Sunday, June 26, 2022

End of an Era: A Tribute to Mum

In mid-February of this year, my dear old mum died of natural causes. She was in her 96th year. By all accounts, she was holding up pretty well. But continued public and private restrictions re: COVID greatly curtailed her social interaction with those she loved most - her family and dear friends. 

Mum's engagement photo
During those two years of imposed isolation at the farm with limited  care-taking staff: in winter, we would gesture through the glass door, blowing kisses and holding up signs. In summer, through the screen door, we wore masks and gesticulated wildly. In the spring and fall, she would station herself at the back door wrapped in a blanket, so we could mouth our words to her. But in the end, it just wasn't enough. She was basically 'cut off' from us - her family. Personally, I believe it was this, the 'social isolation' from those she loved most, that did her in ...

Mum, by nature, a Gemini, was a very social creature. She LOVED entertaining - and being entertained. She always was the first to have a 'good story'. She loved to amuse others and make others laugh. 

She was also a phenomenal organizer. Over the years, she devoted herself to charity organizations, large and small. She was constantly giving, giving, giving - in order to make life better for others.

Mum, as a child in Dar-es-Salaam

 Over the past few months, I have been at the farm sorting through her things. For one so charitable and social, it is astounding how private she really was ...

Early photos of her life - before us - reveal a rare 'social exoticism' few would understand or even appreciate today. 

Mum grew up in colonial East Africa, the first born of a Scottish lawyer. Her childhood home was the former German Embassy in Dar-es-Salaam. That house was massive. 

Multiple images of mum with assorted house-help paint a striking picture of ease, prestige and privilege. Yet, mum only spoke of those early years with great warmth and affection. Ali, the head house man, her personal favourite, was her constant companion and, she always said, her friend. He taught her to converse in Swahili. (Periodically, even in her 90s, mum would drop in a phrase she learned from her childhood.)

One year, Ali carved a foot-high wooden soldier for her - to protect her on her journey through life ...

At the farm, decades later, that little foot soldier held open the door of my parents bedroom. 

When mum finally died, as was her wish, the little soldier, with his tattered, worn-out military cap, was placed in the coffin beside her. 

I never really understood that childhood connection until recently.


At eight, mum was shipped off to boarding school, (literally, by ship around the Cape of Good Hope.) From there she was shipped off again to England. 

During the Second World War, her father was involved with munitions and they re-settled in war-time London. 

When she, at seventeen, met dad, on shore-leave in England, it was love at first sight. They maintained a loving correspondence while he continued to roam and fight across Northern Europe in a tank. Their tender, youth-filled love-letters reflect that tumultuous near-forgotten era. 

Mum and dad were married in Edinburgh on her eighteenth birthday in 1945. 

Luther and Mary Margaret Holton

As a Canadian war-bride, mum's adjustment to a her new life in Canada - so far from all that she had known - was a bit bumpy at the start. No more metropolitan cities, no house servants, no more diplomatic privileges. 

Life after the war was earnest for most.

After several years in an shoe-box apartment, then a Hamilton town house, they bought a run-down farm house in Halton County, with no water or electricity. (Mum always said they bought it because it had stunning century-old Persian lilacs out-front.) 

Then, for the greater part of 70 years, they turned that rambling property into their dream home. Our home. 

Looking at the early photos of 'how-it-was' to 'what-it-has-become' is kind of mind-blowing. They both worked - and played - HARD to make it better for themselves, and for us, their children. They sacrificed, they scrimped, they saved, they invested. They did this - and much, much more - to create a 'good home' for us all. And, clearly, none of it was ever 'easy' ... 

Well done Mum! - Well done.  

We miss you. -- Every single day. 

Mum, masked, in her 96th year.


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