Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, inspiration. Born Aug. 5, 1909, in Ulceby, Lincolnshire, England. Died June. 21, 2011, in Winnipeg of natural causes, aged 101.
Anne Comberbach – Grandma to 46 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren – lived a life of hard work, perseverance and challenge.
She immigrated to Canada in 1911 with her mother, Mary, and younger sister, Ruby. They settled in Stephenfield, Man., reuniting with her father, Ephraim, who had come to Canada earlier to pave the way for his family.
Anne spent her early years on farms in rural Manitoba. With no brothers to help out, she grew into a strong young woman while stoking grain, milking cows, driving horse teams and cooking meals for the farmhands. Her stories of life on the Prairies in the early 20th century helped us all better understand the struggles of that time.
Anne worked until she was 93 years old, retiring after a stroke. Her career as a “domestic” started in 1928, when she and her family moved from the farm to Winnipeg. Her years of cooking and cleaning on the farm stood her well in the big city, where she was employed by some of Winnipeg’s well-to-do families.
She was still cooking, cleaning, wallpapering, painting and doing other odd jobs well past retirement age. In her later years she worked part-time – three days a week, putting in 10-hour days. Her family was amazed that in her 90s, Anne was taking care of “the elderly” – clients in their 70s.
She often asked her offspring, “Did you pull the couch out and vacuum behind it?” She always did so at her clients’ homes, right up to her last working day in 2002.
Anne married twice, first at 16 to George Fleming, with whom she had two children, Beatrice and Joe. They divorced in 1932.
She married Garnet Comberbach in 1939, and they were together until his death in 2005. They had seven children: Delbert, Wayne, Lacona, Mahroah, Medric and Lorise; Wendy died at birth.
Anne wasn’t always easy to live with. She made up her mind and stuck to it – whether she was right or wrong. She could be frustratingly stubborn.
Her heart may have been in helping others through her cleaning career, but her soul was firmly linked to “The Lake” – Jessica Lake at Whiteshell Park in Eastern Manitoba. There she felt most at peace, whether preparing meals for 20 or 30 family members or out picking blueberries. Once, while in the berry patch, she had a showdown with a black bear looking for a free meal. She stood her ground, made a racket and yelled the bear back into the woods. That blueberry pie tasted especially good.
Anne lived her life with confidence and conviction, never wavering in her belief in working hard. She taught us to never give up, to live life and to love.
By Mark Fleming, Anne’s grandson.