Tom Sawyer - A Story

Tom Sawyer - A Story

This is my story of Tom Sawyer. Given that most of the information comes from a notorious yarn spinner and leg puller you'll have to forgive me if I get some things wrong.

This story is probably different to your Tom Sawyer story but I think this one bears some relationship with the truth.

Tom was born Raymond Ronald Sauer on 27 November 1917 at Kensington. His 30 year old mother was Daisy Kinsman and his father was Ernest Sauer a 36 year old picture framer. He had a nine year old sister Irene and 5 year old brother Arthur.

It was probably about this time that Dad had his first name change. The hysteria around everything German forced the second generation family to anglicise their name to Sawyer to continue to get work. 88 years later, some politicians are still exploiting our fears and finding scapegoats in the community. 

No one informed the bureaucracy of this name change and Dad was pretty surprised when he went to collect his birth certificate for his pension - only to find he was not registered as Sawyer.

I'm afraid to say that I'm a bit unsure of Tom's early years - he kept a lot of this to himself. I know his father left the scene when he was around three (or six depending on the version) and Daisy was left to bring up three kids on her own - a bit harder then I imagine.

I find it quite remarkable that Tom managed to be such a great father and grandfather with no role model. He was certainly a role model to me and I know some of his grandchildren have him in mind when they bring up their own children.

I understand that the family often skipped to another house when the rent arrears became too great. The story of the chooks lying on their backs ready to be tied up each time a furniture van trundled up the street may just be one of Tom's embellishments and probably owes more to the Tivoli than to the truth.

Tom went to a local primary school and to Workingman's college now RMIT but the depression meant he grabbed at the chance of a job as a Lad Porter in the railways and he stayed with the railways for almost the whole of his working life.

It was around this time that he had his second name change to Tom Sawyer and there are probably only a few family here today that know him as Uncle Ray.

His very brief absence from the railways was a stint in the army fighting in what he called the Peninsula Wars - that's Mornington Peninsula. Dad was sick most of the time and after a bad bout of mumps he was sent back to his reserved occupation as a railway worker. I'm personally glad of that, as most of his unit were killed in a grenade attack in New Guinea before my birth.

Dad did get near the front. Just a couple of years ago while we were planning another holiday, he told me that he spent time in the railway shed at Katherine in the Northern Territory during the war. He spent 2 weeks cleaning and refuelling locomotives while a regular was on leave. He spent nearly as much time travelling there and back.

I do know a fair bit about Dad and his wonderful marriage to Annie Frances Sawyer. They had three children, Valerie, John and Helen. Life was still pretty tough for the family when Helen and I came along after the war. For a while we lived in a bungalow behind a small house in Power Street Hawthorn and Dad and Mum struggled along to give us everything we needed.

I am particularly impressed that Dad kept his wedding promise to Mum that we would have a good catholic education when it would have been significantly cheaper to give us a state education. Today's Catholic funeral must be partly in recognition of this.

I suppose we did not really know we were poor. Five of us shared a block of chocolate every Saturday night and we seemed always to be going away somewhere on his free holiday pass and memories of these times are particularly happy. Once again I was too young to realise that we would spend a whole fortnight's pay in one week and would have to borrow and scrimp to get through to the next pay day.

I for one took the whole thing pretty much for granted.

The struggle with the pennies and the hardships of the depression had not been forgotten and Dad had trouble buying an ice cream for himself at the pictures when he knew he could have a whole tub of plain wrap for the same price at home. He usually took a cut lunch everywhere he went.

I was thinking about the cut lunch as we sat with him as he prepared to leave us on Thursday morning. When I was very young I was told that if ever he died in his sleep, I was to make sure that Mum had the sense to pack him a lunch and put him out on the street as if he was on the way to work. Apparently she would get worker's compensation.

It was probably a leg pull, but I was young enough then to wonder how we would lift him. When he did finally leave his very frail body, he did not leave much for us to lift.

Dad has told my god-child Michael Box that funerals are a pretty good lurk. He asserted that he often attended a funeral at Our Lady of Victories and followed the mob home for lunch. If you see an old bloke you don't know at Julie and Chris's this afternoon, you'll know what's going on.

Dad was actually quite generous with his time and his money. He continued to look after his mother Daisy until she died. He maintained his sister Rene's house after her husband died and continued to help her son Ron after she died. He also did his sister-in-law Eileen's shopping for her every week. I don't know the whole of it, but a lot of people owe some of their housing and transportation to Tom's generosity.

Dad left his job in the railways just on 28 years ago so he spent nearly a third of this life as a retiree. And did he do it well? Holidays and travel became a major occupation. I know that May Dodd who shared these trips with Dad and Mum is here today. She will have some yarns for us at lunch.

Dad got sick about six years ago but he managed to put on a good front and fight it. I was with him when now Associate Professor Joe McKendrick described the course of treatment. Dad asked if he would be able to play the saxophone when the treatment finished. Joe graciously said yes and Dad said "that's fantastic - I can't play one now".

Joe told us that Dad continued with a new story each visit and said that Dad was one of the special ones. Thanks to Joe and all the nurses at Epworth Eastern for the way they looked after him and us.

At one stage during that first treatment he took a turn for the worse and I sat holding his hand in Box Hill Hospital with both of us thinking he was nearly finished. I foolishly promised to take him to Canada if he got better and two weeks later while he was still having treatment, he produced a passport and asked when we were leaving. We had a great time.

Mum's death hit Dad pretty hard and the cry of anguish he let out while we were sitting in a doctor's waiting room just after the funeral even disturbed him. He made me promise to keep it to myself. Dad did survive Mum's death but I think he became very lonely and as all his mates gradually passed away he spent even more time with his family.

I know that this story is incomplete. I've left out heaps of stuff and you will have heaps more.

Friends have commented on the very special and difficult relationship between a father and son and the special relationship I had with Dad. Like modern men we even re-learnt to show affection and kiss. I was very proud of my father and I loved him very much.

On behalf of my sisters Valerie and Helen, Tom's in-laws Tony, Barb and Terry, his nieces, his thirteen grand-children, their spouses and partners and 20 great-grandchildren, I want to thank you all for coming today.

We all loved Tom and will miss him very much.

John Sawyer October 17, 2006