Twenty one years ago today, I received the dreaded news… my beloved Aunt Heather had passed away of cancer. I grieved so much, not just for her passing, but because I wasn’t able to be with her and her children at that time. Her children were grown up, her daughter with a family of her own, but my cousins and I have always been very close, as were my mother and my Aunt.. It was, and is, as if we were an extension of the one family.
Heather Crombie was born in Tamworth, NSW, on the 7th July, 1930, to Thomas Crombie and Juliet McQueen. She was their third child of four .. and the only daughter. She was very proud of her Scottish roots, her father having been born in Aberdeen, Scotland… her mother was born in St. Pancras, London. Heather and my mother, Peg (Margaret) met as girls in Dorrigo and went on to marry brothers, George and Vince Catsoulis.
Heather with her father
This was a relationship and friendship that was to last all their lives… no matter where they were living.
It wasn’t till the 1960’s that they were all living in the one city again. Heather and George had three children, sadly the first daughter died at birth.
They went on to have a daughter, Kris and a son, John. Kris was my youngest bridesmaid, John is my godson, so the ties are still there in somany ways.
John’s christening, Aunt Heather with baby John. Peg and Vince Catsoulis behind her and Uncle George to the left.
Heather became a widow in 1971, Uncle George passed the night before we brought our son home. He had been so excited that we were to have our first child. It broke my heart that he never got to meet him. I will always remember Aunt’s bravery and determination to do whatever she could to raise her still young children to have the best life she could possibly give them. She took on any and every job she could and devoted her life to their welfare, always smiling and always so welcoming. She was so proud that they both went to University and that they were making their own way in life. Her joy as they graduated, then when her daughter married and presented her with her first grandson was overwhelming…
When my own mother died in 1982, Heather grieved as if she were her sister, rather than sister in law.. I remember her coming up to me at the wake at my parent’s house and giving me the biggest hug and telling me that though she couldn’t replace my mother, she would always be there for me… and she was. We became even closer, if that was possible… I did have to laugh at times when she would talk about when we were girls in the depression years and I’d have to remind her that it was Mum, not me.
My memories bubble over with visions of picnics and long drives, of numerous family occasions, of the wonderful roast dinners, and apple pies, oh, those famous apple pies…never forgotten.
Memories of Aunt Heather and my husband spending hours here watching old movies. They didn’t care if they already knew the scripts off by heart, that only added to their fun. She loved the music of the 1940’s, she loved to garden, and to cook, she loved sewing and bingo.. and any outings that included family and/or friends. Her love of children was known to all and she would often stop a mother with a pram to admire the baby. Earlier memories of us all as we joined in cake decorating classes, spending as much time laughing as we did icing, are never far from the surface.
There is so much more to Aunt Heather, but today the tears flow, making it hard to focus, so I will leave that for another day. Rest in peace, Aunt, knowing that 21 years on, you are still so fondly remembered.
Eighty seven years ago today, the fourth child and the third daughter, Margaret, later to be known as Peg, was born to a young Dorrigo couple, Roy and Biddy (Bridget) Swadling. Roy was working in the saw mill and Biddy was caring for their young family.
Pat was five, Mary, also known as Molly, was three and a half and Betty (Elizabeth), was two. I’m not sure whether Pat had started at the convent at that time, but the rest were at home. In that year, the Great Depression began. I have often wondered just how the family managed, though it was difficult for most in those years. From what my mother told me, they were a happy family, despite Biddy’s indifferent health. Her sister, Molly (also Mary) was a frequent visitor and the two sisters were known for their lovely singing voices and their sense of humour… after all, they were Irish. I was fortunate enough to know Aunt Molly, how I loved her Irish brogue… she was always so kind to us as children and though we didn’t see her often, she filled a little of the role of our Irish grandmother whom we never got to meet.
Mum lost her mother when she just eleven, to TB.
Biddy left her young family just a few weeks short of her 41st birthday. Mum always thought that she, too, would die young – though she lived longer than her mother, passing away at just 51.
One of my favourite photos with Mum. I was about three, carefully examining the appliquéd leaves which were tan, on Mum’s white dress. This was taken in Aunt Mary’s yard. I always thought Mum looked beautiful in that dress.
If I say it quickly, it doesn’t feel like 35 years…but, as hard as it is to believe, it is…35 years since I kissed and held you for the very last time. The last words you spoke to me were “Thank you, Petal..”
