By Ron Campbell
Special to The Daily Messenger (Canandaigua, NY)
May 14, 2017

DETROIT — “I hope we can do this again before too long,” my mother, Gwyneth Rose Campbell, said to me wistfully during a trip to Canandaigua in June, 2014. “I wish we could all be together much more often, as time is fleeting.”

It may be surprising that a short visit to a little Finger Lakes town would stand out in the heart and memory of a woman who as an English schoolgirl during World War II took refuge from Hitler’s bombs in her family’s backyard shelter in Widnes, about 12 miles southeast of the busy port of Liverpool; marched proudly before then-Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother, Elizabeth II’s mum and King George VI’s wife) with her fellow Women’s Royal Naval Service troop members; married an American GI and met civil rights icon Rosa Parks at the Michigan State Fair in her new country.

She was charmed by Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park — it reminded her of her favorite TV show, “Downton Abbey” — and Main Street’s “stately old buildings and interesting shops.” But the purpose of her visit was much loftier than to merely take in the sights of “The Chosen Spot.”

It was to have an all-too rare reunion with her own family: three of her four grandchildren, adopted from Paraguay, Bolivia and China; her two East Coast-living sons and me, the youngest; and her two daughters-in-law. Those three days of laughter and reminiscences and hugs were extraordinarily precious to her.

This time last year is when things started to go bad for Mum, when the doctors first suspected cancer, and I began to realize that Mother’s Day, 2016 could be my last with her. Time had indeed flown by. We hadn’t been able to make it back to Canandaigua as a family.

I’d sent away for a nice wrought iron sign for her beloved garden as a gift. It read:

The kiss of the sun for pardon
the song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
than anywhere else on earth

I put the sign next to an inscribed rock she’d placed in the plot outside her kitchen window. It commemorated her late husband — Vernon Robert Campbell — and said everything she needed to say. Everything she was about. “LOVE.”

That was the first spring I didn’t see her kneeling in her garden, potting soil staining her gloves, trowel and flats of pansies at the ready. She was a hale and hearty 87-year-old Brit, forever a loyal subject of the Crown, and she still wore the ring “My G.I.” had slipped on her finger at St. Paul’s Church in Widnes 65 years earlier. But every now and then, she’d show you a mirthful young Gwennie Morris, who fell in love with poetry in Miss Ratcliffe’s English class, enjoyed picking blackberries in the Lancashire countryside and marveled at the “big, black headlines” in the papers the day after D-Day.You

Don’t all of us, on some level between reason and delusion, think our parents will live forever? Then out of the blue, cold, hard reality takes our breath away.

Mum passed away last July 14, following complications from cancer and a severe stroke. We played a song by four lads from Liverpool — the Beatles’ “In My Life” — at her emotional memorial service.

On this special day, I would like to pay tribute to my dear mum, Gwyneth Rose Campbell, and to all moms and mums everywhere. Happy Mother’s Day! This seems obvious, but I know from personal experience how easy it is to overlook: Be with the ones you love as often as you can, no matter how hectic your lives are, no matter how many miles separate you.

Because, as a wise, kind-hearted woman once told me, time is fleeting.

And time has once again turned the season to spring. Just in time for Mother’s Day, her favourite flowers are beginning to bloom.

The ones with the sky blue blossoms are forget-me-nots.


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