5 min read

In Loving Memory of Barbara Stange

My maternal grandmother, Barbara Stange, passed away recently.
In Loving Memory of Barbara Stange
The key to loving how you live is in knowing what it is you truly love. To know what you prefer instead of saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to keep your soul alive.
— Robert Louis Stevenson (found in her writings)

It’s taken me a week to write these words down. I couldn’t find an easy way to start, so I begin with this simple statement: my grandmother, Barbara Allaire Stange, passed away on Friday, September 14th, in a quiet moment with my mother at her side.

My grandma is known by several names to her family members: Bobbi from my grandpa, mother, grandma, grandma Bobbi, and, with the next generation, G-Bob. She has always been grandma to me, and my connection to her was a bit different than how most people connect with their grandparents. For the first eighteen years of my life, she was someone I saw almost weekly as a young kid, at least once a year through my teenage years, and then I lived with her for two years when I started University. It’s those two years, plus the succeeding four years of living in Regina, that I felt a real connection to her.

She was so much to me in those six years when I was 18-24. She instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the arts, even while I attended University to study theatre, and a better understanding of the world around us. Coming from the isolated community of Whitehorse, I felt disconnected from the rest of the world. Culture usually lagged behind the rest of the country (remember, the internet was in its infancy when I was a teenager), and I was unaware of how events in one country could affect things locally. I only had the most basic understanding.

For the latter item, one cure was watching television with grandma during the supper hour. The PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer played through the week, then we switched over to the local news at 6pm. Sunday nights were reserved for 60 Minutes. At first, it was done out of courtesy, but after while, I found myself beginning to form the habit of watching these programs even when she wasn’t home. In fact, I still watch 60 Minutes almost weekly now, and watch other news shows regularly.

The arts are an area I will forever associate with her. The influence she had on me can only be compared to my experiences with working in theatre and dance. It was rare for me to come up from my room in the basement (aka The Cave) and not find her listening to classical music, on record, CD, or the radio. The weekends were full of music while sitting in the living room, usually devouring the Globe and Mail, possibly a Sunday New York Times. She also took me to events I could only dream of attending as a kid – almost every show performed at the Globe Theatre, several Regina Symphony performances, two operas (Madame Butterfly was one) and other performances at the Saskatchewan Centre for the Arts. She was also a supporter of my work at the Regina Performing Arts Centre, University, and encouraged me to pursue work in Hartford, CT, and Syracuse, NY.

The arts were also an important thing to her. Going over her creative writing (analogue blogs) and newspaper clippings, I found a mention of her performing in Hansel and Gretel as a teenager. I don’t recall her mentioning any other performances, but I do know she enjoyed singing to songs on records and CDs. Her favourite musical was (by far), My Fair Lady. It was quite the joy for me to work on a production of it at Syracuse Stage. I felt her connection to the musical.

There are so many memories of her that I wish I could have captured in the moment. Living at her house was like living in the nexus of an incredible social network. I developed a stronger bond with the uncles and aunt from that side of the family, the cousins who visited, plus her friends, which largely included former University professors and other well-connected people from the church. She was a simple, yet elegant host for her friends, and always had things prepared in advance. Her biggest stress prior to her friends arriving was not having tea or a spread prepared for their arrival. It really puts things into perspective with how people stress about not receiving enough likes on their Instagram posts or wondering whether someone you just met likes you or not.

One area that she influenced a lot without me fully realizing it until now is writing. When I was living with her, she started a creative writing course taught by a former University professor. I read a bunch of the writing she produced on a weekly basis at that time, helped her format things properly, and make sure she didn’t lose any of her work. Some of it was creative, other pieces were more reflective and commentary. I hadn’t read any of it again since I left Regina until last weekend when I was reading some of it over again at my parents’. It struck a chord with me, because some of the topics she was writing about echoed some of my own struggles and thoughts that I share here. My writing was always influenced by my University reading, but now I can see she was a quiet influence on my current style of writing.

I could go much longer about my experiences with her, but then I wouldn’t get to describe what a wonderful and adventurous life my grandma had. I will include the fuller obituary below, but a quick summary of her life: grew up in a small city in Ohio, attended Oberlin College and received a Bachelors in Education; went to New Haven, CT to begin graduate studies at Yale Divinity School; married to my grandpa for just over 50 years before he passed away, a man who threw off his prior engagement to marry her after knowing her a very short amount of time; lived in several cities in China (post WWII and up to the cultural revolution), Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, plus other places in southeast Asia; established nursery centres in Bangkok and Jakarta, a daycare centre in Madison, Wisconsin; received a Master degree in Education, and assisted with the rewriting of the Kindergarten curriculum for Wisconsin and Saskatchewan; she was involved with many organizations that were concerned about education throughout her life; she had five children, fourteen grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren (so far).

She was 94 years old when she passed away. By the time she was my age (38), she had five kids, had spent over a dozen years in Asia, and had a lifetime of stories to share. Her life is a life we read about in books and dream of doing as kids. She lived it. She shared it with everyone. And she always put others needs in front of her own. She lived a happy life that we can all admire and hope to live ourselves.

I struggled to begin this and now I struggle to finish it. Nothing more can be said other than:

I will always remember and miss her dearly.

My grandma and my daughter, Kylie

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