Snapshots of one life
By Michael Turton
Jean died in Kingsville, Ontario at 9:50 p.m. on Friday March 10, 2011. Her passing caused but one deep sigh to be heard in all of Philipstown, in a small house on Garden Street in Cold Spring. The sigh came from the only person in Putnam County who the deceased had known or affected – her son; although it could be argued that through him she indirectly affected many others in this area.
At first glance, Jean’s passing is of little consequence to the other local residents. Yet, when viewed in terms of change and history, her life becomes quite relevant. It reinforces not only our own mortality and the inexorable passage of time, but also just how much can happen, just how many things can change, in the course of a single life- time. How some things that used to be the norm are no longer acceptable. How certain things that used to be common, if not valued, were lost, only to be considered very desirable once again.
Consider these snapshots from Jean’s life as viewed through the lens of present day Philipstown. What would each snapshot be viewed as? Quaint? Impossible? Admirable? Inappropriate? Instructive? Desirable? You decide.
Early years: a culture of farming
Jean was born on New Year’s Eve, 1914, five months into the war to end all wars. At the time, Belgian draft horses were used to work her parent’s Kent County farm. She had eleven siblings – six brothers and five sisters. She outlived them all. Five of her six brothers became farmers. After high school she took a year off to help her mother, Louise Drew, with work on the family farm – mostly gardening and cooking. In the 1930’s she, her mother and sisters traveled to northern Ontario to view the Dionne quintuplets who were on display in a government facility.
School, work and marriage
Jean went to Normal School and became a teacher. She taught grades one through eight, in one classroom. She met her husband Joe in the coatroom at a church hall. During Prohibition she and Joe were known to the occasionally visit a “Blind Pig.” When she announced their July 12 wedding date, her father, Martin Drew, a devout Catholic, made her change the date because it fell on a holiday celebrated by Protestant Orangemen. She retired from teaching after only a few years to become a stay-at-home mom.
She and her husband Joe had eight children – four boys and four girls. Initially they lived with Joe’s mother Nellie in a very small, three bedroom house that had once served as a railroad shed. No indoor plumbing. Pump on the back porch. Outhouse out back. Wood stove for heating. Her first child was born at home, delivered by her mother-in-law Nellie who worked as a practical nurse and who brought many others into the world as well. They stayed in Nellie’s house until their fifth child was 2 1/2 – the same person who 58 years later would breathe that deep sigh on Garden Street. They then moved to their permanent family home – a large, four bedroom, brick house on a one acre lot in Oldcastle, something less than a village. In raising her family Jean prepared more than 240,000 meals: 10 people, 3 meals a day for each, for 20 years – minimum. Her weekly ironing of laundry for those 10 people included handkerchiefs and cloth diapers. When Nellie fell and broke her hip, Jean and Joe returned the favor and took her into their home.
Jean canned fresh, local foods in large quantities. Peaches. Pears. Strawberries. Raspberries. Chili sauce. Corn. Peas. Pickles. Tomatoes. Apple sauce. Plums. Apricots. Beets. She bought grass-fed beef from a local cattle farm – by the full side or hind quarter; killed at the local slaughter house; packaged at the local butcher shop. Very little was wasted in Jean’s household. Recycling was a given – it simply wasn’t called that. Old clothes became cloth rugs; table scraps became pet food; teabags were saved, their contents used to sweep the dusty basement floor. When she baked pies she often sent one over to the men who worked next door in the cemetery. If a farmer was working a nearby field on a hot, dusty day she would dispatch one of her kids with a mason jar of cold water. Jean had one commandment that her kids never entertained breaking: “Thou shalt not be late for supper at 6.”
On a typical Saturday, her sons would leave home by 9 a.m. and return at 5:59 p.m. Their day might include rafting or playing hockey on local ponds; swimming at the local motel pool; breaking into an abandoned farm house and playing in the barns; inflicting one prank after another on one particular family; riding five miles by bicycle to wade down a creek to spear pike or carp: stealing peas and corn from area fields; shooting crows and frogs – or hanging out for hours with men much older than them at the local all-in-one restaurant/pool hall/ post office/variety store. Jean did not track them by cell phone. There were no calls home to check in. There was no parental anxiety as to their whereabouts or safety: as long as they were home for supper at 6. Jean never got her driver’s license.
Hers were simple pleasures: a 30-minute break from housework every afternoon to have tea and watch “As the World Turns” (the soap opera premiered in 1956 and aired its last episode just six months before Jean’s death); reading the daily newspaper each evening; playing a cutthroat card game called “Screw Your Neighbor” with her family — the name always made her giggle; occasional euchre parties or bingo at the church hall; going out with her husband perhaps once a year; taking batting practice in the back yard with her children and grandchildren each spring at the start of baseball season. She hit very well at 80 though she never mastered the art of hitting to the opposite field.
Religion, politics and philosophy
Jean was a devout Catholic. She had great difficulty at first accepting that some of her children didn’t share her beliefs, but, as she grew older, she became very open to and accepting of the paths that her children and grandchildren chose. She voted liberal but lived a conservative life. Her day-to-day philosophy was, “If you can’t say anything good about someone then don’t say anything at all.” That and, “Mind your Ps and Qs.”
Her husband Joe died in 1972. She enjoyed living in the large family home until being there alone became too much. (The crew from the cemetery always cut her grass. One of several neighbors with tractors always plowed her driveway in winter.) She enjoyed apartment living in the city until that also became too much. She enjoyed life in an assisted living facility until her hip betrayed her. She enjoyed life in what would be her final home – a nursing home, where she was much loved by staff. She made each transition with grace and acceptance, including her death.
