On Saturday I found myself telling him about my great-aunt, Alice Margaret Schuyler Lighthall. I've been thinking of telling some of her story for years, but I'm not sure which part or where to begin.
Every year at Christmas, she and my grandmother (her sister) would arrive at our house, Auntie Alice from Westmount, an English-speaking city now within Montreal, and Gran from Springfield, MA. This picture would have been one of their last visits with us. Auntie Alice is reading, Granny is contemplating the prospect of a cup of tea, I'd guess.
Where do I begin? Auntie Alice was born in 1891 and lived to two months shy of 100. She told me once she didn't want to live to be 100, and so she didn't. She was mentally sharp until the end. I visited her a month before she died, so I can attest to this.
Here are some of the pieces of her life:
Auntie Alice wanted to go to McGill to study law, but her father didn't want any "bluestockings" in the family.
In 1916, she joined the St. John's Voluntary Aid Detachment, which took her briefly to England and then on to General Hospital No. 5 in Rouen, France, where she was a nurse through to the end of WWI. I have a copy of her journal from those two years. It doesn't reveal much of her feelings, as she was an intensely private person and my mother says she was afraid her parents would be too inquisitive. The journal includes photocopies of watercolors she painted while there (though she didn't actually have much time to paint). Here are a couple:
(Chateau near Petit Couronne, Rouen and No. 5 British General Hospital, Rouen. Wards 19 and 20 and air raid trenches.)
She was instrumental in the Canadian Guild of Crafts, started by her mother. According to the Guild website, this organization "was founded in 1906 in an effort to conserve, encourage and promote Inuit art, Amerindien art and fine crafts of Canada." I was present in about 1983 when she was honored by the Guild of Crafts for her lifetime of dedication.
Because of her work with the Guild of Crafts and other organizations, she was appointed to the Order of Canada.
Auntie Alice was a published poet and was the president of the Poetry Group of Montreal in the 1960s, according to an article in the Westmount Examiner in 2008.
She wrote a Christmas pageant set in France, which had Druids as well as Christians in it.
She was fascinated by archaeology and civilization. She was one of the founders of the Westmount Historical Association, and it was due to Auntie Alice that the Hurtubise House was saved from demolition in 1955. This house was built in 1739 and is now owned by the Canadian Heritage of Quebec.
She listened, really listened, to children.
Auntie Alice spent much of her time reading. At her old house in Westmount, she had stacks of books by her easy chair, sporting flags of bookmarks throughout. In her later years, she'd sometimes fall asleep at our house while reading a massive tome, woken only by the clunk of the book on the floor.
She was funny and smart, as well as tremendously dignified. She favored swoopy dresses with multiple folds and patterned scarves. I believe she made the dresses. When she arrived at Christmas, she was festooned with small tote bags.
She lived with her parents until they died. Auntie Alice never married. Because she was the last of her generation in Montreal, her cellar was full of the belongings of relatives who had died. It was an amazing treasure trove! There were fourteen trunks down there at one point. Once I was rummaging around down there (with her permission), and opened a small box to find a set of false teeth. I guess you don't just throw those away.
If you had breakfast at her house, you had to be prepared to have a boiled egg that was closer to raw than cooked. She must have just waved it over the boiling water and called it done. Because we were expected to be polite, we ate everything we were served, no matter what. I put lots of salt and pepper on my raw egg.
We loved her dearly.
P.S. I know my family, especially my mother, will have plenty of comments to add! Suggestions on where to begin?