She was Grandma to us, mom to her girls, wife to Harold, sister to her nine siblings, and friend to virtually everyone else she met.
She was born Zumferia Ionel, and entered this world on February 17, 1923 to Ispas and Maranda Ionel in Ormiston, Saskatchewan. The fifth child, Sarah was born into a gregarious, and truly authentic Romanian family. Grandma often spoke of her early years with a fondness that always centered around laughter, family, and food. Idolizing her older brother John, Sarah would tag along everywhere he went, and confessed to being a bit of a tomboy. One of the oldest girls, Sarah would eventually have four more younger siblings to help take care of.
She often talked about her years growing up on the farm. She always had story after story about both the fun, and the hardships of life in 1930’s Saskatchewan. She would tell us about getting caught in blizzards so bad, that the reins were handed over to the horses to ensure they arrived back at home, because no person could navigate the white out conditions, and about the dances that her and her siblings so loved to attend. She also told us about the sadness that came with life in the era, and when her older brother John was killed in World War Two. She said she would never forget the day the telegram came.
Grandma met Grandpa in 1947 at a dance at the Oddfellows Hall. Grandma always remembered how handsome he looked in his navy pin-striped suit. Their first date was to get ice cream, and the rest, they say, is history. They married in 1948, and within 5 years had two beautiful daughters.
When asked about growing up with Grandma as a mother both my Auntie Linda and mom overwhelming remarked that they were spoiled rotten. A favourite story of Mom’s is winning her grade twelve sewing project,… with an entry sewn by Grandma. Needless to say they were both happy. She also remembered every time she phoned grandma to ask for cream chicken and momelega, grandma would ask, “Are you pregnant again”?
Grandma learned very early in Linda’s life, to let her fight her own fights. One summer day after Linda and one the Keach girls got into a fight, Grandma found herself in an argument with Mrs.Keach over what had happened. Before long, the girls were playing peacefully, and Grandma and Mrs. Keach were still fuming.. After Auntie Linda got home that night Grandma informed her that she would never fight her battles for her, and she could take care of herself. Thankfully grandma quit fighting her battles then, because it may have been a long few years.
Everyone was blessed to have Grandma in their lives. But as grandchildren, when confronted with the news of her passing, and being asked to come up with some stories to share, we were all overwhelmed with so many stories and antidotes about our favourite little lady, that we had trouble narrowing it down. Can you imagine being the type of person who had such a profound presence in 5 lives that each one of us had so many different, and special memories. There is a saying which says, “To live in the hearts of those you leave behind, is to not die”. In our hearts, and our lives, Grandma will be that constant presence.
Warm sunny days, fresh raspberries, the smell of fresh buns , combined with the lingering scent of garlic and dill encapsulated Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We all remember watching Grandma meticulously weed the garden, tend to her flowers, and cook. You knew heading to Grandma’s house that there was sure to be goodies galore, home cooked specialities, and love abounding.
We all remember the mornings. You would awaken to the sound of the floorboards creaking under her as she busily got everything ready for the day. She would always crack open the door to see if we were awake, which if you were ever around Grandma in the kitchen, you know we were. Her radio on, she would flutter around the kitchen, and in true Grandma fashion, talk to both herself, and the guy on the radio And we all remembered that every time she went to shut off the radio she would exclaim“Be quiet” and promptly bang it to shut it off!
When asked about her memories of Grandma, Tammy wrote “I have a lot of fond memories of staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s as a young child. Grandma always had the best food and when they were coming to visit the family it was always a surprise as to what she would bring out of that packed car trunk.
I always had such a fun time of riding the city bus and heading downtown to go shopping with her. Grandma always promised that if I was good she would buy me something at the old Army and Navy store. That was one of her favourite stops.”
As I got older we had a lot of good memories in the kitchen and in the back yard. Grandma was always working either on flowers or in the garden it seemed.
After grandpa passed away she had to adjust her life and became this cute little grandma that would go where the family took her. Unless of course she thought it was time to go home, then we sure heard about it. It was Auntie Shirley’s job to get her to the horse shows each summer so she could watch us ride. I think she may have missed us in our classes if Auntie Shirley wouldn't have told her because I think it all kind of looked the same to her. It didn’t matter though, because she always wanted to come and see. She didn't want to miss out on anything.
Her last few years were very enjoyable at Mullberry Place where she became Mullberries professional people watcher!!! Grandma always enjoyed watching what was going on!
As the only grandson, Justin has many fond memories of Grandma. He remember her 'wake up calls' when they came to visit at our house when he lived at home. It was a friendly poke of her cane against his feet and a chipper 'Time to wake up!' Usually it would take a couple of times before he would get his butt out of bed by 11!
Justin always remembered the times he stayed at grandma and grandpa's place in the Summer that lasted even through his high school years, when many of his friends would try to duck their grandparents. Usually in high school, they'd have some type of painting project they would get him to do, whether it was their fence or their garage. Sometimes it was simply waxing their car. All he knew was A) They ended up paying him way too much for whatever he did; and B) He usually gained about 10 pounds after spending a week with them as she would never, ever say 'no' to him when he wanted to eat. Whether it was perogies, cinnamon buns, cabbage rolls, orange floats, ice cream, puffed wheat cake, whatever - it was 'Food Heaven' whenever he stayed there!
