Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Two Grandmothers

My kids never knew my Grandmother Davidson--it was at her funeral that my father asked me to write a family tree while unknown to my family my wife was pregnant with Heather.  As young children they both knew my other Grandmother Coakwell from occasional visits.

Ironically they both lived to be 96, but my father's mother was born many years earlier.  My Grandmother Coakwell lived long enough  (and in relatively good health) to see her youngest daughter, my mother die.  They both lived through the Depression and were concerned about wasting things.

Both were a big part of my life, but they were different from one another.

My Grandmother Davidson was the older as she had her only successful birth, my father when she was 44.  Within two years of my birth, my grandfather had a stroke and needed more attention.  My father moved the three of us (it might have been four as my oldest sister was born around the same time).  

My mother was the youngest of 3, but married first and had children first.  I was the first grandchild for both my Grandmothers.

I probably took her for granted as she was always there.  She avoided meddling as much as practical and was generally supportive of her grandchildren.  Her behavior, affected by the Depression made her avoid wasting things .

I learned a bit about my Grandmother Davidson's youth in little bits.  Apparently she and my Grandfather had been courting for many years, but he was not willing to pop the question.  She moved out to Manitou, Manitoba where two of her brothers farmed.  After that experience my Grandfather realized what he was missing and they did get married later in life.  One of the brothers married and had a son, Bruce who eventually moved to Oshawa during the Depression and worked for my Grandfather in his coal business.  The other brother, Billy was a bachelor and when he knew his health was failing moved in with my family, but I only knew him as a grumpy old man.  He knew he was dying and wanted to be closer to his sister.  I learned later he had fallen from a church steeple during construction of what became Simcoe Street United Church where I was baptized.

 My Grandmother sat with her grandchildren watching what tv.shows we chose.  My father commented that he had not been allowed to watch Tarzan which was a regular thing with me (including the yells) but she seemed interested.  She had her own programs--Carol Burnett (both grandmothers) soap operas in afternoon.  In high school my cool friends liked to say we were "depressed" when we really meant we were bored.  I learned this bothered my Grandmother who had known people who really were depressed and I tried to restrain myself most of the time.

I never thought it was unusual for a grandmother to live in the family home.  It was a surprise to hear one of her friends call her "Beanie" as it was unimaginable to think such an old person would have a nickname, but learned it was a contraction from her middle name of Robenia.  Another surprise came when we were eating apple pie, she laughed and said it used to be said  that "apple pie without cheese was like a kiss without a squeeze."

My Grandfather received attention from a live in nurse, but one year when I was five or six on Boxing Day he was taken to the hospital and died.  I didn't really understand.  Then Grandma seemed a regular part of the family and didn't meddle too much in my upbringing, but there probably were a few differences with my mother.  To my shame I remember being stuck outdoors in uncomfortable weather and knocking on the door to be let in.  My Grandmother opened the door and like a spoiled brat I said.  "I don't want you.  I want my mummy."  I think she forgave me.

My Grandfather Davidson had a coal business part of which was run from a double corner lot.  As a youngster, perhaps around 8 I was expected to shovel the sidewalk.  This has carried forth to my current residence:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/12/living-on-corner-during-canadian-winter.html

While I was fairly young the coal business was sold.   Part of the yard was used as outdoors rink my father set up every year.  My grandmother had a fairly frequent visitor, Bruce Clark who was a nephew.  He had been born in Manitoba, but when the Depression came about he was sent to Oshawa to help with the coal business.  He was a few years older than my father, but the two of them bought cemetery plots for the family.  Bruce continued to visit my grandmother when we all moved to Haliburton.

 I ruined some of my Grandmother's flowers with a high jump pit; at the time it didn't seem a big deal as my parents didn't kick up too big a fuss as I was a pretty active, even hyper active and it helped keep me out of other mischief.

Even though neither she nor my Grandfather drank alcohol she made a Christmas cake that contained rum and I was allowed to eat it--a favorite.  She also made a mixture of honey and butter that I still crave.  Also what we called bread and butter pickles.  I remember she grew chives as well as flowers in Oshawa and later in Haliburton.  

