Once there was a very smart-looking, dark-haired young woman, dressed fashionably in skirt, boots, and a fur-collared jacket, posing for a picture in the metropolitan downtown of Montreal, circa late 1930s-early '40s. Maybe that is just the way I remember this photo, since I don't actually HAVE it but anyhow it struck me how worldly and sophisticated she looked.
Just a few years later, that vibrant woman was back home on the east coast, married to an older man and settled on his family farm in rural Prince Edward Island. She was about to deliver the first of 11 children, nine boys and two girls. She was now committed to a life of faith, family, love, making do and working harder than we can imagine. That strong character is my grandmother, Edith.
|Edith and Wilfred on their wedding day|
When my parents both worked, we went to Grammy's house. Today I wonder if by that time she might not have been tired of looking after small children, having spent most of her life doing that non-stop. But no, she relished having her grandchildren around her, feeding us, keeping us overnight, sending us out to play, saying "Just don't go near the sinkhole!" I still remember the feeling of being put to bed in their house, the wool blankets and homemade quilts piled on so heavily that we would be immobilized. The morning sounds of my grandfather getting up to stoke the fire and my grandmother starting a batch of biscuits were immeasurably comforting.
These days I use my grandmother's life to give me a dose of perspective. Particularly before we made this move to the prairies, I felt insanely busy, like there were never enough hours in the day. Two wildly different part-time jobs, plus being a full-time parent of two very active girls, plus marriage and a big house, a garden and yard to keep up. Oh, yeah, I was soooo busy.
Then I try to imagine Edith's life. A family of thirteen, no money to speak of, a farm, no modern conveniences. "Me time" would seem like a joke. The sheer volume of laundry, done without a machine, just makes the head spin. And the cooking! How many loaves of bread would it take to feed a family of 13, 9 of which were growing boys who probably never stopped eating? I always found it funny that my grandmother made huge batches of everything even after her children were grown and gone. She probably didn't know the recipe for a small batch.
|Some of those mischievous sons|
There would always be a baby (or several) to feed, bums and noses to wipe, mischievous little scamps to chase around. (Oh yes, there were definitely those ... all those dark-haired boys had a glint in their eyes.) Clothes to make and mend and re-mend and patch. And always, always meals to get on the table on time because that is what farm wives did. If a neighbour needed help, you helped. There was no extra money, no little luxuries. But there was a lot of love, with Edith right at the centre of it. Somehow they made do, frankly putting all of us over-consuming, over-spending complainers of today to shame.
You would think that backbreaking work, years of childbearing and rearing would make you cranky at times. But in all the years I've known her, I have never known my grandmother to be grumpy, or snappish as I am when tired or feeling moody. How can that be?
|Edith with the first baby, Bennett|
Each one of those grandchildren is so vital to her, as are our children, her great-grandchildren. She keeps track of everyone's lives, cherishes each new baby that comes into the family as if it were the first. After all of her own babies grew up and had babies, and those grew up and had babies, she still melts for the chance to cuddle one of those brand new people. I love to see the photos of my cousins proudly presenting their newborns to Grammy for the special Grammy Baby Benediction. She kisses their dear little fuzzy heads just as she kissed all of us when we were new. Her hugs are legendary, long and hard-squeezing, seriously loving hugs.
We know now that she can't stay with us forever. Following a fall, a broken ankle, surgery and a heart attack, she decided it was time to leave this earth and join her loved ones in heaven. Her constant presence will remain with us, as such patience, wisdom, kindness and strength can never truly leave and will surely last through all of our lives. Surely such love has permeated all of us who have been blessed by it, so that we can still go on no matter what comes.
I certainly hope so. I will miss you terribly. Although I can hear your voice telling us it will be alright, today we are not sure. I will honour your memory by striving to be as loving, patient and kind to all that I meet, just as you did throughout your life. If any one of us can leave such a legacy of love as you have, we will truly be fortunate.
Written in memory of Edith Rice Campbell, 1921-2013.
If you have any special memories or thoughts about Edith, please feel free to put them in the comments below. I would love to read and share them.