Valley Lives - Winnie Dawson

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 25, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Essence and soul of near-centenarian lasting

by Craig Waugh

On Dec. 9, 2011, a woman passed away. In a month, she would have been a century old. I knew her as Winnie Dawson, but there were various names she went by. The name on her hospital bed was Winifred O'Shea, and I know she sported other last names as that 100 years moved on. Winnie survived two husbands.

Over those 100 years, the Titanic was launched and sank. Wars - the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Afghanistan - waged. Many other skirmishes erupted and were put down. Men and women came to political power, lost, and died. Horrible disasters struck the world, wonderful solutions were devised, and the human race established a foothold on the moon.

Valley Lives
Winnie Dawson.

Throughout it all, Winnie lived her life - the best she knew how. For most of that life, her path and mine didn't cross. I got to know her during the past 15 years of her life. While I would have been happy to know her many more years, it's my joy and thrill to have known her for just that little while.

Old age can strip a person of socially-imposed manners. By socially imposed, I mean the ones we adopt while not fully agreeing with them. True, inner manners are innate and help define the person. Winnie was chock full of the latter.

Winnie was born and bred in Ottawa, the daughter of a pianist and homemaker. Her extended family decided they needed a summer place and established a small, remote community of cottages on Lac Johnston, not far from Lac Bernard.

The cottage Winnie's dad built still stands on one of the most desirable tracts of land in the area. Desirable because even though it's in cottage country, it's remote and on the top of a steep hill. The property has a stunning view of the small lake and hills surrounding it.

Winnie loved that view, 300 feet above the lake, and spent hours sitting at the lookout. Until she was 85, she descended (and climbed back up) that rugged, craggy incline each day to go for a swim - or more likely, just to prove to herself that she could.

As her health wound down, she lost that little joy, along with the ability to drive and other freedoms we all take for granted. However, as she lost physical attributes, the essence and soul of Winnie remained. Indeed, it became almost more pronounced, for it wasn't just a facet of Winnie anymore - it was Winnie.

That's what attracted me to her. Her last years were spent in the Manoir in Wakefield. Although the staff try very hard, it's still a nursing home; as such, it's a drab, spartan place. And a far cry from Winnie's glorious cottage at the lake. No matter. Winnie was happy every time I saw her at the Manoir. In fact, Winnie's demeanour brightened up the entire place. Staff and residents alike would break out into beaming smiles whenever I mentioned her name.

Winnie was still able to gather her little joys. I visited her with my dog, Zeke. The dog is a Yorkie, and perfect as a lap dog, especially for smaller people. The dog would bound into her room, up on her lap, and suck up the attention that Winnie was sure to give him. Her face lit up and she would squeal, "Zeke! I'm so happy to see you." Then she would look at me, and wonder, for a moment, who I was.

She never complained. She took life as it was at the time, and accepted it for what it was. Some do that with disdain, and a feeling that life should be, could be, must be, better than this.

Winnie didn't buy that attitude. What is now - is now. I'm alive, and life is as good as it needs to be, she seemed to say with each waking minute.

The view outside her room at the Manoir was of the confluence of the Gatineau and La Peche rivers.

That view replaced the breath-taking view of Lac Johnston. And that was good enough for Winnie.

I'm sorry she's gone. She was a glorious, graceful, wonderful woman. One of those people who come along in life and leave a lasting memory that brings inner warmth and smiles. Even now, a few weeks after she's passed, I think of her not so much with sadness, but with joy of having known her.

And that's OK.

Ed. note: Craig Waugh is a resident of Lascelles, Quebec.

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