From the time of her husband’s death until her own passing, Jean was well taken care of thanks to Joe’s Chrysler Canada pension, their modest and hard-earned savings and Canada’s imperfect but universal health care system. She made her own funeral arrangements many years in advance. She kept a journal until the end, in perfect old-school handwriting. She read every day. She never missed Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in the evening. Jean knew what she wanted for the last days of her life. She gave clear advance directives. No heroic measures. Comfort measures only. Do not resuscitate. During one bad episode a few months before her death she refused to go to the hospital. She wanted to die at home, which she did, peacefully.
Jean Monica (Drew) Turton was 96 when she died. She is survived by six children.
Len Turton and wife Mary, Essex, Ontario
Nancy Morand, (deceased) survived by husband Doug, Kingsville, Ontario
Mary Anne Ward and husband Paul, Woodstock, Ontario
Terry Turton (deceased), survived by wife Pauline, Kitchener, Ontario
Michael Turton, Cold Spring, N.Y.
Pat Turton and wife Sue, Belle River, Ontario
Penny Esping and husband Jeff, Oldcastle, Ontario
Ellen Turton, Essex, Ontario
Diane and Andrew Mitchell, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Laurie and Bruce McDonald, Kingston, Ontario
Dan and Renata Turton, Milton, Ontario
Peter Turton, Ottawa, Ontario
Katie and Jamie Capstick, Harrow, Ontario
Alan Morand, Deceased 1990
Erica Ward, Faro, Yukon Territory
Dr. Heather Ward, London, England
Laura Ward, London, Ontario
Matthew and Beate Turton, Kitchener, Ontario
Michael and Louise Turton, Kitchener, Ontario
Drew Turton, Vancouver, British Columbia
Blair Turton, Vancouver, British Columbia
David Turton, Calgary, Alberta
Keith Turton, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Mark and Beth Esping, Windsor, Ontario
Jamie Mitchell, Ottawa, Ontario
Christopher Mitchell, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Brendan Capstick, Harrow, Ontario
Terry Turton, Kitchener, Ontario
Desmond Turton, Kitchener, Ontario
Thanks for the remarkable photo album Jean.
Photos courtesy of M. Turton
Beautifully written remembrance, Mike.
What a very beautiful tribute. I was deeply moved. So sorry for your loss.
Thank you for sharing Jean’s life with us, Mike. What a full, wonderful one your Mom truly enjoyed! Deepest sympathy.
Mike, this is the most sincere, beautiful tribute to a woman — in fact, a whole generation of women — that I have ever read. I feel that I have now been touched by the influence of your mother from beyond the grave and 630 miles away. Thank you.
Thanks for painting this lovely,loving portrait of your mom, Mike. The song may have ended, but the melody lingers on.
Lovely! Really enjoyed the perspective on Jean’s life. Too often, we forget about the lives of previous generations and what we can learn from them to craft our own life.
As I read, Michael, I took great pleasure in imaging a boy free–to explore, to imagine, to engage nature, to think–without the encumbrances of schedules, activities, “play dates.” And then the vision of you returning home at the end of the day–dirty, tired, satisfied–to the arms and table of your adoring mother. I had such freedom growing up in rural, far upstate NY, and from it carry a lifetime of happy childhood memories–thank you for bringing many to mind. Alas, such complete freedom is lost for my children, and it makes me sad. We were lucky indeed.
Your mother’s is the story of the century, no? A simple, savored life made complex by technology, affluence, speed. A lesson to us all to embrace the everyday–the fleeting moments that are the beauty of life–to pay attention and to love those we’re traveling with and the world we’re traveling through. Peace upon your beautiful mother. Peace to you as you mourn her passing.
A beautiful tribute to a remarkable woman. Thank you Mike.
What a wonderful tribute to your mother. She was my great aunt – my mother is Marilyn Ursulak(nee Drew). I had met her on numerous occasions. You brought her to life through your words & I was truly touched. May she rest in peace.
Jean is my great Aunt, and although I did not know her, I have heard the best things from my aunts and uncles (who would be her nieces and nephews) This was extremely great to read, and learn how she lived her life- it was probably very similar to how my own Grandma.
Thank you for this- it was truly great!
What a grand, deservin’ tribute to your mom. My in-laws whom I have great respect for, always said that your mom was one of the kindest ladies in the community. Your letter is a reminder to the rest of us that we shouldn’t take our mom’s for granted. Mike, you get to keep those precious memories forever and thanks for sharin’. Sympathy in your loss
What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady.I knew your Mom as she was a good friend of my Mom,Evelyn O’Neil, when they both lived in the Glade apartments.
I was also a friend of your sister Nancy, your cousin Marilyn Ursulak, and was brought into this world by your Grandmother Nellie.
We were in Az. so we were unable to attend the funeral . I was speaking to Marilyn today and she directed me to your website.
I’m sure there will be many fond memories shared about her for many years.
Maureen O’Neil Gervais
A lovely tribute. So Sorry for your loss Michael.
Michael – I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of your mother, Jean Turton. My husband is Keith Drew, son of Walter & Genevieve, and Jean and Joe were his godparents. I remember birthday cards she sent to Keith over the years. When I met her I was taken by her ease and ability to relate to me as though we had been friends for years. What a pleasant journey through her life. She was a wonderful woman. Marilyn Ursulak directed me to this site also.
I really have enjoyed reading, numerous times, your perspective on the life of your Mom and my ‘Aunt Jean’. The lives our Moms lived spanned the course of so many changes and developments. Fortunately, these ladies enjoyed telling the stories and passing on the memories of the times of their lives. And luckily for us the family bonds were strong so that we have our own good memories of family gatherings at Grandma Drew’s and many visits back and forth. I loved visiting at Aunt Jean and Uncle Joe’s as a kid (though I found being next door to the cemetery a tad creepy.) And I always have appreciated having so many cousins who are “good people”! I’m glad you’re one of them. Thanks for writing this!