laura proctor

doreen - 2023 (in progress)

When my grandmother Doreen was 13 years old, she was on a boat that exploded. The accident in Gravenhurst, Ontario, made the front page of the Toronto Star. July 18, 1949. “Despite her burns, she kept swimming around calmly and needed no help, not even to get out of the water.” She had to receive skin grafts, leaving her with scars all over her body. The recovery process was painful and took months.

When I think of my grandmother, I think of her humour, her curse words, her cigarettes. But I also think of her strength, and her deep love and appreciation for her family and for life itself.

My grandmother has worked her whole life as a professional pianist. She grew up in Ingersoll, a small town in southwestern Ontario, riding in her father's egg delivery truck for her weekly piano lessons in Toronto. Her persistence and dedication to her craft was there from the beginning.

74 years after the boat accident, my grandmother is 88 years old and has three children and seven grandchildren. She still performs at concerts, recitals, and the occasional morning at church. She works once a week at York University, accompanying the vocal students on piano. She visits with loved ones, does the crossword, reads books, makes Christmas cake every year, and still drinks and smokes and swears like a sailor. Canadian playwright and author Tomson Highway once described her as a "profane, classy woman."

My grandmother has had some recent accidents and setbacks. In 2021, she tripped and fell while working at the university, breaking one of her hips. But because of her life as a musician and her past experiences of recovery, she's accustomed to working towards a goal. She spent months doing physio for her hip, eventually graduating from a walker to a cane.

The memories of the boating accident are still in tact. But her scars have faded with time, blending in with her age spots and wrinkles. One turnpike on the larger map of her life.

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