E.M.R.

writing folderE.M.R. These are the initials embossed on my gran’s writing folder. I don’t use it, but I love the folder with its old leather and retro lining.

My gran often wrote letters to family back in Scotland or friends scattered across Canada. The folder held little stacks of plain writing paper, airmail envelopes and stickers, her favourite blue and silver pen.

(I tried restocking the folder once with my own papers and envelopes but discovered letter writing is an art.)

More clues to my gran’s identity: she could write long letters, she was organized, she had friends and family around the world. What did she write about? The weather, recipes, her children, her grandchild, her husband?

E.M.R.: Elizabeth Manson Reid nee Lillie. My gran was born in 1920 to Andrew Lillie and Sarah Boyd Blaine Lillie. She was the youngest of three siblings, including my Aunty Annie and Uncle Drew. She grew up in Springburn, Glasgow, in a tenement that no longer exists and that was immortalized by my great uncle in his book of stories and illustrations, Tenement Folk, now owned by the Springburn Museum.

I don’t know much about her early life. Her father was an easy going Word War I veteran who worked as a tram car painter after the war. Her mother cared for the family and took on odd jobs like white washing the tenement steps.

As a young girl, my gran learned to dance, play the piano, and sing. She loved animals, including a stray black dog she named—innocently although very politically incorrect today—“Darkie” (that would later be the name of my first dog as well). She worked in a china shop in Glasgow and narrowly escaped a gas explosion. She lived through World War II and had both traumatic memories about the bombings in Glasgow and good memories of working with her sister as part of the bomb watch.

During the war, she met and married my grandpa. Later, he worked as a travelling salesman (everything from candy to Fond’s gloves) while she raised my mom and my Uncle David. She made sure grandpa’s dinner was on the table when he came home drunk from the Black Bull Pub and tried to comfort the children when he was in a rage. Her brother became an architect in Glasgow while her sister married a Canadian soldier and moved away.

In the 1970s, she emigrated with my grandpa to Vancouver, British Columbia, following her children who had already made the move. She worked for an insurance company and retired early. Her best friends were Rhea, Marcelle, and Dorrie, and she enjoyed visiting and travelling with them often. She helped to raise me when my mom returned home as a single parent. She loved my Uncle David even when he told her he was gay. In fact, she hosted parties for him and his friends (featuring Charades of all things); I remember being spoiled by all of my “uncles.”

My gran buried a son and a husband before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the late 90s. She lived at home with my mom and I for six years until she had to be admitted to a care facility. In these later years, she liked watching game shows, playing cards, listening to music and stories, and singing. She died in 2008.

This is a snapshot of my gran’s life. I wish I had learned more but maybe this is enough. Enough to know that her life was full of rich experiences despite (and sometimes because of) the many hardships.

© Jennifer Bertrand, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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