A Woman Who Inspires Me (Back to Blogging with SITS - day 4 )

I have to say that there are hundreds of women who inspire me daily... almost every blog I read gives me a chance to pause and consider things about my life and how I could be a better person... or what I could try... but it all goes back to the person who inspired me to start writing... and I write about her often - my grandmother.

Somehow, over the years she morphed from Nana to Grandma, but she has always been Dorothy or Dot... She was one of 19 children, 9 who lived to adulthood and she's lived her entire life in various towns and cities in Ontario, Canada... She raised four children of her own and now counts 12 grandchildren, 7 grandchildren in law, and 5 great grandchildren in her legacy.

I had the privilege last winter of being the second editor to her memoirs, a collection of short stories about her life that she originally published for her children about ten years ago, and wanted to update and share with her siblings and grandchildren.  Technology has come a long way in 10 years, and my cousin and Aunt are putting the finishing touches on this second edition by helping her scan through the thousands of photos that help tell her story...

I'm going to borrow some of her own words to give you a small snippet of who my grandmother is today, and then link up a few of my own favorite posts from my Sunday Family Stories:

She opens her book with a preface that sums up some of the things that inspire me most:

It has been said that ‘if you want to leave footprints in the sands of time, you had better wear work boots”.   People say I am so lucky to leave a beautiful family, but I tell them, the harder I worked, the luckier I became!  I hope by reading some of my ups and downs, the reader will understand what went into the making of my personality and how and why your life will be so different from mine.

My grandmother came into this world against the odds and continued to thrive despite odds to the contrary... 

Dorothy Anne Theresa Oliver was born on September 5th, 1929 at the Grace Salvation Army Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, weighing less than five pounds.
                When my birth was imminent, my mother was frying onions at a dining booth at the Canadian National Exhibition.  The ‘big top’ called ‘OLIVER’S DINER’ belonged to my paternal grandparents. (I still love the pungent aroma of onions sizzling in a frying pan.)
                I was the fourth child and first daughter of Stanly and Greta Oliver.  My mother couldn’t believe the good fortune of bringing forth a girl after three boys.  Also, in stark comparison to my brothers who had all been blond, I was dark skinned with a full head of black hair.
                My parents named me Dorothy, which means ‘a gift of God’.  (I found the poem entitled “Dorothy- a Gift of God” shortly after my mother passed away and shall always treasure it.)  My second name, Anne was for both grandmothers, while Teresa was for one of Mother’s cousins who had been very good to her.  In those days it was an honour, and expression to name a child after someone.  Teresa and her husband Will Brown were childless.

Her family lived north east of Toronto in various places around Lindsay, Ontario and Bobcaygeon, Ontario.  Infant mortality was still high in the twenties and she was a little fighter who battled through her first emergency surgery when she was six months old.  My great-grandmother, another wonderfully inspiring woman whom I only had the privilege to know a short time, was almost continually pregnant (hence 19 pregnancies, many of which resulted in miscarriages or still-births).   Times were tough when my grandmother was young - she grew up during the depression and moved around with her family quite a bit, following the work available... 

In order to go to kindergarten, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Toronto, a very pious and religious woman.  In her memoirs, she recalls this memory:

Starting School

Kindergarten was not available in our one-roomed rural schoolhouse, so it seemed a good idea for me to start school in the city.  At the tender age of five, I was sent to live in Toronto with my paternal grandmother and my father’s sister Aunt Gladys.  Grandma Oliver was a devout Christian so she and I spent many hours at our local United Church.  The first two months went well, although I missed my family and the farm.

Before I knew it, Halloween had arrived and I was invited to attend a masquerade party in the upstairs flat of a neighbor child. Oh how I wanted to go!  But alas, I didn’t have a mask.  I pleaded with Grandma, but she was adamant.  I went to my room to drown my sorrows, crying into my pillow.

A little time later, Grandma entered my room with a compromise.  Being very frugal, she wouldn’t give me the money for a false face, let alone a costume.  She instead gave me permission to return two empty one quart milk bottles for a refund of five cents each at the Sunshine Dairy.   I was then to cross busy Queen Street to the Woolworth’s Five and Dime store to purchase the mask.  This would teach me the value of money.