Of course, I cried, as I am now… at the memory of losing you. I’d been praying that some miracle would happen and you would be able to stay, just a little longer, but as I sat by your bed, holding your hand, I could feel you leaving me, bit by bit. I was selfish enough to want you to see your grandchildren grow up.. there were three then, now there are five. I wanted you to fulfill your dream of having great grandchildren…
How they would have loved you, your kindness and gentleness, your selflessness, your generosity, your wonderful imagination… your insistence that we always had a fairy tree… as I do also. You have three great grandchildren, one step great grandchild and another great grandchild to be in a few months time. Of course, you just never know, there may be more to come… though I’m sure you know more about that than I do. As for great nieces and nephews, I haven’t even tried to count, let’s just say there are a lot of us..
You’d be so proud of your evergrowing family, they are good people.. and now Dad is with you, I’m sure you are both smiling down at us. Just as you said so many years ago, siblings and cousins are now the generations of the present and the future, sadly some are also of the past, but that is the way it has always been. We do our best to uphold your values and are always grateful for all you sacrificed for us. It’s only now that we have really come to know, or think we do, just how much that was.
It is so strange to realise that I have now had longer without you than with you.. but only your physical presence, as there isn’t a day that goes by, that I don’t think of you or remember something you did or said.
You had been sleeping for so long and my tears flowed freely as your breath became more laboured. You struggled so hard to stay, I knew I had to let you go. “Please Lord, if there is no way she can stay, please let her be at peace with you Lord..” You opened your eyes, just for a moment and smiled.. somehow you knew my silent prayer.
How we miss you, Aunt Mary.. and your selfless caring for all the family, especially your mother.
I miss our long chats, our laughter, and the walking out to Nona’s, sometimes picking wildflowers along the way. I loved calling in to your place after school, even for piano practice.
The hardest part of leaving my home town was leaving you, something I know my parents felt as well. You were my confidante, my go between when I was a teenager railing against my Dad’s strict rules. It was you who taught me to cook all manner of things, and to crochet… wish I’d had more lessons for that.
It was you who stayed with my Dad and younger brother, dropping everything to come interstate to look after your youngest sibling when my mother died. You made sure they ate and rested, the little they could, when all around them was turned upside down.
I know I thanked you for all over time, but it would never be enough. Much love to you, Aunt, I am so grateful that you were with us for as long as you were.
You could say that I really struck it lucky when my parents chose my godfather.. Dad’s oldest brother was one of the gentlest and kindest men I have known. Harry Catsoulis was born 106 years ago today, on the 16th October, 1910, ‘under canvas’ at Whiporie, out from Casino, NSW. He was the eldest of eleven children of Theo Catsoulis and Chrisanthe (Coroneo), nine of whom survived to adulthood.
Peter Tscilas wrote in his book, Lismore Greeks, the following…
Casino has the distinction as the spot chosen by Harry Catsoulis, the son of Theo Harry and Chrysanthi (nee Coroneo), to pop into the world in 1910, probably making him the first Kytherian-Australian on the north coast. Theodore and Chrysanthi Catsoulis were dairy farmers somewhere along Camira Creek, Whiporie, down along the Grafton road.
I have written a little about his birth in Bush Symphony. The young family stayed on the land for a while before moving to Bellingen where his father, Theo, was to take over a cafe initially in partnership with his cousin, Michael Catsoulis. When Michael went to fight in the Balkan War, Theo took over the cafe, however the call of the land was too strong.
After several years, they then moved to Aberdeen, NSW, where they grew small crops. before moving to Urunga in 1927. The family now had nine children, with one still birth and one son passing as an infant of just 13 months. He rests in Scone Cemetery.
Harry, who was then 17, helped clear the land in Urunga and also helped his father to build the house.Together with his father and brothers, Harry farmed for almost 30 years.
My early memories of Uncle Harry centre around music. Nothing could cause more excitement than his old wind up gramaphone which had a large horn and played cylinders. He delighted entertaining the family back in those early years at my grandparent’s house as much as in the later ones.
Harry had a great love of family, and never missed a family gathering.
Siblings, Mary Walsh (nee Catsoulis) and Harry Me and my proud godfather
He also loved travel and spoke often of his favourite trip, that to Hawaii. From his very first holiday there, he fell in love with Hawaiian shirts and they were part of his wardrobe at many family gatherings.
He also loved his cars, from his early Anglia to his last one, a Cadillac, which still belongs to the family.
Though Uncle Harry never married, he was the very proud godfather of both my children as well as me. I can still see his shy smile when we asked him if he would do us the honour, first with our son, then with our daughter. He spoilt them as he had done me, not with a lot of things, but with just a few special items.
