Sunday, February 05, 2012

Do You Remember...

your parents' friends?

Mom & I, summer, 1997
I didn't have any grandparents growing up.  My mother's mother died when I was two or three; my father's when I was 10, but she'd suffered dementia for years and had no idea who I was. My step-father's mother, known as Grammie, came into my life when my mother re-married in 1957.  Although she treated me as one of her own, she was a sturdy, reserved Brit who'd had a tough life as the single mother of three lively boys (her husband was killed in France in WW I and is buried there; my step-father, her youngest, was 2 at the time), and she wasn't prone to coddling kiddies so she didn't pamper any of her grandchildren far as I know!   As a result, I tended to latch on to women who were friends of my parents, looking for a grandmother.

One such woman was Mary Kerr -- affectionately known as "Mame" to adults, but definitely Mrs. Kerr to me (children in those days never called adults by their given names, nor were they ever asked or expected to do so).  Mrs. Kerr was the age of a potential grandmother (i.e., she and her husband, already long retired, were a good 15-20 years older than my parents)  Of an afternoon, you could find me at her kitchen table, chatting her up while she took a smoke-and-coffee break over her baking or ironing or whatever she was doing.  Unlike my peers, she appeared actually to be interested in what I thought and what I had to say.  Even after she was widowed and living in a small apartment "in town", I managed to correspond with and visit her; she died shortly after I was married in 1975.

Another such woman was Mrs. Reeves Ryser, whom I met in the fall of 1969, at my high school graduation, when I received a bursary created by her family.  Apparently I was the first girl to win the prize, and the last person to whom she presented it in person.  I kept up an occasional correspondence with her for several years till I eventually lost track of her.  It turns out, I find out now as I look, that she died in April 1975, and is interred at Hillside, the rural cemetery founded by my great-great grandfather's brother, and in which my father and most of his family -- and my husband -- is buried.

Mrs. Joyce Barkhouse, Author
Now I have been notified of the death of another long-ago family friend, children's author, Mrs. Joyce Barkhouse.  When I knew her, though, she had yet to become an author.  At the time, she and her husband were probably in their late forties, with almost-grown children.  They were part of the influx of Montrealers and others who acquired an interest in lake-front lots on a bay between St. Anicet and Cazaville, Quebec, leased out by farmer Gaston Dupuis and later sold by him to many of those same people -- including my parents.  Alas, Mr. Barkhouse died in 1968, and Mrs. B. moved back to her native Nova Scotia.  It was in the early seventies that she published her first children's book, George Dawson: The Little Giant -- but she was best known for her award-winning story, Pit Pony, later made into a television movie by the CBC.  

Our paths crossed again in 2007 when I was working at Logos Books in Calgary, and came across a photo of her -- likely in reference to Pit Pony, which I believe the publisher was considering for re-release.  I managed to track her down and write her a letter, to which she replied most graciously.  By then in her early nineties, she still lived independently and maintained a lively interest in things literary.  She had a burgeoning family -- not only grandchildren but also great-grand-children, who were clearly the lights of her life (she sent me photos).  

Mrs. Barkhouse died February 3, just a few months shy of her 99th birthday, having lead a rich, full life.  Remembering her, I remember those years at The Lake, and am reminded what a treasure it is to be able to read and write, and what a gift she gave to children (and their parents!) when she carved out a new career as an author in her mid-fifties.  Thank you, Mrs. Barkhouse.  You will be missed.

1 comment:

Gina E. said...

This post certainly rang bells with me - I do indeed remember my parents' friends, as they were all very kind to me as a child. Maybe because I was the youngest (my brothers are 10 years older) and I was the first girl in our family for 3 generations. I am 64, so those people are all long since passed away, but I have lovely memories of them.