My Mom passed away last night. She was 93 and had enjoyed relatively good health until a couple of years ago when her hearing and sight began to decline. She was the last of our four parents to die, and with her death that generation and its memories is now lost to our families.

Mom was born in 1919 in London, England to middle class parents. Her Dad, Hugh Blakeman, was a building contractor and she and her sister Constance lived in Wembley and Dollis Hill, relatively affluent neighbourhoods in London, England. Mom was on holiday in Italy with her mother and sister when she bumped into Dennis, an acquaintance from London and began a romance that led to her engagement. Dennis had enlisted in the air force as a pilot in what everyone knew would shortly be conflict in Europe.

Mom enlisted as well and was soon serving in the south of England in the secret radar installations that dotted the southern coast. Soon German shells were dropping all along that shore in an effort to disable this vital defense line, and Mom spent long days and nights in bunkers manning the small green screens that identified incoming aerial attacks. The WACS, as these brave young women soldiers were called, were trained to distinguish between the larger German bombers and the smaller British fighters by the shape and size of the blips on the screen. For every smaller blip that disappeared, another British plane went down. One of those blips that disappeared one night over the English Channel was her fiancée, Dennis.

There was no time in those days of wholesale destruction to mourn the death of one airman and the marriage dreams of one female soldier. Friends and family members were dying daily all around you and life seemed to be not much more than a matter of mere chance; where you happened to be standing or sleeping as the bombs rained down in an unending cascade. Along with the inevitability of death came an almost desperate attempt to affirm life and cling to whatever chance it seemed to offer you of future happiness.

In such a context Mom and Dad met. She was singing in the mess tent that served as an entertaining venue in the rare evenings when they weren’t being bombed. He was a young army officer, just one of thousands that were being assembled in the south of England getting ready to be shipped to Africa to stop the Axis advance there. He strode in to the back of the mess hall one night, listened for a minute as Mom was singing on the stage, turned to his mates and said, “That’s the woman I am going to marry.” Two months later they were wed. The following day he shipped out to Africa. When that campaign was over he was reassigned to Ceylon, and then to what is now Bangladesh to stop the Japanese advance through Burma. He and Mom didn’t meet again until the war was over, almost five years later.

Post-war England was a difficult place to live. The war had been extraordinarily destructive to Britain. Food was still rationed and fresh fruit almost impossible to come by. In such circumstance my Mom and Dad began a family. Rosemary was born just after the war in September 1946, Wyn came along 15 months later, and I was born 17 months after that. A fourth child, Henrietta died after just four days and is buried in Colchester, where Mom and Dad had settled.

Although we lived in a nice house on Turner Road, and Dad had a good job, the chances for promotion were limited and the opportunities for adventure even more so. Emigration to Australia and Canada was actively promoted by England as a way of dealing with the unemployment problems facing Britain. Passage to Canada was the princely sum of $1500 for a family of five. Passage to Australia was free. Mom reasoned that anything being given away wasn’t worth having and decided on Canada instead. We emigrated in 1955, landing in Toronto and living in the attic of family friends until we could find a flat of our own on Dufferin Street.

Mom and Dad loved Canada and did very well there. The opportunities for an entrepreneurial salesman were vast and immigrants like themselves were common in those days. They became good friends with Irene and Dino Voyatzis, neighbours in the Don Mills community where we moved next. Both then moved to the new community of Parkway West, just west of Scarborough in Toronto and both joined an amateur drama group that gave Mom an outlet for her dramatic and artistic talents. She sold real estate for a while and was very successful at it and worked for Kofflers, a local drug store that went on to become Shoppers Drug Mart. She enjoyed the life that Dad’s increasing salary afforded them.

In 1968 Dad’s company closed its Canadian operation and in order to preserve his pension they moved back to England, settling in Lincoln where Dad retired. It was there that he passed away in 1995, succumbing to the cancer that had started in his lungs and progressed to the bone. Mom soldiered on for 17 years without him, but a partnership forged in such circumstances as theirs cannot easily be replaced. Mom gradually withdrew from the world and as her eyesight dimmed and her hearing went became more and more isolated. I had the joy of visiting with her three years ago and had a lovely time taking her out to the pubs and walks where she used to go with Dad. But there was always a longing in her spirit for the man that she had shared such an adventurous life with; a hole in her heart that could not be filled with anyone or anything else.

A year ago Pam and I were able to visit with her again, but she could no longer endure car rides to anywhere and consoled herself with small walks just beyond the nursing home that had been her only home for the last eight years. She was grateful for our visit, but I knew in my heart that it would be the last I would ever see of her. Lately the phone visits have become more and more infrequent as she no longer had the physical strength to get to the phone or hear what was said when I called. When my sister wrote that she had been taken to hospital five weeks ago I began preparing for what I knew would be the end. But even at 93 and after such a full life, these things still have the power to take you by surprise with their sudden intrusion into the ordinary events of your own life.

My mother was a feisty and often abrasive woman. She was as stubborn and strong-willed as anyone you are ever likely to meet. But she was also beautiful and graceful, artistic and loving. It is to my Mom that I owe my love of literature, drama and music. My Dad loved her for her wild and willful determination to be her own person whatever the consequences, and I guess I did too. I will miss her; the last in our family of the ‘heroic generation’ that fought a war to save a civilization from the dominance of tyranny. Her own personal war has at last come to an end. Rest in peace, Mom.

About these ads