Florence Ethel Kenyon: Wife. Mother. Grandmother. Puppet maker. Born April 30, 1922, in Calgary; died May 21, 2022, in Airdrie, Alta., of natural causes; aged 100.
The one thing you should know about Florence Ethel Kenyon, is that she was a woman who did not wish to be seen. In almost every photo she is raising her hand to block the camera from capturing her image.
In the photos she was unable to evade, you will see glimpses of the liveliness she tried to conceal – wild auburn curls tumbling down to frame a face of kind, bright eyes and a warm, open smile. (On many of these photos she expertly obscured her bosom with crafter’s ribbon, believing her body was too shapely or her blouses too showy.)
Flo’s comfort outside of the fray might have come as a result of being the last of four children, at least 15 years younger than her closest sibling and the only one born in Canada. She grew up on a sprawling corner lot on the western outskirts of Calgary. As a girl, she attended the two-room West Calgary School but since the nearest high school was too far away to reach by foot, her formal education simply ended at Grade 9.
During the war, Florence Knock worked at the Independent Biscuit Co. (her only paying job) and shortly after met George Kenyon, who was serving in the navy but was stationed in Calgary. Their large church wedding in 1946 was followed by a simple reception in her parents’ backyard. Florence and George built a four-room shack right beside her childhood home. Their first son arrived a year later in 1947.
Like many women, there are two Florences to remember: first, the tough, discipline-dispensing matron of the Kenyon clan, attempting to keep gregarious George and her unruly sons, Alan and Gord, on short leashes: a constant battle for the straight and narrow. This Florence hung sheets on a frozen clothesline and heated rocks in the oven, stuffing them in her children’s army cot beds to stave off the Calgary winter. (A family story also has Florence regularly thawing the frozen-solid goldfish bowl on the stove, the fish reanimating back to life by supper.)
And then there is the Flo who emerged once her boys were grown and gone. With successive arrivals of four perfect grandchildren, she warmed and softened like a thick pat of butter, offering them whatever they pointed to and dropping “no” from her vocabulary. She became the giver of Turkish Delight candy bars, endless back tickles and lilting bedtime stories that summoned and inspired the deepest of sleeps.
As Grandma, she was sage, magician, chef and camp counsellor. She could make puppets out of Big Mac containers and doll beds out of sponges and scrap fabric. She made the best Kraft Dinner, eschewing the recommended butter-to-milk ratio for a concoction far creamier and decadent.
Years later, when her first grandchild came out as gay, his parents thought maybe Flo had misunderstood, she was so nonchalant and accepting. They told her again the next morning, and she nodded and patted their hands, asked how they were doing with it – proving an open mind and an open heart are not limited by age or education.
In 2001, Florence became a widow, losing her George after 55 years of marriage. By then she had taken over the family purse strings from her ailing husband and eliminated their debt with her elementary school math and common sense. Her friends were the bank tellers, Safeway cashiers and bus drivers she saw daily. On his final day of work before retiring, the bus driver for her route asked if Florence would like to ride with him for the remainder of the day. She graciously accepted, and the two chatted for hours, as old friends do.
At the end, Florence left us in the gentle silence of night, her son and daughter-in-law by her side, her entire family’s love wrapped snug against her. The perfect cocoon for whatever comes next.
David Kenyon is Florence’s grandson.
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