Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A celebration of life for Grandma

This past weekend I shared the below eulogy at my Grandmother's Celebration of life ceremony in Ontario. She was 96 years old.

Blanche lived a full, rich, life. She had a genuine faith in the words of her savior, Jesus Christ, who said, “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have everlasting life.” So we know she is now in heaven, we can celebrate as we remember her.
Blanche Victoria Atkinson was born May 16, 1915, in Newmarket, Ontatio. Her father, Charles, was a farmer, who later went on to become a carpenter. He was active in the church choir, and sang in quartets at the Gormley and Stouffville Missionary churches. While growing up, I’m sure Blanche and her younger sisters, Reta and Delma would’ve been proud to sit and listen to their father sing.
After completing her education, Blanche worked 31 years as a teacher. The first 8 of those, in one room school houses, typical of rural Ontario at the time, where one teacher would teach around thirty students from 8 grades. The first school house she taught in still stands in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, now known as the North Community Hall. In those days, a wood stove sat in one corner of the class. The kids furthest away from it had to keep their coats and boots on to stay warm in the winter. Blanch met her first husband, Clifford Gordon, while on her first four year teaching assignment in Ravenshoe. They were married September 7, 1940. She took a ten-year break from teaching to start a family. This is when her daughters, Glendyne June, and Louise Margaret (my mother) were born. She returned to teaching at a one-room schoolhouse in Whitchurch township for another 4 years, before transferring to Summitview Public School, in Stouffville, where she continued to work until 1977.

Some of you may have known her as a teacher, a friend, or a co-worker, I knew her as Grandma. My first memories of her go back to when we lived in Chilliwack, B.C. in the 1970s, when she would fly out from Ontario to visit us during school summer vacations. She usually picked up a gift for us at the airport. I remember this book she gave us, from the Noddy Boy Books series, the adventures of a young bobble head toy. She would read it to me before bed, and then we had what she called “kissy kissy time”. As a little six or seven year-old I didn’t seem to mind. But we weren’t a real kissing family around the home, like some Mediterranean families. When I became a teen-ager, I shied away from these kissy kissy times with Grandma, most of the time I could. In the summer of 2009, I was posted from 19 Wing Comox to the naval base in Halifax. My wife, Olivia, my eldest son, Andre, and I were driving across Canada. I knew Grandma was suffering with Dementia. I wondered as we drove into southern Ontario, if she would remember me. When we stopped to visit her at the nursing home, Grandma was in the midst of taking a nap. I quietly entered her room, and stood beside her. She promptly woke up, made eye contact with me, put both her arms up, and the first thing she said was, “Give me a kiss!”

I only ever saw Grandma angry once, and that was when were sold some dead fishing worms at a gas station in Coboconk, Ontario, near the 4 Mile Lake, Atkinson cottage. She took those worms back inside and demanded they be replaced. “How dare you sell my Grandsons dead worms!” The attendant argued that they were just sleeping, but after her insistence, he did replace them.

Being a teacher all those years must have given my Grandma extra patience for dealing with boys. Somehow she could get me to do things no other adult could. Like one summer she taught me how to play a tune on the piano by putting numbered masking tape on the keys. To this day it’s the only song I can play. She introduced me to literature, like, Charlotte’s Web and Stewart Little. She was a strong creative influence in my life.

Grandma loved to travel. Several summers, she visited a cottage on the Bay of Fundy coast in Nova Scotia belonging to her dear friend, Helen Weatherby. After Grandma retired, with her second husband, Cecil Emmerson Banks (they married Dec 1, 1979) they visited Hawaii, and Great Britain. She went on several bus tours down south, and even joined my parents as they took an Airstream trailer through the United States in the late 1990s.

Board games were another passion of hers. She was an avid Scrabble player, and any time I faced her across the table, if I won, I knew she let me.

While I was studying in England and overseas is Egypt working as a missionary Grandma would send me monthly letters, with encouraging clippings she had found in the church bulletin, or in her Daily Bread devotions. She would update me on her comings and goings in Stouffville or share a diary of some bus site seeing trip she was on. When we returned to Canada, we could count on a weekly call from her on the weekend. She was genuinely interested in our lives and many times had words of encouragement or advice if we were facing struggles or challenges.
She was a very even keeled person, who, like I said, rarely became angry. I did some stupid things as a kid, even as a young man, but I never felt judged by her. Instead I was encouraged. As many of those here who knew her can testify, especially former students, she was an encourager. I feel privileged as her grandson to have known her. Though I’ll miss her I hold onto the hope that I will meet her again in heaven.