To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. Thomas Campbell
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven- A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. Ecclesiastes 3:2
The second day of the new year, bittersweet for me as I welcomed friends Tanja and Andrea visiting from Europe and farewelled another ‘European’ and former member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group at the celebration of the life of Tonie Corcoran, who died peacefully on December 29th 2014, after a long struggle with vascular dementia, a disease especially cruel to a talented wordsmith and storyteller.
The quotes above sum up many feelings about Tonie expressed at the celebration of ‘A Wonderful Life’. I have my own special memories of this engaging lady who attended our writing group for several years (2003-2008) and contributed to two of our anthologies. I also knew Tonie from the Union of Australian Women, and through my friendship with her step-daughter Ann Corcoran, who was a much respected and hard working local member of federal parliament.
The family has given me permission to showcase Tonie’s two delightfully evocative pieces. In our third anthology, Up The Creek, with a pen (2003), Tonie said in her bio:
‘Although at age twelve I self-published The Illustrated Chronicle of a Raindrop’s Amazing Odyssey and sold all nine copies, I never saw myself as a writer. Yet I have left a paper trail of jottings, scribblings, thoughts and sayings, and hundreds of letters, all along the road of my life. Words move me. And save me when the going gets rough. I came to this country from another culture and another language. And also from another time. With my writing I would like to give my Australian children and their children a glimpse into that other world, which is my world and inescapably also theirs.’
One of Tonie’s daughters spoke about her mother’s love of words and stories, expressing gratitude that Tonie had taken the time to join the writer’s group and record some of them. And indeed when I read Tonie’s words again I can hear her voice, picture her sitting around the table in the story circle as we workshop, the memory of a small part of her well-spent life still vivid. The flesh may disappear, but the record of a life in words and pictures remains to be appreciated by current and future generations.
Tonie grew up in Switzerland between the two world wars. She studied and worked in the capital city, Berne, but loved the Alps, where she rock climbed, tramped and skied. In 1950, she came to Australia with her first husband, and taught languages (German and French) for many years, within the public and private system, at local secondary schools. Her fascination with words went hand-in-hand with a serious interest in Australian culture and an appreciation of the Australian landscape. She believed one could not be understood without the other.
This philosophy contributed to her being an excellent language teacher, exhorting students to immerse themselves in the culture of the language – a method that a granddaughter acknowledged enabled her to be fluent in French and a successful linguist to make her grandmother proud.
As well as leaving behind a large loving blended family and written words, Tonie also leaves an array of looms and craft items from years of spinning, weaving, knitting, and sewing. Tonie so devoted and expert in these crafts that a son reminisced how as a teenager going on one of the many family skiing holidays, he had to draw the line at knitted underpants, but every other item he wore his mother insisted on making!
Toni’s cooking talents also praised, especially cooking seasonal traditional recipes from Europe. A daughter recalled how financially difficult the early days in Australia would have been for new migrants, but not as tough as the life Tonie had experienced during the war years. ‘We had a ration of a quarter of an ounce of butter to last a month,’ Tonie chastised as her daughter put that and more on her morning toast. Any anger from the observation lost as it triggered a story of Tonie’s war years working on a farm in Switzerland, and later in the Alps with refugee French children saved from the German occupation. Stories of a life her children, born in 1950s Australia, only imagined with the magic of Tonie’s words.
Ann recalled the happiness Tonie had given her father Bob through their 39 years of marriage and the pleasure of witnessing Tonie’s gardening knowledge and recognition of rare flowers and herbs – a knowledge she was modest about possessing, but dated back to years studying homeopathy in Switzerland.
A lover of classical music and the opera, the musical tributes her family chose to welcome and farewell and to accompany a slide montage of Tonie’s full and fruitful life included: Suite popular Brazileira by Villa Lobos, Suite for solo Cello no 1 in G by Johann Sebastian Bach, Piano Concerto no 5 – The Emperor by Beethoven, Handel’s Water Music and the glorious Serenade #13 in G by Mozart.
The life given us by nature is short, but the memory of a life well spent is eternal. Cicero
The ceremony was another reminder for us all to record our stories and leave the legacy of words we want people to remember.