Mothers’ day 2019 will be my first without my own Mom. She passed away last year, when I wrote this memorial. She was many things: a planner, a country girl, an adventurer, a wife and mother to me and my siblings, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother. As this year's holiday approaches, thought it was a good time to share this short tribute.
Born on July 1, 1930, in Toronto Ontario, my Dad liked to say Mom was so special, they gave the whole country a holiday. But she learned early not to rely on luck or happenstance. As a little girl one cold morning in their hand-built house north of Toronto, her father tried to thaw some frozen pipes by burning newspaper, setting the place ablaze. This event, and other calamities of the Great Depression, taught her the best way to face life’s challenges was to make a plan.
Jean often said she was a country girl at heart, and her earliest schemes often involved escapes back there after her parents and younger brother Russ settled in Toronto. She loved helping with farm chores while visiting cousins in Michigan. Her father was posted overseas in World War II, so to make a little extra money she worked in Niagara picking fruit as a teenaged ‘farmette’.
Mom at the farm in 2014
Later, she left Parkdale Collegiate early to take a bus to Vancouver. There Mom saved money working as a nurse. As an adult I sometimes caught her fondly singing the words to the Peggy Lee/Bing Crosby 40’s hit “Slow Boat to China”; she told me in explanation that she planned next, as a young woman, to work a cattle boat to some foreign destination. But her correspondence with a fellow she had met earlier back home blossomed into a long-distance romance. Instead of going overseas, she returned to Ontario to marry her husband Bo in 1952.
Those who say ‘fear of missing out’, is a modern social media phenomenon, didn’t know my Mom. One morning on their honeymoon camping trip, Jean immediately informed Bo that they were leaving since she noticed everyone else packing to leave for their next stop. He would later chuckle over the tale, since at the time they had no good idea where anyone was actually going. Fact is, she always wanted to be part of whatever was happening, often organizing family events and dinners, and enjoying all the fun of being with those she loved.
Jean also pre-dated modern feminism and there wasn’t much she thought she couldn’t do. She had an innate mathematical talent and managed family finances in the Scarborough bungalow she, Bo, and all of her five children, called home. Sometimes our parents struggled to make ends meet, so she found a job doing office accounting at a local factory. Once in the warehouse a man was overcome by fumes after falling into a large vat. Others pulled him out and Jean relied on her nurse’s training to perform CPR, getting sores in her mouth from the toxic chemicals.
Jean never lost her adventurous spirit. In the 1970’s she attended Seneca College to qualify as travel agent. More than part-time, she used the job to pursue her childhood wish to see the world. For more than 30 years, she and Bo happily flew, cruised and walked through scores of countries on five different continents.
She retired from work at Dunlop Industrial in the early 1990’s, but maintained a busy schedule. She helped organize at the local Seniors centre, loved reading, played bridge, still dreamed of winning the lottery, and took lots of trips. At some point, she noticed that she was forgetting more than usual, and was diagnosed with memory loss, which worsened after Bo passed away in 2010. Still she made efforts to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries with multiple calendars and notes, and to stay connected with far-flung family and friends through email and social media.
A long weekend in the County - Mom, Dad and Tom
Jean was happiest when she was anticipating the future. She always said that planning and thinking about her next excursion was more than half the fun. But that adventurous spirit was also tinged by a little sentimentality. Maybe it was because she knew all to well from her own experience that all plans, each trip, and every adventure, must come to an end.
She died last June, 2018, just short of her 88th birthday. I can’t call or visit this Sunday, so this memorial will have to do. Love you mom. Wishing all of the other Moms, step-Moms, foster Moms, Moms-in-law, grandMoms, great-grandMoms, a happy Mothers’ Day 2019.