This is a transcript of a speech I gave at my mother-in-law’s funeral.
Audrey Mountjoy (2014)
The first time I spoke to my mother-in-law, Audrey Mountjoy, I had fallen out of bed during the night and had been woken by my housemate early in the morning. I was told that Gill’s mum, Mrs Mountjoy, was on the phone from England. I had a severe hangover from our engagement party the previous evening. Gill was traveling somewhere in Afghanistan with a girlfriend at the time, so it was incumbent on me to celebrate our engagement on behalf of both of us. Her mum had phoned me about the wedding arrangements. I fought off the nausea, attempted speaking with an English accent and did my best not to slur my words.
It had been news to Gill’s parents when she had rung them out of the blue four months earlier to say that she was getting married to a divorced South African fellow. They had never heard of me. If this unexpected news had caused them some misgivings, they never showed any inkling of it. Years later I was told that a family friend had asked my father-in-law, Alan, what this Tim person from Africa looked like, to which he had replied, drily, “As far as we can tell from his photograph the face behind his beard is that of a white man.”
From such an uncertain beginning I was welcomed into the family with great warmth and I quickly grew to view them as my very own family.
When I look back over the years that I had known Audrey, the thing that stands out in my mind is the many laughs that we have had. We were in Luxembourg, having a meal at a restaurant for Gill’s thirtieth birthday, when Audrey had asked the waiter in her soft, southern English voice what the soup of the day was. “Rat soup,” he replied in a thick German accent.
Audrey was horrified. “Rat soup?” she asked.
“Red soup! Red soup!” he exclaimed, pronouncing it in a way that it sounded like ‘rat soup’. Eventually we realised that he was talking about tomato soup.
When Audrey was 86 years old, having lost her husband some years earlier, Gill and her sister Jennifer persuaded her to move from England to Melbourne. At that stage she was beginning to show some signs of dementia. She went to live in an aged care facility in Doncaster, which she usually referred to as “the hotel where I live.”
She loved her sherry, wine and whisky, and the family had to develop various strategies to keep her alcohol intake in check. With the onset of dementia she could become quite impatient when there was a delay in a drink being offered. We were at Jennifer’s house once where she was sitting at the dining table waiting for the meal to be served.
“Nobody’s offered me any wine,” she complained to our son Neil, who was sitting next to her.
“You tell them, Granny,” he whispered to her. “Ask ‘Where’s my bloody wine?’”
“WHERE’S MY BLOODY WINE?” Audrey shouted in a loud voice, to everyone’s stunned surprise.
Once in a while she would complain about being old and say to me, “I just want to go up there now,” pointing towards the heavens.
“Don’t say that, Audrey. Do you know there is no alcohol allowed up there. No wine, no sherry, nothing.”
“Really?” she asked me, looking shocked.
Or I would say “No, don’t go up there yet, Audrey. I’m going down there, so we’ll never see each other if you do that.”
I take credit for extending her stay on this earth through persuasive arguments such as these.
Audrey loved music. I have wonderful memories of driving her from Doncaster to our house on Sundays, listening to the Classic FM radio station. She was particularly fond of piano music. She was at our house one day when I decided to play a trick on her. I played the Rolling Stones’ CD “Exile on Main Street” at high volume. To our amazement she got up and danced vigorously by herself. “I really like this music,” she told me. “Who are those musicians?”
Neil was very fond of his Granny. He went with me to visit her and we walked around the block near her ‘hotel’ so that she could look at the gardens. She would admire the well-kept gardens and make scathing comments about the ones that had been neglected. In one garden there was a climbing rose with some beautiful roses high up in the rosebush. Neil stood on his toes, picked one of the roses and put it in her lapel.
She became uneasy. “You shouldn’t have done that, Neil. What would I say if somebody asks me where I got the rose from?”
“Just tell them the truth, Granny. Tell them your grandson gave it to you.”
“What a good idea,” she said, relieved.
At age ninety Audrey’s dementia worsened and she often became confused. We were driving through Eltham when she pointed at a side road going up a hill. “Alan and I used to live up that road,” she told me matter of factly.
“No, you never lived in Australia with Alan. You lived with him in England, remember?”
“Oh yes, we lived up there,” she said firmly. “What are the names of those people in whose house we lived up that road?”
“I’m not sure, Audrey.”
“Well, it’s a pity your memory is so bad, Tim!”
Audrey often surprised me with the things she came up with. At the dinner table she asked our daughter Laura about her future plans. “I might move in with my boyfriend later this year,” Laura said.
Audrey was taken aback. “But are you allowed to do that, Laura?” she asked.
Laura laughed. “Oh yes, Granny, all the young people do that these days.”
Audrey was quiet for a minute. Then she said, wistfully, “I wish I could have done that when I was young.”
The last thing that she ever said to us was when she had suddenly started laughing and Gill had asked her what it was that she had found so funny. “I’m just laughing because you are both potty.”
“Luckily you’re not potty, Audrey,” I replied.
“No,” she agreed, “I’m not potty.”
She was a terrific mother-in-law, but she was much more than that to me. She was also my very dear friend. Having passed on at the age of 91 she has left a sizable hole in our lives.
Thanks for all the fun times, Audrey Mountjoy. May you rest in peace.