When we moved to Haliburton she went with us.  I remember that Bruce Clark regularly drove up (a two hour drive) to chat with my Grandmother.  Later she ended up in a nursing home in Lindsay and eventually was brought back to Haliburton where my mother got involved as a volunteer in the new facility and then was hired although she didn't apply.

When she died I was surprised to learn that her six grandchildren inherited her shares in General Motors (there had been some sort of family connection).  Part of my share was set aside for my newborn daughter.  My youngest sister was too young to legally own them and when she was old enough the price had gone down, but my father (who detested General Motors) made up the difference so she would get as much money as the rest of us.  As I understand it my father had been given home ownership beforehand.  I actually inherited a small amount of money from my Grandmother Coakwell, but it was because my mother had already died and her children split her share.

One habit explained to me when I was older was my Grandmother always stayed up until my father returned from a truck delivery run, often late at night.  This interfered with his wanting to go to our one bathroom.  My mother who handled my father's office work would want to talk over the day, but sometimes had to wait.

In my university days I grew a mustache and I remember my father mocking me, but my grandmother thought it normal as her husband had one most of his adult  life.

When I was in university I used to write long letters to home--in fact my parents liked them enough they gave me a portable typewriter so they could read them better.  My topics were about social events, interesting things I was learning, and new opinions I was forming.  My mother said they were a little concerned about my grandmother, but I insisted and my mother agreed to let her read them.  I didn't want to offend anyone, but felt my grandmother who I had lived with most of my life should be entitled to know what I was up to.

When I got married, my wife instead of throwing the bouquet to unmarried women put it aside for my Grandmother Davidson who was not able to attend the wedding. 

For awhile my grandmother stayed in a nursing home in Lindsay, about an hour from Haliburton--my mother visited her everyday.  It was about two thirds of the way home from Burlington and I remember dropping by for what I assumed was an unexpected visit.  As I was walking up the stairs something made me laugh and from another room she reacted, "John must be here."

When my Grandmother Davidson died my mother called me first as I was the oldest grandson and asked me to phone my siblings.  It gave me something to do and most had been expecting it, but one sister burst out in tears and a few months later named her daughter, Emilie after her grandmother.   

My father had the idea that sons should not be pall bearers at their mother's funeral because they were too emotionally involved.   I have since been made aware of that when my mother died and I asked a friend, Tom Ogle who didn't hesitate.  Dad also felt it was the duty of sons-in-law to stay with their wives.  I considered it an honor to be a pall bearer for both of my Grandmothers and for one of my wife's..

My Grandmother kept photos and documents that inspired my dad to get me started on the family tree.  She was born a Clark which originally indicated someone who could write.  As far as I could trace  the Clarks came from Cornwall and Devon in England and I got back to the 1500's.  I was able to follow through records kept by the Mormon Church.  Spurred me to follow other branches.

My Grandmother Coakwell lived a few miles away in the north part of Oshawa.  My Grandfather had an award winning green house, but he died in his 50's from a freak car accident.  I remembered he is the only one to have taken me fishing.  He had been president of the Oddfellows and I learned later well regarded.

My grandmother sold property and moved the family house up the hill.  They had owned land that ended up being a large grocery store and another  section that became a toboggan hill for me, some of my siblings and some of my cousins.  My Uncle Harold lived across the road which wasn't always to the advantage of my two cousins.

My Grandmother Coakwell was a central meeting place for my cousins and I was part of that.  Also when we had some renovations done on our home we all moved in with my Grandmother.  This led to some long walks of about two miles from school after doing my paper route  When my family moved to Haliburton I often stayed at my grandmother's after hitch hiking to Oshawa so I could visit friends.  From university I also spent a lot of time with my Grandmothers, looking for a job, keeping in touch with friends including a girl friend.  My grandmother didn't always get  a warning, but was always glad to see me and my siblings. 

Four generations, running from right to left:  My Grandmother Anne Coakwell, my mother Dorothy and my sister Susan holding my niece Emilie.





During one summer 1968 I was a volunteer later paid for working on the Liberal campaign. in the Oshawa-Whitby riding.  My Grandmother had a long history of voting for the Conservatives and admired the local member, Cabinet Minister, Michael Starr.  I talked quite a bit about my beliefs and was surprised that not only she, but also my Aunt Flo voted for my candidate and were part of the reason I helped elect Ed Broadbent who went on to be leader of the NDP.   Read more about my political adventure of 1968:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/04/my-short-but-educational-political.html

She attended my university (and think my high school) graduation and went along when I called on my professor for Chinese history to pick up an essay.  

