Grandmother, baker, hockey fan, connoisseur of gossip. Born June 2, 1916, in Eganville, Ont., died Jan. 3, 2013, in Kapuskasing, Ont. of natural causes and the NHL lockout, aged 96.
My grandmother was like a spy – she had many monikers. She was called Winnie by her 12 siblings, Ma by her husband Ernie and three children, and Wee Wee by her six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. To the rest of the world she was Mrs. Donnelly.
At 18, she left a farm in the Ottawa Valley near Eganville for the Northern Ontario town of Kapuskasing to temporarily help an aunt with a new baby. She died in Kapuskasing 80 years later. In eight decades, she left the North five times, but never left Ontario. Like many women of her generation, she lived a simple life: cooking, cleaning, going to church and raising her children.
The only travel she wanted was the drive from Kap to the family cottage at Remi Lake. On the way, she and Ernie would often pick up hitchhikers, who would be stuffed into the back of the car with a large, panting St. Bernard named Duke and peppered with questions. The traveller would be abruptly ejected 20 kilometres down the road in Moonbeam at their turnoff to the cottage. Wee Wee would tell you later that day, “We met the most interesting fellow from Moose Jaw this morning.”
She baked bread every Friday for her children, her grandchildren, and the Priest. I was often sent on the bread deliveries with my dad. It would be -30 C outside, but the butter would still be melting on top of the hot bread, and inside the car it smelled like heaven.
Wee Wee loved summers at the cottage. The highlight was picking berries with her grandchildren at the side of a dirt road in a forest full of hungry bears. She would have a red kerchief on her head and a Planters Peanuts can tied around her waist, so she could pick faster using both hands, yelling: “Pick clean! No leaves!”
When we were still children, she would let us drive the car, smoke, shoot guns and roam freely. She would call us “you stupid fool” when we admitted our shortcomings. Wee Wee was very opinionated and we all experienced her wrath. She would take us back eventually, but always on her terms.
Wee Wee loved watching hockey. She would jump off the sofa and run toward the television on an exciting play, as if that would somehow spur the Habs forward to win yet another Stanley Cup. Two years ago, her grandson Dean cajoled Ron Maclean and Don Cherry to call her for a chat from the Air Canada Lounge in Toronto. Neither could believe her age, and Cherry remarked: “She missed her calling as an NHL scout.” I know she died of old age, but I’m blaming NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
For over 25 years, I spoke to Wee Wee every day, as did my sister and cousins. She was always the hub of family gossip and the local news source of the North. I’ve dialled that 705 number thousands of times. I will never dial it again, even to check if it’s been disconnected, because I know she won’t answer.
Mona Skuterud is Winnifred’s granddaughter.