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by : Ray
Published 9 December 2012

Margot - In Memoriam

None of those who attended the funeral ceremony for our mother Margot Marne Smith, in St. Aidan’s Church in the woods near her home on Curran Lake in Quebec on February 17, 1996, can ever forget the emotion and spirit of communion intensely felt by all those present.

The talks that were given and the messages that were read on that quite unforgettable day were carefully and lovingly compiled by family members and friends into a commemorative booklet that was issued shortly afterwards to mark the occasion.

This tribute to a very special person who so marked the lives of all who knew her is now available here on this site.

Those who were present on that occasion - and also and even especially those absent, in particular Margot’s younger descendants - will be able to relive the intense feeling shared by all that day by (re)reading these moving tributes and messages in honour of one who did so much and meant so much to so many.

Sandy

My mother is gone - she has disappeared, vanished forever from our world, never to be seen again, never to be heard again, never to be held in our arms again. Never again shall we see her bright, alert, half-enquiring and half-provoking smile, never again will she listen to us recount our triumphs and travails, never again will she tell us about her own doubts and anguishes end hopes. No more shall we see her in her element, surrounded by family and friends, or alone with the elements, walking through the woods or along the coast or down a country road, alone with her thoughts, proud and determined, anguished in her inner self by what she was not, yet happy to be who she was, to be where she was, and to have done what she had done.

Yes, she was a complex person, tortn between her mental schema of the Right Way and the realities of her existence, of her material condition, of her feminine condition. Torn between an old-world upbringing and the Canadian way of life, between the overpowering intellectual model of her father and brothers and her own frustrations and lack of opportunities to develop as they had done, torn between her urge to flee the world and her need to help those in need, her need to be with others.

And this tension that was in her was, I think, one of the keys to the force she exercised on all those who were exposed to the extraordinary power of her charm and drive and vitality. This inner tension explains what to me was the most inspiring aspect of her personality, of her way of being, of her outlook on the world: her will to progress, to improve herself, to deepen her knowledge, her determined ambition to climb higher. Thus her awareness, her openness, her curiosity. All those who knew her well knew how she would want to read the book or see the exposition or hear the concert that was being talked about - but though she read more books and visited more museums and listened to more fine music than most, she nevertheless felt, intensely, that her knowledge was ever insufficient.

This eternal quest of hers for self-improvement has been an example for me all my life and, I think, for many others. It is an essential part of what she was and of the legacy that she has left us. In my own personal Pantheon of the insights that have been passed down through the ages to help us attain understanding and self-fulfilment, right alongside those of the great teachers of the past there is my very own beloved Mother’s magnificent and inspiring drive for self-improvement as a perpetual influence and guide.

Yes, my mother was a person who marked us all with her vitality and curiosity and enthusiasms. She has always been the centre of our family life, from the day she first held me, her first-born, in the crook of her arm, until this very day. None of her family can, I think, even imagine how barren our lives would have been without her affection, her support and the flow of human warmth that she generated around her - and that glow that we all feel when we think about her and about what she meant to as is also somehow associated in our minds with her establishment here in her very own little Shangri-La in Dunany. For the warmth that emanated from her heart and from her hearth, for the heritage of family togetherness and identity and affection that she created and fostered and bequeathed to us, for the dimension of family that thanks to her is now so central to all her children’s and grandchildren’s lives: I thank you, Mum, for what you have given us.

My mother was a woman of many interests and enthusiasms. Her love of Nature was not only a state of mind, but an essential factor in her approach to life, that led her to Canada in the first place and then to settle down finally here on the lakeside in Dunany. In St. Malo on the Atlantic coast in France, where she often stayed with us, she would be off well before 6 in the morning for a brisk stroll to the walled city over 3 kilometres away and back, along the beach with the wind blowing through her hair and and the waves pounding beside her: Margot Smith Alone Amidst The Raging Elements - that was, I think, how she pictured herself in relationship to the world around her - and it was in those moments that she was perhaps the happiest.

