KNOX – From the bubble, a tribute to Mum on her 100th birthday

Jack’s mother Jean volunteering during the Second World War.

MY MOTHER, Jean Knox, turns 100 years old today, totally screwing up my retirement-budget calculations.

I put her longevity down to stubbornness. She never was a quitter, except when it came to cigarettes. (She once paid a hypnotist to help her stop smoking. It didn’t work but she couldn’t stomach the idea of wasting the money, so went cold turkey anyway.)

Or maybe we should credit her internal strength. She might have lost her mobility, much of her hearing, most of her eyesight and, occasionally, her teeth, but she retains her ability to laugh, particularly at herself. A brittle person couldn’t do that.

When COVID-19 nudged her beloved little brother out the door in March, we feared the loss might be the end of her, but no, she soldiered on. Her response shouldn’t have been a surprise, given what she told me a few years ago after I, reluctantly, passed on some heartbreaking news that I thought might buckle her. “Listen,” she said.

“There will be half a dozen times in life when you will be blindsided by something so painful that it brings you to your knees. You won’t think you will ever get up again. But you will.”

She should know. She arrived in 1920 just as the Spanish flu pandemic finally petered out, having killed maybe 50 million people over a two-year span. That’s 50 times as many as have died from COVID-19, and at a time when the global population was a quarter of what it is today.

Her birth at her parents’ Kamloops home came exactly four years after four machine gun bullets left her father half-dead in the blood and mud of the Somme during the First World War. He survived, went on to a life as a CNR locomotive engineer (as children, my mother would admonish us to hold our noses whenever we crossed tracks belonging to the rival Canadian Pacific) but he always had what was referred to as a game leg that required ongoing operations.

Her family bounced around Alberta chasing work during a decade-long Great Depression that began when she was eight years old, and a world war that broke out just as she turned 19. She still talks of those friends who marched off, never to return – or to come back invalided to the Calgary hospital where she volunteered.

In those days, mothers would run inside their houses, slam the doors and draw the drapes when the telegram man appeared on the street, such was the fear of getting one of those dreaded “Regret to advise that your son…” messages from the military.

Post-war life back in Kamloops brought stability, but never prosperity (though not having much gave her empathy for those with even less). Nor was motherhood always the dream she imagined. There was the discovery of her drunken teenage son face down in the driveway in the traditional bracing-for-an-earthquake position following a night at the Skyway Drive-in.

He might also have mooned the diners while strolling past the Highlander Restaurant on Victoria Street, not knowing there were family members – and their friends — inside. I like to think these experiences helped her build character.

My sisters, who would prefer to remain anonymous but are Betty Jakel and Maggie Knox of Kamloops, also contributed. They would wait until Mum was seated in a washroom stall at Woodward’s, ask her a question that demanded a long answer, then quietly back out the door so that the next woman to enter would be treated to a rambling monologue from the lone crackpot in cubicle three.

Mum gave as good as she got, though, retaliating by sending us to school with wax paper sandwiches, or driving like Vin Diesel whenever she fishtailed onto the Trans-Canada from Dallas, causing some of us to lose our hair early. In her nineties, as her visiting children exited her home she would stand in her window and feebly warble “don’t leeeave me,” which would cause passersby to glare at us reprovingly, which filled her with joy.

Today, we’ll gather outside that window, grouped in one bubble after another, and bellow at her over the phone. If we’re lucky, she’ll take those teeth out to recite “She sell seashells by the seashore,” just to alarm/entertain the great-grandchildren. Fun, but hardly the celebration turning 100 deserves.

One hundred years! On the day she was born, Babe Ruth got a hit for the New York Yankees. Mainland B.C. had eight kilometres of paved highway. Canada had 300,000 automobiles, as compared to 36 million today. The province was holding a plebiscite on whether to end Prohibition.

Kamloops had just 4,500 residents. Ballpoint pens, credit cards, sunglasses, bubble gum and the sale of sliced bread were all in the future. Mum was born the year before Amelia Earhart began taking flying lessons.

She has not seemed particularly fazed by the pandemic. While it might overwhelm those of us who have lived free of real — or at least generational – adversity, to her it’s just another crisis. Think six months of being locked inside with Netflix is hard? Try six years of war. Try losing most of those you have ever loved.

That’s her 100-year lesson. If she can endure, so can we.

Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.

About Mel Rothenburger (9036 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

8 Comments on KNOX – From the bubble, a tribute to Mum on her 100th birthday

  1. Jennifer Barrett Filleul // September 28, 2020 at 7:16 PM // Reply

    Thanks for this lovely tribute to your mum, Jack. Jean has always held a special place in my heart from back in her “Anglican” days with your dad, Phil, who was also one of my favorite people. . I loved running into your mum downtown and having a chat to catch up on news. Jean was always up to date and full of fun. Give Jean a virtual hug from me, Jennifer (Filleul) Barrett – an incredible milestone to make it to 100! Way to go, Jean! 💕💕💕💕

  2. Happy Birthday Jean. I did leave a phone message. Your mom was a joy to bump into when she lived at the manner house. She is
    missed. Thank you for writing this. Great to learn more about her life. Wishing her and her
    family safe passage through this new “Not Normal” time. 🧡🧡🌻🌈

  3. Barb Hollingshead // September 26, 2020 at 12:55 PM // Reply

    What a great tribute to your Mom on her birthday. I am looking forward to the pandemic being over so I can visit with her again. She is always full of wonderful stories.

  4. The Kamloops Adult Learners Society held their board meeting today and we all wish Jean a Wonderful 100th Birthday. We remember how Jean enjoyed attending classes.
    Jack, thank you for this wonderful tribute to your Mom. What a wonderful, fun family you have.

  5. Love this!!! Happy Birthday!

  6. Great tribute to your mom, Jack. I had no idea you are Jean’s son. She’s a great woman, full of life and laughter. Feisty too. I haven’t seen her for several years, but used to tease her about whether she was Anglican or United – not sure she has decided yet. Hope the celebration goes well – given all the restrictions.

  7. Ian MacKenzie // September 26, 2020 at 7:35 AM // Reply

    Now aint that the truth. Please give your mom a masked hug from me.


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