Monday, 20 August 2012

Saying Another Goodbye

Auntie Agnes as a little girl

She was my mother’s oldest sister, born in 1926 and departing this life last Friday, August 17th, 2012.  Auntie Agnes had a long and productive life and was well loved by our family and by her community.
            I remember what a berry-picker Auntie Agnes was—summer days she would often pick up Mom & me and we would head to a Saskatoon patch for an afternoon of picking.  As a child, I remember tiring of the task quickly and I was always amazed that Auntie’s enthusiasm never seemed to flag.  But there were always cool, shaded places to find, the smell of crushed horsemint underfoot and the satisfaction of avoiding the nettle patches.  The reward at the end of the day was the Saskatoon pie.
            Another fond memory was Auntie’s lipstick.  I always thought how sophisticated she looked, wearing that lip colour.  It’s probably a measure of how much I admired her that I never step out the door to go to work without putting on some makeup and finishing up with a bit of lipstick.  I’m still trying to be like her. 
            One of my favourite vacations was a long drive, taken with Auntie Agnes, Uncle Vern and my cousin Nancy.  We drove down through the United States, visiting Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico, and Missouri.  Uncle Vern swore that we were trying to see all the big rocks in the United States (and we did see some nice ones!).  Auntie enjoyed some of the small restaurants that we found along the way and trying menu items that were strange to a bunch of Canadians.  We still talked about the buffet where deep fried chicken livers and chicken gizzards featured.   We all enjoyed stopping to examine crops and talk to farmers that we ran into on our travels.  Whenever there was an interesting sight on the roadside, she was always game to stop and see what we could find out about it.  That willingness to take time to look at things and to be curious stayed with her for her whole life.
            The whole Andrews family seemed to have a passion for gardening, but Auntie Agnes was particularly devoted to it.  Even after she and Uncle Vern moved to town, she maintained a small garden plot and enjoyed her pots of flowers.  She and I also had a love of birds in common, and whenever I would phone her, she would regale me with stories of what birds were visiting her backyard feeders. 
            Auntie Agnes also loved her community and was very involved in the running of the Arboretum and the Trochu Museum.  When I researched one of my university history papers in the newspapers in the Museum, she practically glowed with pride.  And I know my sister Shannon has fond memories of working at the Museum for a couple of summers and getting to spend quality time with Auntie Agnes and family.
            At the beginning of March this year, I was staying at the house on a quick overnight visit.  Nancy and I were lodged in the basement and I had been reading for a little while that morning, listening to the comfortable sounds of Auntie & Uncle puttering around in the kitchen.  Suddenly an enormous thump brought both Nancy and I to attention and we heard a weak little voice asking for help.  We ran upstairs, dressing as we went, and found Auntie laying on her back in the hallway.  She had become dizzy, fallen and was in pain.  Thankfully, an ambulance arrived within about 15 minutes and she was taken to Three Hills hospital emergency, where it was eventually determined that she had cracked her pelvis.  I was so glad that I was there at the house to keep her company while we waited for the paramedics, cover her with a blanket and find her glasses for her.  It took a couple of weeks, but she was happy to return home and I was glad to see at the beginning of July, when we all went to the Trochu parade, that she was using her walker (for walking and not just to hang clothes on).
            It’s ironic that Auntie Agnes and Uncle Vern had just received word that there would be room for them very soon in the lodge in Trochu.  In the last few years, Auntie said she felt lonely and isolated some of the time, not being as mobile as she used to be.  I think she would have enjoyed being able to walk out her door and find an acquaintance to visit with.  On the other hand, she wasn’t quite sold on the whole idea of leaving her house and yard.  Perhaps this was her way of saying, “I don’t choose to move.” 
            What ever the case, we will all miss her very much.  She and Auntie Grace were the last remaining Andrews siblings.  Now Auntie Grace is the last of the Mohicans, an unenviable position to be in.  I find myself comforted a bit in knowing that her siblings Russell, George, Roxie and Lela, Grandma & Grandpa Andrews, Great-grandma Farley, cousins Eleta Mayes, Ralph and Don Carr, among others were in the crowd waiting to receive her.  She will never feel lonely or isolated again.    
Auntie Agnes and Uncle Vern on their 60th wedding anniversary

Monday, 13 August 2012

Another Kind of Anniversary

Auntie Agnes, Mom and Dad, Uncle Carl

August 13th is my parents’ wedding anniversary—they married in 1957.  Weddings weren’t as elaborate in those days.  The wedding party was small, including Mom’s sister Agnes as matron of honour and Dad’s younger brother Carl as best man.  Mom’s wedding dress was light blue and knee length.  I don’t think there were any professional pictures taken—at least I haven’t discovered any yet.
Mom (Lela Andrews) and Dad (Harry Pedersen) met on the Andrews family farm.  Uncle Russell could hardly wait to point out the two new hired men to his youngest sister.  They were Harry and his best friend Maurice.  “Which one will you have?” he asked her.  Responding to his teasing, Lela pointed at Harry and responded, “I’ll have that one.”  I bet no one thought at the time that there was anything more to it than brother-sister teasing!

                After high school graduation, Mom moved to Trochu where she worked in Balkwell’s pharmacy.  Options for women were few and far between in those years.  If you went on to secondary education you had two options, teacher or nurse.  Neither were to Lela’s taste, although both her sisters attended Normal School to become teachers.  If she’d had the chance, I think Mom would have chosen to try a career in journalism, as writing was her passion.  But her days as an independent career woman were cut short when her father died.

