Josephine Mary Ellerbeck (nee King), affectionately called Jo, was born in England on January 16, 1915.
She was an only child and as an infant emigrated with her parents to Winnipeg. I never knew why. They had a very troubled family life. Lots of arguments, fueled by alcohol, led to a chaotic environment. Mom remembers being locked out of the house in her nightie in the middle of winter. Eventually her parents separated, and, when Jo was five, she and her mother Joyce traveled to Vancouver.
The Macedonian village, Zeleniche, under Greek rule, welcomed the birth of Vassilka Shikleff around 1915. She was the third of four children born to Magda and Ristos Shikleff. Their eldest child, Alexandra, would thirty years later bring Vassilka to Canada. Their second eldest, brother, Turpche, would be cut out of her life when she learned how he had neglected and abused their mother. Her youngest brother Yanni . . . yeah, well, Yanni . . .
My mom was born Allison Jean Swift in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, on November 28, 1914. Her father, Arthur Swift, worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and mother Ethel worked in the home. They lived not too far from the station, in a small house with a porch and yard. Mom was an only child. Just before it was torn down, Mom and her dad went to the old railway station and liberated a beautiful carved table that was going to go for scrap. It was her pride and joy, with a hand carved pedestal and four large curved and carved feet on wheels. I have it in my dining room today, and it always evokes memories in me of her clandestine adventure. Arthur Swift died on November 27, 1930, and Ethel died on May 17, 1937.
Driving home to the farm one summer day in 1968, Mother spotted a small dog at the edge of the road by her turnoff. She rescued this lost puppy. It became apparent after several phone calls that it had been abandoned, so Pip Squeak (aka...
Momma, Carey Margaret, was born in 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her mother was married to a man who, at 65, was 30 years older than she. There was already a sister, five, and a brother, nine. When she was two, her mother died of tuberculosis. Her father, feeling he could not care properly for the children, put them into an orphanage and visited them regularly. The institution served both as a foster home and an orphanage. Momma thinks she may have one memory of her mother – of someone with red hair (like her own) leaning over into her crib.
After three years her father moved the children to a different orphanage. He told them he did so because he realized, when he visited the original one, that he had not heard children laughing. In fact, one of the ways children who wet the bed were punished there was to be plunged in a large tub of freezing water the next morning.
Our little house on Hoskins Road in North Vancouver was one of the first cabins built in the old-growth forests of the North Shore. There in the kitchen sat my mother – jet-lagged from her long flight from Australia, holding my newborn daughter in her arms, cooing and muttering a mixture of Yiddish and Hungarian blessings over her first precious grandchild. I was stunned by the vision of the immense cultural changes we three women had witnessed. My mother had grown up in a small village in Czechoslovakia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They had no electricity; she never learned to ride a bicycle, let alone drive a car! And here was her grandchild on the threshold of a fantastic, unimagined digital age. My amazing mother had lived to see this earth-altering shift, which meant surviving through two world wars and the Holocaust.
Mom was born in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1909, second child to Michael and Margaret, and sister to older brother Emmett. Eleven more siblings would arrive in this wholesome Irish Catholic family, five sisters and six more brothers, but not until they moved to Vancouver in 1912. Michael provided a comfortable living for his large family with his lifelong career as a respected agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company or, as the family teasingly called it, Mother Met.
In Vancouver Mom was enrolled in the local school, Tecumseh Elementary, at 41st and Joyce. She enjoyed school. In reading, writing and arithmetic Mom fared well. Art was the challenge for her. One day, after handing in her assignment, a drawing of a book, the teacher looked at it quizzically and asked, “What is that supposed to be?” Blushing, Mom took back her picture and from then on seldom tried the art of drawing.
My mother, Ruth Sarjeant, was born in 1908 in Barrie, Ontario, the youngest of three girls. Her father was the second youngest of thirteen children who came to Canada from England after Confederation in 1867, attracted by the offer of large tracts of Crown land. Her father’s older siblings and male cousins began a very successful lumber business in town, and my grandfather devoted his life to that business.
Mom’s mother had been born in Montreal, but her parents died when she was very young, so she was raised by an uncle who was a United Church minister in Barrie. He was also part of a large extended family. My mother grew up with the security and happiness of a large family network, and she maintained that spirit towards her own family all her life.
That I’m even here to tell this story is a fluke, since both my mother and my grandmother before her never really intended to be mothers at all. And I’m here to challenge the well accepted belief that all women are wired genetically to want to be mothers, since the history of the women in my family seems to ascribe more credit to the environment – read “dashing young men”.
In the early 1900's, my maternal grandmother was one of three spinster sisters who lived in Berlin, Germany, at the time of Kaiser Wilhelm. They all eschewed being married, and therefore of wanting to be mothers, in favour of becoming successful businesswomen. They were the women’s libbers of their time, running a lucrative haberdashery, fashioning military uniforms complete with gold filigree epaulets and all manner of gold braid trimmings.
Her name was Karolina, but her close friends, those who knew her in “the old country” called her Lola. She was the second youngest of five children born to Anton and Mary (Baker) Schnurer on November 26th, 1903, in a small Polish town called Rownia. Part of the house that Lola grew up in was leased to the local police. Her father, a carpenter, died of pneumonia when Lola was only three years old. Her mother was a nurse and midwife. Sadly, when Lola was about fourteen, her beloved mother died of typhoid fever, which she contracted while nursing the sick during an epidemic. I have a picture of Lola with her mother and sisters, but she didn’t speak of them, so I don’t know what my mother did at this time. A family friend told me my mother delivered him, so maybe she took on her mother’s job as midwife.