A note to my readers:
[For updates: please visit http://rowlandcroucher.blogspot.com/]
How does a book get written? Mostly little by little, concept after concept, in bits and pieces over many days, months, or even years
You are now about to witness the ongoing process of my writing an autobiography. Some of it will be messy – headings, jottings, ideas that may not make much sense (yet!). A paragraph or two will appear each few days, or weeks. If I’m on holidays or I’ve taken a week off from seeing people to write, you might have to suffer large chunks!
*** Each new addition will have a *** to the left of it!
I’m doing this, frankly, for my benefit. I want to reflect on my past, my present, and, yes, my future. If you have a reason to take this journey with me (I was nearly going to say, ‘If you have nothing better to do!’) you’re welcome. I hope some of my learnings might be helpful to you. Was it Confucius who said ‘The wise person learns from others’ mistakes before they make their own’?
Three or four Christmases ago I buried my father. My two brothers asked if I – the professional clergyperson – would offer the eulogy at his funeral. That was a difficult ask, because, well, I didn’t know my father. Never had. When I was a young teenager I despised him. I would be reading a book a day back then, and I would occasionally be silly enough to ask him a question – only to be told ‘Get your head out of those books, Rowland, they’re giving you wrong ideas!’ As a mid-teen (fortunately) I made a conscious decision to forgive him, and accept him, even if he was the most uncreative, boring person I knew. Occasionally since then I tried to get close to him, especially when in his 60s he had a psychotic breakdown, but, no, he responded with ‘Don’t ask those personal questions, Rowland.’
Now what are fathers for? Role-models about how to solve problems and take responsibility, initiators into manhood, leaders and providers, yes, yes, yes. When I was preparing the eulogy, and with a blank page in front of me after many hours of thinking about him, I phoned some of his old friends. ‘What would you say?’ I asked them. Their consensus: ‘Well, to be honest Rowland, your dad probably lived the last sixty years of his life without welcoming a new idea. He got the same train from Mortdale or Oatley to the city (of Sydney) every day, moved paper across the face of the earth for the government, and got the same train home again. He didn’t have to think on his job, or in our church (a small Brethren assembly – more of that later). But one thing you can say about him: he was predictable, yes, but you could also call it faithful.
Now that was an ‘aha’ experience for me. In the wash-up of a person’s life, someone who was supposed to be your mentor – what would you prefer him to be, if you had to make the tough choice: brilliant, or faithful? You can find brilliance anywhere, but faithfulness? I am now deeply grateful for my father’s life, even though I can’t remember ever exchanging a meaningful sentence about anything. He has modeled a faithful life, and I too am a disciplined person as a direct result of his influence.
I’ve told a few people and a few conferences that I’ve never really felt I had anything to grieve about since my father died. I have never shed a tear for him, nor felt inclined to. That has been a liberating thing for many who heard me say it: and for me, too, I guess.
I was born to a godly Plymouth Brethren couple in the 1930s. As a child I remember World War 2 air-raid sirens; catching (and killing, sadly) blue-tongued lizards; wandering away from home and getting thrashed with a military belt when I returned; a schoolboy friend riding his bicycle downhill out of control and into a bus. At Mortdale Primary School I remember watching an amazing athlete – Reg Gasnier – excel at any sport he chose (he later became Australia’s best-ever rugby league centre); the Gould League of Bird Lovers’ group practising their bird-calls (they won State competitions); being milk monitor and drinking up to seven cups of milk every day over a couple of years: I’ve never broken a bone, despite many sporting adventures! And I read all the Biggles, William, Deerfoot and R.M.Ballantyne books I could get hold of. I learned to play the piano, winning several awards until I reached ‘sixth grade’ by the age of 12. Whenever I hear Chopin’s Military Polonaise or Paderewski’s Minuet I remember with delight the joy of making piano-music.
Books have always been a special part of my life. A boyhood friend in our Assembly, David Clines, now a professor of Old Testament in a British University, was a great reader, as was his father. They inculcated a love for reading and a thirst for knowledge which has been with me all my life. David was also probably the only friend I ever had with whom I could exchange ideas uninhibitedly. My father had about 100 books, I think, mainly by old Brethren authors (like C.A.C., C.H.M., J.N.Darby, and William Kelly).
I read today of the trial of a pedophile (who called himself a ‘hebephile’). It reminded me of Frank Beckman from our street who lived with his elderly mother, taught us to collect junk, and who took my brother Graham and me on long trips, and told us suggestive stories.. We could easily have been victims of a pedophile’s abuse. He later committed suicide.
