Memories of Eileen Boyd
from a eulogy in Sudbury, Ontario, 18 Nov. 2004A wise man once observed that life is a journey, not a destination. On November 16, 2004 when Eileen was released from her worn out human frame, we had been married 47 years, 4 months and 11 days. It was quite a journey.
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns described death as a poor man's best friend. I think in the end it is most people's best friend, and a reason for us to be happy for Eileen, while feeling grief for ourselves. Bahá'u'lláh said "I have made death a messenger of joy for you. Wherefore dost thou grieve?"
I was twenty one years old and had finished a five year apprenticeship as a tool and die maker. I was living with my widowed mother in the village of Duntocher, just ten miles north-west of Glasgow, Scotland. I was a runner and competed in the various Highland Games and mountain races. I was also a mountain climber and went climbing with my club mates on weekends.
Most young people in the Clyde Valley area gravitated to Glasgow for entertainment, the surrounding communities being too quiet. Young people in those days usually met at one of Glasgow's dance halls, and it was there in October, 1956 at the Locarno that I first met the girl who would become my wife.
Eileen had come to the dance with a girl friend. She was a real beauty and I did not think that I stood a chance with her. She agreed to dance with me and as no liquor was on the menu, I bought an orange pop for her and her girl friend.
We were opposites in almost everything. Eileen was sophisticated, I was not. I was a sportsman, she was artistic. My family was poor, hers middle class. She had lived in London for several years and loved the big city life, I had never been anywhere except the mountains and loved the country.
We dated for a while. On our first date, trying to impress her, I took her to an opera. Eileen was disgusted that I brought along a bag of cherries (I was starving). She came mountain climbing with me and dropped my camera.
Anyway, I was persistent, and Eileen must have seen me as a challenge and a work in progress. We married in July, 1957 and Eileen started to take the rough edges off me. Forty seven years, four children, and five grandchildren later she was still working at those rough edges.
The most difficult thing in writing about Eileen, is what to leave out. I could write a book about the many adventures we had. In fact I have. Here anyway are some of the memories from that journey.
In 1957, shortly after getting married in East Kilbride, Scotland, We moved to Canada and settled in Toronto.
We lived in Toronto for two years during which time Eileen took classes at the famous Walter Thornton Modelling School and went on an incredible diet of 1,200 calories a day to get her weight down to 122 pounds. Lunch every day consisted of chicken bouillon and an apple. She bought some chocolates to celebrate reaching her goal weight, but became nauseous after the first bite of one.
Adjusting to married life was not always easy as I had presumed that it was just like living at home (where I was dreadfully spoiled) only coming home to a wife rather than a mother. I had a lot to learn about marriage and it did not come quickly or easily. Still do.
Every Hallowe'en we argued about this one. I was a meat and potatoes guy and Eileen would sometimes try to get me to venture into new territory. She offered to make a pumpkin pie for me one Hallowe'en and I, never having had one, said "No thanks". She went ahead anyway and made one from scratch with a real pumpkin.
We sat down to a nice supper, then Eileen produced her pumpkin pie. "I won't have any, thanks" I said, very politely.
"Yes you will," said the dragon across the table from me. "I worked hard to make this and you will eat it".
"No thanks. I said I did not want it and I don't," I pointed out, quite reasonably.
This discussion went back and forth for a while, then the female half of the discussion violently picked up a wine glass of water to throw on me. I put up my hand to deflect it and the wine glass broke and fell in pieces into exhibit one, the pumpkin pie, so no one got any. At the time, it seemed like a good resolution to me, but I was wrong. You can see that I was reasonable every step of the way, yet every year around Hallowe'en the argument starts over. Women have amazingly long memories. I kind of like pumpkin pie now, but she never makes it any more.
Then we decided that we should have a baby. Eileen decided that her biological clock was ticking and that we should have a baby. I expected this to be candlelight and soft music but to my amazement it became a scientific project with thermometers, calendars, and schedules. Eventually gin came in to it too. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Eventually the process was successful and Eileen became pregnant with Jackie. I think the gin did it.
