Sunday, 31 August 2014

Phyllis Cora Langley Feb 9, 1922 - August 31, 2014

My grandmother died today.  That sounds a little dramatic, when it was actually quite anticlimactic - - she had a massive thrombotic stroke on August 26 and although it is likely that whatever consciousness it was that made her her disappeared then, it took her body a few days to follow suit.  I fervently hope that she did not suffer and that she had no awareness of these last few days. 

This all happened a continent away, in Victoria.  I am not certain what arrangements will be made, or if any formal celebration will take place.  The plan as I understand it right now is to cremate her remains and put her urn in the same niche as my grandfather, who died in 2007.  When and how that will happen, I do not know.

July 2007

My grandmother was 92 years old when she died, which is very old for anyone, and especially old for my family.  She had a life full of hardship and joys, frustration and love.  I think she was proud of me, but we had a complicated relationship exacerbated by distance and time.  Looking back I see many of her qualities reflected in me - - her strength, her capacity for taking joy in the little things, and her perseverance in adversity, and I delight in this.

My grandmother fancied herself an author and made several little books, one a genealogy, one a book of her mother's recipes (including the infamous family pie crust recipe of legend), and one a book of stories and musings about her life.

To my shame I never really did more than skim these when my grandmother gave them to me, but I spent the afternoon today reading them all from cover to cover.   My father is doing the same with his copies, likely for the same reason. 

My grandmother was a complicated woman, and reading her history some of her personality makes more sense to me now.  She had a somewhat hardscrabble youth, coming of age through the tough times of the Depression and World War II, and those leave their marks on a person.  I learned a lot about her feelings about her family (conflicted), her favourite colour (red), and her thoughts about her patients when she was a nurse (both protective and judgmental).  I learned that she loved each of her grandchildren of whom I was the first, but that she saw much more of my cousins, and consequently had a much stronger bond with each of them (this much I knew already).

I knew from conversations with her that when my grandparents first married they initially lived in a small trailer - she once even got her photo in the Winnipeg paper preparing dinner in the minuscule trailer kitchenette.  What I did not know was that my grandfather had been a patient in the hospital where she worked, and that they met in the hospital.

My fondest memories of my grandmother are of going on nature walks with her at my grandparents' farm when I was 5-9 years old.  My grandmother introduced me to their local beaver pond and to cattails and Indian Paintbrushes and to frogs.  I only today learned that she didn't like snakes because one once went over her foot when she walked barefoot as a child.  That explains why the local garter snakes never featured in our walks, I suppose (me, I like snakes, so I did not inherit everything from my grandmother).


I also have a vivid memory of how practical my grandmother was when she killed a chicken for dinner one day, smacking the chicken onto an old stump and chopping its head off with a hatchet with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth, red with her usual bright lipstick.  When my grandmother kissed you with that lipstick you stayed kissed - - it took a lot of scrubbing to get the lip marks off your face. 

I never saw how she coped when all her hard purchased supplies were stolen right before a long rainy weekend with my four cousins, but cope she did and they had a wonderful time without ever seeing the struggle she had to feed them all until the roads opened up. 

Apparently those memories were fond ones for my grandmother as well, because she wrote about one of our nature walks in her book of stories.  I don't remember the specific instance that she was writing about, but it was evocative of so many of our discovery walks around the farm.  I cherished and continue to cherish those memories, especially once I became an adult and moved out east and we drifted apart.

The farm will likely be sold, and it isn't the same anyways since the oil company began pumping oil on the place years ago and it hasn't been a productive farm for decades as a result.  No, the farm will have to live on only in photographs and my memories, and in my grandmother's book of stories.  Perhaps that is the best, as those do not fade and collapse the way the real structures likely have.

So this is a eulogy of sorts for my grandmother, Phyllis Cora, that daughter of homesteaders and migrants, who loved art and family.  Sleep well, grandma, you deserve the rest.  I love you.

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