Friday, August 7, 2009

Talk About a Departure!


My mother-in-law, Betty Hourd was born in Dutton a small village southwest of London and largely of Scottish stock. Her father David Dow was the local dentist and was often paid in kind during the Depression. Her mother Katherine was a second wife and had two children by David, Betty and Lorne (a lawyer in Woodstock). Hilary tells me nothing but good reports about her Nana Dow with whom she spent many a summer holiday at the beautiful Vansittart Ave. home. Tales of shopping, basket in arms, theatre- going, swimming at the local park, etc.

After an unhappy stint of one year at University of Toronto, Betty came to Western in London, at a time when there were only two buildings on campus and the campus was well outside the city limits. There she met the love of her life, Charles Rayburn, a dark-haired business student, gymnast and boxer.

Charlie felt led into the furniture business with his father, the historic Hourd and Company Limited, going back to 1867 and once located at the corner of Dundas and Richmond, but latterly at Quebec Street in the east end. When control was relinquished and father Rayburn passed away, Charlie became fully apprised of the debt, a significant one. He also contracted bone cancer of the jaw, and the banker showed no mercy.

Betty meanwhile was raising the children, Whitney (1943), Cameron (1946) and Hilary (1952). Had it not been for the lending help of dear friends, Don and Lillian Wright of London, Charlie never would have made it through the squeeze. His lyrical and buoyant Scottish wife was his never-downcast support. His name was entered in the medical journals for a novel and successful bone transplant from hip to jaw. The old debt got paid.

Eventually manufacturing ceased and the factory became a rented warehouse proposition. Charlie pursued life insurance underwriting with great success, serving in a very significant way the London professional and academic communities. Betty took up supply teaching. The old neighbourhood on Thornton Ave. changed many times over. The happy connection with St.John the Evangelist Anglican Church continued. Betty sang in the choir. Charlie acted as Warden on the Board, and applied his extraordinary carpentry and joining skills everywhere. Back room of the house, cottage at Port Stanley, furniture for friends and family.

The children married and moved away...

Fast forward to 2005. Betty resides in a senior care facility, having undergone three heart attacks. (She died on the table once.) Charlie continues at the family residence with day-to-day house-keeping help. But his decline is quick and he dies in December. The service is a beautiful one at the old church the day before Christmas. Betty and friends and family stand at a winter grave in Mount Pleasant.

A decision is made by Whitney, who has provided the lion's share of visitation and practical support to Betty, to have her moved to a Port Stanley facility. There she makes the absolute best of her stay, becoming a staff favourite, helping in the kitchen, chatting with anyone who will engage, singing the old show tunes which she had so enjoyed in the Don Wright Chorus during the war. The end comes in February 2007.

Finally I get to the point of this piece and the title! On the final morning, Betty was found awake by the early shift nurse at about 6:00 A.M. With a smile on her face she raised herself in the bed and exclaimed, "Oh, am I ever glad that you are here." That was all. She lay back down and breathed her last.

Why such a departure? I believe that she was holding on long enough to let someone know there was no trauma and no regret. She was ready. This account was of great comfort when re-told to friends and family at the funeral. That was the day of a terrible ice-storm in London, but people came to celebrate and give thanks. A good woman. Eighty-nine years here.

"Now a beautiful vine blooming on the other side of the wall." (Rutherford)

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