Sister, caregiver, housekeeper, friend. Born in Germany July 8, 1933, died in Comox, B.C., Dec. 21, 2011, of cancer, aged 78.
The snow was still falling that winter evening as my brother and I shivered and grudgingly shovelled the driveway of our new home.
Next door, a short, stout woman in a starched white uniform with a very light sweater was cheerfully hustling the same snow from the driveway. A small Yorkshire terrier scampered at her feet as she took just a moment to smile and wave to us before attacking the snow again.
That first meeting with Inge summed her up neatly: cheerful, caring, open, hard-working, and impervious to cold.
Born in Germany shortly before the Second World War, she lost an elder brother to the conflict and spent her critical teenage years growing up in the wreckage of postwar Germany.
She followed another elder brother, Rudolph, to Canada in 1961 and took a position in Montreal as a domestic helper, later moving on with Rudolph’s family to Hamilton, Ont., after his employer’s factory burned and closed.
In Hamilton, she was employed as a caregiver with a McMaster University professor and his invalid wife, cheerfully tackling the cooking, cleaning, gardening, snow shovelling and dog walking.
When our family of five noisy children and two politically active parents moved in next door, she said it was better than television, watching us through her kitchen window, squabbling, laughing, crying and slamming doors.
After the professor and his wife died, Inge joined our cast, and like the Harlequin heroines whose stories she loved so well (they filled wall-to-wall shelves), she made her role pivotal in our family, mingling with our eclectic mix of friends and comfortably making them her own, from CEOs to Third World revolutionaries.
Each week, with dignity, love and a ready ear, she maintained a caring home and a full fridge for us as we spun in and out, working and travelling, while on weekends she continued to enjoy the companionship of her brother’s growing family.
Her starched white uniform had quickly given way to comfortable, casual wear, and although she was rarely seen to eat over the years, both Inge and her “wee” Sheltie dog clearly enjoyed her own good cooking, as did we all.
Concurrent with her switch to casual wear came a driver’s licence and a Hyundai Pony.
Inge was so proud of that licence, and the independence it offered, but even more for the opportunities it gave her to help others, a “licence to help” that she used gratefully until her death.
On retirement, she again followed her brother, his wife Margaret and their family to a new home of Comox, B.C.
From her apartment overlooking Howe Sound, she continued caring for birds, neighbours, flowers and family until the week before she died.
Inge’s gentle contentment with life was an example and a gift for all lucky enough to have walked with her.
John McNie is more rounded (in many ways) for having loved and been loved by Inge.