[On March 1, 2020, it is now five years since Lone Wolf’s mother died, and today would have been Lottie’s 90th birthday. I think of her often as I spend time with my own mother in her last days. I miss Lottie, and I really miss her daughter. Yet they’re both here with Mom and me, in so many ways.]
Lottie is missed and remembered by dozens of people for hundreds of reasons. Each of her six kids remembers a different Lottie. I miss the one I knew. For a long time I was slightly afraid of her (she called me What’s-her-name for the first few years), but in time I grew to appreciate her bluntness, her gruffness, and her dry wit. In fact I came to love and respect her deeply, and to feel enormous gratitude toward her for the unconditional love she gave her youngest daughter—and the positive effects that love has had—still has—on my life.
I knew her mostly through LW’s stories. In the 23 years Lottie was part of my life, I had too few opportunities to see her in person and spend time with her, but LW made an annual trek to Moose Jaw to hang out with her mom at Providence Place, spring-clean her room, organize her drawers and cupboards, hang out in the Rose Room and listen to the rhythm band, sometimes gamble a little at the casino, and always joke around with the staff, who came to be like family to LW over the 20 years her mom lived at Providence Place.
Did I say she lived there? She actually pretty much ran the place. She was president of the residents’ council, worked in the gift shop, fund-raised thousands of dollars for Telemiracle and other worthy causes, bossed around the staff, watched out for all the residents, planned, planted, watered, weeded and harvested the rooftop vegetable garden every year, and kept abreast of all the local news and everybody’s business.
If you know LW, you might imagine a 36-years-older version, more outgoing, somewhat more feminine, but not overboard in that direction, certainly rounder, but her girth could be attributed more to the 32 years she spent in a wheelchair because of her MS than to her activity level. Like LW, she was a worker: always busy, always organized and organizing. She was stubborn, no-nonsense, and suffered no fools. Am I ringing any bells?
Lottie was born in Kelso, Washington, and with her parents and her older sister, Rita, walked to southwestern Saskatchewan to homestead in the 1930s. Yes, walked. They lived in a drafty two-room shack on the bald, gravelly prairie, near Courval. You can bet they worked hard.
When Lottie met Patrick, a French-Canadian Catholic, she converted to the Roman church so she could marry him. And then the two of them worked hard together.
Pat and Lottie owned a Lucky Dollar grocery store in the tiny community of Coderre before they moved to the farm. In short order, they had two sons and four daughters, all of whom attended school at Coderre, where many of the teachers—the crush-worthy, crimson-lipped Mrs. Barrett notwithstanding—were nuns. I can only imagine the narrowly prescribed life Lottie lived as a rural Catholic mother of six in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s—which is why it is so remarkable to me that when LW came along in 1966 and from an early age was adamant that she wasn’t going to be put into a narrow box, Lottie simply loved and accepted her tomboy daughter for who she was.
LW wore her last dress when she was 7. The occasion was her mom and dad’s 25th anniversary. She doesn’t recall much about that night, but it was clearly traumatic for her. She remembers crepe-paper streamers and cardboard decorations in the shape of bells that somebody—maybe her two oldest sisters—glued macaroni onto and spray-painted silver. LW clung to Lottie all night and refused to take off her coat lest somebody see her in the dress. To this day, she doesn’t know why her mom insisted she wear it, but after that night she drew a line that has never been crossed. No more dresses.
But she was Catholic, and as we know, Catholic girls wear sweet white dresses when they take their first communion. LW was having none of that. She’d wear pants or would not participate.
Lottie commissioned her friend Kay Nelson, a professional seamstress, to sew a white communion suit for her boy-girl, as she proudly referred to LW when talking to the Providence Place staff in her latter years. But I wonder if, in 1974, she may have felt a little awkward presenting her 8-year-old daughter for her first communion wearing pants and a vest? If she did, she never let it show. LW remembers no embarrassment: “She was proud of me for being a tomboy.”
LW can get good mileage out of a suit. She wore that one to the weddings of her four oldest siblings over the next couple of years. When she graduated from high school in 1984, Lottie hired Mrs. Nelson to make another suit. LW wore it again in ’87 when she graduated from her vocational agriculture program at the University of Saskatchewan.
Lottie started having symptoms of MS when she was quite young, and by the time she was 53 and LW was 17, she was in a chair full time. LW, as the youngest and with her older siblings married or otherwise getting on with their lives, was one of Lottie’s key helpers during her high school years. Her mom’s acceptance of her MS and the way she never really let it slow her down, but just adapted as required, affected her daughter profoundly. As an adolescent who today would certainly be called, and might even call herself, transgendered, she fantasized about having what was then called a sex change operation, and how that would undoubtedly make her life better. But this is LW we’re talking about. She’s frugal. She remembers seeing a TV interview with a trans man in the late 1980s, and when she found out how expensive the surgery was, she told herself, “I’ll just have to learn to live with this.”
And she has. Over the next 30 years, she slowly came to terms with a body that didn’t match her idea of herself—just as Lottie’s no longer matched her idea of her agile, athletic, dancing self. Over time, LW learned she could be who she is, and do exactly what she wants to do with her life, in the body she was born with. She credits her self-acceptance to her mom’s example.
For my part, I am eternally grateful to Lottie for raising her daughter to be strong-minded, self-assured, accepting of self and others, loving, and thoughtful—just like her mom.