearers of good news.
Thanks for taking note of these few words that I wanted to share with you all today. Thanks for being there to say your gratitude for the life of Margaret Vivian May Beeston. We hope to see you again soon. God bless you all.
Graham and Françoise Beeston
Next in line is Judith Margaret Anne Beeston. Here is what she would say if her composure matched her literary talent. Now stretch your imaginations once again and hear the voice of Judith.
It is so hard to write a few sentences about a person who has lived for 90 years! Nanna (as we affectionately refer to her) was the centre of our lives when we were little kids. Papa was the quiet strength in the background while Nanna was the not so quiet fluffiness right in the middle of all we did; We didn’t really need a whole house when we were little. We seemed to spend most of our time in the kitchen around the kitchen table. This is where countless numbers of Floddies (potato cakes also known as Kartoffelpuffer in Germany and Austria) were consumed. In fact, Nanna used to use Floddies to entice us kids out of bed so we would get ready in time for Sunday School. Bribery and corruption with a few potatoes! And it worked! The kitchen is also where I poured out my heart about kids at school, teachers, boyfriends, work and anything else that required a sympathetic ear. And Nanna was a good listener.
Nanna seemed to enjoy cooking and loved getting good healthy meals into her brood. She would collect recipes and had boxes full of them. It would take ages, sometimes, to make a certain recipe because she had to first find the recipe!
Another love of hers was her craft. She used to knit for we kids and sew on the sewing machine. She used to make all my clothes including my wedding dress and going-away outfit. She really seemed to enjoy doing this which positively astounded me because I didn’t inherit this love and I become a Jekyll and Hyde character whenever I foolishly decide to do anything on the sewing machine. Until only a few years ago, she was making little knitted toys which every grandchild and nieces’ or nephews’ grandchildren could probably produce for “show and tell” today. Jamie fondly remembers a little knitted cactus that he received with his Christmas present -when he was about 18 years old!
Nanna loved music and insisted that all three of us had piano lessons. Graham was, of course, the teacher’s pet and could do no wrong. I wasn’t so admired by the teacher, possibly because I was terrified of her but I was determined to be as good as Graham so reluctantly continued to go to lessons, all in all for about 8 years, and Jim seemed to not want to be there at all so Nanna took him out of lessons after about 3 years. What Jim learned there, though, seemed to stand him in good stead because he went on to be a terrific trumpeter and band leader at Salisbury High School where he revolutionised the band by teaching them to play Beatles songs. None of us lost the music we learnt way back then and are still using it to this day; Thanks to Nanna’s determination.
Nanna also loved reading and introduced this love to we kids; Papa, too, of course, was a great reader so we didn’t have a chance. Nanna was still reading a lot until quite recently. She was really excited when she found out she could order books through the library and they would pick out suitable ones for her, and bring them to her.
At the centre of Nanna’s life, was the church; She had a strong faith in God and from this she never wavered. Even when I, as a teenager, used to try to trip her up a bit, she was strong and sure of her faith.
What a lot of people who have only come to know Nanna in later life don’t know is that she was a bit of a comedienne. As kids we were delighted to sit (around the kitchen table again) listening to her repeating word for word comedy skits she had heard on the wireless (or maybe on records). We used to try to mimic her saying “Two dozen double damask dinner napkins” and never could get it right; I remember when I was about 12 or so visiting Aunty Yvonne’s place along with nearly all our other close relatives and someone tried to get her to go into her routine. However, she became really shy and had to do it with the lights off!
Nanna loved a good laugh and even until recently delighted in the adorable, crazy things her grandchildren would come out with. Another thing I am really grateful to Nanna for is the way she didn’t have an apoplectic fit when Philip took up work in Melbourne, meaning we all, including her only two grandchildren at the time, had to move from Brisbane. She might have wept buckets but she never let on, which was just as well because it would have meant me being laden down with even more guilt than I already had and would have meant we wouldn’t have been able to do all the exciting things that have made up our life. When we had to move to Hong Kong I was almost unable to even tell her. But, once again, she took it on the chin and started to work out when they would come over and visit us. Then came Vienna and this, too, was graciously accepted. I think she enjoyed hearing all about these places in my weekend letters and had imagination enough to be able to enjoy the wonders and excitement without having to visit.