She was also a lifelong lover of the arts - ’a museum a day keeps the doctor away’ seemed to be her guiding rule when she visited me and my famly in Paris - and of music: the memory of those Saturday afternoon Metropolitain Opera concerts which she listened to so rapturously on her kitchen radio during my boyhood days has always represented to me the essence of what a true music-lover really is.

But perhaps my mother’s deepest interest, and no doubt her most private one, was her love of poetry. She had an extraordinary collection of poetry books, some of which she had acquired as a schoolgirl and carefully nurtured throughout her peregrinations around the world. Milton and Donne, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron and Keats, Ronsard, Beaudelaire and Rimbaud were not only lifelong companions, but epitomized for her the higher world to which she aspired. The moments that I have spent with her reading and reciting many of the great poems that she loved so much are among the most precious memories I have of my beloved mother, so I think that it is fitting that I close with the final section of the poem that she loved and admired above all others, Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, which in a few brief lines not only scales the summit of the human spirit, but also in a mysterious way evokes the essence of what my mother was and of what was important to her.

So, for the last time, Mum:

Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain or grief
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance-
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence- wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service; rather say
With warmer love-oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor will thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

Goodbye, Mum !

Michelle

Michelle’s extemporaneous, straight-from-the-heart talk has not been recorded.

Bruce

I had a very hard time trying to choose what to say about Grandma, what was most important among all the many important things, but in the end I could hear her telling me to "make a mistake, but make it quickly" so I shall be brief.

Grandma Margot was a builder, a maker. She built homes, she built her life, she made things, as Michelle has already discussed. But during the time that I knew her, as a grandmother, the thing she focused on building, her great project, was her family. And we are her family, she was our matriarch, our center. She built Dunany for us, as a home, a place to appreciate the things she loved.

I think it is important, and very much in keeping with Grandma’s own views, that we use this time not only to lament what we have lost, but what we have been left, what she built: our family. We are her legacy, and the greatest honour we can pay her is to acknowledge, to appreciate, to celebrate what we are. What she made us.

One of the things that makes Grandma’s passing palatable for me, is the fact that she herself got a chance to appreciate her own creation. I remember specifically an instance that meant a great deal to her. When she was in hospital, recovering from her operation and knowing that she was dying, the cousins, the grandchildren who were in Canada, gathered at the cottage to visit her and we had a dinner, a Grandma Margot dinner in the truest sense, even though she wasn’t with us. She expressed to me very strongly how much joy and satisfaction she took from that. From the knowledge that the family would continue without her. I know that from then on, she made the most of her final time to step back from building and to appreciate what she had built, and to enjoy the love that flowed to her in gratitude. She was proud of us, and it is now up to us to continue that pride.

In closing, I’d like to read the last stanza of Shelly’s Ode to the West Wind, one of Grandma’s favorite poems, and one in which I am sure I can hear her voice:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O, Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Laïla

Grandma:

From my early years, so many valued notions of family were inspired by you.

Warm soups on cold days, Thursday-night sleep-overs, visits to the library, clichés, reading and writing sessions, reprimands when elbows were seen on the dinner table... these were consistent efforts to expect nothing from your family but the best that they could be. Your innumerable moral lessons, expressed often in simple sayings, such as "waste not, want not", often echo in all of us through the choices that we make.

Most of all, and in this I think that I can speak collectively for the grandchildren, you, the founder of a dynamic family, were the reason for us to unite and delight in each other’s company while learning from your incredible spirit.

I think it was when you moved to Dunany that you found an unparalleled serenity. You moved into your troisième age and revelled in the extended fruits of your hard-earned efforts to create and nurture a family.

I can remember the first day I ever set foot in Dunany... I was eleven. You and I walked through a deep forest and rested on a rock for a picnic lunch by the side of Curran Lake. We gazed out at what was to be the landmark of your life for your sons, and especially, for your grandchildren.

