A Life in Eight Ends

Don
First published February 17, 2013 on facingcancer.ca

Although this may not have complete relevance for this site, since I’ve written often about my mom I thought you might indulge me in sharing the remarks I made at her funeral this past Friday.

A life in eight ends

Thank you for joining us today.  My first recommendation is that you get yourselves comfortably seated.  I have 100 years to cover and that could take some time.

As recently as this past Saturday, I made a solemn promise to Mom that I would not grieve her death.  I will attempt to fulfill that promise.  However, as my baby sister Barbie observed, it is o.k. to be sad because we will miss Mom’s corporeal presence.  At the same time we recognize that Mom will be with us always as we reflect upon her zest for life and her spirited acceptance of challenges that would have overcome most people.

How does one effectively capture a century of life?  As Mom was a true sportswoman I thought to approach today’s eulogy using the metaphor of golf, trying to cover her life in 18 holes.  Sensibly, I realized that I would lose most of you by the 9th hole so I’ve chosen instead a curling metaphor where I will share some observations on a life in eight ends.

First end:

Bette Friedan.  Germaine Greer. Nellie McClung.  Dorothy Kerr-Adamson?

You might not make the connection quickly between these pioneering feminists and Mom but as you reflect on her life with me today you will begin to see that she was indeed way ahead of her times in very many ways.

Dressed up in the pink frocks she favoured, dripping with the sparkly baubles she enjoyed, wrapped in a full-length white mink coat you might not immediately see the young woman behind the catcher’s mask squatted behind home plate while she played softball for the Swastikas.  Although, she had the smarts to protect her pretty looks given that she was the first catcher to wear the mask.  Protecting the plate is not a job for the faint of heart and if there was a woman who had real fortitude it was her.

Second end:

Athletic by nature and inclination, something not necessarily held in high regard when Mom was younger, her enthusiasm for an active lifestyle is something she never abandoned.  You may recall at her 100th birthday celebration that she rose up and took to the dance floor.  You may have joined us on July 2 at the golf club when she took 3-wood in hand and knocked two balls off the first tee – still showing remarkable form even though she confessed to me that she’d almost fallen flat on her butt!

How she came about to be on that tee at all was again testament to her will.  Although it now seems hard to fathom, women were not welcome on the golf course in the late 40s.  Until Augusta National finally admitted a couple of women members the practice was more common than not.  That did not sit well with Mom and after being refuted several times she approached the pro at the time who relented with a promise to teach her if Mom could find a few more ‘girls’ to play.  Down came that glass ceiling and Mom went on to win numerous club championships and achieve honorary member status just a few years ago.

She loved her golf.  As she grew less able to get about, she would tell us that, in order, she missed, “Mac, the love of my life; golf, the sport of my life; and, my car.”

Third end:

Breaking through on the golf front was insufficient challenge so on she went to lead the charge to create the Galt Ladies Curling Club and true to form she began to rack up championships in both mixed curling, with her athletic first husband Jimmy Babcock, and with her ladies team.  Years later, in the late ‘60s she would take on one of her biggest challenges – teaching me to curl.  I recall very pleasantly our journeys down the hill to the curling club which coincidentally was located just across the street from where she would live out her life.  She taught me how to use the corn broom, the intricacies of a smooth delivery, the excitement of the high-powered takeout, and the nuances of strategy.  I continued to curl until just a few years ago and there was one lesson she taught me most emphatically.

Upon the rare occasion when I would miss a shot I had a tendency to get overexcited – at least that is how I recall it.  What Mom recalled was a long-haired, teenager wearing his Hudson’s Bay curling sweater slamming his corn broom on the ice, shouting some rather indelicate phrases and finally tossing the broom into the stands.  She quietly but firmly informed me that this behaviour was untoward and that if she ever saw me do it again she would have me banished from curling for life.  At the time I actually thought she could do that so I did modify my boorishness.

While an intense competitor she was never one to lose her cool nor give her opponents any advantage arising out of her emotional state.  She remained this way ‘til the very end.  Whether bridge, golf, curling, baseball or the very sport of life, she was a tigress with the external demeanor of a true lady.

Fourth end:

Life hurled any number of obstacles in Mom’s way.  There was that nasty second World War that saw her serve the country and community in the rations office.  There was the sudden passing of her darling Jimmy just before Christmas in 1963.  There was the death of her dear youngest sister Shirley.  Then her quite spectacular puppeteer sister Goldie MacCauly.  And finally, the passing of one of the most kind people to ever grace this earth, her sister Jessie.  Mom came from sturdy Scot’s stock though and through all of this sadness she found the way to rise up, embrace her faith, and move forward with renewed spirit.

That spirit though was truly tested in 2005 when her daughter Bette-Anne succumbed to the ravages of cancer.

Unfortunately Mom had become a veteran of the loss of those nearest and dearest to her.  In 1968 she married my late father Henry in one of the greatest acts of courage known to womankind!

