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lives lived

Joan Scoffield: Matriarch. Knitter. Artist. Perfectionist. Born Jan. 14, 1922, in Hull, England; died Oct. 12, 2022, in Toronto, of boredom and natural causes; aged 100.

Joan Scoffield.Courtesy of family

An early photograph of Joan shows her on pointe shoes, knobby knees below the ballerina tutu, arms raised to hold a silky scrap of scarf behind her. She was about five years old. Apparently, her mother was holding her waist behind the curtain to keep her upright. I don’t think she actually took ballet lessons, I can’t imagine they had the money for that kind of luxury, but going to a studio and posing for a photo must have been within the family budget. That early photo says a lot about Joan. Stand straight and tall, no matter what life throws at you. When people asked her the secret to living a long, healthy life, she would say that she had a positive attitude. Today we call this resilience.

Born to teenaged parents, excelling in school, Joan became a bookkeeper and met her future husband, Walter, when she was 16 and he was 20. Attractive and outgoing, she had many boyfriends, but Walter’s persistence won the day and they were married four years later, in 1942. Little did they know that, within six weeks, he would be shipped off to Burma (now Myanmar) for three and a half years. What’s a Yorkshire lass to do when the local men have all gone off to war? Go dancing with the American soldiers who were in town, of course. But when Walter returned, Joan fell in love with him all over again, and their first child, Elaine, was born nine months later.

Joan and Walter were keen to start afresh after their wartime experiences and immigrated to Canada in 1948 where Gregory, Debra and Cheryl were born over the next eight years. They finally saved up enough to buy a house in 1956 in Lachine, Que. Many of the children’s childhood memories are anchored around watching Joan freeze beans she grew in the garden from seed, pack the car for the annual two-week camping trips, sew everyone’s clothes – including sleeping bags and coats with matching hats – and paint and wallpaper the house from top to bottom. When they retired, Joan and Walter moved to Oakville, Ont., to be closer to friends.

Joan Scoffield at age five.Courtesy of family

Joan was creative. Painting, knitting and sewing were lifetime hobbies. She made up the patterns, whether she was knitting sweaters or doll clothes. “I’m a perfectionist,” she would say, as she ripped out the entire back of a sweater because the stripes didn’t line up when she came to sew it together. Did this perfectionism mean she was occasionally bossy? Umm … yes.

When the grandchildren and great-grandchildren arrived, a white knitted blanket with a crocheted lace edge made by Grammy also arrived as a gift. Then, at 96, she declared, “No more knitting.” When her sixth granddaughter announced she was pregnant, however, the knitting needles came out of retirement. When Joan found out it was twins, a second version of each sweater, hat, bootee and blanket was magically created.

COVID-19 was particularly tough on Joan. She was confined to her room in long-term care for weeks at a time. For a person with a high energy level, this was devastating. The text message complaints ran something like this: “No entertainment. No bingo. Just sitting and looking out the window. BORING.”

Joan/Mom/Grammy is missed for her energy and freely dispensed wisdom. But how lucky we were to have had her in our lives for so many years.

Debra Scoffield is Joan Scoffield’s daughter.

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