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the greatest gift

I speak often of blessings, of the many gifts of life. Well, this past weekend was a great blessing. And better still, I really wasn’t sure it would be so.

I left for Ottawa on Friday morning, to spend the day getting ready for my aunt’s memorial gathering on Saturday and to do more packing up of the enormous quantity of stuff still in her flat. It started to snow Thursday, the first real blast of winter much too early – so of course Ottawa was a moonscape, buried in snow. My brother who lives in the Gatineau was cheery about how pretty it was, but I was snarling, as I do in Ottawa, about the godforsaken climate.

Happily, my son, who’d taken the train from Toronto, arrived to help. We had dinner and talked and laughed. But there he was, a bartender with his mother at 7.30 on a Friday night in an apartment with no TV and only faint stolen internet. He told me he’d like to go explore, so I drove him to Westboro, where all the young bucks hang out. He got out at the first brewpub he saw.

Saturday morning, I heard about his triumphant night. The brewpub wasn’t great, but eventually he found a cool place where he made friends. When the bartender got off, he said to Sam, Want to play some pool? They headed downtown and played pool and Sam won $180. He got back about 2 after the best time, he said. There was a young lady, too. Of course there was.

The story reminded me of the time I took Anna to London when she was 18. We stayed with a friend in Barnes, on the fringes of London, and the first night, while I fell over with jet lag, Anna said she’d like to go explore. She found the local pub, met a nice group of locals, and went back to see them every night of our stay.

My offspring make friends fast. It’s a gift.

Anna arrived from Ottawa Saturday without her boys; we shopped for the event, and Sam prepared and laid out a beautiful spread.

He often hits his head on chandeliers.

Eventually there were 13 of us – my brother Mike and his girlfriend Nancy, Do’s Scrabble friends, her neighbours from across the hall. We sat in her living room, using the Royal Doulton china she never used, eating and drinking and talking about our missing friend. I’d put pictures of Do through her life around the room, shared stories she’d told me, showed them the few pieces of her lovely artwork I’d found – none of us had the slightest idea she was good at drawing.

On the back: Fashion design classes, Northampton Technical School, 1938. Drawn and painted by Dorothy Leadbeater. She was 18.

I was sorry, looking at the lively group in her living room, that she never entertained, even her Scrabble group. Too nervous, too insecure. But in her honour, we held a moving event.

Sam in deep discussion with Bob, in his late eighties, about airplanes during the war.

It made me happy that we celebrated my aunt in her own home, surrounded by her things and her spirit; that I’d helped show her friends a side they didn’t know. I was very proud of my kids; everyone said how hospitable, thoughtful, and kind they were. Anna and I ran into Bob the next day, and he had tears in his eyes as he thanked us. We done good.

And incidentally, for those who follow this blog and might be interested, peace was made with Do’s friend M., who spoke about how much and how well Do was loved and cared for by her niece and nephew. As thanks for her own care and concern, I gave her the pretty sketch, above.

After the gathering, Sam went off with my brother to his home in the Gatineau for the night, where he built a snow fort with Mike’s 10-year old son Jake. Anna and I continued packing and sorting, until we stopped and sat still to talk, I with a glass or two of wine and Anna with some now legal weed, till we realized it was nearly midnight. My daughter is so busy with her sons, I rarely get the chance just to sit with her and chat. It was sublime.

Today Anna and I did what we could in the flat, though there’s still so much there – books, silver, a full linen closet, a full sewing basket and tool box – things we do not need. But a lot of stuff will be coming at some point to Toronto, including her entire Danish modern living room suite, bought in 1969, going to Sam, and her dining room table and sideboard to Anna. Her precious things will have a new life with the next generation.

We met my brother and family for Sunday brunch, where I saw how much Jake adores Sam.

It was sunny and bright, a gorgeous day. At the airport bookstore Anna saw Michelle Obama’s newly-released book and said she was anxious to read it, so I slipped back and bought it for her. Our flight left early, and when we got to our seats, I saw that someone had left behind on mine a paperback copy of An Odyssey: a father, a son and an epic, by Daniel Mendelsohn, which I’d wanted to read. I was going to give it to the stewardess but Anna said, Don’t be silly, they won’t come back for it. So I read my new book and Anna read hers, and then we were home.

Her kids had been to the art gallery,

the spider exhibit at the ROM, and the Santa Claus parade. But nothing is better than Mama. Who brought back Auntie Do’s magnifying glass and more interesting treasures.

My treasures: remembering a beloved aunt with others who loved and cherished her, and spending time with two of my four favourite people on the planet, the other two, considerably smaller, being kept busy in Toronto. My kids have their problems, their flaws, things I worry about, sometimes a lot. But that fundamental open spirit – which I know I have too – must be genetic. They both have what I call the “host gene” that makes them warm, funny, friendly, gives them an ability to sense a room and the people in it, what’s needed, how to make people feel comfortable and welcome.

I thought of my friend Ann Ireland, who died suddenly a few months ago, her last words: all that matters is love and kindness, friends and family. I was reminded again this weekend.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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