It wasn’t the stunning beauty of Dunany alone that lured our eternal return to the home-away-from-home, but the nest of customs and culture that you meticulously weaved in its midst. Every teacup, book, flower and shadow reflected your character. Coming to Dunany gave us a chance to bask in the essence of your being.

Your courage and strength in enduring the ruggedness of isolation were enhanced by the joys and great companionship you found in befriending nature, tending the earth, watching the myriad of birds on your porch, walking through the fresh colours of Canadian seasons ...

The depth of your influence in my life can only now be expressed by my gratitude for your caring the way that you did about family.

Thank you for having inspired in me an appreciation for literature, music, art... and especially nature.. and for teaching me like a third parent.

Merci, ma chère grandmère, pour ma formation... Adieu.

Dylan

Grandma of mine,
Your finger here on my breast,
Tracing my skin, the blood and the rest.
Telling your journey in softly made wood
Of the lonely, the happy, days where you stood.

It was only four months ago that I gathered around my Grandmother to celebrate her birthday. She was glowing with her usual strength, humility, and generosity. She faced death... and yet she stood out like a Queen mounted on a throne.

Then she became more sick and remained in her apartment ... "Would you like a raw egg, Grandma?" I offered, hoping to give her something soothing for her stomach. "Well, that would be good for my libido, wouldn’t it dear, but I think it’s a little too late for that!" she responded jokingly.

She stayed with us until the very end, giving us her humour, taking care of us, and bathing us in her love.

My Grandmother, so caring, so committed, so much a part of my life, soul, spirituality and strength, cannot be with us today. I saw her in the hospital. I needed to see her one last time. She was dead, in a manner of speaking. I understand some people did not need to see her then, and some just couldn’t. I would like to tell you what I saw.

It was horrifying, reassuring, and exalting.

A skull was really all that was left. An empty skull — no eyes, there was cotton in them; it was missing many teeth, there was no more flesh in the cheeks or around the neck.

So I’m staring at this shell, this skeleton and I’m very confused. I can see her colours flash in the corner of my eyes. I can see her glasses practically over my own. I can hear her voice. Her style of writing, her jokes. her toothy smile, are drowning me. I realize nothing has changed, and in fact what I am looking at is not horrific, but relieving.

Her head was tilted back, the mouth was open and her whole face was concentrated on something. Not pain. Definitely not pain. Margot, Grandma, was staring at something infinitely more intriguing than life. Grandma had defeated all the odds here on Earth, and what she saw amazed her. Perhaps it was a hand helping her to leave her pain. It might have been a book that told of the strength and courage she gave to each of her family and friends. Perhaps it was a medal being pinned to her breast, honouring her for the relentless dignity with which she embraced life.

But those words "dead", "gone"... I can’t relate.

I think what I’m trying to say is my Grandmother has transcended all that. I think if you listen to your silence, if you look into your hands and eyes, you will see that Grandma has slipped inside you, dare even to say, possessed us all! She’s got me and I have her painted all over me (socks, hair...).

I’d like to stand as testimony that she took her leave from the body — she went for a long walk with Doran or went to watch a program on TV and fell asleep before it began. She might have gone to write Sandy a letter or knit the grandchildren socks. She could be off making jam and pancakes for when we all see her again.

But wherever she is, she’s not gone.

Lorna Davis

We are here to celebrate the life of a remarkable woman.

Margot was rich in inner resources and personal skills. To mention just some of them, those of you who knew her well can attest to her wonderful skill as a gourmet cook, to her exquisite needlework and knitting, to her love and knowledge of music. Margot loved the outdoors and going for long walks. Her garden was a constant source of pleasure to her.

She was a very intelligent person, cultured and well read. I used to tell her that it was my ambition to beat her just once at Scrabble. I did so finally about a month ago and you can well imagine why.

Margot had a most interesting life. She had heroic courage both in facing life and in facing death.

