I’m continuing my slog through the piles of paper that I packed after my mother’s funeral in July 1998. Today, I found a letter dated 3 July 1939 to my mother from an official from the Governor-General’s office.
She’d sent it the week before to the Prime Minister of the day. William Lyon Mackenzie King – Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, is remembered as a secretive, cold and excessively ‘spiritual’ man who employed mediums so he could keep in touch with his dead mother, appears to have annoyed a lot of important people, including the Allies during the war years.
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, was our 15th Governor General. Like my mother, he was enthusiastic about literacy, he was a writer and a proponent of Canada’s unique identity in the Commonwealth. He may have been ‘John who’, but obviously his staff were efficient.
Mom’s letter, received June 25, was responded to just over a week later. Those were the days when the postal service actually was a service.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on a cross-Canada Royal Tour that lasted from May 17 to June 15, 1939. What an uneasy time it must have been. In July, China and Japan were at war. In September, Britain and France would declare war on Hitler’s Nazis when Germany invaded Poland.
Did my almost nineteen-year-old mother see the Royal Couple during the parade held in their honour in Montreal? Was she motivated by some loyalistic fervor to spiff up the future Queen Mother’s wardrobe? I’ll ask my Aunties if they remember, but we’ll probably never know.
What I do have evidence of, is that she took the time to write. She went to the trouble of finding who to send the correspondence to. She offered to knit Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Queen consort of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions – who had privilege, wealth and more – a dress.
Back then, a dressy garment would have been knit with ultra-fine yarn and the task would have taken weeks, if not months. I’m glad she had the good sense to ask, first.
This offer was made as the Great Depression – the longest, most economically destructive period in world history – was winding down.
That’s what makes my mother’s selflessness so breath-stopping for me. I remember her speaking of how desperate those times were, emotionally, socially and financially. Knowing mom, she’d have scrimped and saved or worked extra hours to be able to afford the yarn.
Dear God, but my heart aches at her innocence.
And, in those days when the family was newly-orphaned and probably very poor, the generosity that characterized her life well lived and always giving, was evident in that offer.
What an incredible woman.