It’s amazing how memories come pouring back into consciousness when a loved-one passes away, little memories filled with the most minute of details, designed to comfort us, blanket us and guide us into a new sense of reassurance.
Genevieve was the oldest of six children, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants to Canada. She worked her whole life for the Government of Canada in the Department of Public Works.
My Aunt Genevieve passed away on December 15th at the golden age of 94. She was born and raised in Ottawa and spent her entire life there, with most of her adult life spent living with her beloved sister Ann, who is now 89. They shared a home together and spent their lives loving their extended families with an energy and generosity that will never be forgotten. I always saw them as a unit – as one entity – as “Ann & Gen.” It will be difficult to think of them apart.
Genevieve, far right, photographed with her brother Alfred and her sister Ann.
My early memories of Aunt Genevieve sketch a woman in overalls and gardening gloves, big glasses and lots of chunky jewelry, kneeling in the earth of her front yard surrounded by bulbs and uprooted weeds. I remember her waving to us as we pulled into the driveway, her smile beaming, her bracelets jangling. (Gen was always glad to have a visitor.) I remember her bringing in tomatoes from the side garden, and lugging in big tote bags filled with the pottery she had made at her class that day. I remember her calculating and tabulating at her desk in the hallway (she was an accountant for a while) working on the household finances and I remember her always being in charge.
Genevieve made strikingly creative pieces of pottery throughout her lifetime. This 'bouquet' of clay flowers that she made in 1950s using pottery and heavy-guage wire was in the front entrance hall of her house for as long as I can remember. The flowers stood nearly four-feet tall.
As children, during the summer months, my brother and I would sometimes spend a day with Ann and Gen while my parents were at work. These were always fun times for us since it usually meant lots of treats and lots of activity. They would make us a big breakfast and listen to us go on and on about school. Gen was the most inquisitive of the two, always finding time to listen and inquire about what we were learning and what our dreams for the future were, quick to offer advice and insight – even to a ten year-old!
After breakfast, Gen would disappear into town, running all kinds of errands, attending all kinds of classes, from pottery to aqua fitness. She was never idle. In the evening she would begin preparing a huge Lebanese feast for all of us and my brother and I would leave feeling more full than we had ever felt before.
Gen was an artist and a traveler. During her lifetime she saw nearly every continent on the planet. Each year was marked by at least one big trip, often two or three, and she would send back postcards from all of the places she had visited. I was given boxes of these postcards several years ago and I treasure them. Her curious nature kept her on the move constantly and she loved having a good time, eating good food and making good friends.
It’s hard to imagine that I will never see her face again, see that smile, hear that big laugh (which would often be accompanied by clapping hands) or feel those warm hugs that were always musical. It is selfish of me to still want those things, given how full and long her life was. I always thought she would live forever somehow. She was one of those constants in our lives, an example of a person who lived every single day to its fullest and who proved that you are only as old as you feel. But, after 93 years with us, it was her time to go. The last year of her life was a difficult one and I know she is in a better place now. I feel a sense of peace now knowing she is at rest.
At this moment, I see her sitting in her chair by the window, looking elegant as always in a big scarf, silk blouse and trousers. I see Aunt Genevieve smiling: Loving. Comforting. Brilliant.
Genevieve Ritchie: June 20th, 1916 - December 15th, 2010