A Tribute to Mum
Compiled by Rev. Ian M Thompson
Sixty years ago today The Musician , carried a report of the commissioning of the cadets of the King's Messengers Session. In the report, there was a section on the final festival of the day, which stated that:
"Lieutenant Kathleen Cavanagh played the cornet solo 'Maoriland' with surprising skill, and complete with triple tonguing. "
Mum was justifiably proud of that report, but what made her even more proud was the fact that the members of the International Staff Band greeted her performance with rapturous applause. We children were not there of course. Neither was dad, he was serving in the Forces in Egypt but Mum's skill as a cornet player was never a surprise to us. We grew up with it, and never ceased to be amazed when we listened to her play, and especially at her ability to triple tongue. Mum loved making music, and especially brass banding - and she wouldn't let anyone stop her, - even in that bygone age when the membership of Army bands was frequently exclusively male. She used to relish telling us how, when she and dad were appointed to Leith and she was told by the Bandmaster that they didn't have women in the band there, she replied, 'You do now, Bandmaster' and took her place in the cornet section. However, mum was not only a skilled player; she was also an excellent teacher, and so it was no surprise that, when ill-health forced mum and dad to come out of the work for a period, mum's ministry became that of teaching and encouraging young people to play in Army bands. I was privileged to be her assistant when she was the YP Bandleader at Dundee Central, and I know for a fact that many who passed through mum's hands there, and at Livingston, where she later served as the Bandmaster, remember her with deep affection, not just for her teaching, but for her pastoral care and concern.
But music was not mum's only creative skill. She could knit, sew and paint, and I can remember watching, quite fascinated, as she knitted Arran sweaters for all of us children, as well as her paintings and tapestries. Like making music, this was something mum loved to do and, at various times in her life, it provided a much-needed counterbalance to the heavy demands of corps officership.
Mum also loved having fun, and seeing others have fun too. She had a wicked sense of humour, inherited from Granddad Sid, I suspect - which made it very difficult for her to keep a straight face when trying to tell him off for encouraging at least one of us to record 'rude' rhymes on the new cassette recorder he acquired back in the early seventies. With her sense of fun came a very sharp wit and quick tongue. That's something I for one have inherited from her and, like mum, it has got me into trouble on more than one occasion. The classic story illustrating this goes back to the eve of mum and dad's wedding. Mum got home later than expected that night and found Grandma Rose standing at the garden gate. Gran clearly thought that anytime after ten o'clock was far too late for a self-respecting person to be out and so she asked, 'What time of night do you think this is to be coming home?' When the twenty-three year old Salvation Army Second Lieutenant answered by telling her exactly what the time was, her ears were soundly boxed for her cheek before she could say a word.
I remembered that story once when I was about sixteen and mum and I were having a row. 'You're not too big to have your ears boxed, you know,' she said, quite sharply. My speedy response was, 'Fine, hang on and I'll get the stepladder.' As we stood, eyes locked in that moment of defiance which I'm sure all parents of teenagers have experienced, I didn't receive the expected wallop - mum descended into a fit of the giggles at the image of herself climbing a ladder so that she could reach my ears.
Believe it or not, one of mum's other great loves was sport. Just ask dad about the hours she would sit up watching the various sports channels that she insisted they signed up for and chief amongst her sporting loves was cricket. In her younger day she loved a game and, with six children, there were always plenty fielders (although I must confess that, never having understood or liked cricket, I was always happy to be dismissed for a duck or to field as far away from the action as possible!). But mum didn't only like it, she was good at it, as her YP Band members discovered the night they struck a deal with her that practice would not start until they had all been bowled out in a game. Mum readily agreed, and even offered to bowl. The result? The whole lot were out before they knew it, and practice started fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled!
But mum's two greatest loves were her family and her Lord.
She loved all of us dad, her children and her grandchildren, as well as her brothers Gilbert and Norman and their families, and she was both deeply proud and fiercely defensive of us. Mum took the view that she could say what she liked to us, she could be critical of us, but dare let anyone else have a go and she would be in there like a shot, fighting our corner.
Proverbs 31.27 reads:
A virtuous women...looketh well to the ways of her household. Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her
And we as a family have many reasons to rise up and call mum blessed. For the very practical ways she showed her love when we were small by always ensuring our home was spotless, our clothes were clean and that there was food on the table; for never missing anyone's birthday or wedding anniversary, including Ben's eighteenth on Tuesday just passed; for the way she and dad demonstrated their love for us by never interfering but allowing us to make our own decisions, to go our own ways - even when they believed we were making mistakes - and for the way that, when they were proved right, there was never any sense of condemnation, just comfort and support when it was needed, and a willingness to help us sort things out and move on. This was a love that bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things, a love that never failed. And it was a love that we not only experienced; we saw it clearly demonstrated in mum and dad's marriage. Their love that began to germinate not so very far from here when, as war time teenager Salvationists, mum from Small Heath and dad from Erdington, they met and played a game of snooker at the Army youth club held in the empty car show room at the back of the old Citadel in Corporation Street. And it grew into a lifelong commitment which held them together through good times and bad - including some really bad times - and which stands today as both inspiration and example to us all.
As for mum's love for her Lord, I think her record speaks for itself. Hers was not a blind, unquestioning faith, but it was a faith rooted in her complete trust in God.
When mum and dad were first married, they came across a couplet that they took as a motto and which dad poker-worked on to a piece of wood and hung in their quarters. It said: "God holds the key to all that is unknown. If other hands should hold the key, or if he trusted it to me, I might be sad. "
And mum had to step out into the unknown often throughout her life. The unknown territory of moving far from home to Scotland, the unknown journey through ill-health and the threat of blindness, and, only a few weeks ago, the unknown experience of an illness that confused and frightened her, and that so swiftly proved to be fatal, yet in every situation her trust in God in the face of the unknown remained unshaken. My last conversation with mum was on the day she was admitted to hospital. She spoke of the fear she had experienced in the days leading up to being admitted, and her recourse to prayer in the face of it. Not prayer for herself, but for us, dad, her children and grandchildren, and, as she spoke, I had a memory of her rising to her feet to give her testimony in a salvation meeting in Dundee and beginning, as she often did, by singing a chorus. 'O for a deeper, O for a greater, O for a perfect trust in the Lord' she sang that day and, as I remembered, I looked down on this woman who had given birth to me and nurtured me, and that chorus became my prayer, as I wondered just exactly what was wrong and what was going on, little thinking that today, less than two weeks later, we would be here, doing this.
But here is where we are, and mum's earthly life is over. Was it a successful life? That all depends on what one means by success. Mum never new fame or fortune, never achieved what the world would call greatness - but the American poet, Bessie Stanley, famously defined success thus:
He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it; who has never lacked appreciation of the earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration and whose memory a benediction.
Based on that definition, mum was one of the most successful people I have ever known, but she would not claim that this success was of her own doing, she would want us to know that anything and everything she ever achieved was entirely the result of the Spirit of God at work within her. All she ever sought to do was to fight the good fight, finish her course and keep the faith - and I believe she did so, which is why, holding on to the faith in which she and dad nurtured me, nurtured all of us, their children, I can say to mum with confidence today:
Servant of God, well done! Rest from your loved employ;
The battle fought, the victory won, enter your Master's joy.