Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 23, 2005
In praise of an older woman
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Marie-Anne was born in Quebec many years ago, the first daughter and second child in a family that eventually numbered 14 children. Being the eldest daughter, she left school at 12 to help her mother with housework as the mother was weak, unwell and overworked.
Only nine years old, she went with the family as her father found cheap land available in southern Saskat-chewan. Soon, when she was 15, the family moved to Yakimah, Wash., to work in the orchards.
She meets her love
Returning to Saskatchewan, she met Hervé whose family had also migrated from Quebec to begin a new life on their farm. The young couple married in their mid 20s and started their own family. The dream they shared of raising a family there was short-lived because of a lack of cash to buy land, machinery and stock.
Reluctantly she left her kin in order to follow her husband whose family had opted for cheap homesteads in Alberta's northern Peace River country. Distances were important in those days and moving from Saskatchewan to Alberta was like moving to a new continent today. More than 15 years went by before she saw her parents and siblings again. They kept in touch by writing once or twice a year.
In the meantime, Marie-Anne's babies kept on coming nearly every year or two, eventually adding up to 14 children. Life was not easy for her as Hervé had to go away to work and sent money home every month or so. He worked in coal mines in the Jasper area and during the Second World War, he got a job on the Alaska Highway and was gone for several months at a time.
Providentially the first three children she bore were girls and they soon were taught to carry their load of house chores and the care of their younger siblings, which they did lovingly.
In the small community where they lived in northern Alberta, Marie-Anne's family had a little farm right in the village - a barn with two milk cows, and some chickens that provided eggs. They also bought a piglet now and then that was fattened up and slaughtered, adding needed protein for the growing family.
With the father gone and the children still young, Marie-Anne did many of the chores, milked the cows, prepared the milk to be bottled and delivered by the young boys to various homes.
At 10 cents a quart, milk became important income for the family. She also washed clothes using a primitive washing machine that was rocked back and forth by hand.
Her daughters were a great help. The boys preferred being outside doing chores such as feeding the cows, the pig, chicken and turkeys, cleaning the barn and weeding a huge garden. They also hauled water in the summer and snow in the winter to melt in a barrel.
Marie-Anne was a woman of great faith. She had to be in order to survive the hard years of struggle to feed and care for a family that eventually numbered seven boys and seven girls.
She took her children to church and when she couldn't go because she had to care for the young at home, she always prayed the rosary and other prayers. She'd wake up the family so that most could attend daily Mass.
When Hervé was at home, he would accompany the children to morning Mass as the church was close to their home.
Finally, a homestead
The years went by and one day an opportunity came to apply for a homestead. After so many years on the outskirts of a small village, their dream came through as they moved to the country, which was more like bush.
They bought second hand machinery, which was all they could afford.
By then, the older children had left home, gone to university, taught school, worked on the railroad and in a variety of jobs such as construction, got married and had children of their own.
Marie-Anne learned how to drive the family pickup which gave her a new independence to do her own shopping and visit friends and family.
Marie-Anne became a grandmother. Later she graduated as a great-grandmother and eventually, as a great-great grandmother, five generations in all and a host of descendants.
The years, the hard work and the worries took its toll on the couple. Eventually Hervé had a stroke and died in his mid-70s.
She almost died of grief herself as they had been such a close couple for nearly 50 years. But being a strong woman, she bounced back, carried on with life, driving her car into her mid-80s, mostly to go to church, doing her shopping and visiting her family.
Eventually she retired to an old-folks home. But she wasn't happy there. Her salvation was her ability to drive her car and visit her children in the area.
One day she was told she needed to go to an acute care home. One of her younger sons stepped in with his spouse and children and invited her to come and live with them.
To be with family again, surrounded by young people, brought her much joy and no doubt greatly prolonged her life. She's been very happy there, feeling secure, receiving tender loving care. In that ideal context the years flew by and life was good.
And so in April 2005, Marie-Anne, my mother, a strong, courageous and wonderful woman, celebrated her 99th birthday and began her 100th year of life.
This, thanks in great part to a younger brother, his wife and five children who for many years now, gave Mom the love and affection she needed to go on enjoying life in spite of the burden of the years.
Thus Marie-Anne continues to be faithful, gracefully accepting her daily dose of pain and joy, peacefully awaiting God's call to come home.
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