Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tribute to Pat Crowl ('Mumma')

This is the text of a tribute I gave at Mum's funeral today. Some of the family said they'd like to see a copy of it. My apologies if it seems rather long (!) Mike

Pat Crowl.
Mum was born on 27th May, 1917, the 4th child of Charles and Flora Hannagan.
She was one of a family of nine children, two of whom died very early.
At first they lived in Elgin Rd, but later moved to a somewhat bigger house at 7 Stanley St. It must still have been crammed, with two adults and seven children, and only three bedrooms.
Mum had to leave school quite early, though I’m not sure when. Certainly she had little secondary education, something that niggled her throughout her life, since she was bright and would have benefited from more schooling.
One of her jobs after leaving school was as a housemaid at the home of the original Arthur Barnett family in Highgate. She had to walk all the way from Stanley St to Highgate, and then walk home again at the end of a long day. She was never very much enamoured of this particular job! However in 1934 when she was 17 she began work at the Roslyn Mills in Kaikorai Valley. In those days this was a huge enterprise and there was plenty of scope for young workers.
She stayed there until she went to Australia, in 1942, and then worked there again when she came back from Australia in 1948. I can remember going down there when I was small: the machines were enormous. Someone working on the big knitting machines would spend the day walking back and forward changing bobbins, with the clatter of several other large machines beating their ears constantly.
In her teens and early twenties she played cricket, and we have several trophies at home telling us that she was the best bowler in the St George’s Cricket Club over the period from about 1936 to 1942. I have a memory that she played for the Otago Women’s Cricket team at some point, but haven’t been able to verify this.
She was enthusiastic for all sorts of sports, as the several scrapbooks she made in her teens and early twenties testify. And also for the ‘sport’ of flying: Jean Batten features strongly in these scrapbooks. If my memory serves me right, when she went to Australia, it was in a flying boat.
Her enthusiasm for cricket never waned, and she would often listen to cricket games while lying in bed at night when she lived at our house, or watch the games on television with the sound off because she found the tv commentators inferior to the radio ones.
In 1942 she went to Australia. She corresponded regularly with a number of people throughout her life, but there was one penpal in particular called Frank Crowl who lived in Melbourne and was a brilliant chess player. Quite how things came together I’m not sure, but she went to Melbourne around September 1942 and was married in October. I have in the back of my head that Frank had proposed to her by correspondence (he played chess by correspondence a good deal as well, so perhaps it was a natural approach for him), but I have nothing to back this up.
This big adventure didn’t quite take off: Frank was not a natural husband or father. Chess was his life, and everything else came second. He lived before his time, in the sense that if he been born twenty or thirty years later he may have made a career out of the game. In the forties, people didn’t make money from playing chess.
My mother had to work for both of them, and got a job in the Rationing Department, and then in the Post Office, as a mail sorter.
I was born in 1945, the only child to come to full term. My mother suffered at least three miscarriages. Because she had to work in the daytime, she left me in the care of a home run by Catholic nuns for unmarried mothers. Apparently I was very popular with all these ladies.
In the end my mother must have decided that coming back to NZ was her only option, for her own health’s sake, and mine. Both of us were undernourished and unwell. She told me once that she expected my father to follow, but I think that was a fairly faint hope. He continued on with his chess playing, but not having any what we would now call ‘marketing skills’, he spent the remainder of his life struggling, and died in 1965 owing money to people – most of all to my mother.
Mum and I came back to a full household in Stanley St. My two grandparents were there, my two young uncles, and - as I only just learned the other day - so were my recently-wed Auntie Monica and her husband Des. Seven adults and a three-year old child. Stanley St was crammed again, and the two young uncles must have turned the lounge into a bedroom.
Mum went back to Roslyn Mills, and I grew up with a bunch of adults.
We shared a love of movies, and one of the things I remember is waiting for her to finish work every Friday so we could go to the ‘five o’clock session.’. And, though she never played any instrument herself she encouraged me to learn the piano, something which I took to like a duck to water (mostly!) and for which I’ve been grateful ever since. She did like to sing, but an operation she had on her throat at some point turned her into a baritone, and after that she stopped singing for the most part.
In 1965 she finally gave up working at Roslyn Mills, and took up a job in the Records Dept at Dunedin Electricity. She was highly successful in this, and when she retired in 1977 she was greatly missed.
Meanwhile in 1974 I had returned from living in England with my newly-wed wife. I’d been away from home for six years, during which time my mother faithfully wrote to me, week in and week out. (I wrote in return, by the way, having picked up her writing bug.) Celia and I lived with her in Stanley St for a time, before finding a flat of our own. But before we left, our first child was born, and Mum began her new career of grandmother-come-second mother, and soon began to be known as Mumma.
The family home in Stanley St was deteriorating, and though Mum had the option of living there as long as she liked, it was obvious that we either had to spend a good deal of money on repairs, or come up with another solution. Mum kept mentioning how she needed to book a room up at the Little Sisters, but we hated the idea. (And she would have hated living there.)
In the end my wife Celia came up with the idea of building a second storey on top of our house. The Stanley St home was owned jointly by all the Hannagan brothers and sisters, and we asked them if they would pool the money earned from the sale of the house in order to build Mum a home within a home upstairs at our place. In general this was agreed to by the family, and with loans and gifts from them another storey was built, and from 1984 Mum became a live-in grandmother.
Quietly and subtly she took over the laundry, the housework, the gardening. We did battle over this for a time, and then gave in. She was determined to be a fully-functional grandmother - not one who sat back listening to the cricket all day. All who know her will have benefited from the glories of the garden she built up at our home. And the new potatoes that would arrive faithfully in time for Christmas each year.
Then there were the cats. There had always been a cat at Stanley St since I was young when an unwanted kitten turned up at the door one day. As soon as one died of old age, another would arrive. When we lost our favourite family cat (Mamble) at Glenpark Avenue, a scrawny pregnant cat arrived not long after and deposited two kittens under one of the beds. They grew up under Mumma’s care, and only died in the last couple of years. There was also Libby’s black cat, who was very aggressive and often gave Mumma bleeding hands or legs. Nevertheless she just kept on loving it until it loved her in return.
Dominic will shortly tell you about the way things were when the children were growing up with her in the house, and the huge contribution she made to our family life. None of us would be the people we were if it wasn’t for her presence in the home over a period of twenty-two years.
I haven’t talked about her spiritual life. It was a quiet, down-to-earth kind of spirituality that got on and did the job without fuss. It was a faith plus works spirituality that believed (without actually talking about it) that being a servant was one of the prime ways of expressing yourself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We have only a small understanding, I suspect, of the amount of serving she did in her lifetime. For instance, in 1962 she took unpaid time off work to stay home and care for her mother, who was dying of cancer.
We also have only a very small grasp of the amount of praying for people that she did. Certainly she prayed for all of us in the family, but I can’t believe we were the only ones she prayed for.
She would attend Mass in all weathers. She cleaned the brass in the church for years, even hauling those heavy items back and forth from home to deal with them. I’m sure many of you in this community know more than we do what other works of service she did.
Mum wasn’t an outgoing person, at least in her later years. Nor did she enjoy being the centre of attention. She would have preferred a funeral where no one else came. But she delighted in the achievements of other people, especially those in her family, and we have found dozens of mementoes of special occasions amongst her things.
She was one of God’s great servants: I believe she’ll now be rejoicing with him, chatting to him about the enormous garden he’s prepared for her, and suggesting, no doubt, that there are some everyday chores she could get on with for him, especially now that she’s got her strength and her youth back.