Eventually Eileen increased in size and there went the Walter Thornton Modelling School figure. Eileen was working in the customer service department of a large construction company, fielding complaints from irate customers about cracks in the basement of their new houses. Crack in a housing subdivision has taken on a new meaning since then. In those days when a woman became obviously pregnant, she was fired and that's what happened to Eileen. "We can't have you representing our company and looking like that!" was the accepted attitude of the day. Being pregnant through summer was no fun either and there was no such thing as air conditioning. We cooled off in community pools or the lake and since Eileen had such a sensitive husband she heard a lot of comments about resembling Moby Dick.
My pattern has always been that I sleep extremely soundly for the first few hours of going to bed. If I wake up before 5 am I am a zombie. One time I heard a racket outside our apartment on Ryerson Crescent as I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I looked out of the window and saw that there were three fire pumper trucks at the house next door and it was ablaze. I went back to bed and only remembered to tell Eileen about it in the morning. We looked out the window and the house next door was gone. Just the basement and a few smoldering timbers left where that house had been.
When it came close to the time when Jackie would be born we had found a lovely wood panelled apartment near High Park. I remember Eileen taking a fancy to strange things late at night and I would go to a little store nearby for pickles and ice cream. There was an elderly lady worked there who had a tattooed number on her forearm. She was a Jewish survivor of the concentration camps.
Eileen's parents came out to be with Eileen while the new baby was born, and one night Eileen woke me up at 1 AM, not my best time. She said "the baby is coming. We have to go to the hospital" I told her "You just go with your mother. I'll see you there in the morning" Joseph Conrad wrote a story about this type of thing called "Lord Jim", about how you can do or say something in a split second that you carry through life. I never had a close relationship with Eileen's mother and while she never said, this may have been the root cause. There are some things you can never live down and this one was even worse than the pumpkin pie.
Jackie was born, our first child had arrived and our world would never be the same until our last baby left home. There was no such thing as disposable diapers and our apartment never quite smelled the same.
For employment reasons we moved to St Catharines, Ontario in 1959 and it was there that we encountered people who would have a profound effect on our lives. We were invited to a Christmas dinner, followed by a party where we played all sorts of games like charades. I had a wonderful time, but the ever perceptive Eileen observed "Those people have the same spirit that the early Christians must have had" The people were Bahá'ís, some of them are here today and are lifelong friends.
We were soon launched in investigating world religions and the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. It came as an earthshaking discovery for us when we realised that this was the long promised return of Christ. The anthropologist Margaret Mead observed "Never doubt the ability of a group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has" That is the business these folks were in, building a new world order.
Bahá'ís do not proselytize but do offer their Teachings to those who would like to know about them. Pioneering is the term used by Bahá'ís to describe the process of moving to another community to offer the Faith to others or to consolidate a growing community. Even before Eileen became a Bahá'í, she pioneered with me to Niagara Falls to establish one of its first Local Assemblies. There Eileen became a Bahá'í and we moved to beautiful Niagara on the Lake to open up that community. We loved that place, but a call was raised for pioneers in more extreme places and I remember phoning Eileen from a conference in Winnipeg and suggesting that we offer to pioneer anywhere in the world that we might be needed. She agreed and within a few months we were on our way to Yellowknife, in the North West Territories.
We spent four years there, adopted Little Eileen, and Robert was born. When we arrived there was one Bahá'í in town, when we left there was 36. Unfortunately that is where most of Eileen's health problems started as we later found out that there was arsenic in the drinking water, which later led to a high incidence of lymphatic cancer.
Shortly after we left Yellowknife to pioneer to Sudbury, Eileen came down with Hodgekin's Disease which was at a very advanced stage by the time it was discovered. She had a young family to take care of and by sheer determination and many prayers she fought her way into remission. She was told at the time that there would be a long term effect on her organs and this is what eventually caught up with her.
