The Funeral

Wendy and I were doing that left-right by dead-reckoning thing through the back streets as we worked our way across to Marion Road this morning, when I suddenly recognised the street we had entered. Thirty two years ago, a hearse left the Plympton Park church, heading directly away from the cemetery. It lead the cortege past the deceased person’s house, and we all slowed down in an act of tribute that remains one of my more poignant funeral memories.

The dear old woman had known she was dying, and was at peace about it as anyone can be. She’d told her Elder, with wry pleasure, that her last act on this earth would be “to give Andrew an easy funeral for his first one.”

When the day came, I received a breakfast phone call from the Elder. The family were all there. Could I come up? I raced up on my noisy old motor bike, and found that a couple of police, and the funeral directors, were still in attendance. The cop at the gate wouldn’t let me in. He went in and told the funeral director that some disreputable looking bloke was outside claiming to be the minister. Ian Milne, from Alfred James and Sons said, “Hairy bugger on a motorbike? Yeah, he's my Mum’s minster, too. You can let him in.”

Having a motor bike was sometimes a great advantage, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally a real pain in the neck. After my first visit to the weekly parish basketball and netball practice, the head coach told me, “Now that you’ve driven that noisy exhaust and your ponytail down between the church and the hall, you’ve got 100 kids ready to eat out of your hand.”

Then there was the pastoral visit to a parishioner, Ruth, who had just shown me to a seat in her lounge room when the phone rang. She was greeted by a flood of squawks from the handset. Ruth cut in, and said calmly, “ Mary, I’m fine, thank you. But my minister has just arrived. Can I call you back later, please?” She was too polite to say anything to me, but later, a mutual friend told me that “Mary” had rung up in a panic because she had just seen a bikie ride into Ruth’s carport.

Equally hilarious, after the event, was the time I joined Wendy and the kids, and our friend Alison, at Brighton to have tea on the beach. On the way home, I hit a bee which stung me right over the adam’s apple. I’ve not always had a good reaction to bee stings, so Wendy raced me up to Flinders Medical Centre. The doctor told me he figured I was ok, because if “you were going to have a bad reaction you’d be dead by now... But to play it safe, just take this which will hit any reaction on the head.”

Well, this antihistamine turned out not to be your average Zyrtec! I went to bed early, and when the alarm woke me for church, I felt like I was in stumbling through triple gravity, and in no condition to ride up to the church, let alone lead a service. The Elder on duty told me later that the congregation had been taking bets during the service about whether or not I’d fall asleep before the end!

She was also on duty the morning Adelaide had the heaviest rain squall I've ever experienced. The kind of rain where it’s almost dark, and you really, really, want to pull off to the side of the road, but are too afraid to, because someone might drive over the top of you from behind. I arrived in not the best humour, with my boots literally full of water. I squelched, sloshed, and dripped my way down the centre aisle to the vestry, not bothering even to remove my helmet.

In those day, I used to wear an alb. When I came out of the vestry, all robed up, with wet hair still dripping onto my back, she said, “Andrew, how is it that you can go into that vestry looking like Darth Vader, and five minutes later, you come out looking like Jesus Christ!?”

(Andrew Prior Feb 2022)

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