Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Never Forgotten...

Irene Meryl Curtis

22.6.1920 - 30.6.2007

My beautiful grandmother passed away on 30th June, 2007.

We will never forget what a wonderful strong woman she was.

This is a copy of her eulogy that I wrote for her funeral.

Irene Meryl Head was born in Meekatharra on 22 June 1920, the eldest child of Flossie Veronica and Edward Head. She was the devoted big sister to Mavis, Tom (known as Digger) and Fay.

Meryl’s childhood wasn’t always easy. The family moved around a lot working on mines, her father always building a new little house for them each time. The walls were lined with Hessian and white washed, the floor just dirt that her mother would sprinkle a little water over, and with time it would harden and shine. The typical Coolgardie safe sat in the corner, the legs in containers of water to stop the ants crawling into their food. Water was carried to the house in buckets. In winter, the children would chew chewing gum to put in the nail holes in the roof, to stop the rain from coming in. Even this house had the ‘designer touch’ though, Meryl and her brother and sister cut newspaper into designs for the cupboard shelves, and gum leaves were picked and put in a glass on the table. Meryl’s childhood days were still lots of fun, they would make up a picnic and walk far into the bush to pick everlastings, nights were gathered around the table playing cards with the adults.
Meryl and Mavis spent 2 yrs studying in a convent, when her father had an accident at work and lost 2 fingers. The family then moved to Kalgoorlie and Boulder.

When baby Fay was born at home, Meryl’s mother was very ill and the newborn was placed on Meryl’s chest to keep warm. She laid for hours with Fay snuggled up on her, and the next day was told she could name her and pick out the pram.

When Meryl was 13, the family packed up and moved to Laverton, where her father had purchased a mine. Meryl worked as a housemaid and waitress at the Laverton Hotel. She got ½ a day off day off a week, and a friend would drive her the 10 miles to her fathers mine to visit her family

When Meryl was 15, her mother fell ill, and was put into hospital. She quit her job at the hotel and went to work for the Dr’s family to be closer to her mother. That only lasted a week, and then she worked at a boarding house in Laverton. Two year old sister Fay went along with her to work. Sadly, her mother died and as Meryl’s father was away working, she took on the ‘mother’ role and looked after 13yr Mavis, 9yr old Digger and 2yr old Faye until her father eventually arrived to pick them up. He took them to a mining camp called Murrin Murrin. Another ‘little house’ was built. Meryland Mavis made a stove out of kerosene cans. It worked so well, that they could even cook scones in it!

When her father moved away for work, Meryl packed up the children and they moved back to Kalgoorlie, Meryl and Mavis worked as housemaids, taking little Faye with them each day. When Meryl became sick they went to Perth to stay with family, and were then separated. Meryl obtained a live in job at a shop and earnt 10 pounds a week. Then she worked as a nanny to 4 children in Mt Lawley. She moved with that family to a farm and was given a horse and began horseriding.

By the time she was 16, she was back in Perth working at the Monte Carlo Restaurant. This was the first time that she ever saw women drink and swear. Haven’t times changed!! It was here that she also met her best friend, Roma Curtis. They moved into a flat together and Roma took her home to introduce her to her brother Frank. 9 weeks later, on her 17th birthday, Frank asked her to the movies. They married only 8 months later in February 1938, with only Frank’s cousin May and Frank’s sister Amy attending, as everyone else said it would never last. Meryl always loved telling people that, and loved that they had been married for nearly 70 years!
Meryl and Frank moved into a rental and their first son, Malcolm Francis was born in August 1938. Frank worked at the bottle yard, owned by his family. Every Friday, Meryl, her mother in law Ethel and Frank’s sister Rita would walk down to the bottle-yard and pick up the mens’ wages. Three pound 10 a week was good money for those days! If they could afford it, Meryl and Frank would spend 1 shilling and sixpence at the movies and treat themselves to an icecream. A second son Terrence Edward was born in June 1940 he family moved to Subiaco and then Frank joined the army. Little Terrence became ill and passed away in Dec aged just 6 months. To keep busy and to help her get over the loss of her baby, Merle became a waitress in London Court.
When Frank’s family sold their share of the Red Castle Brewery, Frank and Merle bought 49 Acton Ave, Rivervale. Then a third son, Brian Raymond was born in April 1943 , followed by a daughter Veronica Irene in Dec 1944. When Frank came home after the war finished, he started an apprenticeship and became a carpenter. Meryl took in army ironing and made felt flowers for Woolworths.
Meryl never forgot her brother and sisters who she had been separated from, and finally tracked down her brother in an orphanage. He moved in with them, along with two cousins, Les and Tommy Head, Fay, the baby sister also moved in with the family. The Curtis house was always full of children and animals - including a ram called Wally, a horse called Red, even a baby kangaroo that ended up in the Perth Zoo.

