My Grandma, Marie Elva Desimone (nee Bergeron), was born in October 3rd, 1924 and left us at 83 years on October 18th, 2007 after a yearlong battle with cancer. I was quite close with my Grandma and miss many things about her every day. She was a vivacious and strong-willed woman, who lived through many events in her lifetime and still came out smiling with her hearty laugh. One of my most favourite stories about her, and a testament to how strong she was, is when she was working during WWII in Vancouver. In 1943 when she was 18, she left her home in Edson AB, and travelled by train to Vancouver. She started working in the North Vancouver Burrard Dry Dock and was a “catcher” for construction and repairs on ships that would be stationed at the docks. The “catcher” was the person who would catch white-hot rivets that had been tossed to her by the “heater”, and then would pass them to the “bucker”. From there the “bucker” would place the rivet into the hole in the metal plate or whatever part there were working on, and the “riveter” from the other side would seal the rivet in place. This was extremely time sensitive and delicate work, but also required a lot of strength to catch the heavy rivets in a smooth motion and pass along quickly. Hardened and strong from growing up and working on the farm, she was more than capable of performing this work. Within 6 months, she was also given the job of heating the rivets, which even less women were given the chance to do during that time. Marie worked there until 1945, and then returned home to help again on the farm. Sometime during this work, a photographer and reporter came through the docks wanting to document the female workers at the Burrard Dry Docks. My favourite portrait of her was taken then and has recently been permanently displayed at the Crane & Iron Worker facility at SAIT.
After the war, she went on to have a very full life. Six children and many grandchildren. She was an exceptional person, and went at life with the same strength and humility. Balanced with an incredible sense of self, and a no BS attitude, at least as long as I knew her – a trait I also picked up. She was sharp-witted, and had a wicked sense of humor you’d catch her sometimes pulling someone’s leg with a mischievous smile but you’d never get anything past her. Dance, cards, family gatherings, cooking to name a few were all loves that she was amazing at. And believe me she could double skunk you at crib without a blink of an eye, but lord help you if you skunked her!
She faced cancer with the same no BS attitude. It was something that was happening, nothing that could be done about it, something to be learned from it and inevitable. Rather than face aggressive chemo and radiation that would have only paused the outcome slightly, she chose to be closer to her family and friends. Visiting with people, sharing laughs and stories. Eventually relocating to a care facility in Calgary to be closer to family here she was making fond memories right until the end.
And was still able to kick my butt at crib.
~ Amanda Benner