Anne Kyle was my sister, but in many ways she filled the role of my mother in the last forty years, after mom died in 1959. I miss her deeply today but the stories and images I have of Anne in her prime will be with me forever. Anne was known in our neighbourhood as the Queen of Twentieth Street. She was not, however, the type of Queen who sits up on her perch and waves politely to those passing by. Anne was a giving Queen, she earned her crown, it was given to her by the children, the people on the street and all those that knew her. Anne being from England was not long on words of affection, but I know that she loved me like a daughter, and the bond between us remains today even though she is gone. She is still with me, my thoughts, prayers and everything I touch in her home.
Anne was born to Alfred and Caroline Shaw in England in l911. In l913 the family crossed the Atlantic to make their new home in Canada and settled near Lambton Park. We had three brothers, Stan, Alfred, Harold "Joe" and another sister Carrie. We did have one more sister, Marjorie, but she died at the age of one month, a result of trauma suffered from an explosion while in uterine it is thought.
My mother and father ran two stores in Toronto but dad was also a professional musician and played coronet in the orchestra at the Pantages Theatre and did the call to the post at Woodbine Racetrack. We had a piano and the whole family was musically inclined, except for me I guess. When canned music came in my father lost his job and got a horse wagon and sold vegetables door to door. Father died in l931 at the height of the depression. Anne went out to work and was it not for her we truly would have been desperate. Anne managed to give our brother Harold money for his hunting gun so we could eat pheasant and rabbit. A shell back then was 5 cents - a lot of money for the time. There almost was nothing Anne wouldn't do to make sure we had food on the table.
Anne got married in l940 to Bob Kyle and in l946 they bought their house in New Toronto for $2800. Bob was a comedian and a great impersonator. We all laughed a lot back then. I lived and worked for GMAC Financing in North Bay for l8 years. At age 48 I was transferred to their Oshawa office. I moved down to Toronto and in with Anne and her husband Bob. I lived in their basement apartment on Twentieth Street and kept an apartment in Oshawa where I stayed Monday through Thursday. Anne used to bake and cook me meals for the week and send me on my way with my care package making sure I was well fed while away from home. I retired in 1983 and moved permanently into their home, which I live in today.
Anne on the other hand went back to work after not working for twenty years for Ruddi Signs, which is now Via Comm. Anne retired at 75 and even today the people she worked with remember her fondly.
After her retirement Anne and I grew closer and closer. We traveled the world. I have such wonderful memories of those times. We toured California together. Anne loved to gamble so we often went to Los Vegas. We also started going south for the winter. We would drive to Florida in October and did not return until the end of March. Anne and I, well, we had a great time together. We took a bus tour to Anaheim, California once. Anne loved the Parade of Roses and in l978 I bought the two of us tickets to the parade as a surprise for Anne on her birthday which was on New Year's Eve. We had front row reserved seats. We watched the parade every New Year's Day and I still do to this day. I loved to surprise Anne with things I knew she really liked. I think in some ways I was trying to repay her back for all those years she supported and cared for me.
In our last trip to Florida, Anne fell and broke several vertebrae. Anne was tough as nails in many respects. She insisted on driving home with me instead of flying. She said, "You're not driving by yourself, and that's that!"
Anne always persevered. Once while in England touring around we had walked so much that Anne's feet began to hurt and in particular her toes. "I have to keep going. I insist on seeing the Palace and in particular Queen Victoria's statue", she said. As tears rolled down her face she said, "Cut the toes out of my shoes, cut them out". Anne just had to look at me with her "bulldog" chin protruding and I knew I had to do what she asked. Off came the end of her shoes and we continued on with our sightseeing, toes protruding from those cut up shoes.
When traveling long distances was no longer possible Anne loved to go up to Woodbine to gamble. She was very well known there. She was the only gray haired elegant older woman pushing her own wheelchair through the casino. She even celebrated her 90th birthday up there.
In l978 I was able to surprise Anne again. Anne was a real sharp dresser. She loved to wear black, red and white quite often. But Anne's car was on it last legs so one day I tracked down a brand new black Monte Carlo. It was beautiful with its red leather seats. I brought it home and announced to Anne it was hers. She was without words. Anne looked real sharp in her matching outfits as she drove around town. Some even started to call her the "Mafia Queen". She drove that car proudly.
Anne knew everyone on our street in New Toronto. She cooked for people, she crocheted baby gifts, and always brought a gift for the older children in the family so they didn't feel left out when the new baby arrived home. Anne often sat out front on the porch and talked to people as they passed by. When she did not want company she retired to the back verandah on her lounge chair and just relaxed.
Now the last three years of Anne's life were difficult years for her. She had many things wrong with her as her health failed. She had a broken sternum, suffered several heart attacks, she had a duodenal ulcer and her gastric motility system broke down. I committed my nights and days to giving Anne the best care I could. I pureed her food as she had to use a straw to get food down. While Anne's body was failing her there was nothing wrong with her mind. She use to whistle for me when she wanted something. This was a tradition she started many years ago when she was well. Our dear dog Symba loved Anne too and never left her side as she was getting weaker.
Anne and I use to laugh even when she wasn't well. She often said to me as I pureed her special meals and cut things up real small so that she could digest them. "Joy, I don't know how you come up with all these different things." She particularly liked the shrimp I use to cut up in tiny pieces.
Anne was quite sick for her last three years. In her first year of her decline she could get out of the wheelchair and sit in the shower and take care of other personal duties on her own. In the last two years though I would brace myself against the wall and lift her up. We did get wonderful home care from Doctor David Schwartz who would come and stay as long as we needed him. And Zenobia, our special caregiver, was a blessing to both Anne and me. And I could not have endured the twenty four hour care without the visits of our home nurse Yolanta. I promised Anne I would never put her in a home, and I kept my word.
My biggest challenge as I cared for Anne in the last months was getting sleep. I was always listening for Anne and if she needed something. I would often get up in the middle of the night to give her liquid morphine. When Anne could no longer whistle I rigged up two bells that she could ring if she needed me.
Would I have changed anything in about the last several years? No, I was committed to caring for Anne, and I would not have had it any other way. I learned many things about being a caregiver.
In her last 3 weeks we did have to move Anne to Toronto Grace Hospital. I remember calling Howard the care coordinator and telling him, "If Anne has one bed sore I am going to come down and kill you!" Howard took it all in stride, as he knew how much Anne meant to me, and the care I had given Anne at home. It was a wonderful place.
Anne was not very with it the last week, and Major Bobbitt, the spiritual coordinator at Toronto Grace brought me the CD "Spirit Wings" to play. She knew how much music meant to Anne and me and our entire family. The music brought back all sorts of memories for me as I sat there holding Anne's hand. She couldn't talk at this point but squeezed my hand. In particular "Going Home" Theme from the New World Symphony" touched a particular chord with both of us. The first time I heard "Spirit Wings" I said, "My heavens, it's beautiful".
My advice to people supporting a loved one is don't give up on people, be there for them, don't talk like they aren't there. I would do these three years all over again. It made me a better person.
Now that she is gone I have been going through Anne's drawers sorting things out. In one of the drawers I discovered a brick I had given her one year and a card I had given her along with it. On the card it said: If this brick could talk it would say, " Anne, what wonderful things you have done for people and your family". These were my heartfelt thoughts about Anne. I miss her deeply and always will and I still keep a single rose in her bedroom and fresh flowers on her piano.