April is the cruellest month...
She was very young when she left home (Vancouver), petite and talented, a ballerina. She danced at TUTS (Theatre under the Stars) in Vancouver and I don’t know whether a talent scout saw her there or whether she auditioned but she was hired by a New York company and she danced the role of Laurie in the Dream Ballet in “Oklahoma”, in one of the first, if not the first, touring company of the musical, travelling all over the United States and getting as far as Berlin. She was nineteen years old and young for her age. She learned how to get along with older, professional people and to live out of a trunk, how to put clothes together and to mend them, how to take care of her feet and to sleep anywhere, and how to live on a tight budget.
When she returned to Vancouver, Arnold Spohr (Canadian ballet dancer, choreographer, artistic director, 1923-2010) spotted her and hired her as a corps dancer in the Winnipeg Ballet Company (not Royal then).
[The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is one of the world's premier dance companies. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it is Canada's oldest ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America.] (Wikipedia)
That’s how she came to Winnipeg and married a Winnipeg man, one of my husbands’ oldest friends, also named Bill.
We were all young married couples together, having our babies, taking our holidays, partying, trying to make ends meet as the ends got farther and farther apart. Her husband was sent by his company to Vancouver and that was it. Jo was a pathological Vancouverite, happy to be restored to her hometown. When her husband was asked to go elsewhere he stayed on. Later, we moved to Stratford. So we were miles apart. But my Bill died suddenly and though I couldn’t move (except to Toronto where the work was, for me), I clung to my old friends, and there were other former Winnipeggers I made the effort to see as frequently as I could manage it. Most often I stayed with Jo and Will.
She lacked confidence in her homemaking abilities because of her early career when she had spent no time at all in a kitchen, or a home for that matter. . She told me she learned a number of tips from me, who was no role model. Apparently I told her that the best time to clean the house was Friday so it was presentable for the weekend and possible guests. She thought she couldn’t cook but her meals were delicious – also painstaking.
I watched her make oatmeal porridge for breakfast (I was her frequent house guest, remember). She picked over the raisins for the porridge, examining each one for the odd desiccated stem that might cling to a few of them. It took her a long time. The same with blueberries, wild or cultivated, fresh or frozen. No stem unturned. She kept apologizing for her dinners when there was no need to apologize.
Elsewhere, she was more confident. I noticed, for example, that she had complete authority when she drove a car. And she had exquisite taste when it came to choosing her wardrobe; her clothes were attractive, chosen for style and economy. In spite of their financial setbacks, Jo and Bill lived comfortably, managing to provide excellent opportunities and education for their children but also to travel well in later years. They took the time for what was important to them and they never missed a ballet performance.
Jo had always wanted a home with a view of the water. About a year before Bill died (Alzheimer’s) they sold their North Vancouver home that they had lived in ever since they left Winnipeg for well over a million dollars and moved into a beautiful apartment building overlooking the ocean. She used to turn her chair to the windows and gaze. When I visited her there last she took us out to dinner to an upscale fish restaurant. I still sprang for take-out Chinese as my affordable treat.
I could go on and on, about her recipe for muesli, for example, or her way with roasted onions. I was going to see her again at the end of this month.