Category Archives: Grief

The Other F Word

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After little brother Jim learned one of the worst words from the primers he was banned from riding the horse in the field.

Little brother Jimmy picked up a very bad word from the primers and was banned from riding the horse in the field.

Growing up on a tobacco farm in the midst of the kind and gentle people of Caradoc Township, near Melbourne, Ontario, we still sometimes heard particular words that were so fraught with emotion when they were uttered that their impact was never forgotten. One of the worst of them started with the letter F. Any kid in the 50’s and 60’s caught saying that one usually ended up with tears in his eyes. The tears were partly in reaction to his personal humiliation at the hands of his mother, and partly from gagging on the luxurious lather on the Lifebuoy bar being jammed into in his mouth. I say “his mouth” because the soap tasters tended to be boys. In tobacco farming areas there was another F word that had even more power. This one could even bring tears to the eyes of grown men—that word was frost.

Imagine waking early one morning to discover that every hour of your work, every hour of your wife’s work, every hour of your kids’ work— labour that brought everyone to the brink of exhaustion for weeks on end— was all for nothing.

Imagine that every dollar you spent for the seed, for the greenhouse soil, and for sterilizing the seed beds was wasted. The cost of labourers to work alongside your family pulling the seedlings up from their beds, planting them in the fields, and hoeing them carefully is all lost the moment the sun comes up.

The temperature unexpectedly dropped to zero overnight, and there is no way to get irrigation lines set up fast enough to spray away the ice crystals on even an acre of your crop. The second the sun heats up the ice crystals the cells in the leaves will rupture. In moments the green of a hopeful beginning turns as black as despair. Frost is a dirty word too—one of the really bad ones.

One year when frost hit our farm early enough in the growing season to allow for replanting a second time all the other farmers in the area had been frozen out too. Whatever seedlings they still had left in their greenhouses they were in need of themselves. Our greenhouse was totally depleted from planting a larger number of acres that year and Dad had to search far and wide before he was finally able to locate plants. He would have to go all the way to Port Burwell near Lake Erie to get them.

Hearing of our troubles, my cousin Barbara Smith volunteered to come up from Pittsburgh to help out with replanting. She hauled one truckload after another of heavy wooden boxes packed full of plants. They had healthy hefty root balls loaded with rich black soil so much fewer fit into each box. The marathon of round trips continued for several days in order to give a fresh supply to the planters until the crop was in the ground again. It was amazing that, despite the much earlier planting season near the lake, this farmer still had enough seedlings in good condition for us to replant. It was definitely an answer to prayer. The plants may have come at a high price that year, but they were definitely worth it. Otherwise we would not have had a crop at all.

If the harvest started in the last week of July, by the end of the first or second week in September we would usually be finished if we had not had many days too stormy for working. Every day off work was a day later that a tobacco farmer’s older kids would be delayed in joining their classmates at school. This was always a trial for us, but worse still was if we were late enough to be getting into the frost danger zone again. The break even point in tobacco growing often happened only at the tail end of the harvest because it was such a costly enterprise. This was when we would earn the money to cover living expenses for our family of ten. That money would still be tied up until the finished baled product was sold at auction in the winter months and the bank was repaid, but at least we would know that it was coming.

Those farmers in our neighbourhood who grew other less frost sensitive crops, and those who raised animals that they would sell throughout the year may not have understood entirely what was at stake for our family should we lose a number of kilns’ worth of  tobacco. But this they did know—my father was always there for them in any crisis. Whether it was equipment break down, a barn fire, a grass fire, an illness, an injury or an unexpected death that called for the men to man up for one another, my dad, like the good and decent men of his generation, was always there. These men took over one another’s work loads when necessary, and they lent out their children as free labourers when the need arose. Every farm kid over ten had calluses in those years.

“Many hands make light work”— my grandfather Jim Stephenson’s favourite saying— was our family’s credo, and it seemed to matter very little how small the hands were. It was this shared social convention in our community that made it alright for the oldest four Stephenson kids, aged 14, 13, 12 and 11 to pick up corn for their neighbour Evan Howe for $2.oo a day in 1963 (with a nice sandwich lunch included.) Because Evan’s old and faltering combine had missed harvesting too much of his crop we were sent over to help. We weren’t there for the token payment—that was at best a fraction of what it was worth. It was done so that we could be a part of what was right and good in the time and place that we lived. It was this thinking that also made it alright for the Howe kids, and the Derbyshire kids to be out trudging up and down tobacco rows until 10:30 PM on a school night in early September.

