So Long, Young Lady

Who?

Her name was Sjoerdtje; most people in Canada called her Sharon. We called her Beppe.

Close to the beginning of my relationship with Mrs. J, I was invited to an Easter dinner and over-nighter at her uncle’s place in Charleston Lake. There, I was to meet Tanya’s grandmother; saying that I was nervous would have been an understatement. It can be said that on rare occasions, meeting older European folks can be a bit of a crap-shoot if your recent ancestors are not from the same continent where the Euro is currently the main currency.

From everything that Mrs. J had told me, Beppe was tough-as-nails, having raised four kids while her “hoosbent verked awaye frehm de hoem” a fair bit (I loved her accent – so cute). Upon meeting this big-things-come-in-small-packages-type lady who was all done up just so, I noticed how incredibly blue her eyes were. Shortly after I became intimately familiar with the scent of her perfume as she mashed my nose into her shoulder in a vice-like, yet friendly hug.

Dinner was great. Beppe was sharp as a tack, engaging, and opinionated. She kept up with current events and even understood what I was talking about in terms of my job. She was full of stories and was great at spinning the yarn of truth into something wonderful to behold. I feel as if I forever earned her love with the breakfast I cooked the next day: Home-made French Toast with bacon on the side – she talked about it for years after. At the end of the weekend, even though I felt I was prepared, my face was almost broken by that incredibly tight hug. Love hurts, I suppose.

Viva Brockvegas

Beppe lived on her own in a fairly large apartment in Brockville. Her husband Ben had passed away the same year that Mrs. J was born. A woman of deep faith, Beppe had his wedding band fused to hers because of her belief that she would join him again when it was her time to depart from the physical plane. Her eyes would always moisten when she talked about him; it was always very sweet.

She lived near the water; the St. Lawrence River was very close – close enough for her to walk to if she felt like watching the boats. She certainly liked to walk when she was able. During summertime she would go to the boardwalk along the harbour for ice cream, from what I have been told. I went with her once. It was a lot of fun.

Three Square Meals

Visting Beppe meant eating – there was no getting around it. Whether we were just passing through on our way to visit friends in Ottawa, or we were going to visit Beppe, she always insisted that we have a meal. Usually when she brought us into her apartment (she would usually meet us outside her door) the air would be saturated with the smell of her fantastic meatball soup and a faint whiff of chocolate chip cookies baked the day before. Lunches were fairly simple, usually consisting of bread, cold cuts, cheese (usually Gouda), and her soup. Dessert consisted of her yummy chocolate chip cookies (that honestly felt lighter than air but packed a chocolatey punch) or fresh cinnamon buns with butter.

Once in a while we would indulge by ordering fish and chips from one of those places that had been around Brockville for ages; you know, the kind that wraps their cooked product in brown paper and then contains it all within folded newspaper to soak up the excess oil. Such an awesome treat.

Even the Best Of Us

Beppe’s health started really deteriorating just a few years after I met her. The things that were happening to her are too numerous to mention (and frankly, not really very nice to think about – dignity is something that was also important to her). Honestly, it was a horrible irony that a woman who wanted nothing better than to join her dearly departed husband had a body that was too stubborn to quit. Her strong sense of faith really prevented her from thinking about anything other than living until it was time for God to punch her clock. I hear that even after her heart stopped she took three last breaths and then finally let go.

After a long struggle she was finally at peace.

A Few of My Favourite Things

As is usual case with me, I like to focus on the good memories of someone that I have rather than the not-so-good ones. Smiles are a lot more fun to think about than suffering. With Beppe it’s pretty easy to remember the good because she was a powerful and positive force of nature.

  • I don’t know when it started, but I would greet Beppe with: “Hello, young lady!”. She would usually laugh and repeat it back: “Hah! Yoong laydee!”. This was an endless source of smiles for the both of us.
  • She absolutely loved her great-grandkids. Every time we visited, little J would ask to be pushed around in her walker. Beppe did this every time, as long as she was physically able.
  • Beppe was fantastic at Scrabble (remember that English was her second language) and Rummikub. She was a pretty competitive player, but in a good way. It was awesome to see her set her jaw if she fell behind. She inevitably would catch up and usually win.
  • Phrases I love: “Ees dat right?” “Chk! Dat’s nonshenshe!” “My goooodnesh!” “Kookin'”
  • At my wedding, some of Tanya’s relatives gave me a lesson in Dutch vocabulary. Beppe was endlessly amused that I never forgot the words that I learned that day.
  • There were a handful of times where Beppe and I had the opportunity to hang out; just the two of us. She told me many stories and confided in me about a number of things. I would never trade these times with her for anything.

A Final Remark

At her funeral*, I stood up and said a few words. I had asked my daughter if she wanted to say something, but she was obviously wrestling with what was going on. When I was finished, I got the stink-eye from her, crossed arms and a pout. She told me that she wished she could have said something on the microphone.

I found out later what she wanted to say; I am including it here, for posterity. I think it’s pretty awesome…

I loved Beppe very much and she loved me. Beppe gave excellent hugs and kisses.


* – To visit the funeral home tribute page, click here.

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2 Responses

  1. What a lovely tribute. How lucky you, Mrs. J, and little J were to have her in your lives.

  2. I am so sorry for your family’s loss. Big hugs to you, Mrs. J and Little J.

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