Sunday, January 18, 2009


A couple of weeks before Christmas, we took the Primary children to a nearby nursing home to sing Christmas carols to the residents and just spread some general cheer. As we were singing and I gazed around the room at the dozens of sweet elderly residents gathered to listen to us, I couldn't help but let my mind wander to my own grandma, Joan Bates Perritt, suffering from dementia and in the hands of other kind and caring people at a nursing home in Australia. Just days before, Mom had called me with the news that Grandma had suddenly caught an infection and that the doctors said it would be just a matter of days before she was gone.  Mom and Dad immediately booked a flight down under while all I could do was call her and say a final goodbye while my aunt Diana held the phone to her ear. As we sang I felt Grandma close and the thousands of miles between us didn't quite seem so far.  As I drove home with my counselors and secretary in the Primary presidency, the phone rang....caller ID indicated it was Mom.  I knew what she was calling to tell me--and I was right.  Grandma was gone.
It was certainly a bittersweet moment...sweet peace that her ailing body was finally at rest and yet bitter pangs of homesickness for this wonderful woman who, though I hadn't been able to see her in years, had a profound impact on my life.  It was a strange feeling to realize that all 4 of my grandparents had now passed away.  I reluctantly accepted the fact that there was no way I'd be able to make the trip for her funeral.  However, my brother Ben made the last minute decision to go (like just a few hours before flying out!) so he took copious notes during the services so he could share them with me and my 2 sisters. Grandma's life and legacy was truly celebrated--Ben's notes give a glimpse into her faith and fortitude (and sometimes just her sheer bullheadishness!) they are:

One story Uncle Rob told was about Grandma as an 18 year old who desperately wanted to join the Air Force. Her mother wouldn't let her and since she couldn't enlist without parental permission until she was 21 she was stuck. So, one day she ran up to her mom and said that she was late and that she needed her to quickly sign her bus pass so she could get going. In a rush, her mom quickly signed the paper Grandma was holding. Grandma turned to her and said, "Thanks Mum, you just signed my Air Force enlistment papers". Apparently this earned Grandma a colorful reply from her mother (according to Mom, she called her a bloody b****).

Rob told another story in which Grandma put together a picnic lunch for the family and they headed out to the park. It started to rain, but instead of going home Grandma led them to a McDonalds. They all sat down at the tables in McDonalds and, to Rob's horror, Grandma began to unpack and distribute the sandwiches from the picnic basket.

Diana told the story of Grandma coming home from the grocery store and discovering that they had given her five cents too much in change. She headed back to the store to return it, while an exasperated Diana told her that it was just five cents and wasn't worth the trip. Grandma responded this way: "If I want to be justified in telling them when they shortchange me then I have to return the money when they give me too much". Later Mom would tell me how Grandma once discovered on her receipt that they had overcharged her and asked Mom to take the receipt back to the store. When Mom told the storekeeper that he had overcharged her, the storekeeper said, "If your mum says that we overcharged her, then we overcharged her" and gave her the money without further questions.

Craig told a hilarious story that took place when Grandma lived near his family in Gerringong. By that time, Grandma's mobility was limited so Craig helped her find a motorized buggy that she could ride on around town or in the supermarket. After some haggling with the bike shop, Craig brought home the buggy. They took it for a test drive, with Grandma riding on the buggy and Craig walking/running beside her to keep up. When they got into town Craig produced a skateboard that he had been carrying with him and told Grandma that he wanted her to come to the skate park with him. Craig had already hurt himself on two previous occasions on the skateboard and had been forbidden by his doctor from skateboarding anymore, so he told Grandma that she had to keep his secret. Craig hopped on his board and started skating on the half pipe when, lo and behold, he came down and snapped something in his leg. Doubled up in pain and unable to walk, Craig's only option was stand one-footed on his skateboard and hold on to Grandma's buggy as she negotiated the way back through the streets of Gerringong. Apparently Grandma wasn't keen on slowing down for pretty much anything, including driveways. The picture of a grown man standing on a skateboard being pulled along by Grandma in a buggy is enough to make me start laughing again.

As was a common theme throughout, Diana spoke of Grandma's thrift and how Grandma would buy second-hand clothes at the op-shops. When she was younger Diana hated it, especially because Grandma didn't seem to even mind crossing the line into buying second-hand bras. Of course now that Diana has her own family she loves second-hand clothes and one of her favorite activities is to wake up early to hit the second-hand tables and put together a good outfit with as little money as possible. From the podium, diana proudly declared to Grandma that her whole outfit only cost $13.51. She added that she does *not* cross the line.

Diana also spoke of being forced to do piano lessons. Grandma would place a wooden spoon at the end of the piano and say "I think it would be a good idea if you stayed and finished your piano practice, Diana."

