We grew up together in the way that cousins do.
We sometimes visited her house, but I don’t remember them visiting ours.
Mostly, we met up once a year on Christmas night at our grandmother’s house in North Fitzroy, just down the road from the Fitzroy Cricket Ground and even closer to the Lord Newry Hotel, although we were way too young to see the inside.
An added ‘meet up’ bonus would be the numerous weddings and christenings that my family were famous for, but mostly it was Christmas night.
While the aunties would do their best to outdo each other with a staggering array of food including cream cakes that were probably shortening our lifespan, we young ones would play and talk.
There were two waves of cousins.
The slightly older ones and us slightly younger ones.
One Christmas night sticks out above the blur of all the others.
It was probably 1968, and we were huddled in the small front room of my grandma’s double fronted Italianate Victorian house which, legend had it, was originally built for a doctor in the 1880s.
My grandfather bought it for his new bride from the profits generated by two fruit and vegetable shops. The house had two concrete fountains in the front yard which we climbed on when we were a lot younger. I harboured a desire to restore these fountains to their nineteenth century working glory.
Sitting in that small front room us cousins talked about our hopes and dreams and the phenomenon that was the TV show ‘Laugh In’. I was off to Teacher’s College the next year, and I was full of excitement, and I’m sure I spoke about my ambition.
Therese was a couple of years behind me, and of all the cousins she was the only one to go into teaching as I had.
Unlike me, she stayed in the profession and, by all accounts [her’s included], she loved her job. I can imagine the children loving her as well.
As the aunties and uncles died off, the family ‘jungle drum’ went quiet. Family news no longer reached me. Therese’s mum died quite young, and I missed the news of her father’s passing. He was probably my favourite uncle, and this made me sad.
I made an effort and tracked her down earlier this year, and we exchanged letters.
Yes, letters; she was distrustful of the internet and preferred ‘snail mail’.
Her handwriting was impeccable, as you would expect from a lifetime of teaching children how to write.
Unfortunately, our correspondence petered out after a while, and I left it at that as I felt that she wanted her privacy.
I planned to try again sometime this year, and possibly arrange to meet up for coffee.
On the way to visit our grandchildren, my wife noticed an entry in the newsletter that she receives from her old secondary school.
She did not want to leave it until she got home, so she texted me.
Therese had died suddenly in early November.
An email to another cousin revealed that she had been dead for three days when they found her.
This created a lot of questions which will only be answered after a Coronial inquiry.
I guess I missed her funeral and I could not find any reference to it in the newspapers.
The ‘jungle drums’ don’t reach me anymore, so my relatives live their lives and deal with their triumphs and tragedies without my participation.
In my head, we are still young and still sitting in that little room at the end of the 1960s, with our whole lives in front of us.
Therese never married and I have no idea if she had any near misses.
She leaves behind a brother and a sister, and she is reunited with her mum and her dad and a sister who died when she was twenty-one.
Sleep well cus’, I remember you.