Today, my grandmother’s funeral. Below is the eulogy I gave.
Mary Leslie Maunsell, daughter of Beresford and Peggy, was born in Masterton on the 28th April 1919. By all accounts her early, rural life at Tinui and Rathkeale with her brother Jock and sisters Shelagh and Ann was very happy. She went to school at St Matthews and then onto Woodford House in Hawkes Bay. However when Granny was still at school, her mother, whom she was very close to, had an operation that went badly wrong and she tragically died, when Granny was 19.
A year or so later she met my grandfather Bob at a party. Granny was shy and apparently Bob came across her sitting quietly talking to a cat. He’d recently returned from reading law at Cambridge and she found him irresistible in his RNZAF uniform. One of the things Granny often talked about was that while Bob courted her, he would fly low over Rathkeale and drop flowers and bottles of French perfume onto the garden below.
They married in April 1941 and had three children Julian, Diana and Celia. They were married, for 64 years, until Bob passed away in 2003.
As we sat talking about Granny & Bob earlier this week, my aunt Celia said that they were so happy at the end. And that she came across them one day, sitting quietly side by side on a sofa, Bob gently stroking Granny’s hand.
Although this is not to say that they didn’t know exactly how to wind each other up. One of Bob’s favourite tricks to play on Granny was during the summertime when the doors were open. Granny would be in full gardening mode and Bob would press *23 (or whatever the code was) to get the phone to ring. He’d then go back to his chair and sit there grinning while Granny huffed and puffed her way up to the house.
While my grandmother had a basic education and led a simple life, without great adventures and grand achievements, she was far from a simple woman. Granny had a keen, inquisitive mind and she sought to understand the nature of human existence and experience. The bookshelves at Mariri Rd are full of books on meditation, psychology, bio-chemistry, yoga and health. Her faith was deep and she explored a number of religions.
Granny was a wonderful cook and her understanding of beautiful fresh ingredients has shaped my approach to food. She created a magnificent vegetable garden and while none of the family can remember her ever buying vegetables, most of us remember sneaking down and pulling scrumptious baby carrots out of the earth.
Granny was a gifted, soulful pianist and for as long as she could, she played everyday. She skied, was a champion golfer and a keen, if not intrepid, swimmer. It would be 10 degrees outside and there she’d be, in her bathing suit at Balina Bay, crouched down at the edge of the water, eyes closed as she splashed salty water on her face and inhaled the scent of the sea before she walked unhesitatingly into the ocean.
And yet the thing we all remember most about Granny, was her presence. Lovely, gracious, peaceful and wonderfully kind. As Simon, my uncle, says “With Mary there was never an awkward moment”. She was a very good conversationalist and utterly non-judgmental.
It seems to me, looking back over her life that while Granny may not have achieved remarkable things, she was a remarkable woman.
As we sat talking the other night, Celia told us that late in her life Granny spoke emphatically of a top secret mission she carried out in Egypt in her youth. Galloping on a white stallion out towards the pyramids. And while this is highly unlikely (although, I might add, that she was in Egypt for a week or so when she was 19) to me this image somehow evokes a vivid sense of Granny’s spirit. Beautiful, adventurous, whole-hearted.
One of the things she often said to her children and grandchildren was “close your eyes and imagine yourself surrounded by pure white light”. Remembering this over the last few days leads me to finish with a farewell blessing attributed appropriately, to both the Irish and Kundalini yoga…
Shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.