MEMORIES OF MY MOTHER
(5 September 2001) Last week my mother turned 90. We gathered together some relatives and friends from the Brethren Chapel where our family worshipped during our childhood, and celebrated there last Saturday afternoon. Here’s an expanded edition of the eulogy I gave on that occasion.
Note: This version is for more universal consumption, and is being written as part of my memoirs. Obviously, some of this was not appropriate to share on that occasion.
Update (17 December 2002): My mother passed away last week. Yesterday Jan and I with our three daughters Karen, Amanda and Lindy returned from Sydney, where with about 70 others we had a wonderful celebration of her life. Here’s one tribute, from Brethren Assembly elder Ray Cooke.
Three old mothers are sitting on a park bench in Miami Beach talking about how much their sons love them.
Sadie says, “You know the Chagall painting hanging in my living room? My son, Arnold, bought that for me for my 75th birthday. What a good boy he is and how much he loves his mother.”
Minnie says, “You call that love? You know the Eldorado Cadillac I just got for Mother’s Day? That’s from my son Bernie. What a doll.”
Shirley says, “That’s nothing. You know my son Stanley? He’s in analysis with a psychoanalyst on Park Ave. Five sessions a week. And what does he talk about? Me.”
It’s good to be back in the Oatley Gospel Chapel. My roots are in these suburbs. Humans have a special connectedness to the environs of their childhood.
We’re here to celebrate 90 years of good living by a very special lady.
My mother was called ‘Sadie’ most of her life, but was born Sabina Alice McKenzie, at Lilyfield, Sydney, on the 29th August, 1911, the third of seven girls. She met my father, Albert Reginald Croucher at a Christian camp at Wyee on the central north coast of New South Wales, then conducted a courtship where they met regularly at the corner of Bay and Cameron Streets, Rockdale, Sydney. (Hence the middle name – Cameron – for their firstborn).
(Mum and Dad were married on 15/2/36. Dad died on 27/12/ 94. Therefore they were married 58 nearly 59 years.)
‘Motherhood’ is a universal cliche for unconditional love and goodness. Mothers, more than anyone else in the human race, mean well. They want the best for us. And they know exactly what’s best for us, because they spent countless hours thinking about it, even before we were born.
On our website, there’s over 1,000 funny stories. But not many jokes about mothers. Motherhood, apparently, isn’t very funny, compared to other human roles and predicaments!
When I was last in this chapel I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. I said then that I did not really know my father – maybe no-one did, including himself (which may be why he suffered a psychotic breakdown for several years). But I said the dominant Christian characteristic of my father was his faithfulness.
My father and mother were married for 57 (?) years. Our family was averagely happy (and in material terms well-provided-for). I can remember a bit of niggling here and there between my parents, but only one row that I would put into the category of ‘spectacular’. My father came home from working all day on ‘the block’ (our property in Louisa Street Oatley) and he complained when Mum had no meat for his dinner. They raged at each other and my mother collapsed crying, whereupon my father picked her up and carried her on to a sofa.
Socially, all our friends were from ‘the Assemblies’. The Goss family (four girls! and a son) were the closest. Heather Goss is one of the most amazing Christian saints I’ve known. She still ‘teaches Scripture’ to half a dozen classes a week – and she’s 88!
My mother was the stronger of my two parents – intellectually (though her knowledge about many things was minimal, and many of her opinions uninformed) and emotionally. Like most over-mothered / under-fathered males my emotional journey, negatively, has been away from dominant women. I’ve only had one female spiritual director, and the moment she got ‘directive’ was the moment to leave that encounter. I recently attended a conference where we formed ‘response groups’. There were no appointed leaders or suggested processes, so it was ‘survival of the fittest’, at least in our group. A dominant (though smiling and quietly-spoken) middle-aged female sort of took charge, suggested protocols like no one speaking twice until everyone had spoken once, etc. This man-hating angry feminist began one session by responding to one male’s input by saying ‘I don’t think we need to hear any more of this…’ with which another female agreed. And she didn’t abide by her own suggested protocols: in one session she had (by my count) seven inputs to four others’ one. Argggh!!! I found a reason after that to avoid attending the group. Life’s too short…
Back to mum: the dominant character trait of my mother was and is her goodness.