Working by tractor light in the fields, and expecting no payment in return for shivering in the cold as the temperature dropped towards zero, all the volunteers had one goal in mind. Get it picked! Sloppy, sliding bundles of leaves were carried clumsily row to row by kids, by neighbours of both sexes, and even by old men like our Uncle Fred, my grandfather Jim’s brother, in the hope of reaching the boat before it got too far ahead of us.

Our hands and forearms were soon blackened by sticky tobacco tar as we added our armloads to those of the gang of “primers”— the half-dozen pickers who boarded with us during harvest time. Their own enormous bundles, almost a foot across at the stem end, put ours to shame but every little bit helped. They were all placed carefully in the boat, a box sled on runners pulled between two rows behind Jack the horse. At the end of the field the boats were quickly hooked on behind the tractor and raced to the kiln yard by my brother Keith, the boat driver. Here they were unloaded and the bundles stacked side by side on the ground, giving the appearance of cord wood from the stem side in the dim yellow circle of  light that the pole light gave off.

Somewhere in the field there was a brief but noisy interaction between Mom and Dad. Voices carried far on the cool night air. She was struggling to drive a tractor that she had never been on before and whenever she tried to slow down the jerking of accidental stops and starts made it hard for Dad. He was on the wagon behind her trying to stay upright. He was lighting bales of straw on fire and throwing them to the ground as close as he could get them to the rows that weren’t yet picked clean. These smouldering smudge fires would provide a smoky haze, a blanket of warmer air that just might be able to keep the air temperature underneath it above zero. As soon as Mom finished driving the tractor she raced into the house to prepare and bring out big thermos jugs of very hot, very sweet, milky coffee for one and all, even the kids. It was a night when all the rules seemed to have been thrown out the window.

Finally, when Dad felt that the tobacco that was picked and stacked would be all that we could pack into the kilns in the next day or so the priming was called to a halt. This stacking of tobacco on the ground for a subsequent marathon of filling kilns was a last ditch effort to salvage what we could. The grade of tobacco produced after curing it would be much lower than usual, but hopefully still saleable. Any stacked tobacco not in the kiln curing within two days time would rot. The spoilage would begin even earlier if the weather turned hot again.

That night was a moment in time that I will never forget— forged into something solid in my brain by the emotions of fear, excitement and gratitude (and in all likelihood a walloping jolt of caffeine as well.) Strangely I don’t remember the final outcome. Did all of the remaining crop freeze? Did some of it survive because of the smudge fires? Did we have money for new school clothes that year? Was there money to be able to get an allowance?

In the end I cannot remember anything that would reveal the answer. What I do remember is a house full of hushed people gathered around the kitchen and dining room tables helping themselves to the heaping trays of hastily made sandwiches, and plates full of cookies and donuts. Were they hushed because they knew there were little ones sleeping upstairs? Were they hushed because they already knew what tomorrow’s sun would bring?

People embraced each of my parents in turn as they left the house. Were they embracing them to instil a sense of hope, or was this being done to console them in their sorrow. This part of my memory is like water rippling under a bridge.

But of this much I am certain—those kind and gentle people of Caradoc Township were going home to their own houses that night with our concerns on their hearts. In the same way, their concerns would be on our hearts if ever the day came when their words could not be spoken without tears.

The Angel Food Cake In Heaven

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imagesIn the large family that I grew up in there was always a very strong connection between food and comfort. I realize that experts in the health field tell us repeatedly that this is a very dangerous relationship for those who develop a deep dependency on food, using it as a form of pain dulling self medication. I am sure that the experts have a valid point, and are doing a public service to admonish us against such behaviour. I am glad that they are there to counsel those for whom this is a real problem, and to help them learn other better coping mechanisms.

