Farewell Little Sis

Following is the eulogy I delivered at Judith’s funeral (my older sister) on October 13, 2014 – they are my memories of her, others may wish to add their stories as well.

Good morning all ­– family and friends

I am not going to attempt the impossible – and try and condense Judith’s eighty years in to eight minutes. These are just some of my memories of my sister. All of you have your own stories and memories of her – maybe they should be shared, passed on and forever her legacy.

Judith, Judy, Jude, JP, Pamela – but to me she was my little big sister and to our parents she was ‘Bubs’.  To Bob, her husband, she was – at times frustrating, certainly demanding, a homemaker and his loveable wife.  For Robin, Brett, Tanya and Dwayne she was their mum and Sam’s mother-in-law. She wasn’t too bad a mother-in-law Sam, there are worse, I had to trade up to get a good one, you got yours first time around.

As a grandmother, Judy, was proud of her grand-kids, Demi, Logan, Shae and Madison and loved them dearly – and bragged about them incessantly too. Whether it was school, sports, skiing – they were her pride and joy. And Demi, I can imagine your grandmother trying to emulate your pole dancing prowess. Certainly she would have been into it as a teenager, if it had been around then.

The 'Stephenson clan' 2005

The ‘Stephenson clan’ 2005

As a teen Judith was wild – well not by todays standards – but wild enough to cause constant discussion at our parents’ dinner table on her activities.  She was a rebel.  For me, as her little brother back then, I loved it. Besides having our parents’ attention focussed on her, (and not me for a change) she also took me out. I’m still unsure if it was to get me out of the house, or so that mum and dad didn’t question her too much about her activities. I was sworn to secrecy over these excertions and never told.

These were wonderful adventures.  Judith was sports mad, netball, electric light cricket (the fore-runner of indoor cricket as we know it now) and tennis. Sometimes it was a trip to Glenelg beach on the tram, but I was threatened even more never to tell about those times. We were never alone though; there were always other girls about – and ‘big’ boys.

Often we would go to some pretty outrageous places. They were called milk bars and our parents considered them a bad, bad influence. I’d get an ice-cream, or a Kitchener bun as a bribe, while the big boys and girls had, milk-shakes, coffee, or tea, laughed, were noisy and some even smoked. Mum and dad would have been appalled at the temptations Judith led me in to. However, it wasn’t all-bad.

Judith, like our older sister Marie, and then many years later, me, went to Glen Osmond Primary School. Some of the teachers I had, remembered both Marie and Judith and I was forever compared to their more favourable scholarly achievements.  It was the same with Sunday School – at the local Baptist church – but both Judith and I drifted, some say ran, from that as we got older.

On leaving primary school Judith went to the Unley Girls Technical High School, now merged with Mitcham Girls High. These are my first real memories of Judith. She as a teenager in her high school uniform, waiting for her friends at the bottom of our driveway, before riding their bikes to school. Judith was always in trouble because she insisted in rolling up the waist of her uniform skirt to make the hem rise. It was pretty shocking too, you could see her knees.

Besides sport, Judith had two other loves as a teenager – Girl Guides and sewing – well there were three actually, the third one was BOYS. But I’ll come to that later.

Judith attended the Glen Osmond Guide group at Ridge Park. On Saturday evenings she, with some other girls, would walk the mile to the Guide hall for their activities. Again our home was a meeting place for her friends and when they visited there was always noise and laughter coming from her bedroom, or the front veranda.  In the winter-time dad would set the fire in the dining room and Judith and her friends would do ‘girl stuff’, drink hot chocolate and toast cheese sandwiches on the open fire. I was banned from this activity.

Me, as a young boy my one recurring memory is of Judith sewing. She was a consummate seamstress.  Often Judith would come home from work – she was a secretary at ANA, the forerunner of Ansett Airlines – with a bolt of cloth, a dress pattern and an invitation to a party the following night. In just one evening she would make the skirt, blouse or dress.  I can still see her standing on the kitchen table in the pinned up half completed dress.  Our mum and grandmother would be fussing about, getting the hem level before Judith hopped off the table and started sewing it up. My job was to pick up all the discarded pins afterwards. I got paid six-pence (5 cents) – it was slave labour. Judith could stand on the kitchen table and dad said nothing – but if I put my elbows on the same table during a meal I got a smack – go figure.

In 1964, Judith made me a ‘jerkin’. It was the ultimate fashion statement of the day. A jerkin is similar to a waistcoat, but without buttons, you just pulled it on over your head. This was reversible – mustard on one side and turned inside out it was dark brown. As I said – fashionable for the time.  However, it was frustratingly difficult to make. Judith had been struggling with it all day – the air was blue and although I was staying with Judith and Bob for a few days, I kept out of her way. Bob came home from work, picked up the half completed garment off the kitchen floor where Judith had thrown it in a tizzy fit and in about 60 seconds fixed the problem. That pissed off Judith even more. Bob and I went to the local fish and chip shop for dinner that night.

Bob – I’ll get to Bob shortly. I mentioned boys earlier – they were a regular fixture around home when I was growing up. I know some of the stories through family legend – but she had a few over her teen years. Dating in the 50s was very different to making-out today. Group gatherings were the norm, but Judith also insisted on ‘going out’ with boys too.  Wilf was the Saturday afternoon boy friend. He had a bomb of a car, only one seat, no engine cover, the doors didn’t open and if I got to ride in it, my seat was a wooden banana crate. But it was a hoot. Wilf would play cards with mum and dad at night while Judith went out with someone else.

