Sunday, October 23, 2011

For Billie (24 September 1929 - 07 September 2011)

Dear Reader, below is a much abbreviated story of my gran's life, as told by my aunt Susan, at my gran's funeral last month. I don't know if this seems morbid, I only post it because I think I'd like a summary of my life out there in the world one day when I head off to whatever's next. If it offends you, please skip it, and come back tomorrow for something more mundane. Thanks, Tammy.

"Mum was born on the 24th September 1929, on a farm at M’sinede in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. She was the youngest of four children and, although christened Anne Isobel, she was nicknamed “Billie Boy” by her father – a name that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

As a young baby her family moved to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, where her father worked at the copper mines and after that he managed various hotels.

Her family bought a farm in the south of Northern Rhodesia in a farming district called Mazabuka and the family still live and work that farm today. Living far out on a farm meant having to go to boarding school – which Mum did and said that she loved.

In 1946, a gentleman arrived on the scene, who was later to become our Dad. He was posted to the veterinary Research Station just three miles outside Mazabuka, as a veterinary research officer. And soon the courtship began – Dad cycling the 14 miles out to the farm on a regular basis. The timing of his departure for home at the end of every visit was always left as late as possible, for obvious reasons. Then Dad had to cycle home at top speed. Cycling in the bush at sunset in Africa is not to be recommended. This simply provides nothing more than an early evening snack for the local prowling wildlife!

However, all went according to plan and, on the 20th February 1949, Mum & Dad were married on the farm. With this new status in life Dad now progressed to owning a car.

A year after they were married Mum developed severe abdominal pain and the fear was a possible ectopic pregnancy. As no medical facilities existed in Mazabuka, Mum was bundled up and put into the back of a little bi-plane, then flown to Lusaka hospital. Dad immediately left for Lusaka by car but the journey involved crossing various rivers which became impassable during the rains and then he had to negotiate a pontoon crossing of the Kafue river. This journey could take the best part of a day – depending on the weather! Fortunately, Mum’s problem turned out to be nothing more than an unhappy appendix – which was promptly removed!

Just two years after their marriage, Mum’s eldest sister Pat was killed in a car accident, leaving three children aged 7, 6 and 3. Mum & Dad stepped in and took the two older children, Tony and Lesmeri and the  baby Chalan was taken in by my grandmother. And thus Mum & Dad began their family - as legal  guardians to my two cousins.

We lived on the Research Station for 17 years and during that time the five of us arrived, bringing the family to seven children!

In 1965 Dad was made Director of the Veterinary Service and this necessitated a move to Lusaka. All of us, with the exception of Penny, who was just a toddler, had to go to boarding school. I think Mum must have suffered from “Empty Nest” syndrome as she promptly registered with the local adoption society as a foster mother. Her greatest love has always been babies and she fostered them between birth and adoption. And so the “Baby Boom” began........ Mum’s talents were put to full use as she was often given abused, malnourished or premature babies. Her greatest love and challenge was little “Moses”, named after the biblical Moses who was found in the bulrushes. Mum’s little Moses was found thrown away in a cardboard box in the municipal rubbish dump and barely weighed 4 lbs. The hospital staff handed him over to Mum saying that they couldn’t give him the Time and care he needed and that his best chance of survival was with Mum...... Well – this was a challenge Mum couldn’t resist!! She fed this little mite with an eye dropper, every 2 hours, day and night, with Dad helping through the nights. A weight gain of an ounce was cause for a family celebration...... But gain weight he did and almost a year later Mum very proudly handed him over to his adoptive parents!

In 1973 Mum & Dad left Zambia and Dad went to work in Swaziland. He had been getting progressively ill for a long time and finally retired in 1975. They moved to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in  1976, where Dad died just 4 months later.

Apart from Penny, who was in high school, the rest of the family were working and had left home. Now Mum REALLY moved into top gear........... She served as a telephone counsellor for Lifeline, often sleeping at the call centre overnight. She became a carer for Hospice, visiting and caring for her terminally ill patients with great compassion. Every year she volunteered her services at the Royal Agricultural Show, working in the Arts and Crafts Hall. She did a painting course and ended up painting each of us a picture she thought we would like. Then it was wood carving – which kept her busy until she couldn’t think of any more gifts to make for her children and grandchildren. All her life she had been an avid Scottish Country dancer and a tennis player – until her knees could no longer take the strain.

Mum never sat with idle hands – there was ALWAYS something she could be making, sewing or knitting. When we were young, all of our clothes were made by Mum – right down to our swimming costumes. She could turn her hand to any sewing challenge and making bridal outfits was quite a common favour she did for family and friends.

But life has thrown her more than her share of challenges as well. Apart from nursing Dad for a very long time and finally losing him, she also lost 2 of her own children and my cousin Tony. Throughout her whole life Mum’s faith has been very important to her. In her usual way she has contributed in the ways she knew best. The church she went to in South Africa had all its Hymn books covered in a rich red material and all the Prayer books in a deep blue material, each one carefully hand sewn. She looked after the church’s garden for  many years, satisfying her second greatest love – that of flowers and gardens. Whenever we couldn’t find Mum we simply went out into the garden..........

Her compassionate heart has seen us all through our own trials and yet she had the most amazingly sensible head. She was wise beyond measure and yet always cheerful, warm and caring. No challenge was too great and still she had time for everyone. She has accumulated friends wherever she has lived and has kept in touch with them all – right to her last day. What a unique person she was, how blessed we were to have had her as a Mother (and Grandmother) and we will miss her terribly.'