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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Adele "Dodie" Lloyd: 1913 - 2007

Yesterday my mother phoned me to tell me that her mother had died on Sunday morning. Dodie had been in hospital in Orillia, Ontario, for a couple of weeks, recovering from surgery to repair a broken femur. Since the fall and surgery she had apparently been in some pain, and in the last days had stopped eating--an invariable sign of the approach of death, according to Warren's observation when he worked briefly as a cook in an old-folks' home. At 93 it seems that Dodie was at last ready to go.

With her I lose the last of my four grandparents. I visited her only twice, once in 1979 when I was on my way home from a six-month European journey with my friend Tim, and we detoured north from Toronto to stay with my kin for a few days; and once in 1994 when I was again in Toronto, with Kimmie, as a nominee for a Gemini for my work on The Odyssey. Both times were at the farmhouse owned by Michael, a horse trainer and one of the middle members of her 14 children (my mother was second child, but her elder brother Hugh died as a young man of a congenital heart condition). I remember phoning her when I got to Orillia in March 1994. When I identified myself she said with amusement, "You sound just like your mother."

"Ah--a compliment!" I said.

She laughed, caught off guard. "Yes, I suppose it is."

At 80 she still kept her hair dark and still held court in the kitchen which had been her throne room since, I suppose, the 1930s, although by this time she was no longer cooking, even for the relatively minuscule household that consisted of just her, Michael, and Michael's veterinarian wife Jenny. I remembered my visit in 1979, when there were still a couple-three sons still living there, as well as my grandfather Dorsey: Dodie still spent much of each day cooking, dropping a platter of fried pork chops on the picnic-table-like kitchen table, complete with benches, at which Tim and I sat along with a few other uncles and friends who showed up suddenly to eat.

Kim, enchanted with all things family, was delighted to meet Dodie, and I think the feeling was mutual. When we arrived at about noon she offered us a beer--Labatt's 50, her perennial favorite--which we accepted.

"Would you like a glass?" she said.

"Oh no," said Kimmie, "the bottle's fine."

"Good," said Dodie, with some suggestion of relief. "I like someone who drinks from the bottle."

While we nursed our brown noontime stubbies at the kitchen table, and Dodie, on her stool, had a smoke while she drank hers, Kimmie deepened the favorable impression she was making by describing the gown she had worn (and made) for the Geminis. For although Dodie was dressed very casually for her kitchen tasks, she was an ardent believer in good dress for women, and liked nothing better herself than to dress up and go out on the town, right up to the end of her life. The idea of a formal-dress awards ceremony appealed to her a lot, although this had to be divined through her laconic, understated, and unemotional way of speaking.

We had a good time, the conversation turning to things such as the fact that Dodie kept a loaded rifle under her bed, and enjoyed getting out to play bingo and gamble at the casino on the Rama Indian reserve. By and by a couple of uncles turned up and it was a regular kitchen get-together like the many thousands she had presided over before.

While I made only two pilgrimages back to Orillia to see my grandparents, I'm glad now that I at least made those two. I met all of my grandparents--by no means a given for someone born into an impoverished household thousands of miles from all them except my father's mother, who lived with us when I was a young child. My paternal grandfather was still marooned behind the Iron Curtain in Latvia, and it would be another 16 years or so after my birth before he would signal his existence by sending a letter to my father. I journeyed to visit him in Riga in 1982, when I was 23.

Anyway, Dodie Lloyd, nee McConnell, lived a life that was, until her later years, quite hard. This was partly by choice, since she came from stock that was not badly off. She was headstrong in her insistence on marrying the feisty young Dorsey Lloyd, as she was headstrong about everything else in life. Her body eventually started to fail her, but her mind was sharp and clear to the end. If you want to make it to age 93 in comparable shape, you might want to try her lifelong program of butter, beer, cigarettes, and childbirth.

Or you might not.

In all, I reckon I'm probably damned lucky to have some of her chromosomes floating in each of my cells. And I send my warmest regards to her, wherever she is.

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