Then one day Bob was on the scene. Things changed. He was a pretty cool guy – he’d been to England, knew all about modern cars and had a 35mm camera and a slide projector. That was exciting for me, but I guess not half as exciting as it was for Judith.  Apparently dad would stand at the front door and flick the veranda light on and off – after they got back from their date – to let them know it was time for Judith to come inside and Bob to go home. They got around that little problem though – as Bob told it to me year later – they went parking on the other side of the creek at the end of the street before getting home.

Our dad could be a bit of a pain at times. Judith was given the ultimatum: you can’t get married until you are twenty-one and you can either have a 21st party, or a wedding, not both. That was typical of dad, one or the other, never both. Judith chose the wedding – three days after her 21st birthday.

At 19, Judith ‘came out’. How language has changed. Coming out in the 50s was the social event for young women. They were presented to society as debutantes in a gala ball and celebration. All so formal and proper. The deb ball in 1953, for Judith was also her involvement with the Miss SA Quest under the banner of Legacy – this was the forerunner to the Spastic Centres Miss Australia Quests. Judith was crowned Miss ANA, Miss Legacy – Miss South Australia and was runner up to Miss Australia that year. Again family legend has it that the woman crowned Miss Australia was ‘secretly’ married and should not have been considered in the quest.  For the twelve months before the ball, it was frantic fundraising. Our home was in constant turmoil making decorations for the various events and of course Judith was constantly sewing, and I was endlessly picking up pins – but I got a stockpile of six-penny bits.

Judith and Bob married in February 1956 at the Glen Osmond Baptist Church. I think John Owie is the only surviving member of the bridal party. And probably Val, Bob’s sister in NZ, Brian Parker, Les Kenyon, John Buckley and myself are the only others who attended the reception at the Burnside Town Hall, who are still alive. I remember dad being less than impressed with fun that Judith and Bob’s friends got up to that night.  At Bob’s funeral, seven years ago, their good friend and neighbour, Ben spoke of their honeymoon. Something special happened before that trip though – no not that, you do have dirty minds.  Instead of throwing her bridal bouquet on leaving the reception, as is the tradition, Judith kept it.  Judith and Bob then drove to my parents’ home to give the posy of flowers to our 87 year old and ill grandmother, who could not attend the celebrations.

That probably sums up Judith – she was always caring of others.

Judith and Bob lived in a couple of flats before buying their one house at Henley South. It was brand new, but a shell. Nothing came with it. No carpets, no curtains, no fences, even the road was either dust in summer, or so muddy when it rained that Bob had to park the car streets away. In winter walking from the bus stop on Henley Beach Road was an obstacle course. No footpaths, rocks, mud and sheets of water. Standing at the front door you could see to the River Torrens outlet and also the dump at the end of the street.

Together, over time, they built their home. A card table and packing cases for kitchen furniture, newspapers covering the windows for curtains and an eski instead of a fridge.  At times they could not afford the ice for the eski.  Bob the consummate handyman made the bricks to build his shed and then built furniture. Judith was the interior decorator and she did that with fineness.  It was also the palace of parties – family and friends. This is where I learnt to drink, first it was ‘hock lime and lemon’ then beer and then Port, oh boy the Port was delicious. And of course red wine too.  Oh and I should not forget the food and the dinner parties. Judith could cook and their dinner parties were something to experience.

Judith also taught me to swear – well when she lost her temper, normally at me, I’d learn yet another expression.  Judith and I were always close – she protected me from dad’s wrath and was always there to help me no matter what.  However, over the years like many siblings we each went our own way. She with Bob and Robin, Brett, Tanya and Dwayne and me with my life and family. Funny though when Pam and I moved to Perth in 94, it started a new sharing in our lives.

There were many other aspects to Judith’s life. The shack at Milang, working at primary schools, water skiing, trips interstate with friends, reading, music and her family.  Either in Perth or Adelaide Judith and I continued to share special family events, and enjoyed a number of caravan trips – again the food and the Port barrel were the start of evenings under the stars, talking, reminiscing and laughter. Judy was with Pam and I when we bought our current home, before our return to Adelaide in 2005.  We had plans – to do some caravan trips together – but Bob got too sick with cancer and it didn’t happen as often as we wanted.

Judith & Bob Stephenson and me enjoying a sea food BBQ – Exmouth WA 2002

Judith & Bob Stephenson and me enjoying a sea food BBQ – Exmouth WA 2002

Then my vibrant and funny sister started on the regression of dementia and she became lost. Oh there were moments when the old Judy popped up, but they became fewer and fewer.  It is probably fitting that the last conversation I had with her – she told me off. I was helping feed her and the spoon hit her gum – her eyes blazed, she reacted exactly as I remember her when she was annoyed with me, then her face relaxed, she smiled, gave her familiar laugh, and drifted away.  We never shared anything again.

Goodbye little sis.

One thought on “Farewell Little Sis

  1. Pingback: Death can be a release | A Baby Boomer's Blog

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