All ‘the girls’ meet after classes for coffee and cake to supplement the calories we may have worked off at the gym. I liken our coffee mornings to an equivalent of the women at the well in third world countries. Photos of new great grandchildren are passed around for the mandatory oohs and ahs. Notable aspects of various health issues are discussed: a dissemination of who has travelled recently to where, details published in the local paper are examined, opinions on politics, the odd ageing behaviour of husbands, hairdressers—and all the important little things in life are debated. And, of course, who is doing what in which U3A classes to which most of us belong.
I say, ‘the girls’, because we were once all young and beautiful and held down intelligent jobs and the more valuable roles in life of housewife and mother. Our ages range from ninety down to about mid-fifty. We were all at her funeral and, after, had a glass or two of something fortifying, or coffee (both for the emotional calories, naturally). I felt Annie’s gentle presence in the chair – right there beside me – and with us still.
In the church I had time to reflect on the new community of friends I have formed. I have been a widow for a long time and recently moved to this town after the horrors of the 2009 bushfires. Ensconced in a row of fifteen of my new friends, including the gym instructor, and paying tribute to one just passed was an overwhelming feeling. And a feeling of acceptance. The support of these people and their genuine friendship freely given, I think, is an unusual thing.
And maybe that is something that only exists in country towns because the small issues have to be addressed by everyone or the co-operative structure of the town’s community would collapse. Everyone is called on to contribute in some way even if it's a bowl of soup delivered to one who is ill or a bag of lemons for a cold. Well! That was an appropriate thought to have in the church. An epiphany perhaps.
Joining the U3A in my town has been the most rewarding experience. They are one of the largest rural groups of this kind and that, naturally, requires much coordination. I stand in awe of that. My group of local friends has expanded through U3A and it’s such a relief to know that there is a smile, empathy, or an intelligent conversation out there. And an organisation that I can contribute to, however humbly, that will recognise me. Brave new world for me. and the relationships within my community.
Walking down the street, which has only been my street for a few years, and having the privilege to say “hello” to more than a few is the warmest feeling for the ‘new lady in town’. Everyone has a need for recognition. My city children admonish me --- “Stay in that town Mum. You have tapped into a rare and beautiful quality in people that now barely exists elsewhere. Grow old gracefully with your new friends.”
In the background I can hear the priest saying something about “Sowing and reaping...”.
Today was Annie’s funeral. I never knew her well, she was ‘one of the girls’. And still will be in our memories. Mine especially. I have lived in picture-book and awe inspiring places before, but places do not replace interaction with people. It doesn't matter where you live as long as that connection with others is there. That’s what counts and is a true reality. I learned many things about myself and the world I live on on the day of Annie’s funeral. I have a renewed strength from her passing.
Shared with members of the ‘As Time Goes By’ class in May 2021.
Written by Judy some years ago, ‘A Day for Annie’ was submitted to a U3A writing competition, was equal winner and published in a collection of the stories from the competition.