My Grandmother Coakwell introduced me and my wife to lamb as she realized my parents never ate it. When I stayed with her she catered to my food preferences.  One time she asked me my favorite flavor of ice cream and then filled the freezer part of her refrigerator with strawberry ice cream.

My Grandmother Coakwell began to noticeably forget things.  On one visit we turned off the stove in time to prevent further boiling over of part of our dinner.  Eventually she went to a nursing home and I vividly remember one visit.  She smiled all the time and said she felt she should know me, but didn't know who I was.  Her room mate retained her memory and in contrast seemed very unhappy.  I had heard about a South Pacific island where it was felt that the dementia sufferers should be happy and the burden fall on their family.

I knew a bit of my Grandmother's siblings.  They were I believe born in Sonya, Ontario.  Apparently at one time she was the only one selected to go to a special school in New York state.  Her father had been approached by (Sir) Sam Hughes to run for elected office, but he turned it down.   During Depression my Grandfather went away to find work.  After one visit home she put her foot down and told him he must get a job nearby and thus he found a job on the line at General Motors and became part of a famous strike--my father commented that his father in law was probably a calming influence.  The Coakwells were very much a union family (my father was not).  She was very proud and once chased away a welfare worker that my grandfather had sent.

She had one sister, Florence that lived with her.  I always felt she was just another grumpy old woman.  Later I learned that she had had a boyfriend who died in the war (I think WW I).   Later when I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother, another sister I had never met moved in.  Aunt Wynne was a very unique person who married late in life--she married at noon hour and returned to work so her employer would not know. and automatically fire her.  I learned later that she had gone on a car trip to Mexico with her husband and another couple when it was considered very risky.  Ironically I later met the other wife in Hamilton at a course I took.  Later my aunt moved in with her.  I remember Aunt Wynne was a hockey fan and was quite upset when my Grandmother allowed me to watch a basketball game when it conflicted with a Maple Leaf game.

My sister Rebecca became close to Winnie as we called her.  My wife and I visited her fairly often when she lived in Hamilton and later  to a nursing home in Whitby she moved to for health reasons .  We were not notified when she died.  Still another sister, Gert visited fairly often.  A brother Jay, had been mayor of Port Perry and later Reeve for Ontario county and also had one of the largest chicken operations in Ontario.  Still another brother, Howard entered my life as he had been using contact lens when I first started and occasionally gave some advice and encouragement.  

I vaguely remembered when I had my tonsils out and it turned out my brother was being born in the same hospital it fell to my Coakwell grandparents to take care of me.  I remember getting ice cream and getting sick over it (most unusual for me).

Unlike most parents my Grandmother Coakwell lived longer than one of her children.  My mother definitely was who she was because of how she was raised.    Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/05/remembering-my-mother.html

My Grandfather Coakwell had been very prominent with Oddfellows and my Grandmother became prominent with the Rebekah Lodge.  She attended regular monthly meetings, but she had to travel to different cities, sometimes even the States, including the west coast.  Never got too inquisitive about it, but I did know that they gave out scholarships.

My Grandmother Coakwell was born a Gibson.  I learned of relatives in the States some of whom were involved in an invention to do with the Hoover Vacuum Company.  I ran into a road block as part had lived generations in Ireland where I was unable to work through records  (perhaps it would be easier today).  They were among the Scots settled in Ireland to help keep the Catholics under control

Most of us are close to our parents, but whether we knew them or not our grandparents were critical.  I am grateful I got to know both of my grandmothers and now realize I wouldn't be me without them.  The biggest contrast with my wife's grandparents is that  I do not recall any hugs or kisses from my two grandmothers although they both doted on me and my siblings and that turned out to be an adjustment I made to my benefit.

1 comment:

  1. I think kissing is more of an Italian thing. My grandmothers are from British and Scottish backgrounds and kissing was never a thing. Probably a good thing with COVID. They showed their love in other ways. For me it wasn’t the strawberry ice cream but the lemon meringue pie. It is what and how they taught us.