I’ve written a lot in my books about my relationship with my mother and had touched on tidbits about her mother, my grandmother Dorothy who died shortly after my mother’s 15th birthday .
My mother had a knack for ‘expanding the truth’ whenever she chose to share a snippet of her life, so as I got older and caught on to her delusional stories, I had to do my own searching around for truth, mostly from my aunts while they were still living. But luckily, my sister-in-law, Katy, is a great FBI sleuth herself. She obviously found our erratic and dysfunctional family history fascinating when she married my brother and conducted her own search and found out much more than even I was told.
One story in particular was about my grandmother apparently, winning the very first Miss Toronto Beauty Contest in 1926 held at Sunnyside Amusement Park. Pictured below is my grandmother standing as a runner up to the far right. The story told to me by mother was that her mother had actually won the contest and was deemed the first Miss Toronto until she was disqualified and became a runner up when it was discovered that she was married when she entered. This of course turned out to be another lie my mother loved to boast about because of course if her mother didn’t win, there had to be a reason. In the photo my grandmother was 21 years old. (Late correction, either the newspaper got it wrong, or my grandmother fibbed about her age because she was only 17 in the pageant)
Back in the day, being skinny wasn’t a factor required to either enter or win a beauty contest. And despite my mother telling her tall tales, anybody who knew my grandmother had told me she was considered a striking beauty. In fact, Katy sent me this article clipping from an interview the Toronto Star did with my grandmother before the final competition when it was down to 5 contestants.
This is all I know of my grandmother, from how she spoke in the article interview in this post I can almost hear that little air in her voice that my mother had of herself. Dorothy was apparently a very popular girl who had many men vying for her attention, and although she tried to sound modest and naive in this article, I could hear my own mother in her words, particularly in the paragraph where the journalist seemed to detect the same thing when they thought Dorothy knew well that this would be printed.
Article interview with Dorothy Asling from Toronto Star Newspaper August 16, 1926, journalist unknown. From the archives.
I’ve heard so many controversial stories about the life of my grandmother and have had to make my own deductions from comparing versions of stories my mother told me and relaying them back to my aunts for verification and authentic versions. Apparently, my grandmother was a real live wire, who, according to this article, may not have smoked, but loved to drink, party and gamble. She was the life of all parties, and the complete opposite of what I know of my grandfather, who was meek and mild mannered, and a very handsome man. Dorothy was the love of his life and he never married again because he never stopped loving her.
I notice similarities in Dorothy’s physical stature to my mother and some of her siblings.
My mother was a dark beauty like her mother and she even had the same mole on her left cheek, which she emphasized with a black kohl eyeliner as it appears her mother did too. Back when I was a child I remembered that mole as my mother’s ‘signature’ beauty mark.
Another prominent feature of my grandmother was her ‘thick’ upper arms. I wrote in humor in my book, Menowhat? A Memoir, about the women in our family nicknamed ‘the arm family’, which I had crowned the name to all of us – sister, female cousins and aunts, because no matter how slim any of us could be, we all had thick upper arms. Thank you grandmother Dorothy, not.
I’ve never seen another photo of my grandmother other than this photo that my Aunty Sherry ordered copies of years ago from our Toronto newspaper to give one to each of her nieces. So naturally, I’ve looked at it a million times and analyzed the heck out of it.
My sister-in-law Katy had done research on my family tree and had obtained copies of my mother’s lineage when she got curious about the ongoing lie my mother had told me and stood true to till the day she died, that I wasn’t conceived out of wedlock, and that her mother was Jewish. In fact, Katy had given me a copy of my parents’ marriage licence she obtained, confirming my suspicion that my mother was indeed 2 months pregnant with me when she married my father. I was also flabberghasted to find that in the little box where they tick off and state their religion, my grandmother was born and raised as a Baptist. I’d already obtained confirmation from my aunts on these factors, but looking at the actual document was a confirming piece of my family history.
There were so many tales spun by my mother to create dramatic effect to every story she told. And still, I truly believe her stories were not only to attract wow factors or sympathy, but also that she had spent her life creating stories to the point where I honestly believe she believed her own stories. She had such a dire need to be more than what she was.
Below are a few photos I plucked out of an old photo album – the women in my life as well as 2 more clippings of Dorothy that my sister-in-law managed to get copies of.
A ‘popular entry’ Dorothy Asling
Sadly, all I know of my grandmother is from these articles, and they are the only photos I’ve ever seen of her. Had she not been a beauty contestant, I wouldn’t even know what she looked like.
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