Peter’s Sister Mary Matters

I have always tried to live my life according to a number of tenets. Some are arguably limited in scope. For example, I view beer drinking as a perishable skill. Others are much more “pigeon-holed”, such as, despite what many of my military aviation buddies may think, I truly believe that a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II in “Europe One” camouflage is a thing of beauty indeed.

Others are more universal in application, however. One of my nearest and dearest is that I have always tried to have strong women in my life, even if only on the periphery. Today’s column is about one of those women, my late sister Mary.

On December 26th, some years ago, Charles Montreuil was toting the suitcase of his pregnant wife Helen down their front steps towards a waiting taxi. She had been fussing around while Time was hurrying on, blissfully disrespectful and disdainful of the plans of humanity. Dad stepped onto the walk, heard Mum say “Oohh!” and the still of the night was punctuated by the cry of a new born. Mary Louise Montreuil had come out swinging. The cab having obviously been rendered superfluous by events, Dad picked up my sister, they reversed course and the trio went in the same door that two had exited mere moments earlier.

Of course their lives were enriched immeasurably 4 years and a day later, when your humble scribe arrived. Believe it or not, my arrival presented them with a quandary, however. Christmas dinner was always a big occasion at our house. a) I assume that they would previously had a birthday dinner for Mary, but it was felt unfair to Mum to tie her to pots and pans three days in a row. It was decided that the birthdays would be celebrated on the same day, alternating yearly. The person who had to forfeit their “special” day got to pick the icing on the birthday cake. (Yes, loyal reader, much simpler times.)

It worked surprisingly well, and when “The White Album” came out, “Birthday” naturally became a staple of our party. At our party in 1972, I remember my dear sister saying “Come on, kiddo!” Out we went to “The First” b) and to the dulcet tones of “You’re So Vain” c),” Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy” had his first legal drink.

The Atherley Arms also known as The First – Orillia, On.

Mary and I got along very well. She was funny, vivacious and outspoken. I remember sitting at the table once while she and Mum were discussing fashion and Mum pointed out that a neighbour carried a shoulder purse. Mary dryly observed that said neighbour was no “spring chicken”, and I snorted milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwich! On another occasion, she went to a party in Uptergrove. She got home at midnight, and had had a great time. (She was supposed to home at 5:00 P.M. .)

She loved horses, The Beatles and the Kennedys. If The Beatles and the Kennedys had known Mary, they’d have loved her too. I know horses did, for she loved to go horseback riding. She danced and she frankly didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. I remember hearing her singing as she wandered around her room. She was a wonderful, vibrant young woman, with a core of steel, as this next episode illustrates.

Beatles and Horses

Mum and Dad had taken the six youngest children to Expo 67. We were taking the train from the far end of the fairground to return to the entrance and board our bus. The train doors closed abruptly, separating us from Mum and Dad. We rode to the end, got off. Mum and Dad were on the next train and we got reunited. Mary wept as Mum hugged her. I was young and stupid, so I probably kicked the ground in disgust at this show of emotion.

Except that in retrospect, Mary was undoubtedly petrified during this entire ordeal. In an instant, she had been given total responsibility for 5 children, ranging in age from 12 to 4, hundreds of miles from home, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of strangers, with limited supporting resources of any kind and no clear idea of how things would unfold. She knew that if she showed any sign of fear, it would spread through our tiny band like wildfire. She kept her feelings in check, stayed calm, reassured us with this behaviour and only when the situation had been resolved, only when her duty was completed, did she let her fears out d).

She had some steady boyfriends and was very popular. I remember once; as I mentioned in a previous column, a young man pulled his car into the driveway on Franklin St and honked his horn. While a Montreuil responded to this rather imperious summons, it wasn’t the one he had anticipated. My Dad came out and told him in no uncertain terms that none of his daughters would ever go out with anyone who treated them like that.

Through Mary I met the woman who would become my first wife e). Mary was very strong willed, very much like my Dad in that respect. She got married and her choice wasn’t exactly welcomed into the family, although, to be honest, he did little to endear himself to us. However, we all make mistakes, and every cloud has a silver lining, as the marriage resulted in my nephew David, whom I have always felt is one of the smartest people I know. Pictured – David and his Family

Our family drifted apart during this time. As always, stupid things were said, thought and done on both sides. However, I always knew how to get in touch with Mary, and eventually we did re establish contact. When and how isn’t important. What is important is that we did. f)

I learned that she had a new man in her life and had gone back to school. She was working in social services and her little blue Ford was a fixture on roads in the area. She and Brian were renting a house in Burlington and their union was blessed by the arrival of their daughter Michelle, who is the spitting image of her mother, both in looks and in personality. I was a frequent guest and can remember going there once for Thanksgiving dinner and finding that she had invited her ex husband, because she didn’t want him to be alone on Thanksgiving. She drove up to Milton one Christmas Eve, picked me up, I spent Christmas with them, and she drove me home on her birthday. She had insisted that I come for Christmas. That’s just the kind of caring person she was.

One morning she felt “different” when she woke up. She went to her doctor and found out that she had developed Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system. This wonderfully vibrant woman suddenly had to deal with her body shutting down on her, betraying her.

