The Wallace Girls
Seventy eight years ago today, my grandmother was in the maternity hospital in Leamington giving birth to my mother. I’ve wanted to do a blog post about my four aunts and my mother, and I think today is a good day to do it.
My aunts have all provided varied and interesting role models for us to follow. They are strong women. They are capable and talented women. They have all done interesting things with their lives. Between them, they had 22 children.
My Aunt Marion married Bob Sheridan and has lived for most of her life in Burford Ontario. Uncle Bob, tragically, died in his forties when he tried to rescue a man who was cleaning their well. He went down into the well, tied a rope around the well cleaner. That man survived. Uncle Bob did not. He was awarded a posthumous medal for bravery. Aunt Marion just earned her own award last week — the Lifetime Achievement award from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. It was for her work in Heritage preservation for Brant County. She has many other interesting things to her credit, most notably for having been invited to tea with the Queen twice (Uncle Bob was a celebrated World War 2 pilot who made it across enemy lines to Britain.) Aunt Marion has also been active in mission work for the Anglican Church, and has been to a garden party at the palace of dictator Idi Amin who was deposed shortly thereafter. When the Archbishop of Uganda had to flee the county for his life, he came to Canada and stayed with Aunt Marion. She had a hundredth anniversary party for her house in Burford, which was built by a very wealthy man. It has a ballroom, an east and west living room. She also put up a windmill a few years ago to generate hydro so that the lights don’t go out when the grid goes down. What I love about Aunt Marion is that she is still thinking about that next big idea.
Aunt Dorothy (Knight) is the most social of all the Wallaces. A couple of them have their reclusive streaks, but not Aunt Dorothy. Aunt Dorothy has been retired for a lot of years, having been first a nurse, then a teacher working with developmentally delayed children. In her retirement, she has been travelling the world going to Clan Wallace gatherings with Uncle Norm. Grandma and Grandpa (especially Grandma) really loved being Scottish. We all grew up wearing a lot of plaid. Aunt Dorothy is carrying on that tradition and recently received The Clan Wallace’s President’s award in the last couple of months for “exceptional efforts and accomplishments as the Advisory Director for Clan Wallace in Canada.” Still living in Woodslee about 2 kms from her birthplace, she has not followed the tradition of her sisters who tend to pack up the whole house and move every time they feel like travelling.
Helen (my mom) — who is 78 today. My mom has lead a pretty quiet life with my dad, first on our farms in Essex County, then to Essex for a few years. Now they live on Eagle Lake up near South River on the property that my grandparents bought in the 1950s. People have told me that when my mom walks into a room, they immediately think is “this a very competent woman”. She is. She does everything well. If my mom had wanted to, she could have been a fashion designer. Her talent with a needle, scissors and sewing machine is something I always took for granted. We were the best dressed kids in school. She doesn’t sew much anymore but I still have some of the beautiful things she’s made me in the last ten years or so. Another notable thing about my mother — she never met a piece of gear she didn’t like. Small or large — one year when my dad broke his leg, she planted and combined a whole farm of soybeans. The farm equipment was sold a long time ago. But there is still lots of equipment for her to master. Right now, she really really wants an Ipad after seeing Lori’s at Christmas.
Aunt Shirley (Blackwell) – When I was a kid, Aunt Shirley was the adventurous aunt. She was away at school in Guelph when I was a little girl so I didn’t see her a lot. She got her degree in home economics and was a career woman when she was in her early 20s. From what I remember, she was always going on trips. She went to Hawaii once and brought back a pink wig. Or maybe it was a pink hat. (I was only four so don’t really remember which it was, just that it was pink and it was on her head). And after she got back she took us all to see Mary Poppins. And then she married an artist — F. Munro Blackwell and lived in Nova Scotia by the sea. They moved around a lot, which I also thought was very cool. (She was my role model in that regards .. I moved around a lot too). I visited them in Normandale on the shores of Lake Erie when they only had two kids … Jody and Tracey. I think I was about 13. She watched Jane Eyre with me on TV, which was my favourite movie. A few years ago I went to see her and Uncle Munro when they were living in Port Rowan. We had a beautiful walk on the beach and a great roast beef dinner.
Aunt Cath — Of all of my aunts, Cath is the one I talk to the most. She is the youngest and was just a teenager when I was born. She taught school when she was in her early 20s. She married Craig Brown in 1962 and lived in Craig’s Aunt Elma Kennedy’s house in downtown Ruscom. They lived close to us, so we saw them all the time. Many years later, she went to University of Windsor at the same time I did. We hung out together a lot, had some common friends, drank beer together. In the late 70s, she had a surprising conversion from atheism to Roman Catholicism. So did I. The rest of the family is still pretty baffled by that, but Cath and I understand each other. As I became an adult, she became a close friend, not just an aunt. She’s also an exceptional writer .. I haven’t been able to convince her to publish anything yet. She writes a lot of letters … she corresponds with several priests who are often challenged by her insightful, sometimes uncomfortable questions that often address issues of integrity. I respect her a whole bunch.
So, those are my aunts,and my mom. They are still the dynamic, interesting, accomplished women that they were in their younger days, slowing down a bit but not when you compare them with other women their age. I want them to live forever.