But I for one am not going to advise against taking gifts of food to those who are hurting. Sometimes the significance of that kind of gesture is the thing that makes the difference between a very dark day and a manageable one. If the person you are considering giving a food gift to is on a low-fat or low-calorie diet, or you want to avoid the chocolate for their kids’ sake and still provide a baked treat then consider Angel Food Cake. I can make a really great one from scratch with the bounty of fresh eggs from our hens, but if I am in a pinch then I know that the Duncan Hines mix gives a really good result in record-breaking time. With a container of cut-up fruit, or berries, (even the frozen ones) you can provide a treat that is usually acceptable even to dieters.

Yes, I know that flowers and books are other good options, but the warmth that a nicely prepared casserole or a gift of fresh baking provides to someone who is grieving or emotionally in pain, somehow seem a little more like a hug than a handshake, and I guess I’m just one of those hugging kind of people.

The following poems were actually written to five of the most important women in my life in response to their kindness towards me during a time of grieving. 

To my Mom

My mother love me she always has,

At least as far as I know.

Did she ever have any second thoughts

About feeding me long ago?

About getting up at midnight,

When I was just a baby?

I don’t think I could say no for sure,

I guess I’ll just say maybe.

‘Cause it seems to me she’s been trying

To feed me ever since.

And my children too, and my husband.

She treats him like a prince—

Like the chicken dinner she brought us

It put a smile on my lips.

Some of it went into the fridge,

Some of it went to my hips.

If ever anyone’s saying

“Here comes dinner to the door.”

That’s my Mom and we dearly love her,

We couldn’t love her more.

To my sister Janice

Anything made by my sister’s hand

Would taste deliciously sweet

Though she may think that it’s boring or bland

To me it’s a gourmet treat.

She made me a cake on a very hard day.

“It’s only a mix.” she said,

But swallowed with tears

And a shared cup of tea,

It tasted like Heavenly bread.

Because she knows my heart so well

There was more love than sugar or spice,

So that even a crumb could have filled me up—

There was never a fullness so nice

To my sister Kathy

Meals that are made by my sister

Are warm and comforting things

Whether cabbage rolls or pork chops,

Or even chicken wings.

Whatever was on the menu

For Kathy and her spouse,

If anyone is hurting,

It goes to the sad one’s house.

Even if she and her husband

Eat cold cereal yet once more,

Because she left their dinner

At someone else’s door.

To my sister Marsha

You are there and always have been

For your sister tag-along.

You know me better than anyone;

We could finish each other’s song.

You bring me joy with all you do—

Each phone call, card, or cake—

Little do you realize,

The difference that you make.

You have made the difficult easier

In, oh, so many ways

You have been to me like sunshine

On some dark and stormy days.

To my sister Jeannie

Dearest sister who shares her heart

Whenever we are together,

And takes me out to her favourite haunts

For pastries as light as a feather,

And insists that she cannot possibly

Consume not a single bite

More than half of a mocha meringue:

Somehow it can’t be right

That you and I are sisters,

With your mandarin orange and tea,

Which you say has already filled you up

While you foist your pastries on me!

But then there’s the proof that we’re sisters

As we laugh together and cry

Over a plate of mocha meringues.

Don’t you know they’re supposed to stay dry?

I am so very blessed to have my amazing mother, and a beautiful daughter, as well as four sisters, and three sisters- in- law, nine nieces, and 5 great nieces.Two dozen very special women who mean so very much to me. Sadly two years ago I lost my husband’s Mum, Mina who was like another mother to me. Shortly after that we lost  my husband’s sister Rosalie, the mother and grandmother of some of those incredible nieces of mine. She was like a sister to me too, and I miss her every day. She was probably the most talented home baker I ever knew and even when she was quite ill herself she never neglected to send food gifts to her neighbours when they were lonely,grieving or unwell.

To my sister  Rosalie

Are you baking Angel Food cakes?

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

I’m sure there are feasts in Heaven

Where the meek and the lowly sit

Beside the strong and mighty,

And those with renown and fame.

And when you are slicing your cake up

You will portion it all the same,

Then you’ll pass the crystal cake plates,

To the diners one and all,

With the very best of your baking

In Heaven’s banquet hall.

