On Christmas Eve, 2021, Darlene Gail Massey was enfolded in the loving arms of God and reunited with the love of her life, Al. Her son, Darren, and daughter, Ellie, were with her as she slipped away.
Darlene was born on November 28, 1939, the youngest of May and John Baker's six children. It was a loving, Christian home—and humble—mom often told how she only had one pair of stockings, which were washed nightly and dried near the stove for the next day.
Mom loved figure skating as a girl and always appreciated the fact that her sister Dolores paid for her lessons. Another favourite pastime was colouring—she and her sister Florence would have the same book, and colour the same picture, then compare and admire each other's handiwork.
Mom took a job as a telephone operator when she left school. Shortly after that, her path crossed with that of a handsome young man who had come to Kenora from Selkirk to work at the Salisbury House. Love at first sight: she and Al were married on July 19th, 1958. Their daughter, Ellen, born in 1959, was named for them. Their son Darren was born in 1960.
They were an amazing team, working hard together to build a house on Tetroe Rd and transform a swampy acre into a beautifully landscaped yard. Dad hauled loads of 'Manitoba gumbo' from his hometown of Selkirk and they created a vegetable garden second to none. Mom always grew plants from seed and a vivid memory from our childhood is the milk cartons lined up on each available windowsill. These seedlings would be transplanted into the flowerbeds that Dad built with stones, cement, and love. Mom was proud to win a prize for her petunias one year at the fall fair.
Mom and Dad loved music and their 'hi-fi'. Mom enjoyed singing along to country favourites like Tammy Wynette as she did her housework. She also enjoyed Abba and Boney M. Ellie remembers her bopping along to 'Ra Ra Rasputin' while doing dishes. And Elvis, of course! Big John Hall's 'If That isn't Love' was among her favourite sacred songs.
When Ellie and Darren had gone away to school, Mom took a job outside the home. She worked in the library at Northward School, and then in housekeeping at Pinecrest.
Mom and Dad worked hard, but also took the time to enjoy travelling. They celebrated their 25th anniversary with a trip to England and Scotland. She and Dad also loved road trips together in their motor-home, including a visit to Graceland and a few to Vegas. Mom always said how happy she was that they didn't wait to travel until Dad retired, as his life was cut short not long after he did. She often described one lovely experience of driving through the desert, admiring the scenery, when Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' came on the radio. Ellie made sure it was played for them to dance to at her and Warner's wedding in 1993.
No one was more thrilled to become a grandma than Mom. Abby (1995) and Elizabeth (1997) were the light and delight of her life. She thought nothing of making the drive to Dryden as often as possible to see them. As they grew, they often spent a week or two at a time with Grandma in Keewatin, making cookies, playing dress-up—and thoroughly enjoying trips to Keewatin Beach, where they jumped off the dock and had grandma assign them scores on their abilities. She faithfully attended every concert, special church service, skating show, musical, and graduation. She even drove to be with them if they were sick and a Dryden caregiver wasn't available. She was proud of their talents in musical theatre and loved the CD of their music that they made for her in September. The evening before she died, she was able to watch Elizabeth sing and play the guitar on Youtube, and heard for the last time their harmonious duet of 'I can't help falling in love with you'.
Mom had a special bond with Darren. After Dad's death on Boxing Day, 1999, they worked together to complete the house on the MacKenzie Portage Road, which they have shared for the past 20 years. Darren helped her to create big beautiful flower beds, filled with roses and lilies, zinnias and sedum, amongst others. She also had large beds of vegetables and raspberries—her granddaughters loved helping grandma pick those on their summer visits. One of the last foods she was able to enjoy was french toast topped with some of her own raspberries from the freezer. She and Darren were successful in constructing special fencing to keep the deer from participating in their harvest.
Mom, Darren, and special buddy Lorelei enjoyed many games of Uno in the past few years, often around a meal of Chinese take-out.
