Betty Toop 1930 – 2011
Eulogy for my Mom 2011
My mom was invited to a banquet. This time she had to leave her buns behind and she didn’t get to bring more food than the host. The good news is that she is quite herself again, and she has company that has gone before to welcome her. I’m sure my Dad saved a spot for her at the table, and she will find all of her family who predeceased her there. It will be a great homecoming. My Dad was wrong, they will have plenty of time now to walk that country lane together hand in hand, only this time around they won t have to ponder the travails of life, they will no longer be seeing through a glass darkly, but face to face.
No one embraced the concept more than my Mom that you can’t take it with you. My Dad was always afraid to give her money because he knew that she would spend it faster than she would get it, and not on herself, on other people. Hers is a life fully and truly spent. Like the book of Matthew informs us, she did not store up treasures on earth along the way, rather she laid up an eternal inheritance in a place where moth and rust will not destroy. I never knew my Mom to have a good set of anything. In matters of style she was homespun and do-it-yourself. She was definitely corning ware vs. bone china, and all the better if she could hook two sets and give one to someone who might need it. She had no fancy pretensions, she did her own hair every day with curlers and hairspray until the very end and as my wife found out when she tried to treat my Mom to a manicure, if Betty Toop didn’t want to do something.... My Mom was defined by an independent resolve, to live life on her own terms, based on a few loves and firm guiding principles.
My Mom was defined by hard work. From the age of thirteen, she was earning her board at Burt Porter’s Farm. She earned her way through teacher s college and worked only briefly as a teacher before my Dad snagged her. Together they raised a family of seven. My mother’s formal career as a teacher therefore was quickly ended, but nonetheless, it was her vocation to teach, and teach she did. She was very careful to pass on values that were very important to her, dedicated that the work that she began with her own family should not go on in vain.
Family life was colourful, that is, it began with a small trail of kids living out of box car accommodations that the CPR supplied to its itinerant staff, throughout the small towns of Saskatchewan where my Dad was posted. When the family grew to five, Dad went back to School to get his engineering degree which resulted in a relocation to the East, in Peterborough, Ontario. Fifteen years later they relocated again to Regina and then to Calgary, and my Mom was adamant in her efforts to keep the family connected and see everyone through to the end.
In Peterborough my Mom worked as a seamstress doing alterations in a downtown clothing store. She must have made an impression because years later, she and Dad ran into the boss who was famous for being a skinflint, and he insisted on buying them both lunch at a fancy restaurant. Later on in Calgary she held a part-time job at Sears for many years the goal of which, was to earn enough money to fund all the gift giving for things she thought her kids might like or need. She put the Bus Parcel Express people through their paces sending furniture that she had recovered, and there always seemed to be a beige turtleneck, a trench coat, or a pair of dress loafers that my Mom was trying to find a home for. And we will never forget all those parcels of frilly red laced dresses for the
There are a few mental images that come up by which I will always remember my Mom. One is her perpetually bustling in frozen sheets in and out from the clothes line, head uncovered, and likely wearing a pair of slippers.
Another is that she loved house painting and I think the attraction lay in how you could transform the world in an instant, with a bit of sweat and a brush. I can remember that one year when I went to summer camp, she got the painting bug and I returned to find my newly inherited teen bedroom resplendent in feminine charm with a fresh coat of daffodil yellow paint and frilly curtains to boot.
One thing that was comic about my Mom is that for all that she spent putting to order in her life, she could never be on time for anything. Whether to work or to Church, Mom was always going out the door like a wet hen, taking curlers out of her hair en route and God forbid, driving. She had determined to learn this latter skill in her middle age, and after three failed attempts to get her license, entered the examination office with a gleam in her eye and exited with a pass.
One funny story about my Mom’s stubbornness happened at the dentist. Time was at a premium with seven charges on her hands so she was never up for doing a job twice. In this particular instance, her dentist had gone over his time limit trying to extract some wisdom teeth that were deeply rooted, had cracked, and would not come out in one piece. The dentist tried to get her to rebook for a follow up appointment, but my Mom
told him she had come to get those teeth removed, and she was not going to move from that chair until he got his job done. It took him until 7:30 pm, and he had to rebook several other patients, but my mom held his feet to the fire until the offending teeth were successfully extracted.
We will all miss her baking, the most famous fare being her buns. I will never forget the smell of butter and raw dough as she multiplied the loaves on a Sunday afternoon. I remember sitting hungrily while she pulled hot doughnuts out of the oil, that would put the lore of such as Krispy Kreme to shame. Her Sunday Afternoon roast beef was unsurpassed. And who ever could forget carrot salad, or elbow macaroni with grated cheese and tomato juice?
In my mind’s eye, I will remember my Mom sitting with her sewing machine humming, a cup of tea off to one side and David Rutherford going on the radio, interspersed with salty observations about Liberals and all other manner ne’er do wells everywhere.
I hope we all learned something from her example of how one can live proudly and uprightly in a manner that defies all the rages and tempests of life. Most of all we will miss her abiding love that watched over all of us from a distance, always wishing for the best and we hope the Good Lord will respond in kind.
It is hard to imagine that Mom is gone because she was so omnipresent in our lives in so many ways. In Peterborough, we had a peek-through cubby hole that passed from the kitchen into the living room area, which might be the only place in the house where you might accomplish a modicum of privacy if you had brought a girl home. The moment you thought you had a private or intimate moment, Mom’s head would suddenly pop through the cubby hole, and interject something into the conversation, that would be a sure show-stopper for any potential romance that might have developed.
I’ll tell you one story that pretty much sums it up, it’s about Mom’s attachment to the bags of sewing scraps she saved. Once while Mom was away, Dad and I did a bit of a clean up, and took it upon ourselves to get rid of some of these bags, and Mom didn’t talk to us for about the space of a month, which was totally out of character. I realized at that point that I had messed with something sacred. If you knew Mom, she could fly off the handle, you’d get her opinion in spades and then she’d forget about it. To steam over something for a long time meant you had done something quite unforgivable.
Later on, I came to understand that all those scraps of unused cloth which did not have a home were really a metaphor for Mom’s way of approaching life with faith and whimsy. They represented all those people and things in the world which were lost and needed to be found, useless and in need of redemption, to be revitalized only with the injection of someone’s imagination and passion. There were no lost causes in Mom’s world and this perhaps best explains how she survived bringing up a disparate family of seven boys, through teen years and beyond.
I’m going to close with a poem that was one of Mom’s favourites.
The Touch of the Master’s Hand
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile;
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar; then two! Only two? Two dollars, and who'll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three...” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening up the strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet as the caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low,
Said; “What am I bid for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow.
A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply: “The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin,
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on.
“He is going once, and going twice, He’s going and almost gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.