I’m taking time off from my regular posts to mourn the untimely death of my wife of 31 years, and my best friend, Lorraine Leo de Jong. Lorraine was smart, funny, articulate, and had a scholarly understanding of anthropology, history, and much else. For a dyed-in-the-wool academic like me, she was a wonderful companion: A source of ideas, a sounding-board, and an honest critic. We spent many happy hours ranting at each other, sharing ideas, and arguing.
When we were married,…
I was a professor, and she was the curator of the Anthropology Department’s collection of artefacts at the University of Winnipeg. We both had decent salaries and our plan was to become a Yuppie couple with two incomes. But then our first, Gabrielle, came along and spoiled our plans. Lorraine didn’t have the heart to leave her with a baby-sitter, so she asked me whether I would be willing, instead, to have her become a traditional homemaker. I agreed. It is, after all, a pretty good deal for a man, as my feminist friends (including Lorraine) would be quick to point out.
So Lorraine assumed the role of forceful, good-humoured sovereign over our home, as we co-operated in meeting the challenge of raising six children. As anyone who has raised children knows, it was a big challenge, that produced many fights with children, while the tension had us often fighting each other. Those fights were unpleasant, but they left me with an important life-lesson: You don’t mess with a de Jong woman.
One incident in Lorraine’s life as a stay-at-home mom has become a neighbourhood myth. A common and unhappy reality of childhood is that, if school administrators are lax, their passiveness encourages pint-sized fascists, schoolyard bullies, to target other children. One day that was happening to Rachel as she walked to school. When Lorraine looked out the front window of our house, she saw the bullying and sprang into action. The neighbourhood myth has Lorraine, bathrobe flapping in the breeze, running down the street wielding a broom while the little bully flees for his life. I think there may be some exaggeration in that account, but, for sure young Mussolini learned my life lesson about messing with a de Jong woman.
It wasn’t easy raising our kids, and we made many mistakes along the way, but our six little girls have turned into six beautiful women, who know right from wrong, have active and sensitive social consciences, and take their responsibilities to their eight children very seriously. I’m pleased that Lorraine got her naches, as we say in Yiddish, by seeing grandchildren growing up. I’m devastated that she won’t be here to watch them finish growing up.
A tribute to Lorraine wouldn’t be complete without a reference to travel. She loved to travel and was an expert at planning really interesting trips that didn’t require a big budget. Thanks to her acumen, we travelled all around England and Germany, and visited Denmark, Prague, Verona, and more. In the second picture above, we see her checking Hadrian’s Wall off her life list. Lorraine always wanted to revisit Rome, travel to St. Petersburg, and tour Scandinavia, but, sadly, that’s not going to happen and, without her, I’m not sure I’ll go either. Without Lorraine, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
Lorraine is the love of my life, and I’m privileged to have been with her through hardship and laughter, work and play. It won’t be easy to go on without her, but I know she would want me to try to be around for our grandchildren, and I will try.