Many of you may have heard me mention Graham Long at the Wayside Chapel. I hold him in high regard. He has recently retired. But I was reminded of him yesterday by Kate, my estranged daughter, who confused him with his predecessor, Ted Noffs, the founder of Wayside. This, in turn, reminded me of my mother who once had a cup of tea with Ted. So this is for Kate.
My parents, in their twilight years, established a tradition of dining at the local RSL every Wednesday evening . In earlier times they had travelled the world together and dined in restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean and Hong Kong harbour. They had travelled in the first class cabins of jumbo jets. But, by now, they were slowing down. Their tastes had become more modest. They were old. My father was convinced (incorrectly) that they were going broke. And my mother was in the early stages of the dementia that was soon enough going to kill her.
An RSL is, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a club established for the benefit of service men or women whether currently serving or otherwise. My father, as a WW II veteran was such a person. Meals and booze are subsidised, at the club, by a stream of income mainly generated by gambling and whilst my parents were not poor (despite my father’s fears) they liked to be ‘careful’. The fact that, as Presbyterians (allegedly), they were profiting from the proceeds of gambling never bothered them at all.
One of the events on a Wednesday evening is the ‘Badge Draw’. The ‘Badge Draw’ is not a difficult or unusual idea to comprehend, and not entirely out of keeping with the club’s focus on gambling. Here’s how it works….. Every week a set amount of cash is put aside and put in a ‘pot’. On a Wednesday evening one membership number is chosen randomly and, if that member is in the club at the time, then the cash is ceremoniously presented to them. If not then the ‘jackpot’ accumulates for the next week. And so on.
On this particular Wednesday evening a number was read out over the PA system whilst my parents were midway through their meal. They didn’t recognise the number. They weren’t even listening. But you don’t have to recognise your own number to win the Badge Draw. When you sign in to the club the system registers your arrival and the system knows that you are there.
So, before long, club officials were at my parents table and directly addressing my mother.
“Congratulations,” they told her, “you have won the Badge Draw.”
She had absolutely no idea of what they were talking about. “Oh,” she responded politely, “that’s nice.”
“Yes,” they said, “Isn’t it just? Can we present you with your prize?”
“What? I’m sorry? I don’t think you understand. You’ve won some money. We’d like to give it to you.”
By this time my mother was growing a little annoyed. “Look,” she explained, “this is all very nice, I’m sure, but I’m eating fish and chips with my husband. I don’t want any money.”
“Can we present it to you after the meal?”
“No, thank you.”
“But it’s money.”
My mother sighed. “Take a look at me,” she suggested, “I’m almost dead. I don’t need any money. And I don’t want it.”
“It’s a lot of money.”
This situation, understandably, was not something that the staff had encountered previously. They had no clear direction. And by now, of course, my father was in something of a state. The notion of giving up what had been described as ‘a lot of money’ did not sit well with him. He reached his hand over to gently touch hers. “Listen, darling,” he suggested, “perhaps it would be easier ….”
The staff leapt to his support. “Madam,” they assured her, “we’re not allowed to keep it. I think your husband is right. It would be best if ….”
“Then give it to someone else.”
“We can’t do that either.”
The situation was at a stalemate. Everybody was looking at each other. My father shrugged his shoulders. The staff shrugged their shoulders. My mother resumed her meal with gusto.
The manager was called. He arrived with a broad smile on his face and shook everybody’s hands. “Well. Firstly may I offer my hearty congratulations on your good fortune. I have been advised of your feelings. But the money is yours. And it is yours to do with as you please. If you wish to give it to someone else then that is entirely your business.”
My father couldn’t help himself. He had to ask. “Just how much money are we talking about here?”
The manager smiled again. “Just short of thirty-seven thousand dollars, Sir.”
So my parents returned from their cheap night at the club with just short of thirty-seven thousand dollars in their pocket.
My father urged a reconsideration of generosity. But my mother could not be dissuaded. First thing the following morning she was on the phone to the Wayside Chapel. “I want to speak to Rev Ted Noffs,” she declared, “ I’d like to make a donation.” Wayside receives a lot of small donations from kind people. Frequently it is just loose change. But everything is appreciated. My mother made no mention of the size of her donation.
Rev Noffs was a busy man back then. He couldn’t take every call personally. So he had one of his staff deputise for him. “Well, that is very kind of you,” the lady said to my mother, “and we would be more than happy to accept it. We rely on the support of kind people like …”
My mother cut her off. “How do I do it?”
“Well, you could drop it in here or you could post a cheque if you like…”
“What’s the address?”
The address was supplied and that was that. She hung up the phone and turned to my father, who was still in a state of shock. “Get me an envelope and write out a cheque for thirty-seven thousand dollars,” she instructed.
It was the following Monday when the phone rang at my parent’s house. My mother answered. The caller was the Rev Fred Noffs.
“I was wondering,” he said, “if you’d like to drop by for a cup of tea.”