                That was a difficult year for the Andrews family.  Earlier in the year, Grandma’s mother  Dora Farley (née Gee) passed away, having lived with the family for many years.  Shortly afterwards Grandpa Andrews (George) also died after quite a long battle with illness.  For Grandma Matilda this must have been an earth-shattering year,  losing her mother and her husband in quick succession.  The call went out and my mother came home to be of emotional assistance.

                When my parents married, they bought the quarter of land just north of  the homestead where Grandma Matilda still lived with her son, my Uncle George.  I know that this was very significant for my father—he had never really put down deep roots anywhere as his family of origin moved a lot.  He once told me that he had never attended fewer than two schools in any given school year.  Once he owned a farm, it became next to impossible to convince him to leave it for any appreciable amount of time.  Why would he vacation when he was exactly where he wanted to be?  [Which makes it very ironic that the car accident that killed him happened when he was on one of these rare vacations].

                The Ghost Pine farm district, where my sisters and I grew up, consisted of a lot of family and many neighbours whose families had also been in the area for a long, long time.  Like many farm communities, driving directions were given which made no sense to outsiders.  Instructions like “turn north at the old Wright place” were difficult for even me, since there had been no Wrights living on said piece of land since well before my birth!  And when Mom and Dad bought a second quarter of land, it was always referred to as “the Dickson place.” It may have been ours legally, but in the community memory it would always be associated with the original homesteaders.   It was the Ghost Pine community that helped us so much after Mom and Dad’s deaths—Dad had decided that 1996 was his last crop year, but he didn’t live to harvest it.  It was our neighbours who came with the appropriate machinery and made sure that crop got threshed and stored.

                I also remember before we held our farm auction, having the auctioneer advise us to “line up all the machinery from biggest to smallest” for easier sale.  My sisters and I, all now city women, looked at each other and said, “Do you even know where to sit on some of this stuff?  Any idea how to start it?”  It was at that moment that we decided to phone our male farmer cousins and request some assistance (and received it in spades, I might add).  

                I will always have fond memories of all the time spent with family on our farm.  Mom’s family lived close and we spent most signficiant holidays with them as well as many ordinary day visits.  I can think of at least one Christmas where Mom and I planned lunch for about 75 people (all relatives).  Dad’s family was spread far and wide, from Canada to the United States and to exotic locations like Morocco, France and Pakistan.  Eventually, Dad’s parents retired to the Three Hills area to be close to the son with the stable location.  That made our house a magnetic centre for all of Dad’s family too.  When his siblings came to visit, they generally stayed with us.  I have many happy memories of playing with seldom-seen cousins, walking the pastures, picking flowers from the garden, petting the cows, riding the horses, and picking vegetables or berries to feed the crowd assembled at the dinner table each evening.

                In many ways, it was an idyllic way to grow up and I am grateful to have experienced it all.  Lately, I wish that I had paid more attention to the stories of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.  How much family history is gone from our memories now?  How much resides in only my  own shakey memory?  Although I really have plenty of projects on the go right now, somehow this one has the greatest sense of urgency and I must make time to visit with all of my remaining relatives and get as many stories as possible captured and pinned into the collection like butterflies in the museum.

Cutting the Wedding Cake

Friday, 10 August 2012


It’s that time of year again—tomorrow is the sixteenth anniversary of my dad’s death.  It was all I could do to haul myself out of bed this morning and get my day started.  My parents were killed in a car accident those many years ago, but I must confess it doesn’t feel like sixteen years.  Some days, I feel like it was yesterday and on others, I feel like I was hatched out of an egg and never really did have parents.  Funny how feelings change relative to other things that are happening in life.
            As a result, my parents are frozen in time for me, Dad at age 65 and Mom at 60.  Some days, I am envious of people who still have their parents around.  At other times I watch my friends struggling to get proper care for aging parents and I feel guilty relief that I don’t have to worry about this problem.  There was a point in time (shortly after both funerals) where I really couldn’t see any good coming out of the situation, but I have come to realize that we have to find the good and celebrate it.
            The best thing that I got out of the whole awful experience was a new relationship with my sisters.  I am the oldest surviving child and five years older than the next sister—meaning that I had moved away from home before either of my sisters were in high school.  When you are young, five years is a big difference.  Now, in our forties and fifties, it feels like nothing!  After leaving home I lost touch with my sisters, getting their news relayed via Mom in the weekly telephone call.  The ‘motherized’ version.  Now, I enjoy regular telephone chats and visits with both sisters and I’ve come to know them as complete people.  I count them among my best friends and feel very lucky to have that privilege.
            I also realize how quickly life can change.  One day everything is fine and there are no storm clouds on the horizon.  The next day, the roof has been ripped off your house, the rain is pouring in, and there’s no end in sight.  It’s important to do the things that are important to you every darn day.  Don’t wait until you retire, until you lose weight, until you get married, or until anything.  Go, do those things.  Now.  I mean it.  Visit someone you’ve been missing.  Write a letter, make a phone call, send an email.  Plan that trip you’ve always dreamed of.  Start that project that’s been calling to you.  Live your life as if it will end soon—it might.
            I value life much more now and going through this massive grief experience has made me braver.  If I can survive that, what are these other puny problems by comparison?  I have realized how much strength I inherited from both sides of my family.  Whatever life may bring my way, I will find a way to handle it. 
            I miss my parents every day.  I love hearing stories from relatives and friends about things that they did, even little things.  It always gives me new perspectives on who they were as people, something that, as a child, one doesn’t often appreciate.  There are so many things I wish I could ask them or tell them.  Occasionally, the thought still passes through my mind, “When I phone Mom…”  Where do those thoughts come from after all this time?  
            In the end, I grieve greatly because I loved greatly.  And love is really what it’s all about.