Meryl worked as a nursing aid at St John’s in Belmont for some years and left there to work as a barmaid at the Broken Hill Hotel in Vic Pk. Whilst working there, she won one thousand pound in the lotteries, which was a lot of money in those days. The family decided to purchase a cafĂ© in Dalwallinu. It was a little quiet town and a small business, but it didn’t take long for word to spread of the wonderful home cooked meals available, and Meryl and Frank soon needed both Veronica and Ray and extra staff to help out. It was in Dalwallinu that Meryl first started playing golf and lawn bowls. She went out one day with Frank’s brother Tommy to play a round of golf. She asked him to pass her the 3 wood…….he did…….she swung……and he dropped! She had hit him in the head and had to take him to the hospital for stitches. Tommy said he would never play again, as the game was too dangerous!

After 5 years, they sold up and moved up north to Exmouth. Meryl and Frank lived in a caravan, sharing an outdoor shower and toilet with everyone else. Neither the toilet nor the shower had doors, and it wasn’t long before Meryl cut up an old bag, and nailed ½ of it to each one for privacy. She was fondly known from then on, as the carpenter lady!

From here, they decided to tow a caravan and travel around Australia . Meryl loved Queensland and all the fresh fruit.

Back to Exmouth to manage the caravan park for 2 yrs, and then back down to 49 Acton Ave.

Never without work, they soon moved to Coogee Beach and became managers of the park there. Meryl was still playing golf and started square dancing. In 1976, she danced for 3 days and nights at the Entertainment Centre, she also danced at the Royal Show and in Hyde Park.

Four years later, they were back up in Exmouth, and managing the Norcape Lodge Caravan Park.

After 2 heart attacks, Meryl and Frank retired to Rockingham, where Frank enjoyed daily walks along the beach and Meryl played bingo and caught the bus regularly to the casino.

2 ½ years ago, Meryl and Frank moved to Forrestfield to be closer to family. Here, she grew herbs in pots out the back, and loved her cottage garden out the front. She enjoyed giving us cooking lessons - no-one’s apple pie is as good as Nan’s! And the family Meals on Wheels Service was very much appreciated, but she still thought her cooking was better! Every time we make a quiche now, we always use her recipe, and remember how she called it a kish!.

Meryl spent years on handcrafts, always crocheting, sewing or knitting. She loved making outfits for dolls and the endless grand children and great grandchildren that came along. She was decades ahead of the recycling trend. She would spend hours cutting up plastic bags into strips and then crocheting them into hats. She was terribly disappointed when the bags became biodegradable, as she felt that she couldn’t sell them if they wouldn’t last forever!

She was a fantastic cook and could always make something out of nothing, even at short notice. She never cooked with a recipe, but everyone knew that they could always turn up at Nan’s and she would whip up something delicious.

Meryl loved her family, and truly believed that family is the most important thing that a person can have. She was much loved by her adoring husband, her 3 children, 11 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren and their families. She cherished every visit made to her, and loved to hear stories of what was happening in our lives. She never stopped saying how proud she was of her children and grandchildren and how lucky she was that she got to meet her great grandchildren.
Unfortunately, because my laptop was stolen a couple of months ago, I don't have any other photos scanned in of her at the moment.

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