Because my mother-in-law and I shared the same initials, sometime in the last decade I started addressing emails to her as GS1, signing off as GS2.
GS1: the mother-in-law a girl dreams for, a young woman cherishes, a jubilado grieves.
Francis Glynn (Reynolds) Sully. “Why ever did they give me two men’s names?” she used to exclaim about her parents. Because they knew their way-youngest of four children would grow up to be as independent and strong as any man, living alone for the last 17 years in her own home to the age of 94?
Glynn was 45 years old when Magellan introduced me to her, a Sunday night dinner at their house in Saskatoon, my first year of university. In my memory, Glynn, who had an exotic beauty that took your breath away, was dressed in a burgundy raw-silk suit. Vivacious. We ate roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and mashed potatoes and a canned-shrimp tomato aspic. “Your mom is such a great cook,” I said afterwards. “Are you kidding?” he replied. “That’s a Sunday standard. The rest of the week when dad’s away she pressure-cooks everything.” He was right. GS1 had little interest in cooking. “We didn’t know about food back then,” she said the last time I saw her.
Trained as a registered nurse, GS1 was pragmatic. You had to be working in emergency on Saskatoon’s west side. For the 70th reunion of her graduating class, Glynn wrote about their training in the 1940s.
For the first six months of training we were “probies.” Each morning we were assigned to scrubbing bedpans and urinals. We even scrubbed sputum cup holders! And all of this was done without wearing rubber gloves!
Second floor was Sister Bonli’s domain. Here, we helped the doctors don their white lab coats or jackets. We also learned to never, ever, precede a doctor through a door. To this day, I tend to jump up to assist gentlemen into their coats!
She titled one section You Won’t Believe We Did This. They reused needles, filing them to “remove burrs from repeated use and rough handling.” Enemas were made by filling hot-water bottles with tepid soapy water and administered by “holding the hot-water bottle high in the air, then opening the clamp and hoping the bed didn’t get flooded in the process.” They patched rubber gloves, daily.
Glynn always said the profession went downhill when nurses stopped wearing uniforms and caps—I believe there’s some truth in that. She spent all of July in the hospital she graduated from. “The other night a woman came in here. Kind of squat and chubby, probably Ukrainian. (She did not mean it as a slight.) I started talking to her, thinking she was one of the aides or an RN. We had a pretty good conversation. Then she told me she was one of the cleaning women! You can’t tell them apart from the doctors anymore.”
Soon after Glynn graduated, she married Ed, the passion of her life, the last man available of the famed “Sully boys of Biggar.” In his last days Ed gave her this advice. “Don’t sell the van and try not to be too impulsive.” The van was soon gone, the impulsiveness, a source of much family humour, continued to the end.
Her Honda carwash story is a family classic—and she told it well. Glynn liked things to be clean. It was a freezing winter day but she decided her new car needed a wash. Right Now. She headed to Petro-Canada, rolled down the window, punched in the code at the carwash and drove ahead. Whoops—before she could get the window rolled up she was sprayed with sudsy water. When she parked the Honda in her garage and went to get out, she discovered her car doors were frozen shut. Ever the problem solver, she figured there was only one way out. It was a neighbour walking down the alley who saw a pair of legs dangling out the driver’s window…
Another car story. A road closure on Taylor Street didn’t deter Glynn off her favourite route downtown. She simply slalomed her Honda around the pylons. Until she was met by a police officer. She would joke about the body shop she took her car to for repairs. “They always say, ‘See you next time Glynn.’”
Ward called her “the Alice Munro of email!” Here’s a classic from GS1, October 13, 2013, subject “Funeral and 66th anniversary.”
Oh Boy! I should get dressed up more often. One does get out of practise.
I started last night ——- put in ear rings, changed the batteries in my hearing aids, polished my black shoes
This morning I began early as I must be at Diane’s with my car by 11:15. Hair turned out passible, put hearing aid device in my purse. Then I struggled, and I mean struggled, into panty hose. Why ever were those things invented?
It was not easy getting my right leg in, but I did laying on the floor without throwing my back out.
I found a mini slip that fits if it does not ride up and I have to keep hitching it down
The next step is the zipper up the back of my dress. Now that – I already know is impossible. I shall have to hope Marguerite is home and slip over there for help.
It is cold enough that my lightweight down filled coat will do.
Make up is next, then a trip out to see Ed. It is not 9 am yet so I am in good time so far.
(It was she and Ed’s anniversary so her trip was to Memorial Garden to see “him” then a trip to Biggar for a funeral.)
So many of us will miss her enduring love.
The first night I stayed at Magellan’s place, after a family wedding in Biggar during our first year of courtship, she set up a bed in the basement right next to his sleeping quarters—in 1968! Tempting…
She held a wedding shower for me, inviting her neighbours, the Sully clan and her friends and giving me, wait for it… a cookbook! Libby Hillman’s The Menu Cookbook for Entertaining, a favourite of mine to this day (and the first of many thoughtful gifts over the years). How else would I have learned about manicotti, curry, Grand Marnier Sponge, foreign words to both GS1 and GS2 in 1969. Except for Grand Marnier, although rye and water was Glynn’s drink.
