Tiny and tough, my mother was feisty and fiercely independent.
She used to say, “no one gets out of this world alive”. She didn’t either. She died in July. A fall in her beloved garden — her foot got caught in the tomato cages — unleashed a cascade of complications. She was 87.
Born in a time when women were seen as a weaker, softer farm hand, my mother, Anna Betnaza, embraced challenge. She chose a life’s path of learning and enlightenment. And she encouraged me to be bold.
Her family left the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland arriving in Quebec City on the SS Montrose on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed.
Her entire life, she was decades ahead of the times.
Her formal education ended in the eighth grade. She walked barefoot from the family’s Alberta Peace River country homestead to a one-room schoolhouse until she was 12. Her family decided investing in her education was unnecessary, since her destiny was to be a farm wife.
In her 20s she enjoyed a single life that included a fashionably elegant wardrobe with matching leather luggage for her travels. She also became an investor, creating a nest egg she would later leverage into the family home and a school trip to Europe which changed my life.
In the early 1950s, she found her true passion, her lifelong interest in natural food, nutrition and health.
My mother didn’t kiss booboos or cut the crusts off toast. She didn’t cater to our whims. She wanted us to be strong of body and mind and soul. She provided us with the most nutritious food she could find, sat vigil with us nursing our sports injuries and set high standards of achievement by exposing us to art and culture. She thought her job was to get us to 18, ready and capable to walk out the door and do for ourselves.
Undeterred by strenuous duties as mother, wife, family CFO, guidance counselor, housekeeper, cook, medic, gardener and chauffeur, she became a Master Herbalist, graduating from the Dominion Herbal College in 1984.
She explored her principles of health, food and eating — a food plan without processed foods, one that everyone could afford — by publishing Eat Anna’s Way in 1992. Another endeavour that was far ahead of the times. In a newspaper review, the writer said that “the mind boggles at how absolutely nutritious our diets could be if we ate half of what she suggests.”
My mother wrote two other currently unpublished books, her memoir, Waltzing the Tango, and a guide to natural healing, Anna’s Remedies.
She delighted in the world the Internet opened for her, subscribing to smoking-fast Internet service as soon as it was available. She spent countless hours in research, including commenting on newspaper stories under the nom de plume “Goody Two Shoes”, and lately, became a fan of Lewis Black and Bill Maher.
When I got the crazy idea that MacGyver and I should try the world of trucking I went home to run it by her. “Too bold,” I asked her. She immediately got on the phone to MacGyver to lobby for this new adventure.
“I learned to drive an tractor,” she told me. “You can drive a big truck. If you have a half a brain in your head and want to do something, you’ll figure it out.”
Late in life she developed a keen interest in reincarnation and religion and faith. She practiced meditation in two-hour long daily sessions. She came to decide that “God” is within all of us because we all have God’s two great powers, the power to forgive and the power to redeem.
She told the doctors that she was not afraid to die. She trained me for years to help her through her death labor when the time came. To be strong. During the eight days I held her hand in the hospital and conducted her final business, I felt as if I was following a road map that she had prepared.
Eleven days after her fall, she “went through the Gate” as she called it, without fear, dying peacefully. Her eyes opened wide seconds before her last breath as if to say: “This is amazing”.
In the two decades since my father died, my mother cultivated an extended family of neighbors. They watched over her discreetly, setting their clocks, counting lunar cycles and passing seasons as she tended her garden, particularly her rose garden with its 112 rose bushes.
My mother left me and my three brothers with the gift of her single greatest quality– grit to carry on.
A personal meditation in her honour is appreciated.