In another story about thrift, Diana talked about how Grandma would send her to the chicken shop to buy up all the chicken carcasses. Diana would bring them home and Grandma would proceed to have her pick off any remaining chicken that was on the carcasses. They would then freeze that chicken and use it to make a wonderful chicken soup. Grandma certainly knew how to stretch a dollar.

Mike also talked about wooden spoons and how Grandma had a seemingly endless supply of them. Mike and co. would find the wooden spoons and hide them, or Grandma would break them (probably more on Mike than anyone is my guess) and yet there were always more to be found.

Mom gave a beautiful talk. She spoke of dressing Grandma and getting her ready for the funeral. She was applying some hand cream to Grandma's hands and she began thinking about all of the things those hands had done. She spoke of how those hands had loved, worked and served.

One of the stories that Mom didn't have time to tell in her talk was about the time that she was with Grandma and their keys got locked in the trunk of Grandma's car. This was pre-mobile-phones so she didn't have any way to contact anyone to come and help her. Grandma told Mom they should pray about the keys, to which idea Mom was both skeptical and a bit exasperated. Grandma went ahead with the idea and as soon as she finished the prayer Grandma looked over and saw a lady walking by. "Maybe that lady has a key that would fit our trunk" said Grandma. Of course Mom considered the insanity of that idea and must have been somewhat embarrassed when Grandma went ahead and yelled out to the lady to see if she would be willing to try her key in their trunk. The lady agreed and, miracle of miracles, it actually worked!

Barb told a story of Grandma's simple faith in prayer. She had hung the childrens' cloth nappies out on the clothesline to dry and then left to go to the store. While she was at the store it began to rain and, worried that the nappies were going to get wet and that she wouldn't have any to use when she got home, she offered a prayer that they would remain dry. When they got home from the store the entire house and property were wet from the rain, except for the clothesline and the nappies. Grandma was so headstrong, said Barb, that she could even seem to control the weather.

Barb also talked about Grandma's faith in paying tithing. Money was always tight for their family, of course, but at one particular time Grandma was faced with the choice between paying tithing and buying coats for her children. Though she didn't know how, she knew that somehow it would work out for her children if she paid her tithing. Soon after the Parker family came to the chapel with a bag full of coats that their children had grown out of. The coats in the bag were, of course, just the sizes that were needed for the children.

Because of the tight financial situation Grandma was always careful with money. Still, she was unfailingly generous whenever there was someone in need, putting on garage sales or helping others whenever they needed help.

Grandma never gossiped and always found the good in everyone. When one of her children would complain about a person being mean or rude Grandma would tell them that the person may have been going through a difficult time or experiencing something they couldn't understand. She always assumed the best about people.

Uncle Greg read excerpts from Elder Tyler's letter: 

Dear Christine, Barbara, Greg, Michael, Craig, Diana, and families

I was saddened but not completely surprised to receive word today of your mother’s and grandmother’s passing. When I spoke to several of you by telephone I was so emotional that I could not adequately express my feelings. Each time I tried to begin I could feel myself becoming unable to speak, so I appreciate the opportunity to write to you some of the special memories and spiritual experiences I had with your mother and grandmother.

When I was a twenty-year-old missionary in 1957-58, my companion and I were boarding in a home in Riverside Drive in Sans Souci and later across the punt in Holt Rd. in Taren Point. It was during that time that we knocked at your door in Frazer St. Your mother said she could not see us at that moment, and so we asked, as we usually did, if we could return at a more convenient time. She consented and said any other time would be good, but not right then so I said “How about in 15 minutes?” When she agreed we were unable to knock on any other doors since had we been invited in we could not have kept our appointment with your mother. So we crossed the street, sat on a rock at the water’s edge and waited for a long 15 minutes. Years later, when Sister Tyler and I were in Australia as couple missionaries, your mother told me that she felt she needed to change from the shorts she was wearing to more modest clothes. After changing she watched us through the window wondering what we would do and if we would return.

Why would a missionary suggest returning in 15 minutes? It made it impossible to do anything but wait. And why did she feel she needed to be better dressed to receive us? I am persuaded that the “15-minute suggestion” was not mine. And her desire to be more appropriately dressed was similarly directed. Many years later, again during the time Sister Tyler and I were serving as couple missionaries, we went together to the Sydney Temple, and she told almost everyone we met in the temple that day that she had “prayed us to her door.” She was indeed directed in her pursuit of the truth. Any missionary who had knocked at her door would have been well received. To have been there at that time has been one of the great blessings of my life.
During the time we were teaching the missionary discussions to your mother and grandmother, we had many spiritually uplifting experiences. One I remember, in particular, was an appointment we had one evening well after dark. We were returning from another activity on the electric bus that ran from Kogarah to the punt in San Souci. There was a small shelter at the punt bus stop, and after the bus had left, we went behind the shelter where it was shaded from the street lights and very dark, bowed in prayer, and pleaded that we might be directed as we taught that evening. Our prayers were answered and our discussion that evening was one I remember as being unusually spiritual. It was from that night, I believe, that your mother was determined to accept the gospel and be baptized.