She was a good woman. Emphasis, first, on ‘woman': she was somewhat ambivalent about males: they were an enigma/mystery to her (no wonder: she had six sisters and no brothers). ‘Boys!’ she would tsck! tsck! to the three of us. ‘You’re just like your father’ was not usually said as a compliment. ‘Men get the best end of the stick’ she said often. As I said, in her marriage to Reg she was undoubtedly the stronger personality – and probably got her way more often than vice versa. (Certainly most of the put-downs came from her direction.). He was probably frustrated sexually: sex was only for producing babies she once sagely told my then-wife-to-be!
But she was a good parent. We knew she loved us. As a high-schooler I remember her anxious tears when the train from the city was an hour late. She was there when I came home from school – right through Primary School years (common back then, unusual now). She forced me to sit at the piano for an hour to practice every day for many years. (The old fashioned chiming clock sat on the piano, and the minute hand would often be mysteriously encouraged to move ahead to the end of the hour.. But as there was no other clock to check the time with, I think my manipulations of time were never discovered).
One of the most important sagas in our family history was the time Graham was sent to buy 2lbs of sausages, but when he got home and they were weighed, mum said the butcher had not given him the correct amount. She probably suspected that he had sucked the innards out of several sausages on the way home. But she sent him back to the butcher’s to complain. We can’t remember the outcome of that episode.
One of our parents’ favourite texts was ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it!’ That was their justification for corporal punishment. (The ultimate weapon was my father’s ‘military belt': we never told him that because its leather was wider it hurt less!).
She was an old-fashioned parent, in some ways. Whenever I have diarrhoea I think of her enemas, glauber salts, castor oil, and senna powder (yuck!).
My mother bequeathed some important slogans to us. If we were looking for something which was in front of us, she would say ‘If it had teeth it would bite you.’ Or if we lost something: ‘You’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on!’ We had to stay out of draughts, ‘cos we might catch a cold, which might develop into pneumonia and we might die.
She was a good cook. I remember fondly the rhubarb pies, and the bread-and-butter puddings. We also had foods we don’t eat any more – like bread and dripping, and tripe, and lambs’ brains, and stewed rabbit.
From my brother Graham:
“A few reminiscences that come to mind concerning Mum are:
- Her favourite quotation “You wait till your father gets home!” You’ll recall Mum’s bruising easily and punishment was generally Dad’s problem.
- Her favourite authority was “Professor Kirk”. Whenever a remedy was needed Professor Kirk’s book came off the shelf.
- Usually castor oil for stomach upsets and cod liver oil for coughs. I still don’t know why we had to undergo the weekly glauber salts / senna ritual!!
- Her favourite pastime – mending socks mainly but elbows of jumpers sometimes with that little wooden thing that looks like a mushroom.
- Her favourite afternoon chore – making bread and dripping sandwiches for when we came home from school.
- Her hardest task – trying to get us to help her weed the gardens and lawns.
- One of her best friends – Mrs Smart – the Salvation Army lady who made clothes for you, Rowland, which were later passed on to me and finally to David. They were that good.”
My mother was a good money-manager. They had two mortgages when we lived at Mortdale, and no car, no radio (and no pets!). One reason we had no radio was because it was an instrument of the devil – who was ‘the prince of the power of the air’.
We got pocket-money for collecting horse-manure to fertilize our garden (sixpence per billy-cart full). But when I qualified to enter a prestigious and selective high school, Sydney Boys’ High, her pride knew no bounds. She took me to David Jones’ store in the city (of Sydney) to buy the whole recommended school uniform (some of it – like the school hat – I don’t think I ever wore!).
She worked as a legal secretary, at ‘Reed, Hanigan and Turner’s’ for many years after her three boys all went to school. She worked hard to provide the educational opportunities she felt deprived of.
Above all, my mother was a good Christian.
My earliest memory was her singing old-time hymns while doing the housework: I was in the sun-room of our home in Broughton Street in the middle-class Sydney suburb of Mortdale, and I can still see the sunbeams coming through the window.
She was an old-fashioned Christian. If you enjoyed doing something on Sundays there was probably something wrong with it. Sport was not encouraged (‘Bodily exercise profiteth little.’).
My mother was the one who instilled a sense of ‘good morals’ in me – mainly motivated by the prospect of facing God’s judgment. Her favorite text: ‘Thou God seest me’. She made me sing a little song whenever I was caught telling a lie: ‘Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true; Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true; There’s a race that I must run, there are victories to be won; Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.’
This morning on the Irish Jesuit prayer site (http://www.jesuit.ie/prayer/ej010820.htm) this was the Scripture reading (from Matthew 19: 16-22): Then someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
We three sons want to honour her. She was a good mother. She’s a good woman. And a very good Christian.