Hide It Under A Bushel? No, She Let It Shine!


027_27 (2)Have you ever stopped to observe a person, and wondered just what forces were at work in their lives to shape them into who they are, and how they are, in the world? I had some time to pause and think about this throughout the progression of a wonderfully relaxing day.

Today Rolly and I were out with a number of good friends on a Mystery Tour. The secret route planned by one of the couples, partially followed the Longwoods Barn Quilt trail, where we viewed many beautiful painted quilt blocks on the sides of barns we drove by, but we also jogged off the trail to other interesting points at many points. It was a wonderful relaxing day, with a stop at Port Glasgow where we picnicked overlooking Lake Erie and admired the beautiful view and the many birds flitting in and out among the trees and shrubbery.

On a number of occasions various friends asked my husband, Rolly, to identify one or another bird, and he always knew what they were, and usually gave a few tidbits of information about their habits, or diets, or habitats. At another stop at Lavender Sense near Wallacetown, most people headed off to the gift shop after a quick perusal of the yard and fragrant fields. At this point I was left stranded and cashless, with my purse left behind in the locked car, and Rolly nowhere to be seen. Apparently, he had wandered off along the edge of the fields, on a trail that led by the woods, to check for birds and other wildlife with a few other people in tow. I noticed the same kind of situation at a nearby historic site where we stopped to view the grass-covered mounds, which were the archaeological remnants of a Neutral Indians settlement enclosure. After walking around for a bit I went and sat for a quick rest at a nearby picnic table, where I had a view of Rolly and a number of friends off in the distance. I noticed as they walked around and under a number of large trees, that frequently Rolly would stop and point up at different things for whoever was next to him, or he would bend down and pick a leaf or something interesting up off the ground and then hold it out for someone else to see.

My husband is his mother’s son alright. She is gone from us now, but she will not be forgotten by anyone who knew her. She was one who truly looked and learned and then passed what she learned on to everyone around her.  Today I want to share some things about her— first to give her honour for who she was, and what she gave me, especially in and through her son, and secondly to remember her and to put that which I remember as being most special about her out into the public domain. Then all of you who read this will know that such amazing people truly do exist.

As we sat beside my mother-in-law, Mina Rollason’s bedside during the final days of her life here on Earth, many of us had time to reflect upon all that she meant to us and all that she meant to those around her during her life. We realized then that we were witnessing the passing of true greatness from our midst. Often, after someone passes away we are tempted to give to them so many shining virtues and saint-like qualities, that sometimes even their closest friends may be left wondering if they ever really knew them, or if we are even talking about the same person. I realize that the tendency to sentimentalize things is human nature, particularly in the throes of grief, but it has been more than two years now without her and  I would still say the same thing as I thought on her last day with us here on Earth— she was a rare gem.

Her life was like a diamond shining from a clod of mud— the mud of adversity, dashed hopes and disappointment. When at times it hardened and hemmed her in on all sides, it should have hidden her greatness completely. Yet she still shone.

She shone with a radiant smile and a sunny disposition. She shone in an expression of joy in appreciation for even the smallest things— the gift of a bouquet of dandelions, or a Robin’s egg shell from a child, the dew on a spider web in the early morning light, the appearance of the first daffodil in spring.

She was a person who never took a trip to a single far off place, but she found more joy in what God created in her own backyard, and made more intense observations of every single detail of the natural world, than anyone I’ve ever known. She found more beauty in the eye of a violet than others see in the gardens of Versailles; she took more delight in the songs of birds than the rest of us would find in a Symphony at Carnegie Hall. This quality also made her shine.

Mina was born to a feisty Scotsman Duncan Campbell and his wife Kate in Windsor,Ontario and she was the oldest sibling of Norma, Annie, Glenn and Lloyd. Later the family moved to London,Ontario where she met and married her husband Reginald.  Their son Ronnie was still a toddler when his father enlisted, and Rosalie was the first baby born to a Canadian soldier after the Second World War began. For those six long years Mina managed to hold the family together, with great hopes and dreams for their future. After the war a farm was purchased, and baby Rolly was born. But less than five years later the little family was left on their own again when Reg left them to pursue his own life goals.

Despite the hardships, Mina determined that the farm was the only place to raise a family, and she took on the daunting task of providing for all of them on her own. This she did alone until Ronnie grew big enough to take on a heavier share of the load. Mina was not raised on a farm, but she was still determined to learn to do any necessary task to provide for her family’s well-being. She butchered her own pigs, made her own bread, grew a huge garden and canned, pickled and preserved everything she could harvest. She raised chickens for meat and eggs, and always had customers awaiting her surplus. She sewed both her own and her children’s clothing and also became very skilled in creating crafts and food products from her kitchen which were greatly sought after in the community. With the proceeds of her industriousness she was able to put Rosalie through Nursing School, and was justly proud of both of their accomplishments on graduation day.

