TREENA MIELKE/Rimbey Review
Gladys Du Gray has watched lions and tigers roam unfettered and free while on Safaris in Kenya and gazed in awe at the icy topography of Antarctica while aboard a 17-deck cruise ship.
In her lifetime, she has travelled to all seven continents and led hiking parties through the Rocky Mountains.
She has laughed, she has cried and, many, many times, she has simply picked up the pieces and moved on.
The last time she moved on, she ended up in Rimbey, close to her son, Garnet, whom she loves dearly and to whom she is grateful every day for his loving support and kind and caring ways.
Du Gray lives in a senior’s complex on the outskirts of Rimbey. She is happy there, but looking out her window across the road at a grassy low lying hill dotted with yellow dandelions, she muses to herself that she would like to see something a little different on that hill.
“I would like to see that hill covered with flowers,” she said. “I visualize it every day.”
She looks out another window where the unfailing beauty of the green and lush Blindman Valley, crowned in the far distance with the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, greets her.
“I love it here,” she said, making a sweeping motion with her arm to emphasize the beauty of the scene before her. “The countryside is very beautiful. “
Du Gray, who has lovely snow white hair, sparkling brown eyes and an infectious smile, looks upon the passage of time with the same optimism and cheerfulness that has held her in good stead throughout her life.
“It’s good,” she said. “I have to contend with arthritis and allergies, Arthur visits me every time the weather drops,” she said with a chuckle. “But I’m always planning ahead, always thinking about what I can do.”
Du Gray was a child of the Thirties, born in the Depression years in a Winnipeg hospital, and growing up on a farm about 50 kilometres west of the city.
She recalls living in a three-room home with a wood-burning stove, and coal oil lamps.
As the oldest of five children, it was her job to fill the coal oil lamps, a job she did not particularly enjoy.
“Sometimes I would be lazy and decide there was enough coal oil, to last the night and most likely as not we ran out, and I had to go out in the pitch black night to get the can of coal oil and after listening to the Shadow (a radio show), it was very scary.”
She talked about going outside to go to the bathroom and using Eaton’s catalogues as toilet paper.
“The door had a crescent moon cutout,’ she said. “It seems the crescent moon provided air and a lookout window.”
The family worked hard, eking out a living in the long, cold Manitoba winters. They were always busy.
“There was bread to make twice a week, other baking and everything was made from scratch, butter to churn and clothes to wash that were outside and frozen stiff in the extreme cold.”
But even though there was much the hard work and little money, Du Gray recalls her childhood fondly.
“It was all part of living and didn’t seem like hard times even when we had to go barefoot in the summer and I had hand me down clothes from my cousins. The clothes were still new to me. In winter we always went outside to play regardless of temperature, making snow houses, sledding and skating on the frozen pond.”
When Du Gray became a teenager she worked at various job, finally becoming a telephone operator in Elm Cree. However, she had had a yearning for some time to move to Calgary.
“When I had a small savings made and a set of luggage, I set off to Calgary, in July 1950.”
And, so it was that the next chapter in her life began.
She married in 1953, and moved to Germany for two years, with her military husband. She gave birth to two boys, Garnet and Dale, and learned first-hand the joys and sorrows of parenthood.
Her marriage lasted until 1977 and Du Gray found herself on her own, ready for her next adventure.
While she didn’t know what this adventure would be, she knew one thing for sure.
“I would never sit home and cry on the weekend,” she said. “And I didn’t. It was a good time of my life.”
She began travelling, discovering that she truly had passion for learning, exploring and seeing new things.
One day when she noticed some tourists sitting in a hotel lobby watching television, she decided she would share this passion with others.
“I knew I would never let them sit and watch TV and waste their money that way,” she said.
During the 1990s she began hiking through the countryside around Kinesis, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, eventually leading hiking parties on wonderful trips.
However, hip surgery in 2000 and 2001 forced Du Gray to hang up her hiking shoes permanently.
“I still walk,” she said. “I walk as much as I can.”
The death of her son, Dale, from a heart attack a few years ago still brings tears to her eyes.
It was a devastating loss and one that caused her, once again, to move on.
Looking back on a life where adventure and excitement often followed of the heels of sadness and tragedy, Du Gray said she has only three regrets.
“I wish I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, I wish I had pursued a career that had something to do with nature, and I wish I had learned to play the accordion.”
But, not one to focus on regrets, she checked her calendar where she keeps a list of activities going on at the Rimbey Drop In.
“I have whist this afternoon,” she said. “I like playing cards there. It’s fun.”