blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Goodbye to an intrepid lady

I have just come away from a memorial reception to celebrate the life of Elizabeth, who died last week; instead of the usual conventions there was no religious service for her funeral and no speeches were made either. A large number of her friends and relations simply assembled for a tea party with snacks, presented on the upper floor of a local funeral parlour with neoclassical pillars. Actually Carol and I went in the wrong direction on our arrival and made a detour through the padded coffins (fortunately empty, the ones we could see, at least) in the basement, before reaching the correct venue. In the upper rooms, photos and other memorabilia (Elizabeth's snowshoes, her skates, her wartime service medals!) were on display so that groups of people could move from one part of the room to another reviving their memories of her or asking one another questions about her. I thought this was a good idea; it encouraged people to mingle and it focussed their minds on why they were there. A slide show of pictures from her life story and a video recording was being played: a TV interview with Elizabeth from not so long ago. The words weren't really audible but the animation of her face brought her to life again.

She was already in her late 70s when I met her in 1995. She and her husband helped us to settle into Canada. Chris and I attended the Ottawa Quaker Meetings in those days, where Elizabeth and Earlston befriended us, inviting us––and not only the two of us but also our family and the friends who visited us in Ottawa!––to their home on several occasions. They were an inspiring couple in every way, thoughtfulness, kindness and goodwill personified, telling wonderful stories of their adventures and taking an interest in our own stories too. Theirs were the more exciting. When young, she had learned to fly and he had become a navigator on a corvette. They met in wartime, in Scotland, where she was a dietician at a Royal Canadian Navy hospital. Pictures of their marriage in uniform decorated the room today. When peace was declared they went to British Columbia and had four sons––taking them to other parts of the world as they grew up. On one occasion, Earlston having given Elizabeth a Land Rover for her birthday, they drove, with the boys in it, all the way from Venezuela to Ottawa; the journey took months. When Earlston retired they acquired a 42 foot ketch that they sailed for ten years, to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic, all round the Mediterranean, along Europe's canals (with its mast lowered) to the Baltic, round the Baltic, home across the Atlantic again and finally into the Great Lakes.

Their home on the southern edge of Ottawa was a lovely place, its large back windows overlooking a rocky bend in the Jock River. In retirement Earlston became engrossed in philosophy; Elizabeth practised home hospitality, keeping her style of welcome very simple, very Canadian. She introduced many people, including me, to Diplomatic Hospitality, the CFUW service group she co-founded in 1972.

Elizabeth's ancestors must have been extraordinary people, too. She told me once that her grandparents, living on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, were among those who helped runaway slaves to safety, on the Underground Railroad, by hiding them at their house.

During 1995-6, our first year in Ottawa, Elizabeth came to visit us, and brought a little pot plant with her as a gift to me. I still have it in my kitchen. It is flowering at the moment.

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