A Life Filled With Purpose.
My mother passed away a few years ago. Kathleen (Hall) Spencer. Dearly missed. I didn’t list her life’s accomplishments in the obituary but they were considerable. It took three years before I was able to write anything meaningful about her life.
Mom was ushered into this life by a midwife on December 12th, 1933 in Nordin, New Brunswick, Canada. She grew up during the Great Depression and then fatherless during World War II. The family suffered many privations including hunger and lonely struggles but not an uncommon story from the Maritime perspective. A kindly grocer named Arsenault fed the entire family for a while. Her grandmother Minnie Mahoney told her once she wasn’t like other people in her family and didn’t belong there. A little more cosmopolitan. She had little to back her up and she came from a family of blacksmiths. Transferable skills were known as a ticket out of the economically depressed Miramichi region. She had to believe that the road ahead would rise up to meet her.
At age 15, Mom took the geographic cure from a PTSD’ed, alcoholic, wounded, war veteran father and economically distressed family life. She and her siblings narrowly missed the orphanage. Her sister Annie bought her a suitcase. At the tender age of 17, she became a secretary in Fredericton at NB Power Commission. after completing Business College she had started at age 15 while living with her father’s brother Jim Hall. She proved at an early age that she was capable of many, many things although swimming, riding a bicycle, and speaking French eluded her, despite her efforts to do so later in life. Frankly, there wasn’t much else my mother couldn’t do. She sang in the choir as a child and won a provincial championship and as a child, she loved to skate.
She met her husband to be at a Newman Club social in Fredericton. Together they had two sons. Their first (me) was born in Newcastle and we spent the first six months there with my grandparents until my father, a geologist, completed a prospecting contract in Labrador. Then they moved to Asbestos, Quebec. My grandmother, Cora, delivered me to them by train once they were settled. A year later we moved to Montreal. We spent our first year in a very cold basement flat on Queen Mary Blvd. which she filled with her warmth and love, while Dad sold pots and pans door to door.
Volunteerism and Personal Identity
In Montreal, Mom, who displayed great initiative from an early age, sought work and later started a college degree, which she completed in Toronto at Glendon College. She did volunteer legal aid counseling at the Don Jail for young offenders. But first, as a Girl Guide troupe leader she showed leadership. Mom was also very good at stretching a dollar and she sewed all our clothes when we were kids. Mom had great compassion for the neediest. As a member of the Ladies Home Auxiliary at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, she attended to children who were terminally ill. As a young person, I remember we used to drive by an orphanage that looked a bit like an evil castle and asked what it was. Within a few days, she had her sewing machine out and made Christmas stockings, stuffed them with candy, and took them to the orphanage. Later when we could afford a cleaning lady, I noticed that they all had really hard-luck stories. Both my grandmothers did stints scrubbing floors.
Mom was an exceptionally loyal and devoted mother. She spent many early mornings in winter driving my younger brother Howard to hockey practices, even though she was not a morning person. Howard almost got to play in the NHL, after being picked to play with the Toronto Nationals, who routinely drafted NHL players. But education was a priority in our family and Howard was barely 17 at the time. I eventually embarked on a master’s degree at Harvard University. She was great fun to be with and we did a lot of skiing together as a family in the Laurentians. In later years she took up tennis and then golf and showed much improvement. Mom was very kind; like her mother and neither had a mean bone in their bodies. In later years mom was reunited with her parents when my father’s family established a family compound on Grand Lake NB. I know she had especially fond memories of times spent with them at the lake from this time period. I was usually working those summers but learned to appreciate their efforts in later years. Grandad built the cottage and they looked after it. Sadly we lost the cottage in a great flood the year after she passed. It is lucky she wasn’t around to see it destroyed. I was unable to salvage anything. Even Minnies hickory rocker which I used to rock in as a kid was gone.
She may have missed her mark in life, as options for women in professions were few in her time. She could easily have been a designer or art director as she was very talented in those areas and loved to paint as well. She loved those home design shows on HGTV, especially the competitive aspects as well as Britcom’s. I was especially fortunate to spend time with her over the past 15 years of her life. We lived 10 minutes drive from each other and her second husband. It was time spent narrowing a gap that had existed between us. Larry was lovingly cared for by her for 10 years in which he had Alzheimer’s, she, rarely left his side, which took its toll. We took a memorable trip to the Galapagos Islands together when I was working for my father in Ecuador. She helped me to get established as a teacher in South Florida afterward. She was always there at pivotal moments in other people’s lives.
She did what she cared about
Heart and stroke run heavily in the Hall family and she fell in the night. People that age, often value their independence as much as their actual lives. This was definitely the case, as my mother was a very active person and refused assistance despite those falling spells which were clearly not normal. On a Friday I picked her up at the airport after a long trip to Vancouver for a reunion with siblings to celebrate her brother Michael’s 70th birthday. She said she was tired and had her bridge club on Monday. I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I loved her and we parted. Tuesday we were planning to get together for lunch but she was gone. A pot of her wonderful turkey and barley soup which we often shared was waiting in the fridge. Her empty wine glass from her habitual nightcap by her chair.