My grandmother was many things, but I'll tell you about what I remember the most.
Like many women of her generation, she had an astute sense of what was proper and ladylike. She dressed with finesse, and took great care with her wardrobe. I remember once, as a child, opening up her closets to discover rows of well-organized dresses, modest skirts, and beautiful pant-suits, many in garment bags, and hung together as full outfits rather than individual pieces above racks and racks of matching shoes. She took great pride in her collection, and every piece had a story to go along with it. Where she had worn it, where it had come from, and what pieces from her vast collection of accessories were best suited. It was rare to come across her in a dressing gown, and under no circumstances would she don a pair of jeans or casual pants, opting instead for low heels, tasteful blouses and vibrant scarves. In my late teens she once said to me "real ladies don't wear jeans." The idea of denim was so distasteful to her, as if she were personally insulted by a pair of levi's. It's largely because of her that I own just two pairs of pants and opt for dresses and skirts nearly every day, whether it's -40 or +20 outside. I hear her voice in the back of my head every time I walk past Jeans, Jeans, Jeans. She would have been appalled.
Her life was a constant stream of adventures. My grandfather, John, was a documentarian of sorts, and kept unbelievably detailed logs of all they did together. Every car trip, down to the passengers (Clara, my father Peter, his sister, Penny, and occasionally, their cat) and where they stopped for lunch, fuel, or for the night. When we could sit with my grandmother before she was lost to us, she would tell us stories about their travels. The time they went to Iceland, those trips to Myrtle Beach and the lazy river she liked to float in that was part of the hotel pool, and all of the miles they covered in their RV, from the coasts of Canada to the southern tips of the United States. I sat with her once, in a seniors home in Mississauga, long after dementia had started to take away her sense of here and now, as she told me about her art school adventures - she was one of the first women to attend NSCAD, and a talented painter. She traveled the eastern parts of the country after the death of her first husband, taking over his business in order to put food on the table for her two children, in a time where it was not all that common. She was tough, she was strong, and she was full of spirit.
She suffered from dementia for the last years of her life, and it's especially sad to me that what really took her from us, in the end, took the stories of her adventures away, too.
An avid collector of things, she kept careful, handwritten notes with them all. The notes detailed a variety of things - family history, funny stories of where each piece came from, and who she wanted to see inherit them when they could no longer be her own. A few years ago, my mother, sister, my aunt and myself, spent time sorting through them all. Some pieces went back only twenty years, others more than one hundred. Each of them was stored, carefully, in tiny jewellery bags, with even tinier scraps of paper covered in her hard-to-read writing. "For Robyn Paton. Approx. 1870," one read. "My mother's mother's brooch. Very old." It's the one I'll wear to her funeral this Thursday. It's her birthday, and somehow fitting that that we celebrate the wonderful life that she lived on the day that she first came into it.
Clara E. Watt (Paton; Macphail) -- March 7, 1922 - March 1, 2013.