W. Jean Armstrong
July 30, 1927 - January 15, 2014
My aunt, mentor and friend, Jean Armstrong, passed away, peacefully, on January 15, 2014, surrounded by many, including her children, sisters and favourite niece.
She had been having trouble breathing and was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Monday morning, and seemed to be rallying....but on Wednesday, she announced that she was tired, it was time and she was ‘ready to go and join Bob’. True to her spirit, she was stubborn, alert and in control right to the end, and even cracked a few jokes in her last moments.
She will be dearly missed.
Our family will be gathering to celebrate the lives of Bob and Jean this afternoon, and here are the thoughts I hope to share…
A miserable bitch. That is what Auntie Jean had to say about herself when we spoke just a few hours before she died (and we both laughed!). And if your knew her, you’d likely agree…..but then again, if you really knew her, you’d also know that she was a much more complex person than that. She was definitely more than that to me.
When I was a child, AJ was my aunt with the long braids – and the wigs! From her job working at Sears, she had drawers full of cosmetics and samples, and she generously shared them with us. She drove a little silver sports car, very quickly – so fast that we called her Armstrong Airways. I remember that whenever my family would visit them in Kitchener, we would always eat Chinese food, fish and chips, or Pepe’s pizza…and for us, having take-out was always a treat.
My mum and I came back to Canada for a visit on our own when I was ten, and I was adopted by AJ and UB for several days. We took their trailer, their dog Copper, and went off on a camping adventure. It was great to be the only child for a change, instead of the youngest of three. They spoiled me, and Uncle Bob and I went fishing at least once every day. I think that our special bond began on that trip.
When AJ and UB moved north more than 25 years ago, just a year after my family moved to Emsdale, it was the first time we had ever lived so close to relatives and we saw a lot of them. Uncle Bob and Dad would work together on odd jobs around the Farm, home improvements and other projects in the workshop…and they had a little ‘bromance’, regularly exchanging gifts of fancy tools and gadgets, mostly from Lee Valley. Mum and Auntie Jean would get to work in the studio, winding and dyeing yarn, and working together on weaving and other ambitious craft projects. They often stayed for dinner, even though we only went to their place once as a family (we always blamed that on the fact that my sister, Chris (a.k.a. The Breaker), chipped one of her crystal wine glasses that night!).
But we really bonded when I decided that I wanted to learn how to rug hook. And the whole reason I wanted to learn how to hook in the first place, was in order to keep her hooked Christmas stocking tradition alive for the next generation in my family. She helped me gather the necessary supplies for my first project (a still un-sewn floor cushion), and Uncle Bob supplied the hook and a simple thumbtack frame. I am still not sure who was more excited about me starting to hook – AJ or UB…
I spent a lot of time at their house during that first year….hooking and learning how to dye, and having many sleepovers. When I was too tired to hook, I would often curl up in their spare room with a collection of rug hooking books, only to awake to more of the same the next day. I not only learned plenty about rug hooking and dyeing wool….but I also learned that AJ did, in fact, know how to cook more than just her famous Nuts & Bolts. And she made wonderful comfort food, especially her special mac and cheese and yummy chili.
She advised me on rug hooking teachers and classes. I consulted her on colours in those first years…and I looked to her for advice on my early original designs. We went on a great a trip to Vermont together with Shellie and my mum in 2001….but unfortunately our plans to take a couple of classes together the next year was interrupted by her heart attack. She introduced me to R.U.G. and many talented rug hooking friends, many of whom became friends of mine. We had several fun hooking weeks at their place with Shellie, Cathy, Dorinda, Marilyn, Jane, Edith, Connie, the two Joans, and others.
While her heyday as a rug hooking teacher was over before mine began, her involvement with the Green Mountain Rug School, Ontario Hooking Craft Guild, Green Mountain Rug Hooking Guild, and National Guild of McGown Hookcrafters, influenced many rug hookers across North America. Even though she was not hooking for most of the new millennium, she maintained a very active interest in the rug hooking community. We always liked to talk about what was happening in rug hooking and freely shared our books and magazines with one another.
It’s only now that I look back, that I can see that AJ was effectively passing her hook to me. There was really only 2-3 of years overlap when we were both hooking, but I didn’t really see it at the time – she was still so involved with the craft.
A couple of years ago, she said to me “Jen, I don’t think that you are my niece anymore, I think that I am your aunt”…a pretty big compliment, for sure. But really, I am equally proud of both parts of that sentiment. I can honestly say that I would not be the rug hooker I am today without my Auntie Jean.
If I were asked to describe her in just five words, they would be creative, curious, generous, intelligent, and annoying. And don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t have shared this very same list with her! We spoke several times most weeks for the last fifteen years…and if nothing else, we were pretty upfront and truthful with one another.
We had a unique and special relationship and I will miss her more than I know.
When I come to the end of the road,
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in gloom-filled rooms,
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little--but not too long,
And not with your head bowed low;
Remember the love that we once shared
Miss me--but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take,
And each must go alone.
It's all a part of the Master's plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart,
Go to the friends we know,
And busy your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me - but let me go.