Doris Irene MacLeod: Mother. Friend. Listener. Cribbage ace. Born Dec. 21, 1923, in Montreal; died April 10, 2020, in Truro, N.S., from aspiration, aged 96.
Growing up in the Depression in a working-class corner of Montreal, Doris Bowles (born Dec. 21) counted herself lucky to get a combined present for her birthday and Christmas. In her Ontario Street neighbourhood she attended school and befriended children of different backgrounds. The community would burnish her native kindness, openness and tolerance.
As a girl, Doris loved the campfires and Lake Magog summer camp of her Canadian Girls in Training group. She also overcame an array of childhood afflictions: a wry neck, a ruptured kidney, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever, twice.
During the Second World War, she worked as a bookkeeper. Her younger brother, Eddie, was in the Canadian merchant navy. Eddie impressed his crewmate, Hugh John MacLeod, who wondered whether he might have a sister – and demanded to meet her when their ship landed in Montreal. Doris, 21 at the time, felt that HJ was like Errol Flynn, only better. Within a day or two of meeting Doris, the Cape Bretoner suggested they look for a box of Cracker Jack and see if it contained a ring. They married within a year and proceeded to raise a family in Dartmouth and Cape Breton. First came a son, Alan, then identical twin daughters, Nancy and Nora, and a final daughter, Kathleen.
HJ was the principal beneficiary of Doris’s devotion and love for their nearly half-century of marriage, but he was not the only one. She was kind, giving, fair. Flexible, too. Once school was out, her son wanted to spend his summer outdoors. She wanted him to come home for lunch. He counterproposed: Could lunch be eggnog, and drunk on the back step? She agreed.
In her late 40s, when her own children were grown, Doris started all over again. She happily took on daycare responsibilities for her first grandchild, then a second, third and fourth.
“Nan” read tirelessly to her grandchildren. Using homemade flash cards, she made sure they were familiar with the alphabet and the basics of reading when they started school. Lego and Meccano nurtured their design instincts. She was patient and empathetic but also orderly: demanding toys be put away when playtime was over. She also taught them how to play cards and by the time they were teenagers they modelled her competitiveness – and the occasional cuss word that went along with it.
None of Doris’s children would claim that she was perfect. As HJ once memorably put it, she was “a natterer” – someone who fretted over small things, a fussbudget. And a stubborn one to boot. No member of the family was allowed to wash the dishes because none of us was fastidious enough. But she was a marvellous listener. She was genuinely interested. A new friend would only have to report family details once: Doris would remember.
Doris was a keen reader, a close follower of world affairs and a student of human nature. In twice-weekly phone calls with her son, they covered a lot of ground: books they were reading, the climate crisis, the goings-on in Ottawa and American politics. Having married a sailor she was acquainted with salty vocabulary and resorted to it as circumstance required.
Doris moved to a seniors residence in her later 80s and understood that abundant good cheer was as beneficial to herself as to those around her. She played 45s and cribbage, mastered shuffleboard and gave poetry readings. At lunchtime, her table mates looked forward to Doris’s word of the day. She was a role model for growing old: positive, resilient, brave.
Alan Livingstone MacLeod is Doris’s son.
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