By Susan Farrelly
Although Grandma Smith’s last day with us was 20 years ago today, her essence is still etched into my memory as if I had spent time with her just yesterday – the smell of her home, the sound of her laughter, her beautiful smile that would like up a room, her voice on the phone and goofy faces that would make us all laugh hysterically. So many fond memories of spending time with my Grandma come flooding back, such as playing the organ at their home on Poppy Lane, going on an idyllic nature walk in the forest on a warm summer day, teaching me how to make a bed and picking my sister and I up from school to go shopping for stickers. Always in our hearts and never forgotten, here is the story of my Grandma.
Doreen Alberta Rest was born on February 15, 1928 in Guelph, Ontario. Doreen was the third-born to Albert Rest and Pearl Rest (nee Johnston). Albert maintained a student boarding house in their home and worked various jobs, including as a woodworker and at the movie theatre as a uniformed usher who would escort patrons to their seats using his flashlight. Pearl was typist in a factory office and was the fastest typist her colleagues had ever seen.
Albert had an illness relating to his lungs which eventually prevented him from working, and Pearl did whatever she could to keep the family afloat as Doreen was growing up. They moved frequently and ended up living in Guelph.
Older sisters Ruth and Reta enjoyed having Doreen as a little sister. Albert and Pearl had also adopted Pearl’s brother after his parents died. He was older than the Rest girls and his name was Allen Johnston.
As a young adult, Doreen worked Full-time at Bell telephone as a line operator in Guelph on Cork Street. Doreen met a colleague named Walter Smith at Bell and they fell in love. Their colleagues watched the romance bloom and would come to remember their romance fondly and how they made such a sweet couple. They were married in 1947 and their first home was a tiny apartment, on the corner of London Road and Woolwich Street in Guelph.
Six children would follow in this order, Susan being the eldest, Catherine (Cathy), Walter (Wally), Tom, Eric and Elizabeth (Cissy). Doreen had either a miscarriage or stillbirth between each of her surviving children’s births, including twin boys which she miscarried. “I was mother’s 11th pregnancy and her last,” Elizabeth recalls. “Mom always said she wanted 12 children.”
Doreen’s personality could be described as artistic, spontaneous, a bit unpredictable and fun-loving. “Her unpredictability and spontaneous nature are what made her unique” shares Eric. Her family gave her the most joy, including her grandchildren, and raising her family gave her the greatest challenges at the same time.
When Elizabeth was six years old, the family joined a Country Club. Doreen enjoyed the swimming pools and Eric recalls that his mother gave him his first swimming lessons. Elizabeth said that her mother taught her how to swim there and after only three days, moved on to diving lessons. “I know she enjoyed the parties and dancing on the weekends at the Club” shares Elizabeth. “She seemed very alive during those years.”
Doreen went back to work as the kids were growing up and worked Part-time for a telephone answering service and would take after hours calls for local doctors and businesses and relay the messages. Cathy recalls, “Mom worked over the dinner hour, so as she was leaving, she would tell Sue and I what she had prepared for dinner for everyone.”
Her cooking is a prominent memory among her children. “She was a very good cook” shared Eric. These sentiments were also echoed by Elizabeth. “She was dedicated to raising her children. She would spend her days cooking and cleaning always with her hair in curlers; when Dad came home the curlers were gone and she had made herself beautiful for Father’s arrival.”
Doreen was also an artist, who enjoyed drawing and painting, board games, scrabble and crossword puzzles. Instead of wallpapering, she would paint on the walls in the house. Elizabeth remembers one particular wall that started with green ivy and progressed to a pheasant on the wall and then a Mediterranean scene. “I developed a fascination for her talent it was awe inspiring,” said Elizabeth. “My brother Eric inherited her ability to create incredible works of art.”
On March 16, 1996, Mom had a normal day and Walter took her for a car ride to show her how Guelph was growing. Doreen would frequently talk with her kids by phone in the evenings, and on this evening she spoke with both Cathy and Eric, and Wally had even phoned her.
Eric shares the final conversation that he had with his mother. “The night before she passed away, I was on the telephone with her and we were having a bit of a heart to heart about kids and raising families. I distinctly remember telling her that I thought she did a fine job as a mother raising her family.”
Cathy reflects, “I also spoke to Mom the night before she passed away; however I was feeling ill with an abscessed tooth and kiddingly asked her if she would still love me if I had dentures. She said of course she would.”
Doreen finished reading a book prior to bedtime and she got up at some point during the night to work on her crossword puzzle.
In the morning, Walter went to wake her up and discovered that she had passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was 68 years old.
“Above all else, Mother made it known that she loved me, through any disagreements I always knew that she wanted the best for me,” shared Elizabeth. “When she died so suddenly in her sleep, I knew that she had passed knowing that I knew she loved me and that I loved her.”
Thank you to Uncle Eric, Aunt Cissy (Elizabeth) and mom (Catherine) for sharing your precious memories.