Many a local bride had her shower catered with trays and trays of fancy pin-wheel sandwiches, tiny tarts and squares, and a beautiful cake made by Mina. An intricately decorated wedding cake would then grace their wedding table a few weeks later. Mom (and I felt she was my Mom too) loved to make people happy and would spend many more hours than she ever charged for, in the creation of her masterpieces. In fact it is likely that more of her wedding cakes were given away as gifts to those that ordered them than those that she sold. Her remarkable baking talents, and her many years of leading 4 H homemaking clubs led to a job as a baking teacher at Thames Secondary School in London for a ten-year period before her retirement at age 65.

Here was a lady who was madly in love with colour— the brighter the better and she particularly enjoyed creating things with texture and dimension. Her handiwork graces all of her family member’s homes, most of it with that distinctive splash of brilliant colour somewhere in it. She was gifted in her ability to quickly learn new skills and then teach them to others, something she did in her years of teaching classes at the YMCA. My daughter Carrie remembers how Granny would always keep her busy with some new project, teaching her macramé, crochet, knitting, and all manner of handiwork while simultaneously canning peaches in a steaming hot kitchen, or cutting up cucumbers for her delicious bread and butter pickles “She could be up to her elbows in any kind of work, but it never stopped Granny from teaching me some new thing every time I went over.”

Carrie still laughs whenever she tells about how Granny always warned her and her brother Steven about the mud on the path leading to her house, whenever they wanted to walk over for a visit, as if it was quicksand that would suck them in. And then she would drop everything and beat them to that muddy spot in the path, just to help them by it.  Each of her grandchildren was special to her and she shared many teaching moments with all of them. Whether bent over atlases or nature books, or with their noses pressed against the windowpane to watch the birds at the feeder, all the world was her classroom.

Loyal to her core Mom always stuck to the things she believed in. She once told us about staying up until three in the morning listening to a hockey game on the radio with all of her neighbours gathering round “ Because the Maple Leafs were playing and it was into the third overtime.” She astounded many a teenaged boy to whom she taught baking courses to at Thames  School when she spieled off team names, numbers and statistics. It made her a real star in their eyes because “Grey haired ladies who teach you how to frost cakes don’t usually know much about hockey.” In this too she shone.

“My father voted Liberal and I vote Liberal, and I’ll vote Liberal ‘til the day I die!” was her oft-heard declaration. Mom was delighted when a few years ago the Premiere visited Thames and although she was unable to be there we brought her back his autograph on a large picture of her in her glory days, hard at work instructing in the school’s bakery kitchen. Despite what your politics are you’ve got to admire the stamina it takes to stay loyal to any cause for over 75 years!

Mom was stubborn too, she often said “My father never took a pill in his life and I’m never going to take a pill either!” This was an attitude that caused a few problems when at age 90 the need for medication finally arose. Besides taking pills, Mom wasn’t afraid of much else except for fire. Her fear of fire would not allow for the burning of grass or leaves, or anything else for that matter. This was probably caused by the trauma of discovering a pile of wet but clearly burned papers in her cellar one day. Little Rolly had lit them afire and then in a panic put them out the quickest way he knew how! The spanking he got that day never did curb her son’s pyromania, and the size of his bonfires at family get togethers was always met with motherly trepidation, and cautious admonitions to “Maybe, move back a little further!” while he lit it. She stopped coming to them altogether when a rather loud ignition of one, to which Rolly had added an accelerant, caused everyone to spill coffee all over their shirt fronts (or otherwise wet themselves.)

Mom loved all of the creatures who frequented her neck of the woods— chipmunks, squirrels, birds, raccoons, a series of family dogs and a wide variety of cats. She provided for all of those whose callous owners had dropped them off at midnight by her mailbox. She gave them all good homes. But it was Steven’s cat “Spit Fire” who decided to abandon us and move to Granny’s. Steven was slightly miffed about that until he got a little older and more knowledgable about the interests of Tom cats and realized that it wasn’t just Granny’s better quality cat food that lured him away.

For her grandchildren, Donna, Mark, and Carol, and Steven and Carrie staying at their Granny’s place was an adventure—a table in the kitchen laden with fresh-baked treats, a garden full of fresh peas to be eaten raw, right out of the pod, juicy red raspberries by the handful, a spiraea bush for the girls to shake the confetti petals from, while dreaming of the wedding cake their Granny would one day make them, or in Carrie’s case the cake her Granny would teach her to make for herself.

For one day Carrie would take everything her grandmother taught her and become a professional chef and pastry chef, and for a number of years; Steven would work as the assistant to a Liberal MPP and even attend meetings with the Premiere of Ontario. Mark would work in landscape design and become a sought after minor league hockey referee; Donna would have a farm of her own, and serve roast chicken raised by her own hands for Sunday dinners, and Carol would also have a farm and a menagerie of animals for her own children to enjoy and care for. What more can we say about Mina, than that she shone, and that by that light she led yet another generation forward in their own lives and pursuits so that they could shine too.

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