Sunday, March 03, 2013

Women's History Month - My Favourite Female Ancestor, Grandma Kak

Women's History Month - My Favourite Female Ancestor, Grandma KakOver on Olive Tree Genealogy blog there's a meme for Women's History Month

The first prompt was to pick your favourite female ancestor and write a little bio about her. So I'm choosing my grandmother, who we called "Kak"

I probably have many have many female ancestors who would have amazing stories to tell. But unfortunately most have been lost to time. I can speculate about what it was like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the 1800s. I can read about Irish life during the famine. My Belgian ancestors would have some great stories as they lived for hundreds of years in what is probably one of the most fought over pieces of land in Europe. But I can talk about one female ancestor who I had the pleasure of knowing very well. My Grandmother.

My Grandmother Mary was born in Bridgeport Ontario in 1920.  Now my Grandmother did not have an exciting life by most people's standards. She was not rich or famous. She did not get to travel the world or discover the cure for cancer. In fact she did not do anything or go through anything that millions of other women of her generation did not experience. Yet I think that in itself is interesting. Her life story is the story of the women of her generation.

Her family was poor. They did not always get much to eat. They wore hand me down clothes and went without shoes in the summer. Her father drank too much and was not a kind man. He ruled the house with an iron hand. He was an extremely hard working man but jobs were hard to find in the 1930s. Her mother was of stern German Catholic background and had a hard life story of her own.

The great depression of the 1930s was a bad time for many and Mary found herself working in a tea room in Kitchener Ontario by the time she was 16. This job would soon lead to another many miles away in the small town that would be her home for the rest of her life.  St Marys Ontario. It was in this town while working in a Hotel that she would meet her husband who was the bread delivery man.

I never really got it straight from my Grandmother what her job was at the hotel. I know that sometimes she worked in the kitchen but I think it was more of a do everything kind of job. She married my Grandfather on a cold Winter day in 1939. The wedding was not big. She did not have a white dress or a bunch of Bridesmaids. It was just a small get together in someones house. They did not have a honeymoon. No money for that sort of thing in 1939. They settled in together in a tiny rented house to start making a life together but unfortunately the War would soon change things.

Within a few years of marriage Mary found herself  raising twin boys while her husband was in Europe with the Army. I know life was hard for her trying to look after twins with not a lot of help. But like many women she managed to do it and in fact I remember her telling me once that she found it kind of hard when grandpa came back as she felt she had things under control and had managed just fine but of course he had other ideas. She was also a tad upset as she had reason to suspect that grandpa had not been 100% faithful to her while overseas. But she was a realistic practical kind of lady and I think she soon forgave him any transgressions he may have committed in the years apart. All in all she was glad he was back.

After the war life went on. But it was at this point that one of her twin boys (my Father) took sick. He was sick for many years and spent months at a time in Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. This was hard on the family, as one could expect, but was of course even more difficult back then as that was before universal health care. It was also before the days of nice highways so a trip to the city was not an everyday event like it is today. But the community helped out and my father pulled through.

She did catering at a local Golf Club and in the 1950s she worked for Bell Telephone as an operator. We have all seen the photos and movies of the girls at the switch boards pulling out and plugging in wires. She used to tell stories of how she and the other girls would listen in on other peoples calls although they were not allowed to. 

At some point in all this she lost a baby. I don't know much about it as she did not speak of it much. She only mentioned it to me a few times and only because I was the family Genealogist even as a child. She told me how much it upset her and that she never knew if it was a boy or a girl because back then the doctors would not tell you much. She had hoped for a girl but never had one. We don't always get what we want in life.

By the 1960s her two boys were grown and had families of their own and she was now a grandmother. And what a fantastic grandmother she was. Just the kind that every one wants. She enjoyed spending as much time with her five grandkids as she possibly could. All of us have years worth of fantastic memories. She was kind and soft spoken and loved to cook for us. And she was a great cook. Good old fashioned food was her thing. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, meat pies, apple pies, cookies. Big breakfasts of bacon and eggs every day. 

And she loved to do preserving and canning. She always had a root cellar full of pickles and jams and chili sauce and canned peaches.  Like lots of women of her generation she took great pride in her skills as a homemaker. Not only was she a great cook but the house was spotless and her gardens were beautiful. She spent hours every day cleaning and gardening. I don't think she even had a mop to do the floors she said you had to get down on your hands and knees if you wanted to get it clean. I can still see her with her bucket and an old rag scrubbing that kitchen floor. I don't know what she would say about my Roomba floor cleaning robot.

Her husband died in 1991 after over 50 years of marriage. She missed him terribly as one would expect but she kept on going doing the things she loved with the people she loved. She stayed in the same big old house puttering around. And she still had a job. Long after she probably should have retired she continued to work one or two days a week cleaning for some older women in town. I suspect it was more for the social aspect than it was for the money. She felt very close to the ladies and I know they felt the same for her. 

She never complained. She had the best attitude of probably any person I have ever met. She took great delight in the most simple things. A new kind of bird at the feeder would make her day. The flowers outside. A can of coke and a picnic lunch in the park was a great day as far as she was concerned. And as she got older and her health started to fail she still had a positive attitude said little about it. I know it bothered her greatly when she had to let the cooking and cleaning and gardening go. Yet she soldiered on with a smile and a kind word. 

She passed away just last year still living in that big old house by herself. Happy and in good spirits to the end and loved by many. I miss her

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