Remembering Auntie

Frances Diane Grisenthwaite

9 February, 1941–24 May, 2014

IMAGE: Auntie Fran at about 14.
Auntie Fran at about 14.

If we had to summarize Auntie’s life in three words, they would be sacrifice, loyalty and joy.

Let’s start with sacrifice.

Auntie played an integral role in raising her brother’s children – us. Along with her parents – Gram, Margaret and Grandad, Arthur – Auntie Fran ensured we were cared for.

Auntie Fran and Gram made all of our clothes for the first nine-or-so years of our lives. They always made sure we had new socks and underwear: Twice a year, on birthdays and at Christmas. They were so consistent, I was 31 before I even knew how to buy my own gonch.

One by one, each of Auntie’s nephews wound up living with her and Gram. Instead of venturing out into the world and starting her own family, she stayed home and helped Gram raise us. Gram and Fran got no support from our parents, so they made and sold crafts to help cover the cost of raising teenage boys.

Auntie would start them and Gram would do the finishing work. They would sell their wares at craft fares and through their network of friends. It was common to see them knitting or crocheting something every day and often well into the night.

Auntie took care of Gram during Gram’s final years. It wasn’t easy because Gram had some serious health issues.

Auntie did the best she could. Again, often on her own. She paid a huge price both emotionally and physically. She soldiered on, though, in part because she was loyal to family, and, in part, Gram instilled in each of us a strong work ethic.

After 36 years, she lost the family home. Her nephew Randy stepped up and provided for her, with help from her grandnephews Trevor and Patrick, as well as Makayla Hutt and Brian Jones – someone she adored as though he was her own son.

It wasn’t all hard work for Auntie. I saved the best moments for last. The joyous ones.

From very young ages, she took us to movies, concerts and made sure we got to the PNE every summer. She helped instil in us a love of music and film.

Shopping with Gram and Fran became a ritual, and something we looked forward to when visiting them. They would sometimes take us to Army & Navy in Vancouver, usually to buy us clothes, and then we’d have a buffet lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Donald’s was their favourite.

Gram and Fran took us out for picnics at Horseshoe Bay, Deep Cove and Cates Park. They worked hard to ensure we had balanced, full lives.

Auntie developed a keen interest in hockey in the early 1970s. She loved attending Vancouver Blazers games, and over time became a rabid fan of both the Canucks and Giants.

Auntie and I went to many Blazers games together. We always sat near ice level. It was with her at a Blazers versus Winnepeg Jets game that I got to see my idol – Bobby Hull – play. Auntie loved the speed of the game and the crashing hits. She loved live hockey, but wasn’t big on watching televised games until much later in her life. And then, she scheduled her life around Canucks’ telecasts.

She loved her Canucks. The team and individual players, notably Kirk McLean, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi – ask her about Todd’s hit on Steve Moore, and she’d get riled up and tell you Todd got a raw deal. Sometimes with very colourful language.

She also loved Roberto Luongo and thought he should have been treated with more respect. She was sad to see him leave Vancouver.

Her all-time favourite Canuck was Trevor Linden. She spoke about his 1995 hit on Jeff Norton as if it happened yesterday. She was thrilled when the Canucks named him president of hockey operations and looked forward to the 2014–2015 season.

Back in the day, she’d hoped to see Trevor running in the Sealynn area, and watched for him every time she went to Save-On Foods at Park & Tilford.

Speaking of Park & Tilford, Auntie walked to the Starbucks there at least once a day. She was thrilled that the staff learned her name, her drink and asked how she was doing with her lottery. The girls, as Auntie called them, always asked her about the Canucks. She felt the same rapport with the staff at the Leathead store.

Her daily coffee at Starbucks brought her great joy and sense of belonging.

Then there was the music. Live or recorded, Auntie loved her music.

Over the years she’d seen many live shows, fondly remembering some of them as if she’d just left the venue.

She took us to many shows. Together we saw Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, Bobby Sherman (you’ll probably have to Google him), Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and the show she cherished most: Waylon Jennings.

I could spend more time talking about Waylon, but for those of us closest to Auntie, I think we’ve heard enough for now. Toby Keith on the other hand, well, that’s another story.

To celebrate her 70th birthday, I took her to see Toby Keith. She was thrilled, absolutely blown away by the spectacle. She relived the concert vividly for months after it ended.

That’s the way Auntie lived her life: with the joyous naïveté of a girl. When she was down, you could lift her spirits with a joke.

And such a sense of humour she had. Sometimes sweet and innocent. Sometimes raunchy. The lady loved to laugh.

In 2010, Auntie was granted First Nations status. It was one of her proudest moments. She beamed real pride when I told her that, Indian way, she was my daughter Michaela’s grandmother.

Speaking of family, she was fiercely loyal to those closest to her. She became the de facto queen of the Neufeld household, and helped out through good times and bad.

The day before she died she met her nephew Don McTighe and cousins from the Okanagan First Nation for the first time. She also reconnected with niece Lisa Grisenthwaite, Lisa’s partner Mike Porco and grandniece Ryann Grisenthwaite. And she was happy to have met them, too. I mean happy.

Auntie, thank you for always being there through the good and not so good times.

We miss you, but we’re thrilled you’ve made it home.

4 thoughts on “Remembering Auntie

  1. ah auntie fran wonderful person. Condolences from the elphinstone family, darlene, carol, bill, Gina

    1. Thank you, Gina. We’re still sorting out Auntie’s stuff. We still haven’t found a “working” address book. Randy and I will be bringing Auntie and Gram home soon. They’re going to Crystal Lake at First Memorial … Home at last. 🙂

Leave a Reply to Gina Nefat Baird Cancel reply