He still laughs when remembering the classic 'dingaling' saying that she would refer to when describing some difficult people she sometimes had to deal with -- he remembers that she never of course referred to us as 'dingalings'. At least never to our face anyway...
During his time spent there is the summer, he enjoyed playing the classic card games when we were young . She was always as sharp as a tack, and you could never get anything by her....especially Grandpa, she wouldn't be afraid to tell him that he needed to ''clean his act up" for playing out of turn. “
Her determination and great work ethic, were another thing Justin admired in Grandma. He wrote, “I don't recall ever hearing her complain about all the work she did, other than wishing Mother Nature would shed a bit more rain and sun on her garden. Nothing seemed to ever phase her. I always marveled at her energy level, and wondered if I could ever find that level in myself. A great role model that way, and something I have tried to model myself after.
He continued, writing, “She always had time for her grandkids. Never in my life do I remember her giving me a cold shoulder. And I never remember having her say 'no' to me. I always felt relaxed with Grandma, you knew she would always be there for you no matter what, and always accepted me for what I was. She beamed with pride over it seemed anything I did, even if I thought it was insignificant. Her love was the definition of 'unconditional love', always feeling genuine. I only hope to be half as good of a grandparent as grandma was to me.
Mandy remembers when she used to come to Moose Jaw for dance recitals, the rest of the girls she danced with always wanted to stay with her because staying at Grandma’s meant fresh cinnamon buns every morning, and a bowl of treats at night. Even though she was our Grandma, she had a way of making everyone feel not only welcome, but like they were one of her grandchildren too.
When she started working for Kraft after University, it meant heading to Moose Jaw for business every second week. Mandy looked forward to these trips, because it meant having lunch at Grandma and Grandpa’s, followed by the previously taped episode of The Price is Right.
Grandma used to always tell Mandy that she was such a good Romanian girl because she loved onions and garlic so much. But one thing Mandy will never forget are Grandma’s favorite sayings. If you refused an extra helping, or desert after your meal, you had to be prepared for a barage of questions. If you said no, grandma would almost always say “How Come’, if you dared to say something like “I’m not a big fan” the standard reply would be “Since When”. In the recent years, Mandy used to love calling Grandma, because when asked how she was doing, she always said, “pretty good for an old lady!”
One of Hollie’s favourite memories was being able to bowl a few frames with Grandma when she would come to Moose Jaw for a visit. It was because of these fond memories that Hollie still loves to bowl to this day.
Like the rest of us, Hollie remembers the care Grandma took to make sure everyone’s favourite foods were served in abundance. Cinnamon buns, perogies, pickled eggs, homemade donuts, and poppy seed roll were just a few of the treats Grandma would bake in preparation for our arrival. Every grandchild remembers sneaking a peek in the downstairs pantry or the spare room closet to see just what else Grandma had. Smarties, pick a pop and yet more homemade treats were just part of the selection Hollie jokes that as the rest of us were getting bigger from Grandma’s love, she somehow stayed the same.
A creature of habit, Hollie remembers Grandma’s set in stone routines she would perform morning and night. Whether it was getting up; which meant windows open and covers on the bed pulled down to air it out, or going to bed; a quick bath, lotion all over (Grandma always smelled great!) there was order in everything she did.
What do I remember about Grandma? Well, for as long as I can remember, I always watched my Grandma with a certain amount of awe. When I was little, I wanted to be just like her. I made her teach me Romanian, show me how to bake and cook just like her, and was on my knees next to her in the garden pulling anything (and everything, much to her dismay on occasion!!) that looked like a weed. She often told a story about how when I was little she would hear me pulling up a stool next to her and hear me say, "Grandma, I help you, and I pomise I won't touch ANYTHING" She would always throw her head back, laugh and clap as she said, "And of course, you touched everything". See that's the kind of Grandma we had as kids.. the kind who revelled in those little moments, those moments that as parents, we can't always find the humour in!
I would spend a week with Grandma every summer when Grandpa went on his annual trail ride. Those summers with my grandma had a sort of magic that lives with me still. Like my cousins, I remember the bus rides downtown, Grandma beaming with pride if we ran into anyone she knew, card games with Auntie Jenny, and trips out to Ormiston with Uncle Alec. We got into trouble (who knew that letting a 12 year old play VLT’s was illegal??) and I will never forget Auntie Annie winking at me and saying, “Let’s get Grandma tipsy!”
She cooked, baked, sewed, gardened and nurtured like no other. If I can be half the housewife my grandma was, Mike would be one lucky man!
A true testament to our Grandma, was the process in which this tribute came together. Although we all live in separate provinces, emails and phone calls flew back and forth between all of us cousins, as we shared our favourite memories. We must have cried more tears of laughter than sadness as we reflected on a lifetime that deserves to be celebrated. Hers was a life that was lived to it’s greatest potential. She may have made her living as a modest stay at home mother, but the legacy she left for her two daughters, and five grandchildren is so much greater than any amount of money or notoriety, could have brought us. In the words of Robert Munsch,
“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, My Grandma You’ll be”