My grandmother, Jean Dunn, died on March 3, 2013, just two days after turning 101. She directed in her will that I was to deliver the eulogy at the celebration of life ceremony on March 9th. Many people expressed interest in what I was planning to say, so I have posted the text below.
Let me start by thanking all of you for coming. It is comforting for me and my family to see how well regarded Grandma was.
My sister and I talked about how best to sum up 101 years of life, and it was not easy to choose only a few highlights, when there are so many. What follows is my attempt to capture the essence of our grandmother.
As you know, she was a smart woman with a quick mind, and often a quick tongue. She suffered no fools gladly, yet she was fair-minded, and held firmly to her moral centre. She enjoyed a lively debate, particularly about politics. Her financial acumen was top-notch, and in an effort to inspire the habit of saving in both me and my sister, she opened us not one, but two bank accounts, in two different banks, when we were 8 and 6, respectively. Let me tell you, the Bank of Montreal was mighty impressed when I went in to ask for a mortgage a few years back.
Jean Dunn played many roles in her life. Among them were housekeeper, store owner, teacher, church member, bridge player, and traveller. She faced hardships in her time, yet she overcame them with determination and hard work. She brought that work ethic with her when she would come to Brampton to take care of me and my sister in our younger years. Our friends thought twice about stopping by the house when Grandma was in town, lest they be put to work making pipe cleaner Christmas ornaments, yarn pom poms, or be drafted to some other day-long craft project. There was no lounging in front of the TV with our grandmother.
Our reward came in the form of Grandma’s cooking. She made the best macaroni and cheese, and we demanded it every time she showed up. Her butter tarts were unparalleled for the high quality of their gooey, but not too runny fillings. We consider the recipe a family heirloom. Let other clans have jewellery, WE have pastry. Jam, roast chicken, cookies, pickles, cake, you name it, my grandmother could make it, and teach you how to do it, into the bargain.
Grandma could also sew, knit, crochet, embroider, and quilt with equal ease, so it’s no surprise that she taught Home Economics for 30 years. I got to attend her last day of class in 1976, and I will never forget watching her explain to her students how to turn up a hem, and properly assemble fruit salad with mini marshmallows.
When she retired from teaching, she set out to visit many corners of the globe. Grandma was an avid curler well into her 80s, so for years, she went to wherever the world curling championships were being held. She brought back dolls in native dress as presents for us, and we amassed a large and diverse collection. I believe I caught the travel bug from her, so if ever you’re at my home, wondering why I have an ancient fridge and stove, you’ll understand when I say that I spent my money on trips and not appliances.
Grandma did not spend lavishly, nor did she have extravagant tastes. Household items were employed to their fullest extent and lifespan. One of her oft-employed expressions was “It’s a poor thing that doesn’t have more than one use”. She was of Scottish heritage, and grew up on a farm, so frugality ran in her blood, and she could not abide waste. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s she diligently monitored our electricity consumption, and reminded us constantly to conserve as much as possible. To this day, I cannot leave a room without turning off the lights, even if I’m going back in ten minutes.
Grandma loved books, and I have fond memories of her reading to me and my sister when we were little, thus instilling a love of literature. She was a stickler for good grammar, and she valued an expressive reading voice. Sloppy talk was not tolerated, and I am sure that I owe my love of language at least in part to Grandma insisting that it absolutely mattered to get it right.
When my grandmother turned 100 years old last year, it was the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday. I thought it was only fitting to read her a quote from him, and I offer it to you now as a final thought on Grandma’s rich existence:
“Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and in full vigor. With such people the gray head is but the impression of the old fellow’s hand in giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life.”
I think you will agree that Jean Dunn’s life was indeed well-spent. Thank you again for honouring it today.