Friday, July 18, 2008

Baba's Gone, Pt. II

This past Tuesday I returned from Saskatoon where my grandma's funeral was held. Had she been there in spirit she would have enjoyed the service. We celebrated her life, spoke of the hardships, her character, her idiosyncrasies and her joys. There were some tears, but just as much laughter too. She loved curling and country music. We didn't have a sheet of ice to throw the casket down and scream, "Haa-eerd, haa-eerd," to accompaniment of thumping brooms, but we did have a guitar and a couple of strong voices to sing "The Mansion on the Hill" and few other tunes. I was one of the eulogists, and did my best to remember her as well as I could.

Here is the text I delivered on July 10, 2008:

Words on Grandma, Thursday July 10, 2008

My grandmother and I had a special relationship. When I was a babe our family lost our mother, Mae Darwent. For a number of years i lived with a number of families related to Mom. But, at some point my father, Eddie Darwent, decided I need a long-term home that offered stability. He approached our grandmother, Frances Irvine, and insisted she take me in. For from the time I was nine years and for the next twelve years her home was my home. She was my guardian after my father died in 1972, she was also my parent. So I offer some reflections of a person I think I can say I knew well.

Grandma never shied away from hard work. Her element was in her home, in her kitchen or in her garden. She cooked all her life and the kitchen was the focal point of our home. You came in the back door and around that kitchen table you drew your chair to some of the best holiday dinners you had the occasion to experience. So characteristic of Grandma was that she didn’t join you in the meal. Her place was in the corner next to the stove waiting on you to make sure there was always enough to eat. There usually was. When people went away satisfied quite often then grandma would sit down to eat her supper. Seldom did grandma ever share the duties of cooking with me. Somehow, perhaps from years of watching, I learned her art.

I believed I learned from her bout growing too. Her garden was the source from which many of us enjoyed good pleasures like beet rolls, dill pickles and tomatoes freshly picked from the vine. As much as it was work to keep the entire yard trimmed out, I believe it was therapy for grandma that she looked forward to each year. I know she missed it when she wasn’t able to tend it anymore.

My grandma was fiercely independent. Not that she would spurn help, but I believe she was not one willing to be reliant on someone for her welfare. In operating her rooming houses and special care home she was the first role model and definition for the term, self-employed that I knew first-hand. It didn’t just end there. Grandma was stoic. Grandma had her opinions, and right or wrong once she had made up her mind I don’t think two teams of the Budweiser Clydesdales could have budge her to change it. Grandma was ardent NDP-er. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say she thought Tommy Douglas hung the moon. This came about because she lived through the dirty thirties, and he was the father of Medicare. I would like to close by sharing an anecdote of where such fervent belief intersected with my coming of age.

Shortly after turning eighteen there was a provincial election. On voting day, after the supper dishes were cleared we walked down to the Pensioner’s Hall to cast our ballots. I had little impression of politics then, so before we crossed the street grandma turned to me and said, “You’re going to go in there and cast a ballot for the NDP (New Democratic Party) candidate or you’re not living at home tomorrow.” So quickly doing the math of beet rolls, dill pickles and holopci (cabbage roll) versus whether Roy Romanow was the best MLA for Saskatoon-Riversdale I put my X where it counted the most: I voted NDP.


Frances Irvine, born July 6, 1915 was the eldest of 11 children born to Peter Pavelick and Eva Podoleski. Frances passed away on July 2nd, 2008 at Parkridge Center. She was predeceased by her parents Peter and Eva; husband James Irvine; daughters May (Edward) Darwent; Zella (Bill) Halliday; Gladys (Joe) Kaminesky; son Ben (Alvina) brothers Johnny, Joseph (Mary) Steve and Andrew; sisters Anne, Mary (John) Howard son in law Ray Schneider; brother in law Bill Kardish.

Surviving are four daughters, four sons, a special friend, two sisters, and two brothers.

Frances came to the Providence school district to keep house for James Irvine, a widower with 5 small children. Frances and Jim eventually married and raised a total of 11 children. Frances had the very great pleasure of having 39 grand children, 56 great grandchildren and 14 great great grandchildren.

Times were very hard but Frances could make a meal out of flour and water, with maybe one egg thrown in if available. She loved working in her big garden, canned quarts of wild fruits, vegetables and sauerkraut. She was an exceptional sewer which allowed her to make the girls dresses from flour sacks and a package of dye.

Frances moved to Saskatoon in 1950 and worked in various restaurants. She eventually bought a house in 1964 and operated a care home for seniors with disabilities. She operated the care home until 2004. The last two years Frances was staying at the Parkridge Center.

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