Until I come to join you

Will you save a piece for me,

Of that shortbread you and Mom would make?

’Cause I’ve lost your recipe.

Love Yvonne

The Sweetest Rose In Heaven

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images The name “Rosalie” means ‟garden of roses” and I would have to say that when my sister-in-law Rosalie’s parents named her that, they could hardly have imagined the appropriateness of her name. It is such a beautiful metaphor for her life and personality. A garden is something that brings great joy to the one who beholds it, the one who gets to spend time enjoying every aspect of it, as all of her family and friends did every day that Rosalie was with us.

My husband Rolly, Rosalie’s younger brother was for many years an avid collector of roses, and  because of that I happen to know quite a few by name. Gardening seems to have run in their family; Mina, their mother, instilled that in all of her children.

If I were to plant a tribute garden for Rosalie the first rose would have to be a specimen called “Autumn Delight” as she was born in autumn, on October 15, 1939. In fact she was the first baby born to a Canadian soldier of the Second World War. The “Delight” part of the name is obvious; Rosalie was a delight to all who knew her. I would then plant a rose called “First Prize”. This would be in memory of Rosalie taking home the trophy for having the “Most Beautiful Baby” at the Poplar Hill Picnic, an annual celebration in the little village I live beside. I can’t remember which one of her children it was—baby Mark, Donna, or Carol, but it really doesn’t matter. When they were small they were each, in turn, the most beautiful baby ever born, in the eyes of  their mother.

I would definitely omit the rose “Blue Girl” from the line up, as Rosalie was seldom blue; she had an upbeat personality and was always a help and support to others in their personal struggles. That’s what made her such a valued and much-loved nurse— that and the quality of compassion. And, yes, there is a rose named “Compassion”, so I’d find a spot for that one too.

‟ Buff Beauty”, “Sun ’n Sand” and “Carefree Delight” would all be planted close together in this glorious tribute garden. They bring to mind for me an image of Rosalie— young and tanned and buff in her two piece swim suit, at the beach, enjoying the summer sun, and the sand between her toes. “Carefree Delight”— that rose symbolizes the absolute relaxation she was always able to instill in others, when spending holidays or a weekend away together. And I have to say that I was always in awe of Rosalie, in her ability to wear a two piece swim suit and to pull it off, well beyond when I had lost the nerve. (And I don’t mean the suit! I mean the self-confident attitude!) She knew that the Lord made her and loved her, and she knew that her husband Bob loved her, and so she was free to love herself.

The roses “Champagne Cocktail”, “Tequila”, and “Whiskey” would have to be left out of the garden, in light of Rosalie’s tee-totalling life style. She never touched a drop (that she was aware of that is!) I still remember a party many years ago at my sister Marsha and her husband John’s first university days’ apartment, that Rolly and I took Rosalie and her husband Bob to. Well, Rosalie was the life of the party! She never knew it, but apparently somebody had spiked the punch. In any case she never needed anything to lighten her mood, to be more fun, to have a great time. She was a great hostess, she was a great guest, and she was a good Baptist (Except for maybe just that one time!)

People just assume that Baptists, don’t ever drink, they don’t ever dance and maybe they don’t even play cards. In all likelihood, if you think this, then you are wrong. A lot depends on the person; it depends on the particular church they attend, and it depends on the particulars of the situation. In general, the rule that one would adhere to is the Lord’s command— not to put yourself into any situation which might cause your brother to stumble. Apparently Rosalie took this rule literally, for I never once, as far as I can recall, ever saw her asking her brother Rolly to dance. (Sorry Rolly)

Bob and Rosalie loved to dance and were great on the dance floor together. They enjoyed the fun of community dances, and family celebrations, with expertly executed polkas, waltzes and the like. They also belonged to a Heritage Dance Group and kept incredibly active performing near and far until a few short months before Rosalie’s passing. I’ll never forget how she looked in her beautiful ruffled blouse and flouncy twirly purple skirt on Bob’s proud arm. (Rosalie on his arm! Not the skirt!) as they stopped by on their way to a heritage event in nearby Komoka. In honour of her love of dance I think the tribute garden should also have the roses “Polka”, “Troika”, and even “Rock and Roll” for good measure.