She may have been thin and fairly frail but she had tremendous strength when it came to looking after Papa during his illness. I think there was a lot about this time that she never told us but just gritted her teeth and got on with her life. She missed Papa dreadfully (as we all do) right to the end of her life.
One really has no say in the choice of parents but if we did, there would be no changes made by me.
So this is me again. And last, and invariably least, (I mean, by no means least), comes James William Beeston. I will now attempt to channel Jim’s thoughts as he put them down on paper.
Mum’s world became complete in September 1949, when I was born.
This sentiment was expressed so eloquently when I finally arrived home after a somewhat rocky start and Judy announced triumphantly: “Everything is perfect; We have a new baby, a refrigerator and some chickens;”
My recollections of my mother can be summed up with the following four words:
Loyalty, Dedication, Toys and Love.
Mum was always there for us no matter what; “For better or for worse” obviously translated to the children;
“Mum, can you drive me to school; I’m running late;”
“Mum, can you give me sentences for these words?”
She always obliged, without fanfare or lectures.
She was always there for us, quietly, in the background, encouraging but not pushing. She let us choose our own ambitions, and the level to which we decided to aim. As we struggled with piano practice, followed by a succession of guitars and trumpets and other means of domestic mental warfare, the only words were of encouragement.
She would send us off every morning with a substantial lunch box, and greet us in the afternoon with milo and biscuits. She was still doing this 6 weeks ago.
She was always interested in where we were and what we were doing; In my case, it wasn’t surprising that the budgerigar’s only words were, which he heard from Mum over and over – “Where’s Jimmy?”
Mum often went the extra yards, with activities like ironing starched army pants every Wednesday night, or sewing elaborate dresses that were only worn once (incidentally, the army pants were mine, the dresses Judy’s!!);
Mum’s dedication to striving for the whole family can be summed up by an instance that occurred when Mum and Dad visited me early in my married life. The conversation went like this:
Me: “Dad, would you like a cup of tea?”
Dad: “Yes thank you;”
Me: “How do you take it?”
Dad: “Margaret, how do I take my tea?”
I loved toys and was jealous of Mum because I thought that she had the best ones -bowls, spoons, mixers, beaters and graters. I would sit and watch her prepare the evening meal and wish that I could play with her. On occasions I was allowed (in those days men were only allowed near a barbeque). One of my fondest memories is helping prepare the boiled lambs tongue for pressing into sandwich meat. I would remove every questionable part that she deemed undesirable, and would then take great delight in sampling them.
Although cooking three meals a day for a family could be considered a chore, she instilled in me the joy of finding new ideas and methods and that perseverance could bring its own rewards. I am now allowed into the kitchen, and have nearly every kitchen toy that whirls and whistles. But one of my favourite things is grating the potatoes to make mum’s contribution to culinary history – the aforementioned Beeston floddie.
The fourth word is love; There are only two words to describe Mum’s love; “Totally unconditional”.
These then are the children’s tributes to Margaret; Thank you, Graham, Judy and Jim. If I may, I’d like to add a word of my own; Judy, Jim, Sharon and I spent a few hours in Mum’s unit this week; We came across a stack of her daily diaries. Dozens of spiral bound notebooks that chronicle decades of her ninety years.
I was not at all surprised to discover that every daily entry noted what she had read in the Bible that day. Hers was a life of practised faith.
I was reminded that Paul writing to the Colossians urged them to be rooted and built up in their faith. He was reminding us that faith is at first a gift, a gift every human has in some measure. But beyond that it is, like all human giftedness, only made real by constant practice.
Margaret’s life was lived every day consciously in the presence of Jesus; and, even though we don’t really know what it means to be in Heaven, or to be with Jesus, I’m prepared to say that Margaret lived her life, as best as she could, in the presence of Jesus. And in his presence she continues to be.