It was a long journey for Eileen, from sunny South Africa, at age eighteen with her sailor husband, to post-war England and then to Canada, eventually to Castlegar (we don’t think she was ever warm again) where she and Gwilym settled down to raise their three daughters, Jill, Patsy and Sally, followed by two Canadian-born sons, Gareth and Trevor.
Raised in an unjust and intolerant society, Eileen, nevertheless, found her voice as a tireless advocate for the less fortunate and defenceless. In Castlegar, she spent many, many hours volunteering at the Silver Birch School for the Mentally Handicapped, as it was then known. Although she disliked bowling, she was quite content to take Mickey, Dix, and Fred to the alley each week, where they all happily banged balls down the gutters for hours. She was no better at badminton, and didn’t like it either, but gamely swatted away at the birdie to the cries of “hit it, princess” from her Silver Birch fan club. We think she liked them rather more than her own children. During her term on the local school board, she fought hard to have the strap abolished, thinking it a severe and arbitrary punishment. She was not, however, above giving her own children a smack with the wooden spoon when the occasion warranted it. In her view.
As we got older, and faster, she devised different disciplines, most of which involved us doing more chores, and her, fewer. She hated housework. When Trevor was kicked off the school bus for writing an obscenity (yes, THAT word) in the condensation on the window, she extracted an hour of housework from him for each hour she had to spend driving him to and from school. She wasn’t so much annoyed about the language, as she was about the waste of time. She had a beautiful rose garden, which was always immaculate because, Sniff, Gasp, “Have you been SMOKING? “Go and weed the rose garden!” Or shovel the drive, or mow the lawn. She loved to read, a gift she gave all of us, and we would often come home from school to find her lost in her book, while the vacuum cleaner sat idly by.
Ahh, yes, the rose garden. When Mom called the local constabulary to complain that the neighbour’s cows were breaking through his decrepit fences and eating her precious roses, she was advised that nothing could be done unless she could identify the individual cows. The next time the marauding herd trampled in, looking for a good munch, Mom and Gareth were ready with bucket and paintbrush. The cows went home sporting new coats of bright blue paint, nicely matching the trim on our house. No problem picking them out of the bovine lineup!
Mom was a feminist before we had ever heard the word. Once, and we do mean once, Gwil complained that his lunches didn’t contain the same toothsome delights as those of his colleagues. Mom whipped up a tasty batch of dog treats, iced them with plaster of Paris, tinted them daintily pink, and artfully finished them off with a maraschino cherry. He was lucky not to break a tooth, but the point was made, and it was much more subtle than telling him to make his own lunch, which she was also quite capable of doing. She would always take the side of her daughters and daughters-in-law over any male, including her own sons. Never mattered to her whether the girls were right or wrong.
Mom was forthright and honest. Some might say blunt. They would be right. She was passionate about her native country, but despised its politics. She refused to sing the South African national anthem until Mandela was released, then belted it out at the top of her lungs, in two languages. She became a Canadian citizen, but didn’t realize how Canadian until she heard De Gaulle shouting “Vive la Quebec libre”, and then she despised him too. She was wise and strong and resourceful and determined and spirited and unafraid and fiercely loyal She had many, many good friends from all walks of life, because she WAS a good friend. When trouble visited, she was the first at the door with the casserole, the kleenex, the shoulder to cry on. And she always, always had our backs.
Mom had a saying by Carl Sandburg taped to her wall. “Life is like an onion; you peel off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.” After Gwil died, there was less peeling, and more weeping. She died on July 29th, just short of her 89th birthday.
Eileen will be remembered with love and laughter by her five children, their spouses, 11 grandchildren, their spouses and partners, four great-grandchildren, eight nieces and a grand assortment of great nieces and nephews, great-great nieces and nephews, step-grandchildren, step great-grandchildren and Minky. Her legacy.