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The Globe and Mail

Lives Lived: Margaret Elizabeth Cafley, 96

Margaret Elizabeth Cafley

Story teller, Scrabble champion, avid traveller. Born on July 29, 1917, in Toronto; died on Jan. 12, 2014, in Port Credit, Ont., of natural causes, aged 96.

Margaret Cafley adored her father, questioned her mother, envied her adopted brother, cherished her husband, protected her children and was always authentic to herself. She was well-read, self-taught and had a quick wit. Her exceptional memory did not allow her to forgive easily.

Margaret was the beloved only child of immigrant parents, Annie Robinson from England and Frederick Fargher from the Isle of Man. She grew up in Roseland, near the Humber River in Toronto. Her paternal grandparents followed their son to Canada and built a small farm beside the family home with a goat, ducks and chickens. They made their own cheese and wine, grew apples and plums, and delighted in their garden. When Margaret was 14, her doting father drowned while on a fishing trip. Despite her mother's caring reputation, Margaret was often critical of her and chose to remember her despised sandwiches made with overripe bananas.

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Margaret's memory was flawless and, even in her final year; she was able to recall the intricacies of life events in rich detail, painting vivid pictures with her words and insights. Her voice might tire after an afternoon of stories, but there were always more to tell.

Her earliest memory was being four years old and left alone with body of her Aunt Ethel, who had come with her husband to live with Margaret's family shortly after the First World War. When Ethel passed away, Margaret stayed with her body while her parents went for the doctor. She described those moments in exquisite detail many years later … the fear she felt, the stillness of the room, the appearance of the body through the eyes of a toddler.

As a young woman, she spent her summers working at Baptiste Lake, near Bancroft, Ont. There, she fell in love with Ronald Cafley, a test pilot who spent much of his career as an engineering technician in the drafting department at DuPont Canada. They married in 1940 and raised five children (Judith, Geoffrey, Elizabeth, Mark and Rennie), sharing 68 years together.

As retirees, they toured the world, from Russia to China, from Portugal to the Czech Republic. In their 70s, they travelled across Canada in their treasured Volvo, sleeping in the reclined seats and making breakfast by the side of highway.

As mother and wife, Margaret made delicious blueberry pies; she was masterful with her mother's lemon butter recipe. She devoured books and wrote beautiful letters.

As grandmother, she swam for hours in Ontario's Kennebec Lake, wearing her bathing cap with its plastic flowers, her grandchildren at the other end of the Styrofoam teeter-totter. She would beat them at Scrabble and teach them new words.

She loved a hot cup of tea, always in a china cup. The milk went in first. She always knew if the order had not been respected. She preferred the corner piece of cake.

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Margaret was widowed in 2008. In her final years, she would be found asleep in her faded rose-coloured armchair, the newspaper on her lap, an empty teacup and a book by Alice Munro on her side table.

Julie Cafley is one of Margaret's eight grandchildren.

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