This week my family and I bade farewell to our last surviving aunt. All the older generation on both my mother’s side and my father’s side have long ago departed this world.
Lit was the last woman standing.
What a woman she was too! Straight talking, honest, down-to-earth, funny, caring and compassionate with a ready smile as she offered a cup of tea to anyone calling in. Strong milky tea.
I remember that tea. I have never liked milk in my tea, but when it came to Lit’s strong milky tea, it seemed to have a different taste altogether. Perhaps it was the company, the ready smile and the loving pat on the hand that went with the cup of tea that made the difference.
Lit was the second youngest daughter of eight, with three big brothers to protect her. Lit didn’t need protecting though as she could have downed any man with a punch to the nose and probably would have enjoyed doing it too. A sharp shooter of words, and also with a rifle, she rarely missed her target.
Bernice Esme Schafer married John Eugene McGowan Lutton in 1948 aged 21. My sisters were the flower girls, aged about 8 and 6 – I wasn’t born yet.
My aunt was always known as Lit and my uncle was always Jack. He called her Sal or Sally and she called him Jacky. They lived and worked on his parents’ farm about 10 miles from my Grandfather’s property Boongara. Michael was born a couple of years later, then their blonde daughter Rae came along to make the ‘pigeon pair’ for Lit who was delighted.
By the time Mike was about 13 or 14, Kevin John came along…a cute little blonde boy with the longest black eyelashes I have ever seen.
When Kevin was two years old, Lit was pregnant with Rodney. During that pregnancy, Jack was killed on the railway line near Calliope about 15 miles out of Gladstone, our home town.
Kevin delivered the eulogy and he did very well. He added a lot of humour which was appreciated by all who attended. He told of the story related to him by his mother when he was about 10yrs of age. Shortly after their marriage, Jack was well known in the Mt Larcom district as the person to have your rifles re-set and cleaned by. He had been a sniper in the war, situated in New Guinea defending our country and homes from the Japs.
One of the nearby farmers came to see Jack with his rifle that he needed the sites to be straightened and re-set. Jack had a target board set up for testing his handiwork, and although it was milking time at the dairy, Jack diligently set about the task of making the rifle shoot straight again.
He handed the rifle to the farmer and told him to shoot at the target – he did and missed the target by miles. Jack set about on the rifle again. This happened another 5 or 6 times and by then Lit was fuming. They had cows waiting to be milked and the day wasn’t getting any younger. Finally in desperation, when Jack handed the rifle to the farmer to try for the umpteenth time, Lit snatched the rifle from them and said, ‘Here, give me a bloody go!’
She fired and hit the target on the bulls-eye. She fired a second time and again spot on. With a small smile and a shrug of her shoulders she handed the rifle to the farmer and said, ‘It’s not the rifle, it’s the bloody user!’
This was very typical of Lit. She would tell you straight what she thought and had no time for messing about or wasting time. A brilliant self taught pianist, she like her sisters, had a beautiful voice – they were all often asked to sing at weddings, funerals etc. My mother and Lit could yodel better than any country and western artist or Swiss yodeler.
Lit was always ready to get into mischief for the sake of fun, or to try out things others her age wouldn’t contemplate. At the grand age of 83 she told a friend of hers she had always wanted a ride on the back of a Harley Motorbike. This friend’s son-in-law happened to have a Harley, so he took her off on the bike for a good long spin. Lit loved it. Her friends had this photo enlarged and it hung on her wall to the day of her passing.
I will miss her terribly. My aunts were all like second mothers to me especially after my mother died so young. I am so grateful that I was able to be present at the time of her death on 19th December 2014, and had the chance to say my goodbyes to a much loved, cherished and treasured aunt.
R.I.P. Bernice Esme (Lit) Schafer – Lutton.