I arrived at the dairy in lightening speed, and found myself at the end of a very long line-up for the cashier.  Those bottles were getting heavier by the minute!  At one point during my long wait, I thought I might reconsider and spend the money on the delicious looking apple blossom cookies that stared back at me from the glass case and just forget about the party.  That decision was taken out of my hands when I finally reached the cashier.  I set the bottles on the counter.  Then the awful news was delivered that the bottles were not property of this dairy and they would not cash them in.

My world had collapsed and I began to cry!  The Five and Dime would be closed in five minutes, so there was not time to return home for the ten cents.  With my eyes blinded by tears, I crossed Queen Street against the red light.  I was struck by a large transport truck and was rushed, without identification to St. Joseph’s Hospital.  I was suffering from a broken leg, and a concussion.  I was also unconscious and without my two front teeth.

My grandmother finally came to the hospital to identify me, but she never notified my parents.  When Mother came to Toronto to take me home to the farm for Christmas, she was horrified to find me hospitalized.  I remained there for a few more weeks.

Grandma took me back to the farm on Easter weekend.  Needless to say, I was not allowed to go to Toronto to stay again until I left home for good at the age of fifteen.

More hardships lay ahead - in 1940, when World War II was ramping up, her mother gave birth to twin boys prematurely - 

Naturally, I was very disappointed at not having a sister, but they were so tiny and needed so much care.  Not expecting twins, especially not so soon, there were only thirteen diapers to use between them both.  No disposable diapers in those days, nor did we have running water or electricity.  I hemmed pieces of soft flannelette sheets to provide enough diapers for both boys.

Claude was the healthiest one, while Claire was so tiny that his head would fit in a tea cup.  They were born in June, just as school was finishing for the summer.  I had just passed grade six.

It was my job to feed Claire every two hours.   No ‘Breck’ feeders back then, so he was fed with an eye dropper.  I missed many days at school in order to help my mother.

My grandmother would continue to attend school somewhat sporadically and because of frequent moves didn't get established in any one place... when a bout of appendicitis left her too weak to walk to high school after completing tenth grade, she stayed home for a semester to continue to help her mother, who had more young children at home.  Instead of returning to high school, she enrolled in Baker Business School and learned secretarial skills to complete her formal education.

She left home at fifteen years of age and moved to Toronto, taking a job as a clerk at an insurance company, making $75 a week.  After two years of working there, and becoming permanent staff, my grandmother took a two week vacation and headed home to visit her family.

It was August of 1948, and she arrived during threshing time.  After helping at a neighbour's house, her father was worried about their own hay, so she went out to help with their own crop.  

We got the first wagon load up the gangway and onto the barn floor.  Hay was usually taken from the wagon into the mow by way of the large fork suspended from the roof and operated by pulleys and ropes.  Somehow it was jammed and wouldn’t come down.  Dad remained on the barn floor while I climbed the ladder to the right hand mow and tried to trip it with a rope.  I guess I wasn’t strong enough so I decided to try the left hand mow.

My feet being faster than my head, instead of climbing down the ladder, I slid down the side of the hay mow, right onto the handle of a stable broom.  I propelled myself face down onto the floor and tried desperately to remain conscious.

She was rushed to hospital and the doctor performed a new surgery that had been written up in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Despite the odds, blood loss and potential complications, she was eventually able to recover slowly with the help of a new wonder drug - penicillin and a lot of rest.  

She would eventually go on to move back to Toronto, marry, have those four children that I told you about at the beginning of this tale, help her husband build their own Glass and Mirror business and become a beloved matriarch to a growing brood of grandchildren and great grandchildren.  

I have stolen snippets from her memoirs that don't begin to flesh out the life she lead as a child and young woman, but just the things she overcame in these incidents and all the other stories she has to tell, make her someone who continues to inspire me.  She is now living in a retirement facility with my grandfather who is battling Alzheimer's disease and patiently answers the same questions twenty times a day.  She is active in her community - having started a bridge club, playing scrabble and walking daily.  She is also constantly working to improve life at their facility, going toe to toe with management on issues such as ensuring there is hot water in the on-site salon, food quality and service in the dining room and more...

I have shared several 'Sunday Family Stories' about my grandmother in the past - my own recollections about things that have shaped my own life and I invite you to read them if you are so inclined:

This post was written as part of the Back to Blogging challenge with SITS, sponsored by Standards of ExcellenceWestar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances

If you are playing along, please feel free to enter your posts in the linky below:

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