Why courageous?  My father was not an easy man and while he possessed many fine qualities his outlook on womankind and offspring was essentially Victorian.  Children were to be seen and not heard, brought up with the well-practiced notion of spare the rod and spoil the child, and managed with only occasional disciplinary intervention by the man of the house.   He was a man married to his business and after my mother Eleanor passed away in 1967 his clear need was to find someone to help him through life while bringing along with him the baggage of two teenagers – me and my sister Elizabeth.  To his great good fortune he had met Mrs. Babcock some years earlier through the Kiwanis club and somehow persuaded her to become Mrs. Henry Kerr.

We did not always travel a smooth road between 1968 and 1991 when Henry died.  Truthfully I never knew the real Dorothy until she emerged from my father’s shadow and what a delightful, albeit very challenging at times, person she turned out to be.  All those years she knew that she would never supplant my first Mom’s place.  All those years she rode the fine balance of being quietly and firmly supportive in the background, often smoothing out the rough edges of my father, and finally leading us to a place when we became friends.

Fifth end:

Speaking of mothers, we come from a long line of adoptees.  I was adopted.  Bette Anne was adopted.  Elizabeth was adopted.  Elaine was adopted.  Dorothy’s granddaughter Tara was adopted.

And you thought the Jews were the chosen people!

Not so.  Perhaps then you can imagine Mom’s genuine delight when grandchildren began to appear.  My sister Elizabeth began the parade with Jay, then Marcus, then Ryan.  She interrupted the flow a bit with the very astute selection of Tara but got back on the bus when Alana appeared.  Then Elaine got busy and brought to this world three of Mom’s greatest joys in life – Mackenzie, Wesley and Eli.  Lord she loved those boys so, almost as much as she loved their Mom Elaine.  Then to her very great surprise her late-blooming son, me, met the love of his life Kate and soon two boys, Gabriel and Samuel joined Mom’s stable of greatly loved and adored grandchildren.  While she never insisted on my undertaking a paternity test I think there was always a part of her that wondered how I had gotten so very fortunate at such an advanced age.

Sixth end:

To think of it though, what do any of us here really know about advanced age.  Dorothy reached the century mark with all of her wits about her – something many of us can’t say even now.  Yes, her body started to fail her but never, ever did her indomitable spirit  totally succumb to the various ailments that come to afflict all who live beyond their best-before date.

I think I know one of her secrets though and it is so evidently clear that we should all be aware immediately.

Seventh end:

Mom’s secret in the last few years revolved around two people.

One, husband number three – Mac Adamson.  I told Mom shortly after Mac died a couple of years ago that not only had she lost the partner of a lifetime, the world had lost one of the few remaining true gentle-men.  What a marvelous man he was and how very lucky was Mom to have Mac to accompany her on the final passages of her life.

I can very well remember Mom declaring vociferously that after Henry died she was done with the entire marriage thing.  She said, “Donald, I have had it with preparing three meals a day, washing up, cleaning up after a man, and catering to his whims and wishes.”

This conversation came about just around the time that I was teasing her about shacking up with this very nice man who lived in a condo just down the hall from hers.  I wanted to know that if her strict Presbyterian upbringing permitted this wanton display of sinful living or was she able to just compartmentalize that little part of her background.

Certainly coincidentally, Mom and Mac were married a short time later and partly because in Mac, Mom found a man who would, for her, prepare three meals a day, do the washing and cleaning up, and cater to her every whim and wish.

And, hooking up with this sterling fellow delivered to the rest of us an even bigger family with Murray, Barb, David, Beth and Mackenzie.

I will say this – she knew how to pick ‘em and while each husband was dramatically different they each of them possessed true, genuine love for her.

And so we come to the eighth end, when we tally up the scores:

I told you there were two people key to Mom’s longevity and joyful approach to life.

The first, Mac.

The second, her remarkably wonderful granddaughter Elaine.

It was my greatest challenge in writing these remarks to clearly articulate how central Elaine was to Mom’s life since she came on the scene some 40 years ago.  Hope I didn’t let any cats out of the bag with that Elaine!

It is an undebatable truism that Mom’s world and heart revolved around this young lady – from the day she first arrived to join the family until her last visit this week.  If I persist on this front I will both embarrass Elaine and veer from my solemn oath to my Mom about this ceremony so I shall let someone else’s words speak to how my mother felt about my niece.

St. Basil wrote,

“A tree is known by its fruit; a woman by her deeds.  A good deed is never lost; she who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and she who plants kindness gathers love.”

Elaine, she loved you ceaselessly for your kindness, your friendship, and your glowing inner beauty.  Thank you for being such a remarkable caregiver to her and for bringing never-ending joy to her life.

Extra end:

O.K.  There will be an extra end but it will be very quick.  I tried in these remarks to give some view of Dorothy Scott Gibb Babcock Kerr Adamson’s remarkable life.  You will determine how successful I have been.  But to be safe let me leave you with a very succinct summary of how I think she lived her life.

This is from T. S. Eliot -

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”



 

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