Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – July 17, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – July 17, 2004 – In 1977 I was living in a big stone house that I owned in Elmira, Ontario. It was divided into four apartments. I lived in half of the main floor and my former sister-in-law Jeannie lived on the other side. Upstairs I had two other tenants Earl and his wife Evie, who was a midget and two elderly ladies – one in her late eighties and her companion helper who was in her mid seventies.
The two ladies had lived in the house for eons and I inherited them when I bought the property. At the time, I was working as a fashion buyer, for a family owned department store in Kitchener called Goudies. I travelled to Montreal frequently to purchase special fashion buys for store sales and to Toronto every Wednesday to meet with the manufacturers’ sales representatives on Spadina, Richmond and Adelaide or at the King Edward Hotel.
During one such visit I met a woman named Jan Coulson. She was in sales for a manufacturer called Carelle Clothes on Spadina Avenue. We hit it off immediately. We shared the same zany sense of humour, admiration for women in business, appreciation of fashion, understanding of the importance of friendship, a love of good conversation and the same birthday.
Jan was divorced at the time and living near Yonge and St .Clair Avenue. She had three older children David, Carrie and Peter and a little four year of daughter named Shann. We became close friends over the next couple of years and spent a lot of time together during business hours, and talking over dinners at the end of the work day. I moved to Toronto in 1979 and Jan and I spent more time together outside work.
We talked a lot about life, her painful divorce, her older kids, Shann, animals, education, literature and our personal hopes and dreams. Underlying all our conversations was our mutual appreciation of humour and the necessity of laughter in one’s life.
In 1980 she called me at work one day to tell me that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and her recovery was remarkable. She lost weight after the surgery, and when she recovered, she looked wonderful. She was tall and slim with thick hair and beautiful skin. She turned heads wherever she went. In short she was a gorgeous woman. After her surgery she made a decision to change her life. She’d married at seventeen and had her children early in life. She returned to school to get her degree, with an ultimate goal of attending law school.
We were having dinner one night In October of 1981 at a seafood restaurant on Avenue Road. Jan ordered the soup and was eating very slowly as I unabashedly devoured a grilled salmon steak. I put down my fork and looked across the table at her. She had tears in her when she said, “The cancer is back”.
I was shocked by the brutal unfairness of her news. She’d been feeling great, she looked wonderful and everything in her life was going so well. But ‘Fate’ had a different path for Jan to follow. Her health deteriorated rapidly. She got her affairs in order. She spent as much time as she could with her older kids and she treasured every second with Shann. Her friends worked out a routine where one of us was with her all the time. Vicky, Connie, Jill, Gene, Rosalie, Bill, Susie and myself. There were other people who I’ve forgotten, but the one thing we shared was our love for this talented, funny, genuine, smart, caring and remarkable woman.
When she realized that her time was limited, she decided to leave the hospital and come back to her comfortable, little apartment on Felbrigg Avenue to be around the people and the things she loved. She wanted to die at home. By this time Shann was living with Gene and Jill, the caring couple who became her legal guardians after Jan’s death. I was with her the day she died. I was lying beside her on her bed and the sun was shining through the window onto her face. By this point the cancer had spread to her brain and she’d lost the ability to speak, but she patted my arm and pointed to the window and smiled at the sunny day .
I hugged her and told her I loved her and she squeezed my hand in response. I left about four o’clock in the afternoon and she died about an hour later. It was 1982 and she was 39. Gene and I were the executors of her estate and to the best of our ability we carried out her wishes. I think she would have been pleased.
Now all these years later, her lovely daughter Shann is getting married. I attended a bridal shower for her today and we reminisced about her Mother. I returned Jan’s beloved brass candelabra to Shann. I’d been its keeper since Jan’s death and it was to go back to Shann when she was ready to give it a suitable home. Now was the time.
I still have the brass Doberman that I’d given Jan as a birthday gift one year and that she returned to me in her will. We’d both been the owners of these beautiful dogs. I thought a lot about Jan today and what her legacy is to her children and her friends and it struck me that these are a few of the things Jan would want us to remember every day.
Read every chance you get.
Never give up hope.
Value your family.
Make room in your life for a variety of friends.
Pick your battles wisely and fight like hell for what you love.
Learning and education are incredibly important.
Keep things around you that you love.
Write down your feelings – keep a journal.
Have fun at every opportunity.
Enjoy good food.
Spend time outdoors.
Be loyal and honest.
Never stop laughing.
Jan – wherever you are – your daughter Shann is getting married on August 28th this year. Gene and Jill were the best guardians you could have chosen for her. Through their love and support she’s grown into a lovely young woman with solid values and a warm heart.
She picked a good man to marry and she’ll be a beautiful bride. She knows you loved her. In some small way I hope your friends have helped to keep your memory alive for her. I wish she could have known you. She missed the presence of an amazing mother, and during the years since your death, I’ve missed a good friend.