I hope normal transmission will resume soon, but first you get a poem and a eulogy.
We had Aunty Nan’s service yesterday — a long, strange day of figuring out how to come together as a family and pay tribute to one of our matriarchs. I think we did okay, for young people and men.
My uncles gave Granny oysters at the end of the day. Pepped her right up — my sister and I had a fuller conversation with her than we have had for many, many months. Better get oysters on the menu.
All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds
black and spiky,
Down they went
into the waters for the poor
they live on, for a little while.
God, how did it ever come to you to
I dream at night
of the birds, of the beautiful, dark seas
they push through.
(Mary Oliver, Thirst)
One of the lovely things about Aunty Nan was the way she sought affinities in others. She herself had a wide range of interests — politics, sport, lace-making and embroidery, fishing, golf, croquet, birds and nature, history and family — so she kept her eyes open for people who might share those interests. She created bonds with people, looked for and found the best in them, gave them the best of herself.
Aunty Nan was a good talker, quick to get past the niceties and into the meat of a conversation, and many of us will miss chatting with her. She liked a joke; she had a twinkle in her eye, a bit of spark. She was shrewd and observant, thoughtful and to-the-point.
In January, I told Aunty Nan about Nelson Mandela’s death. They were of a similar age, and although they had vastly different lives, they had similarly young hearts. We segued into politics, which was always a satisfying and robust conversation topic with Aunty Nan. She described herself as a socialist, and was firm and principled in her beliefs.
I know a few socialists, and I must say that she is the tidiest, most orderly, and most well-mannered of them. I think the values of hospitality and openness to others run deep in the socialist tradition, as they do in the farming communities that Aunty Nan grew up and lived in. She had the grace to marry those traditions — of radicalism and conservatism — to dissolve their boundaries by holding on to honesty, generosity, history, and care for the world and others.
Aunty Nan also sought affinities in the past, and she often talked of family members with deep understanding and delight. They still lived for her in many ways, those old ones, and she brought them to life for us. I hope that we can do the same for her — I would like my boys to know and remember her, this gracious, interesting, gently stroppy great-aunt of mine.
But the longest relationship Aunty Nan had, and probably the closest, was with her sisters. They didn’t always see eye to eye, as sisters often don’t, but they forged companionship, love, and respect out of blood ties and shared experience. They saw each other through childhood, study and training, through war, marriage and family life, through Sunday afternoons and scrabble games, through ill health and into death. When they were past talking, they held hands, and that was enough and it was good.
So, let us take a moment to remember our sisters, those we are born to and those we find.
Let us take a moment to think of Granny as she faces life without her sisters. Let us surround her with love and strength as she and Nan and May surrounded us for all those years.
And let us remember Nan, an exemplary woman, sister, aunt, and friend.