We see photos and they either have meaning or not depending on the content. Occasionally someone else’s moment triggers something in our soul, something we call memories,
Memories are the stuff of our senses and our emotions, coloured by who, what, or why we related them to. For instance, photos of home baked oatmeal cookies is a memory from one’s childhood. However, the smell of freshly baked oatmeal cookies brings back the details of a grandmother’s messy kitchen, the love that went into the creations and the caring relationship of one long since passed.
The feature pictures above are Vera May Armstrong, 1916-2019. A pleasant smile with her eldest daughter Janet Bradford of Brantford and another offering a guest a cup of tea. Always the gracious host and forever dedicated to her three children Janet, Joy and Neil and the extensions of grandchildren and great grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren that fell under her matriarchal mantle as a result. One would expect that over 103 years!
Janet spoke of Vera at the Celebration of Life in Bobcaygeon where she spent her final years.
“We had planned to get together to celebrate Mom’s 103rd birthday and instead everyone arrived on that date to celebrate the significance of the memories she left with us.”
What a life! Two World Wars, The Great Depression and the Industrial Revolution up to the incredible digital world we all carry in our pockets which far surpasses the technology that put the man on the moon in 1969.
“Mom used to refer to the first man to step on the moon as, ‘her boy’ given his name was also Neil Armstrong.”
“She stayed current with the news over the century and was quite open about her ‘crush’ on both Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry. Both of these gentlemen generously sent her photos and signed on her 100th birthday which she proudly showed every single guest…every single time…they’d drop in to say hi in her apartment.”
At the 100th party, she squealed, “Are they here?”
The moments of her life, all 36,665 days or 52,797,600 hours, touched thousands of lives. Always polite and demure, she made everyone feel important, even if that sparkle in her eye suggested someone must have skipped a particular manners lesson.
Daughter Janet added to this, “There’s something unique about mother/daughter relationships. It could be described as the best of times and the worst of times (quoting Charles Dickens). Neil occasionally ate at the bread board for his transgressions and all the kids knew the taste of soap for something inadvertently said. Mom always lived in Canada yet carried previous generations of European traditions about respect and demeanor. She may have been strict, but her love was never-ending and it was ‘for our own good’. She felt our pain through the struggle of growing up and facing life’s challenges like it was hers. Her ‘Vera Look’ withered us mid-step but it gave us the character and strength to follow the right path.”
Vera’s rock of stability was her husband Wib. That jovial neighbour that always found time to help you with your project and still finish his own home chores with never one syllable of complaint or regret. They met in their late 20’s when they both worked at Rexall Drugs in Toronto and married during WWII in 1942. Wib retired as Vice President of Operations for Rexall Canada before it was sold to an American company. He would bring samples from the factory like shampoo and multivitamins and made sure all his family were taken care of. You could never have enough toothpaste it seemed, and no one had concerns over expiration dates…
Janet recalls that once the kids were in school, her Mom stopped working to provide that family stability. It seemed to have been a plan as Neil, the baby became the Businessman, Joy the Bank Manager and Janet the Registered Nurse. Upon reflection, it seems she put the needs of her senior years into her children’s career path.
“Mom and Dad bought the cottage in Haliburton on East Moore Lake and every year they trekked up with a summer supply of linen and luggage to last until Labour Day. Mom very rarely drove as Wib arrived punctually each Friday evening around dusk while the kids waited at the farmer’s gate for his headlights to come around the corner. And then left again for Monday morning work. The girls worked at the only grocery store for 30 miles in either direction on Hwy 35. We became boaters and skiers and knew everyone on the lake.”
“Later in life, Mom became the social butterfly, hosting Dad’s parties and neighbour get-togethers all year long. She was delighted to meet new people. She kept up on current affairs right until the end. You could hear her clicking her tongue over some politician’s transgressions or the travesty of third-world countries. She was only too pleased to share her lifetime of stories, repeatedly, including Richmond Hill, Toronto, Agincourt and Cannington before retiring to Lindsay and Bobcaygeon.”
“And she HATED the smell of Geraniums!”
“At a mighty stature of around 5 feet tall and shrinking, she was an energizer bunny with time for all of us. In life we loved her dearly: in death we love her more. Our hearts hold her a place no one else will ever fill and her voice through our heartbeats will uplift us forever.”
The photos remind us of Vera Armstrong, but our spirit is full, with our moments unforgotten.
Publisher’s Note: I have taken liberty to publish my sweet Mother-in-law’s celebration of life through my wife’s eyes…because I can. I encourage others to use this medium for telling your story of a loved one as well.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to do the same thing.
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