We invited your father to join in the discussions with us, and though he always treated us with great kindness and respect, he required more time to accept the gospel message. On the day your mother was baptized the Greenwich Chapel had recently been finished and the new baptismal font at Greenwich was used for the baptism. You father drove us to Greenwich, but did not attend the baptismal service. He had other errands to attend to and returned after the service and drove us home. I have often marveled at your mother’s faith and courage on that day. She was all alone the day of her baptism, yet her faith was strong enough to sustain her. She then proceeded over the next several years to lead all her family into the church. Christine was baptized just a week or so before I returned home. You mother’s faithfulness in teaching her children the gospel and praying with them touched your father’s heart and about four year’s later he was baptized and became equally faithful. I received a letter from your mother telling me of his baptism and how excited she was. Not long after that I received another letter telling me that he had been called as a counselor in the Hurstville Branch Presidency (or bishopric; I’m not sure if the stake had been organized by then). I still remember a line from that letter. She said, “How proud I was of my Fred!”

Not long before the time I was scheduled to return home, your mother confided in me that she wanted to have more children, but, for reasons she kept private, felt that it was unlikely. There were then three—Christine, Barbara, and Greg. She asked if I would give her a priesthood blessing and bless her that she would be able to have additional children. It was, I have often thought, unusual that a mature mother of three would make such a deeply personal request of a young single kid like me. The memory of that experience has always been very sacred to me, and I have not often spoken about it. Her humble faith in the power of a priesthood blessing and the request that I give it honored me beyond anything I deserved. The births of Michael, Craig, and Diana followed; each of you owes your very life to your mother’s faith.

Sister Perritt visited us in Salt Lake City on two occasions—once with Greg when he came, as a Stake President, to General Conference, and once by herself while she had been visiting Christine. During the visit with Greg, she went, without a ticket, to each session of general conference and miraculously was given a ticket by one person and then another. It was also during that visit that we decided we would like to attend the Salt Lake Temple together. We set a time, but rescheduled because of some conflict. Then we set another time only to reschedule again. I don’t remember for certain how many times we re-scheduled, but when we finally got there, we were on a session with Elder Jorgensen who had been my companion when we first called on your mother. We had a marvelous visit together in the temple and later again in our home.

During her second visit to Salt Lake, we went to the top of the Church Office Building where there is an observation room where you can look down on Temple Square and out on Salt Lake City. The entrance and other auxiliary facilities at the Salt Lake Temple were being re-built and we had a bird’s-eye view of the construction project. At that time I was serving in the Utah State Legislature, and we went to the Capitol Building, just a couple of blocks from Temple Square, where I got to show her around the State Capitol.

While Fred was still alive, my parents visited Australia with a tour group. I had called and asked Bro. and Sis. Perritt if they might see them. They invited them to your home where they spent the evening singing and visiting with your family. It was the highlight of the tour, and the event they spoke about most often when they talked of their trip to Australia. They formed an immediate bond which lasted until they passed away.

The last time I visited with your mother and grandmother was in May, 2007 when Sister Tyler and I spent two to three weeks visiting our friends in Australia. She was living in Gerringong and we drove down for a most pleasant visit with her and Craig. I thought then that she was failing and it would likely be our last visit together. It was on the same trip that we spent a night in Greg and Sylvia’s home and another in Bob and Barbara’s home. (We got pretty good at sponging off friends.)

While Sister Tyler and I were serving as couple missionaries in Australia during 2003-2004, we had several opportunities to meet in family gatherings with the Perritts. Pres. Walker, our mission president, frequently told the young elders that if they could find just one Sister Perritt, what an impact that would have on the church in Australia in another generation.
We remember being there for you mother’s 80th birthday observance at the Balkham Hills Stake Center. Bob and Christine came from the U.S. I was impressed by the large number of friends who showed up to honor her. On another occasion we were invited to join the Perritts for a family dinner. The family by now was large indeed, and a family dinner had to be held in a church building. We sang together after dinner and then words were spoken and thanks given of which I could not possibly be worthy. Whenever we have contact with the Perritts, I feel I am enjoying the blessings promised in D&C 18:15-16. Except that I haven't had to die first.

We rejoice with you in the life and faith of Joan Perritt—a woman whose faith has wrought miraculous blessing for her family and friends. Your charge is to live worthy of the blessings that have come to you by her courageous and pioneering determination to accept and live the gospel. We bask with you in the glory of her life, and send our love again at the time of her death. It is at such times that the veil seems very thin and we often catch glimpses of things eternal. May you enjoy sacred memories of events surrounding her passing, and may your faith sustain you.

With all our love and respect. Elder and Sister Tyler

Ah, Grandma.  May I one day have the deep unwavering faith you had.  Your love for the Lord will live on for generations to come through the hundreds of us you shared it with...I promise that little Michael will come to know his Great Grandma Joan very well.