She loved her home in Dunany and she thought highly of the people of the area. She thought they were unparalleled for their honesty, their integrity and their pride of workmanship. She really felt part of this community and treasured her years here, and the friends she made. Her volunteer work with the hospital auxiliary was very important to her. So was her tutoring and the students she helped with various aspects of learning. She was very low-key about this side of her life, and expected no special thanks or recognition.

Margot was a highly disciplined person. She had great expertise in planning and carrying out projects. She was used to excelling at whatever she took up and always gave it her best shot. Nothing was ever too much effort. She did everything with a touch of elegance. She was meticulous as to details. Many of you remember the Tea Room. It was something she always wanted to do, so do it she did! She never lost any time in getting busy in planning and carrying out a project once she decided on something. The Tea Room closed after one summer, a victim of her own success and competency. The Tourist Bureau wanted to place the Tea Room on the Tourist Map!

Margot was able to accomplish much more than most of us, and one of the reasons for this, I thought, was because she didn’t need much sleep. Five hours would do her very nicely. While I was wasting my time sleeping eight hours or more, Margot was busy getting things done.

It has been my great privilege to know Margot and claim her as my friend for over 25 years. We met at Vanier College in Montreal in 1970, just before the college opened. Margot was hired as Public Relations Officer and Editor of the college newspaper. I was hired to develop Health Services for the Staff and students. I have many happy memories of our times spent together, and we shared and supported each other through times of happiness and in times not so happy.

I think that Margot would want me to speak frankly about her, warts and all, so to speak. However her only failing that comes to mind was her failure to take my advice. Heaven knows I gave her lots of good advice when she was having her home built - none of which she took. I have to admit that it all turned out for the best.

If I was asked to single out one characteristic about Margot it would be the love and caring she demonstrated for her family. They were of utmost importance to her. She was a role model which any of us would do well to emulate in the relationships she established and maintained with all the individual members of her family group. Her fine grandchildren here can attest to the important role she played in their lives.

It meant a lot to Margot to be in Toronto these last months of her life, near to several members of her family, all of whom were so good to her.

We say our farewell and pay tribute to an extraordinary, wonderful person. She will be greatly missed.

I would like to read a poem to you which my son-in-law, Wolf Hassenklover, wrote last week in Margot’s memory. During the past 6 years he had met Margot only 8 or 9 times. Each time, however, he was deeply touched by some unique aspect of her personality. He always looked forward to his visits with her. In these lines he has attempted to describe what he felt.

Come. Share my garden, everyone.
Creatures have laboured, webs are spun.
The flowers are blooming one by one.
Do you see their smiles in the morning sun?

Come. Share my home, all of you.
Wander here and your souls, renew.
Seek the birds and where they flew.
Do you see their smiles in the morning dew?

Come. Share my joys and where we wend
Let all your cares and sadness mend.
Soar high with me to sorrow’s end.
Do you see my bliss, my precious friend?

Come. Share my life and all my love.
Let us follow this gentle dove.
Do you see what I am speaking of?
Do you hear the peaceful song above?

Come. Share my spirit, companions all.
Walk with me from Spring to Fall.
Far off I see the approaching wall.
Far off I hear the zephyr’s call.

Message de Marie

Pour nous, les Smith de France, voilà la premiere année depuis bien longtemps où tu ne viens pas goûter notre hiver douceâtre.

Nous t’attendons a l’aéroport et au milieu des voyageurs un peu etourdis, nous apercevons tes cheveux frisés, blancs, gris, roux et ta silhouette distinguée.

Tu t’exclames tout de suite : « Comme c’est romantique ! l’hôtesse m’a proposé : je vous donne une place près du hublot et vous pourrez voir Paris dans le petit matin ».

Tu arrives a la maison et tu annonces que tu te retires pour te reposer mais, à peine dix minutes plus tard, tu réapparais fraîche et dispose, prête a dévorer la ville.