After Mom won a set of golf clubs, she and Darren spent hours on golf courses—it wasn't about the game, it was about enjoying the walk. They often did two or even three rounds. They also averaged perhaps a hundred bike rides a year—usually driving to Bird's Hill Park or Falcon Lake to take advantage of their trails. Mom's last bike ride was in September, a week after her diagnosis. As her strength diminished, she and Darren substituted short car rides.
Family was always important to Mom and the monthly luncheon get-togethers with her siblings and cousins in the years before the pandemic were special occasions for her.
Mom enjoyed having a Fitbit and averaged 20,000 steps a day—many of which she got while reading books on her Kobo or phone on a carefully established circuit of her dining room and kitchen. She and Ellie were part of a group that competed for steps. She always won. Last winter, while Darren was away skiing, she got many of her steps shovelling snow on her long driveway. She was always fit and feisty—she had successfully recovered from a fractured neck in the early '80's, and was a 30 year breast cancer survivor. She never complained.
A unexpected blessing that came from the pandemic was the streaming of the church services officiated by her son-in-law, Warner, the minister at Grace United Church in Dunnville. This meant Mom could enjoy worshipping with us and exchange greetings online. She enthusiastically participated in the monthly hymn sing-a-longs Ellie and Warner streamed from their dining room table. She had twice spent a month in Dunnville and made the acquaintance of many members in the congregation. Ellie made it a point to always include one of her favourite 'oldies'. She has good memories as little girl singing hymns with Mom as she played the piano, and of singing Christmas carols with Dad and Darren as mom played.
Mom's attention to detail and pursuit of excellence was evident in everything she did. She sewed dresses and doll clothes for Ellie, and later for her granddaughters. She was a superb knitter—we have beautiful blankets to show for it. Her handwriting was exquisite. Her hamburger stew with veggies fresh from the garden, and her blueberry pie, the best on the planet. She got grades of 100% in her Latin classes in high school.
Mom always loved watching the Olympics, curling, golf, and, of course, figure skating on TV. The highlight for every New Year's Day was watching the Rose Bowl Parade—a perfect combination of her love of parades and her love of flowers. She had hoped to live to New Year's Day and share peaches and ice cream and a cup of coffee while watching it with her kids, but it was not to be.
Ellie remembers as a young child asking her about relations. “Who is closer related to you, mom? Me or Dad?” She thought for a moment and said, “You're my daughter, but when you get married, two become one.” We rest easy in the knowledge that Mom and Dad are again one, in the presence of God, reunited for eternity. The example of their love will always burn brightly in our hearts.
There will be no funeral at this time. Darlene expressed her desire to be cremated and to have her ashes laid to rest both with her beloved father in Kenora and with her husband Al in Selkirk. Graveside memorial services will be held at these interments later this summer, dates to be determined.
Darlene is survived by her daughter Ellen (Warner) and son Darren, granddaughters Abigail and Elizabeth Bloomfield, sister Dolores Wise, brothers Bob (Bernice), and John (Cathy), sister-in-law Grace Baker, and sisters- and brothers-in-law Gordie Massey (Alice), Orville Massey, Raymond Massey (Donna), Neil Massey (Bettie), Russel Massey, and Verna Kupchik, and numerous beloved nieces and nephews. She is predeceased by her parents May and John Baker, parents-in-law Jennie and Percy Massey, brother-in-law Doug Wise, sister and brother-in-law Florence and Bud Parnell, brother Ray Baker, brothers-and sisters-in-law Lorne and Bernice Massey, Richard and Pat Massey, Bev Massey, and Leo Kupchik.
Mom wanted to make sure the staff of the INR clinic and Dr. Workman know how grateful she was for their excellent care over the years. We are grateful for the many health care providers she encountered since this tough journey began in August, in particular the staff of the 3rd floor of the LOWDH in whose care mom was for the last two weeks. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to The Canadian Cancer Society or Heart and Stroke Foundation. God bless you all.