I first met Aileen Pepper in the camping shop in the mid ’80s.
I’d just moved to Mullum, had a baby on the way, and was setting up home.
Over the years, the camping shop has been a great asset to the town for kitchen equipment, footwear, wet weather gear, etc. Aileen and Merv provided a great service.
In addition, Aileen took a special interest in local people whom she considered her extended family.
She remembered my son, and we often went there on his birthday to check out her pen knives; she fostered his interest by explaining features and origins of various knives.
My son, now 34, has become a connoisseur of knives and is an expert at sharpening them.
A couple of years ago, it was a surprise to see Merv shopping at Target in Ocean Shores; he looked a bit out of place. He told me that Aileen had had a stroke and was in Coolamon Villa; her left side was paralysed.
I began helping her with exercises and massage.
When I told my son, he said he was pleased and that he had ‘the greatest respect for Aileen’.
He then explained that a schoolmate of his had been caught breaking into the camping shop, and Aileen had not pressed charges, wanting to give the boy another chance.
This was an example of her caring and generosity.
I worked with Aileen for 18 months and she showed great courage and commitment to her exercises, despite her difficulties.
Her sense of humour brought us many laughs and I enjoyed our connection.
The week before she died, Aileen talked about death, which was unusual for her.
I said, ‘Don’t worry, Ross will be there for you. He’ll look after you.’ (Ross, her son, died in 2013).
She went quiet.
‘You remember he came to visit you?’
She said, ‘Yes, I remember he came, but I don’t remember him saying that’.
‘Well why do you think he came?’ I asked, and she smiled.
Rest in peace Aileen.
I’ll miss you, as will your whole extended Mullumbimby family.