Cependant, nous attaquons avec enthousiasme tes cookies en ronds, en etoiles, ton cake dense et oriental, ta confiture de pêche, confectionnée dans ton chalet aux lueurs de l’aube.

Tu cherches ce qui a pu changer depuis la derniere fois et t’émerveilles de tout. A nous deux, Paris : les livres, les rues, les musées, les petits bistros et même les banlieues industrielles où nous travaillons.

Vous savez, dis-tu fièrernent a celles qui tient conversation au hasard des promenades, j’ai neuf petits enfants!

«Margot, raconte nous la traversee de l’Atlantique, de l’Afrique du Sud a New York et l’histoire de la fille de l’acteur célèbre que le Commandant du navire a marié au Capitaine ecossais... ».

Mais pour toi, ton espace est déjà etroit et tu veux courir a Bruxelles, ou dans le Sussex, ou à Saint-Malo.

Est-ce le plat pays de ton enfance qui t’a donné le goût des vastes horizons ? Les grands espaces du Québec que nous imaginons avec émotion... les lacs... les forets... Duruany et ta maison dans les arbres ?

Non ! Ici c’est vers la flèche brumeuse de la cathédrale de Saint-Malo qu’à l’aurore, comme toujours, tu diriges ta petite forme décidée à travers les grèves.

Nous nous étonnons que tu aies pu résister a la tentation des voiliers qui partent vers la Baltique, le Saint-Laurent ou les Antilles et que tu consentes a regagner la maison avec des croissants fraîchement sortis du four.

Hélas, Margot, cet hiver, Cézanne t’a vainement attendu, les machines ont tourné sans que ta main n’ait accompagné les ouvrières un petit bout de chemin, les ajoncs bretons vont bientôt refleurir sans toi.

Est-ce possible que tant de vie n’existe plus ? Te voilà revenue pour toujours dans la Belle Province.

Alors, Adieu ! Dors bien, Margot ! Que la terre Canadienne te soit légère.

Message from Evelyn

Am with you all here today, in thought, to honor the memory of my clear sister Margot.

Yet did I love thee to the last
as fervently as thou
who didst not change through all the past
and canst not after now.

Byron

Message from Raymond

Envoi for a dear sister.

Raymond, Margot’s elder brother, is speaking.

Peggy and I, though infirmity detains us in Seattle, are present with you in thought. In past years we came to Lachute often, to be with Margot and her sons and share the happiness of her rural abode. Those memories now are tinged with heartache. How gleefully we used to declaim to each other our favourites from the English and French anthologies!

In the honest accents of English poetry I hear the strains of life as Margot lived it — as in John Masefield’s ’Passing Strange’, fruit and flower passing, but leaving with us joy, her joy, a rampart to the mind.

Joie-de-vivre was her hallmark. The poems in my collection ring with optimists like Margot, ever the cheerful builder, faithful through thick and thin. They resound with the sunny laughter of her cottage, her beloved Dunany, our beloved Dunany, for that lakeside acre did duty as a corner of paradise to many in our far-flung family.

Margot led a brave life there among the solitudes of the Laurentians. Her person, like so many in the treasured literature of our English tongue, was steeped in antique virtue, the Roman virtus, meaning ’lighthearted unflinching courage, come what may.’ Her love of French made beautiful Quebec her proper setting, strong in the belief, taught us by our mother, that all people are lit by the same fundamental goodness.

There was lots of pleasant prose too among the poetry. I think of our hectic games of Scrabble. We traveled thousands of miles to vie with her. As I recall it, the genie of the lake took the same good care of Margot’s tiles as she did of her little garden. Every hour was a delight.

Those days, alas, are at an end. But not their radiance. The picture of Margot in the tawny country glows undimmably in our hearts. There she reclines on a carpet of maple leaf, symbolic of her beautiful arid gallant story. To the very end her life had the texture of heroism, set in selflessness and undying love. Time without end we will remember Margot and every time feel glad.

David’s closing words

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down
in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff
they comfort me.

PSALM 23