From that first Sunday dinner, I could see that Glynn and Ed had a great relationship. They understood and adored each other. They supported each other’s careers and individualism, made their home the nexus for numerous extended-family events and partied with a wide circle of friends. She played bridge, knitted, curled, golfed, belly-danced, acted with tips from attending Persephone, enjoyed the Symphony and John’s concerts, painted Ed’s woodwork creations and was by his side volunteering on numerous Kiwanis projects like Apple Day and Beaver Creek Camp, along with donating much of her time to the nurses’ alumnae association.
After Ed died in 2002, she lived alone, independently, in the same house they and Magellan and Diane moved into in 1957. (Colleen came along later.) She learned to use a computer, made her own cappuccino daily, worked out at the Fieldhouse (attired in Lululemon), bought a piano, spent hours at Colleen’s market garden picking, cleaning and selling vegetables and, in her later years, learned to play the ukulele by watching YouTube videos. She read voraciously. The mystery novels by Louise Penny. Crime/detective/thriller fiction of Sue Grafton, Camilla Läckberg, Diana Gabaldon Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, P.D. James, Ken Follett and Anthony Bidulka (they corresponded). Historical novels by Philippa Gregory and Edward Rutherford. Literature by Michael Ondaatje and Nathaniel Hawthorn. Small-town life by Maeve Binchey.
Enjoying travelling, Glynn and my mom went on a trip to the Maritimes when they were both in their mid-eighties. “We were staying at a big hotel (The Westin in Halifax),” mom tells me for the hundredth time. “We’d taken our suitcases up and then went down to have a bowl of our favourite soup, seafood chowder. When we went back upstairs, we forgot where our room was. Glynn picked up a white phone, you know, the ones with the cord on the table in the hallways. When she got a connection she said, ‘Where do we live?’”
Eight years ago, Glynn read about a guy living nearby who had invented a knitting machine and was making socks for the homeless, an engineer whose wife had died and whose son thought this project would be good for his dad’s grieving process. He was looking for senior volunteers to sew the toes of the socks. Although Glynn was about as interested in sewing as she was in cooking (stitching Diane and Colleen’s tutus her only experience), she was keen to get involved in something new. Socks By Bob is a huge success story, featured in numerous media, including a CNN video. But most of all, it gave two people a late-in-life friendship (“just a friendship,” she emphasized, “we’re not like Addie and Louis in Our Souls at Night.” She explained further in an email:
The man who encourages me to use a sewing machine, to enjoy exploring old familiar tunes on my piano that I seldom played.
Makes me feel worthwhile by helping him sew socks for the ‘guys under the bridges.
Who shares moments of life dating way back into childhood, and that’s a long, long time for both of us ( longer for me ).
A talented man who actually invents things from scratch, plays toe tapping music with finesse on a concertina
He has invited me over to his house tomorrow evening to share music with he and his brother Lex. Lex sometimes dances with a broom to his music, but Bob figures he can dance with me.
A few days later she emailed me again:
About the dancing — Lex ( 89 ) was dancing with the Broom , a broom topped with a blue dust mop wig. I tapped him on the shoulder to cut in. We stepped on each other’s toes a bit, then I realized I was leading. He is so frailish, he looked scared to death I would knock him over and it would have been easy. I suggested he must have danced in the jive era thinking we could change our style He mumbled something about scared of a broken hip, so I cancelled out. He looked terrified!
Dazzling with personality, sparkling with humour, Glynn’s vivid writing skills go way back. As we discovered in a hidden packet of love letters Ed and Glynn sent to each other before they were married and when Magellan (“our angel,” she wrote) was a toddler. Here’s a passage written while she was on night duty at the Biggar Hospital, February 23, 1947…
And here I am, just wishing I could blow out the lite and join in the snoring session which is now in full swing all around me. To the left we have the trumpet section, strictly nasal and definitely off key. And over there is that tricky little syncopated whistle of Mrs’ Oram’s. Then Grampa Murray comes in with his deep-throated bass-frog and all. Crazy rhythm, but oh how I love to hear it. Because then I know everybody is fine—breathing and momentarily happy.
Glynn’s July in hospital was not a pleasant experience. She was anxious to leave. “I just want to die with dignity,” she told us. As she was no longer able to live independently, the family arranged for a care home. On Thursday, August 1, GS1 moved into Room 111 at Stonebridge Crossing. Back to her old self, she curled up on her favourite loveseat, directed where she’d like her Japanese art hung. “She kept saying how much it was like home and how happy she was,” said Magellan.
She died in her sleep just hours later, 3:00 am, before a thunderstorm blazoned the sky, dawn’s light on the distant horizon.
To read about Glynn’s training at the end of WWII, see pages 11 and 12 in the Saint Paul’s Hospital Nurses Alumnae Newsletter 2017