It was Uncle Harry who gave me my first watch when I was 13 years old. He also gave me my first ‘grown up’ necklace around the same age, though that was not without a small drama. He and Dad were always playing tricks on us, a Catsoulis trait. So it was with slightly more than a little hesitation that I refused to turn around and close my eyes when Dad said Uncle Harry had something for me. I’d been caught before, the last time was a frog down my back. They were both insistent, I was too, but in a negative way, however eventually they persuaded me… and then I felt so embarrassed, as my godfather placed a beautiful necklace around my neck. Even though it was too old for me at the time, I did appreciate it and felt very upset for not trusting them. That didn’t last long, Uncle Harry yelled ‘catch’ a little while later and I caught.. a slimy fish tail.
Harry was always adding to his stereo equipment and delighted in showing off his latest acquisition. My husband and he would spend hours talking about music, playing new records and going through whatever the latest ‘new’ thing was that was becoming available.
My godfather was a very kind and loving person, always a hard worker and always welcoming. In later years, his brother, Con, lived with him. You never left that place without armfuls of produce, often plants and flowers as well. Uncle Harry always loved red roses, and either he would share some of his with me, or I would take some of mine to him. When he died on the 18th November, 1989, I knew what I wanted to do.
After his funeral, I went back to the cemetery and covered his grave with red roses and rosepetals..it was the least I could do.
He rests in Mt. Gravatt Lawn Cemetery, along with his brother, Con, with whom he shared a home for many years. It is only fitting that they share their last resting place.
Postscript: I chose the title because it was an oft used saying within the family, somehow it just seemed the right choice. To my much loved godfather, Uncle Harry, you are never far from my thoughts… especially today, on what would have been your 106th birthday.
David Catsoulis was born on 10th October, 1917, at home, in Aberdeen, NSW. He was the 6th child and 4th son to Theodore Haralambos Catsoulis and ( Chrisanthe ), both from Potamos, Kythera, Greece. The family moved to Urunga in 1927. Dave, by then a 10 year old, was known to love fishing with his father and siblings. It was very convenient that their property was just across the road from what was then called a lake, now a lagoon. I have also been told that he was a crack shot with an air rifle, adding the occasional duck or rabbit to the family dinner table.
As with most farming families, the boys helped with many chores around the farm, learning the value of planting to the seasons at a very young age.
My memories of my Uncle Dave are of a kind and generous and very tall man, like my father, with a ready smile. One time that always comes to mind is of him being at my Mother’s 21st, how we all crowded into that tiny place, I’ve no idea. As young as I was, I can ‘see’ him coming in the door with a huge smile and a large bunch of flowers. Strangely enough, they were very much like the flowers my grandmother had in her garden.
It was Uncle Dave who always managed to drop the last watermelon when we were all at the farm loading them. Of course, there was no sense in wasting it. He was also the Uncle who sometimes had a couple of small white paper bags filled with lollies in his pocket for two very appreciative young children, a rare treat. As much as I loved seeing him then, a few years earlier I wasn’t too keen, when he and my grandfather decided it would be a good idea to pierce my ears. My horrified screams brought my Mother running, just as they were heating the needle. It would have been their ears burning for some time after my Mum had finished with them.
When we first moved interstate, we stayed with Uncle Dave and Uncle Harry, who were then running the Oxley Hotel. I loved it, the history… it had been built around 1895 and had been a Cobb & Co stop, and the space. I was so excited by the high ceilings, the huge room which had been a dining room for weary travellers, but then housed only a piano and a few chairs, with one small table.. and of course, the beautiful timber throughout. The staircase was wonderful and was highly polished as was the bar. We children thought we were very grand sitting on a high stool at the bar, once it was closed, cleaned and polished, having a sarsaparilla. We were sometimes even treated to a small pack of Eta salted peanuts..nothing ever matched those.
The new hotel, built around the late 60’s ( and since replaced yet again) was all bricks and tiles and lacked the character of the old. I even missed the downward sloping verandahs from the old hotel, which were made even scarier to walk on by the tales told by Uncle Dave of children slipping off. There was no other access to the rooms we were staying in, so we had to use them, though we did stay very close to the wall.
Our much loved Uncle Dave gave us another Aunt, Thea, when they married in 1960..in the Greek Orthodox Church, West End. My brother and I got to hold the candles, a great honour which gave us a front row seat to their beautiful wedding. Their three sons were added to our great collection of cousins..
I have turned just a small number of pages in Uncle Dave’s Book of Life.. Uncle Dave left us on the 13th July, 2005.
On this, which would have been his 99th birthday, I remember him fondly as a warm and welcoming family man, very much missed by many…not a bad epitaph for any man.
Aunt Thea & Uncle Dave
Dave is the tall boy with tilted head, second from the right
Five of the brothers together ..Sim, Dave, Harry, Vince, Con
Cousins.. Dave Catsoulis, David Catsoulis and his brother Charles..
Siblings Harry, Dave, Sim, Vince, Mary in soft blue and Nita..
N.B. As these photos show in random, the captions will be out of order at times.