This morning my 99 year old Grandmother, Dorothy Ollerton, breathed her last breath.
She was the last of her generation in my family, and managed to outlive her elder sister by 2 years, which I think rather pleased her. (Them being rivals to the end, but only from her side.) She also managed to see two of her great grandchildren born and although they’re probably too young to really remember her, I think they’ll have a sense of her in their hearts.
She was born in Hamilton, Ontario- the daughter of an engineer sent over from England to settle and work in a booming industrial city. The middle of three children, she was raised in a big house in the core of Hamilton in a very proper British manner, and I wonder if my own great grandfather was pleased when she met a handsome young factory worker on the tennis courts in Gage Park one summer evening. They’d needed a fourth for pairs, and a friend brought him along.
It was to be a long engagement, however, as The Great Depression took it’s toll on them like many others, but still they persevered, finally marrying in their 30’s. She worked part-time in a flower shop, and he worked for Westinghouse producing appliances, and together they raised two fine girls who were the envy of her sisters. For various reasons, neither her elder sister Elsie, nor her younger sister Beryl, had chosen to have children, and so my mother and Aunt ended up with not One mother but Three! Something that didn’t always please my Grandmother, but led to some interesting holiday dinners.
And boy could my grandmother cook! Unlike her two very un-domestic sisters, Dorothy was a master of her domain in the kitchen. Most of my memories of her involve food in some way, whether it be eating her homemade black-currant jam on toast at their small kitchen table, her marvelous apple pies, or the turkey dinners that came to mark each of the holidays. Even at 92, my grandmother was making full-course Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners by herself, and cut back on nothing with age. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy and lavish deserts made each holiday a joy to behold, and it was only because the seniors apartment she and my grandfather moved to had a small kitchen that she finally took a break from cooking. (With both a mix of regret and relief, since she cooked as much out of duty as pleasure in her elder years.)
I should not imply my Grandmother was a saint. She most clearly was not in any sense of the word. She was jealous of her sisters from the day she was born until the day they were both gone, and put the capital “M” in the term “Middle Child Syndrome”. She was petty, and once stopped talking to her elder sister for years because of a single careless remark- not even being willing to tell Elise what she’d said to cause all the trouble in the first place. She could also nag with the best of them, and if there was a nagging competition then I suspect she would have gotten first place. We often remarked that my grandfather deserved a medal for staying with her all those years (50+!) and I’ll always wonder how long he’d actually been going deaf before he let anyone know…
But, despite all her flaws, she was at heart a good person who cared deeply about others, and deeply loved both her children and her grandchildren. My sister and I were her only grandchildren, and she lavished her attention on us during our visits, which were of course never as frequent as she’d like. She made sure to always have some home-made sweets ready for us, and loved to play with us and fuss over us.
I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother, or better childhood, and she was a large part of that.
Shortly after my grandfather died a few years ago, she collapsed and needed to be moved to a nursing home. Her condition steadily weakened, both physically and mentally, and in the end she was alive more in a technical sense than any meaningful way. Slowly her periods of sleep went from hours to days, and in the end she only opened her eyes for the briefest of moments.
The last time I saw her alive, she couldn’t wake up, but still managed to sing along to her great-grand-children’s singing. Mouthing the words in her sleep as they sang. Still trying to be part of the party until the end.
To any who read this, and still having living grandparents, I ask you to call them or get in touch with them soon and let them know what they mean to you. You never know how long they’ll be with you, and you should enjoy them while they’re still here. Too often we say “later”, but too often, it becomes “too late”. I enjoyed having mine around for 39 years, but for most it will be far shorter. Their love brought you into this world, so let them know it’s with love that they’ll leave it.
Goodbye Nana. I’ll miss you.