Her decline was gradual, but she began to experience problems with, among others, her vision and her mobility. I continued to visit every so often, and it was truly heartening to see how loyal and loving her family was. I have to especially mention Brian here as he was just so understanding and patient during this terrible time.

I would call every week. She was an avid “Jeopardy” watcher, and I would ask her how much she’d “won”. Keeping her sense of humour, she would reply “Oh, not much tonight, only $4,700.” I did once make the egregious error of phoning during “Final Jeopardy”. To paraphrase “The Who” “I won’t do that again!”

One evening she called me for a change. She had applied for a government program and hadn’t heard anything. I will spare you the technical minutiae, but I told her what to do so that I could follow up on it and we were able to get her into pay in less than 2 weeks. That felt especially satisfying.

In November, 2007,she and Brian and Michelle moved into a house in Hamilton. I was proud to be able to lend a hand, and it was especially nice to see friends of both David and Michelle eagerly pitching in to help. Then, on December 25th, 2007, occurred the event that gave rise to this column. I was there at 9 A.M., when a Personal Support Worker came to the door to help Mary with her personal care. I was very moved by this person selflessly giving up holiday time with their family to ensure that my sister could spend holiday time with her family.

Or the next two months, her condition worsened, and she was admitted to hospital. I went to see her, I must admit that it was extremely hard to see her lying in bed, unable to speak, but her bright eyes still lit up the room.

She passed away in March 2008. I had the honour to be able to speak at her memorial service. The place was packed. A former friend of mine even drove down from Newmarket, Ontario with her children.

There is no doubt that Mary was loved. In turn she loved. She spread her love like dandelion “parachutes”, wherever it was needed. Whether you were a “rescue” dog or a brother down on his luck, she put her hand out without hesitation, without thought of reward or recompense.

Life isn’t always fair, sad but true. I feel badly that she never got the chance to be a grandmother. I know she would have been a hell of a grandmother, because she was a hell of a sister.

I know that she would be proud, not only of her children, but of her grandchildren. I know that she would very happy that Brian has found love again. He was there by her side for so long, never complaining, always looking around to see what he could do to make things better.

Don’t worry, Mary. Your legacy will be passed on to the next generation. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you….and smile. Well done, my beloved sister!

See you soon

If you want to Google a memory of Mary, her favourite song was “My Baby Loves Lovin'” by “White Plains” Every time I hear it, I see her dancing and singing in the kitchen on Franklin Street. I have also started a new Facebook tradition. I share “Birthday” to my timeline, one year on her birthday, the next on mine.

  1. a) In the break room at work one day, one of my co workers lamented that she was having 8 guests for Christmas dinner. Heads nodded in agreement, tongues clicked in pity. From behind my book, I observed that my mother had routinely and adequately fed upwards of 20 people at Christmas, without turning a hair. A shocked silence descended for the rest of the break time. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as odd, awed glances darted my way.
  2. b) One of the prime local watering holes in the Orillia area, and yes, there was a “Second” too.
  3. c) Why do I remember that and have to look down to see if I’m wearing a shirt?
  4. d) We were always encouraged to show our feelings by our parents.
  5. e) I forgave her once the child support payments could be stopped 😉
  6. f) Remember, we never have as much time as we think we do. Always try to keep the “lines of communication” open.

8 Responses to “Peter’s Sister Mary Matters”

  1. What a lovely tribute to an obviously much loved sister.

  2. Doug Thompson Says:

    A very beautiful tribute to your sister Peter…and very touching.

  3. Teresa Coulter Says:

    Peter. Tears fell as I read this. Mary Louise was a favourite cousin of mine. I remember her energy and love of life! She left much to soon. This was a great tribute to her! You must miss her so much. ♥️

  4. Dianne Price Says:

    Oh Peter the tears are falling. Mary and I were best friends for many years starting in grade three. She told me that she was born in a snow bank but that didn’t seem to sink in as special when you’re nine years old.
    So happy to see pictures of David and family. He was a special little boy when I knew him.
    You are so right that Michelle was so like her mother.
    I live in Burlington now and wondering if Michelle is still lives here.

    Thanks for the wonderful memories,

  5. Bettie Whipple Says:

    Dear Peter, that was a lovely tribute and story of, obviously a lovely sister and woman. You were so fortunate to have each other and share a life together. It was beautifully written and I almost feel like I know her now and I certainly would have liked to! Bettie

  6. Peter Montreuil Says:

    I thank you all for your comments and I will be responding in depth to each of you. Thanks again.

  7. June Pollard Says:

    Hi Peter! What a beautiful tribute to your sister Mary! After reading all your comments about her, I wish that I had known her. She sounded wonderful as a sister, daughter, mom, wife & friend!!! BUT, when you posted her favourite song ‘My Baby Loves Lovin’ – I felt connected – I love that song & used to sing along with it every time it came on the radio – I remember times & places – people I was with when I hear it – and – it feels like yesterday! It makes me smile, makes my arms tingle & then I start to sing & dance along with it – not caring that I am in my housecoat, the sound is jacked up as loud as it can go on a YouTube video – and – just like when I was a teen – I don’t care who is watching or listening!!! I love your remembrances Peter & your stories – you have a gift for writing your thoughts & memories for others to enjoy! Thank you!!! j./x0 ❤

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you, June. It’s always gratifying to get positive comments and encouragement, for unlike singers ;), writers never get standing ovations.

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