At every family gathering Rosalie could be counted on to be the first to say “Who wants to play cards?” Whether it was Hearts, or Euchre, or 21, she loved them all and was good at them all — so for her I would just have to plant the rose “Winning Girl”.

As a reminder of the special relationship that Bob and Rosalie had for over 50 years I would add in the roses “First Love”, “Scentimental” and “Loving Touch”.

The last ones that I would plant to complete the garden would be those that would bring to mind where she is at this very moment. I can think of no better choices than “Peace”, “Joyfulness”, “Golden Wings” and “Triumphant”.

We love you Rosalie, we still miss you more than we can say. In your honour I will add in a very long lasting and beautiful rose, the treasure — “Loving Memory”.

In honour of Rosalie Ann Johnson October 15,1939 — June 6, 2011

The Day My Granddad Said Goodbye

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DocImage000000473The day my Granddad died my father came home from the hospital and got out a can of green paint and began to paint the ceiling of the back kitchen. Mom said “No Bill, don’t! Don’t start painting now. It doesn’t have to be done; it’s not that important.” but Dad said “It is important Jean. It has to be done.” and he gathered together his brush and some old rags and set up the step-ladder in the corner of the room. Then he began to meticulously brush the paint onto the boards, and into the cracks, a dark green colour, the same as what was already there. Tears ran down his cheeks and onto his shirt front. He tried to push them back into the corners of his eyes with the back of his hand. Before long he had green circles under both eyes, like big bruises, as if his eyes had seen something so terrible that it inflicted the force of a prize fighter’s punch to both eyes.

It was strong-smelling oil based paint and its odour soon permeated every inch of the house as Dad worked without interruption, not bothering to talk to anyone as they passed by. The back kitchen had been a summer kitchen in earlier times but it had since become a combined mud room and laundry area. As we eight kids came and went through, past our silent  father each of us sensed the sudden change in the natural order of things in our world, it was so quiet. Dad had grown up in this house and had always lived here, except for the five years he lived in the little white house which he had built next door,when he first married Mom. Until last week Granddad had lived there, not more than a shout away, ever since we had traded houses ten years before. Granddad had been having lunch and supper at our house for many of those years, ever since Grandma had passed away.

My father was a fastidious painter and his work always reflected that. His hands and arms were usually fairly clean as he worked away, but not that day. The paint must have been more runny than usual. I wondered as he looked up at the ceiling, repeatedly brushing paint into every crevice and crack, was he really just looking up at the boards or was he looking up because he was thinking of Granddad now far far above them? Would Granddad be leaning down over the edge of a cloud and thinking “Good Job Billy, I meant to get around to that second coat a long long time ago but I just never did find the time.”?

When Mom called us all to the supper table, Dad came in to the kitchen all cleaned up again. His eyes were red and swollen and he looked like he might have burns under his eyes and on one of his cheeks. I thought at first that he might have done that with paint thinner or solvent but now that I am much older I have seen that same look in my own reflection in the mirror far too many times. I know exactly what it was from. That’s what grief looks like.

The last time I saw my Granddad was a few hours before his last breath, when we oldest three were allowed to take a turn to be with him for a moment or two to say goodbye. As I put my cheek next to his, so that I could hear him better, he asked me about my first date, the one with the Junior Farmer which I wrote about in yesterday’s post. He asked “How was that banquet you went to?” I told him “It was great,Granddad. Really nice!” Then he said ‟You’ll be going to a lot more of them. The fellows will be asking you to a lot more.” Then he said “You take care of my boys for me now. Will you?” and I said “Yes Granddad, I will, I promise.”

I sometimes think about the fact that the last thing that Granddad asked me about was a banquet. No matter how many wedding banquets and other feasts  I have been to, no matter what we were celebrating, I now know that there is one more in my future that will surpass all the rest. That’s  because those who are invited to it are blessed, according to Revelation 19:9. I look forward to that day when we shall be around a banquet table together, my Granddad and I, and all those present in Heaven on that great day of celebration. I’ve already accepted my invitation to be there, and I hope you do too.

And, as for you boys that I love so dearly, a promise is a promise!

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

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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.