I remember sitting tableside with my mother in the kitchen a few months ago. She had just invited another neighbour in for coffee. I sat listening to her speak her ancestral language. Soon Mary Pearlene Simon-Baker’s face lined with laughter. Her head tilted backwards, eyes glimmering, as she laughed with happiness at another dirty joke. She loved coffee and people, but her heart really twinkled making others laugh.
On Dec. 6, 2017, after a lifelong battle with diabetes, Simon-Baker passed away. Her soul now rests.
The 56 year old leaves behind a common-law spouse, four children, one brother, four sisters, three grandchildren, a host of nieces and nephews, a dog named Moin and her community of Elsipogtog – whom she considered family.
Born and raised on the reserve, Simon-Baker was shaped by trauma and, through her pain, found laughter.
Poverty was often a guest at her childhood home. Her father, a trapper and hunter, made sure the family never went without food. When the family tried to buy from off-reserve stores they were told, “they don’t serve savages.”
She was later forced into the child-welfare system. At the age of 14, she was forced to give up her first daughter. At 17, her second.
Simon-Baker pressed on through life struggling with diabetes and trauma. She travelled across the United States, making friends along the way. One, a Vietnam vet, she named Grandpa Woodchuck. Others she met in St. Augustine, Fla., Louisiana and Galveston, Texas.
She would meet my father at a labour ready in a small Texan city. She’d call him her Blackstrap molasses. In 1989, she was finally able to hold and love her newly born baby girl. A year later she gave birth to a baby boy – one, she said, made in a night of passion fuelled by Southern Comfort.
The years rolled on and in 2015 she suffered a massive heart attack and kidney failure. Doctors informed her that her heart could only pump 30 per cent of her blood properly. Still, she smiled.
At holidays she would invite neighbours to dine as family. She loved cooking for others, offering up cherry squares, turkey, gravy and stuffing. She wanted those in need to smile. She had a forgiving heart filled with joy.
In 2017 gangrene entered her system and in the summer it changed into a gas form. Her body writhing, she still smiled inside. In the hospital she’d give other patients gloves, hats and, once, her winning $5 scratch off.
And on Dec. 6 her spirit, exhausted from the fight, returned to grace. Although she will be missed, she’d want a celebration of her life – a smile and a coffee in hand.