Over the past week, I have been organising my Nan’s funeral, which has included almost every single step of her farewell from this mortal existance, and a well-deserved send-off to the next stage of her life.
Nan has been a wonderful influence on me growing up, and has been there at every milestone in my life so far. My first day at Kindergarten, my first car, my first love, my first job, building my first guitars, seeing me graduate music in high school, going on to art school and seeing me get work in the art industry. She was always interested in my work, and loved seeing my latest drawings or paintings, or even popping out into the shed to see a guitar being built.
She seemed proud that I had picked up a musical talent from her, as well as a love for building furniture or other items from her late husband, Harry. Coming from the depression years, when people either ‘made-do’ with what they had, or built their own from whatever they had, she was always interested to see me assembling my latest guitar in her lounge room, usually sprawled out on the floor with a collection of random screwdrivers and tools. Although she probably didn’t understand what I was doing, she loved seeing it evolving, and becoming something familiar.
So it was only fitting that I write her a proper Eulogy for her send-off, and make it known to all who attended the service exactly what my Nan meant to me, and to many others in her life.
Below is a copy of my Eulogy, which was read by Father Micheal Richardson on my behalf, due to my emotional state on the day.
My Nan, Mary Bell, was a good person.
Nan was the third of nine children, with her two older siblings dying in infancy.
In order, there was Norma, William, Mary, Wilma, Louis, Kathy, Gladys, Edgar and Carmel.
Growing up, Nan was the eldest child in the house, which made her the one to worry the most. This trait followed her through her whole life. Even as an adult, Nan would sit up in bed reading, often
until 2am, waiting for me to come home from night-shift, so that she could sleep soundly.
Nan has told me many stories about her younger life. From the early times when all seven children would be sleeping in a single bedroom on the floor on mattresses in a house on Verdon Street, to the
time when her brother Louis, after being told to take his harmonica playing away from Nan and Wilma, flew past them after falling off the verandah roof.
Nan loved her music, which played a big part in her life.
Nan learned music at the local convent; being taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph at a young age. By the age of 13 she was graduating from the London College of Music.
She enjoyed playing the organ here in St Mary’s, and anywhere else that had arranged for her to play. To put things into perspective for the younger people here, Nan was playing the organ here before there was electricity in the church. These days it is electric, but back then, it required a bellows to power the organ. Nan’s younger brother Edgar usually had the task of pumping the bellows, as Nan would gracefully play the hymns for the congregation.
With their father William as the Choir Master, this was truly a family event.
Nan started playing this organ when she was 15, only meaning to play a few weeks, due to the organist of the day being ill. This ‘few weeks’ turned into 75 years of music, from the 8:30 mass, occasionally the 10am mass, most weddings, funerals, communions, and many other events in the parish.
When I was a little boy, my Nan would sometimes pick me up from kinder, up on Ferguson St, and walk me down to Nelson Brothers a few doors down, as she had a Funeral booked in. I would sit with her at the organ as she played, listening to her music, as strangers were grieving around me. I think over the years Nan would’ve taken me to well over 200 funerals with her.
I rarely got to attend the weddings though.
More than once I saw someone insist on paying Nan for her services. Nan usually refused, but some people insisted. As soon as they were out of sight, Nan would always place the money in the coin
boxes located at each door. Nan was happy to share her gift with anyone who would want to hear her play, and never saw it as a job to earn money from.
A few years ago, I took Nan into the City to St Patrick’s Cathedral for a Centacare mass, being headlined by the Archbishop himself. Afterwards, I said to her that we should go up to the organ
and have a look, and maybe get a few photos. When we got there, the organist was just locking it up for the evening.
I thought it best to ask permission to take photos, and introduced him to Nan. He thought he recognised the name, and once I told him that Nan was the organist at St Mary’s, he said “Well I’m not letting such a wonderful organist have photos without the organ being unlocked and powered up!” so he proceeded to unlock it again, and power it up.
He then gave Nan every Christmas present at once, when he said “Why don’t you play us a song, Mrs. Bell?”
The smile on her face could not have gotten any wider! Without preparation, music or even previous experience on such a large Pipe-Organ, she proceeded to play an old classic that I had never heard of. The priest of the Cathedral hurried over and said “I haven’t heard that one in over 40 years!” And proceeded to sing softly to himself. “He then told the organist to get a copy of this music, before realising Nan was doing this without music, and simply from memory.
Nan had never dreamed of being able to play in a Cathedral, but she was so glad that she had, and for the first time ever in my life, I saw her brag to people, and showing the photos around at church.
Throughout her life, Nan has faced many hardships and tough times, but she always came through them with the help of her family, friends and support networks.
For many years, Nan and her husband Harry would be regular workers at the Stella Maris Club in Lt. Collins St. Usually, they would work in the souvenir shop, meeting and greeting many seafarers from all around the world. She would often have chats with them about where they were from, and the hardships of their home countries. Nan was always wanting to help others, and have a better understanding of what was going on in the world.
I was recently on a seafarers forum, searching for someone from way back. Once I mentioned the Stella Maris on there, people replied with happy, wonderful memories of coming into port, and being able to go somewhere to relax that felt like a home. One mentioned Nan by name, asking me how Mrs Bell in the little shop was doing; so Nan has touched the lives of more people than I could even imagine.
Nan had only one child, Mary, my Mum, who she loved very much, as you can see in the photos showing on the walls. Later, she was gifted with three Grandchildren. My sisters, Brigid and Cathryn, and myself,… her favourite grandson by default. She cared for us as she would with her own child. She cooked delicious meals, took us to the city for movies, or the Myer windows, and occasionally snuck us lollies or chocolates from her secret stash.
If you turn to the back page of your Order of Service, I would like to explain this drawing, which I have drawn over the weekend
I was always happy to hold Nan’s hands, and she loved it too, as I was usually quite a bit warmer than her, so she got a free hand-warmer out of it too.
With these hands, my Nan has helped for her siblings, raised my Mother, cooked, cleaned, sewn, knitted and said goodbye to loved ones.
With these hands, my Nan has helped my Mother raise her three children, cared for us, as well as our extended families both here and interstate.
With these hands, my Nan has played the Organ for hundreds of Weddings, Communions, Funerals, and other events… touching thousands of people’s lives in the local community.
With these hands, my Nan has held my hand when I was scared or worried, and in more recent times, when she was scared or afraid of the unfamiliar things going on around her.
With these hands…
Mary Josephine Bell – 25.03.1917 ~ 27.06.2012