Eileen had been trained as a secretary, but wanted to change careers so while still recovering from cancer she went back to college to become a social worker.
After leaving Yellowknife in 1969, I was anxious to protect Eileen's health, but she became the bold one, with ideas about where we should go and what we should do, with me reluctantly saying "Well, OK. If that is what you want" Whenever she had a nickel's worth of energy she spent a dollar. It was Eileen that had us purchase a farm in Manitoulin to try to establish a community there, she who could not wait to retire so we could spend time pioneering around the world.
Gibralter, Madeira, Cuba, Scotland, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Florida, Malta - Eileen developed courses in communication skills and I offered my professional skills in organizational development. We provided them as a gift from the Bahá'í Community to mostly small developing countries or to anyone who needed them. It was Eileen who led me to all these adventures. Even as she became progressively ill she still was coming up with ideas for a teaching trip to the Arctic, and was saving her air miles to that end.
She suffered bravely. Always thinking of others - who should get what, Christmas and birthday presents to be purchased ahead of time. In mid September we found out that her cancer was terminal, but she was reluctant at first to tell anyone. "Its like waiting for a bus to leave" she said. And just like with the bus, you wait and sometimes long for it to leave, but when it goes there is a great big hole in your life, where that loved one used to be.
Here's one more story that sums it all up, in a way:
When we were both 22 years old in 1956, and decided to become engaged, we were as poor as church mice. I suggested to Eileen that we go shopping together for the ring. Eileen told me "I really like diamonds, and I have long fingers so I need a really large ring to look right." -- I was in shock! Anyway it turned out all right as we found a lovely rectangular faced ring, an antique from an estate sale with two largish diamonds surrounded by smaller ones. For some reason it was not really expensive at the time, although its value greatly increased over the years.
We left Niagara on the Lake and went pioneering in Yellowknife. It was there that we adopted "Little" Eileen, a beautiful baby from Inuvik, and also where Robert was born. One year we went "outside" on vacation, driving the thousand miles (600 of it gravel) to Edmonton, then on to the Bahá'í summer school in beautiful Banff, Alberta. The national fund was in difficulties and it was decided to have an auction to raise money. People donated mostly fun items and were bidding more than true value for them. My eldest daughter, Jackie was about four, sitting on the knee of an older man, across the room from me, and a cheap ball pen was being auctioned. The bidding stood at $1.50 when my child decided to get into the spirit of things and shouted out "ten bucks". That was my first shock. The next was when I learned that Eileen had donated her engagement ring to the fund.
There was nobody present who could bid an appropriate amount so it was sent to the National Treasury where a few such valuables were being kept until a reasonable price could be obtained for them. I was not as poor at this time, but could not afford the ring, and anyway Eileen would not hear of me buying it back as she had freely given it.
Some years later I heard that the ring was still unsold, and spoke to the treasury (I think it was Bill Sims) about it. I still could not afford the value of it but they let me have it at about two thirds of its value. Meanwhile we had moved to Sudbury, Ontario where Eileen had battled and barely survived Hodgkin's Disease caused by arsenic in the drinking water in our pioneer post in Yellowknife. The chemotherapy and radiation were devastating, causing her to lose hair and teeth and she was feeling low. I returned the engagement ring to Eileen on our anniversary. She loved that ring, treasured it, and it has traveled to all of our pioneer goals with us.
Eileen spent time during her last days, telling me who should get her various special belongings. She did not have many. The day after she died, according to her wishes, I put her worn wedding band and the engagement ring in a little jewelry box and presented them to our dear daughter "Little" Eileen, and both of us shed tears. I have been shedding quite a few lately.
Eileen was a lady of very strong opinions. She was often wrong, but never uncertain. She was loved by many and will be missed greatly.
47 years, 4 months, 11 days. It was quite a ride.