Unfortunately, by the time I had grown enough to consider my mother a person in her own right, she had already died. I now have so many questions and there’s no one left to ask. One of nine children born to German parents living in what was then known as Prussia, my mother, Louise Tabbert, was born on August 30, 1920, the seventh born but the sixth living. From what I’ve been able to piece together, the family, although not wealthy, were able to live a fairly comfortable life working their farm. Then the Red Army began its plundering march to expand Russia’s territory. The army helped itself to things of interest; then burned and slaughtered the rest. My grandmother’s pleas must have fallen on generous ears that day, because the entire family was spared. Traumatized and with no means to continue as before, the impoverished group picked themselves up and fled southward.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, hold the horse ’til I get on…” (Mom’s chant one day, at age 56, during a particularly intense episode)1919: Gwendolyn was born in Brandon, Manitoba, youngest of eight children.
- Her mother was 45, didn't want another baby, and so didn't speak to her husband for two years.
- Mom’s father traveled a lot selling farm machinery.
Violet Alice Marks was born on September 15, 1918, the eleventh of fourteen children, to Katie and Sam Marks in Langbank, Saskatchewan. She slid into the world so quietly, her mother said, “I will name her Violet.”The midwife replied, “With those big brown eyes I’d call her Susan.” The name Vi stuck, but she would soon prove that she was no shrinking violet. Mum writes in her autobiography: “My first memory was being out in the moonlight with my brothers and sisters, looking up at the moon and the stars. The night was warm; we ran, romped, and squealed ecstatically. It was then I realized I was a person.”
Dorothy Marrian MacDougall was born on April 30, 1918, while the Great War raged in Europe. Her father, Donald John MacDougall, and his American-born wife, Agnus O’Sullivan, already had four young children – Loretta, Jean, Tom and Cecil – when little Dorothy arrived. Her father, a Canadian hotel manager, and his family lived behind the café on the main floor of the only hotel in Radisson, Saskatchewan. Her father, often transferred, moved his family from hotel to hotel. Among their playgrounds were the old Jasper Park Lodge and the MacDonald Hotel in Edmonton. Dorothy dreamed of being a nurse, but had to leave high school in grade nine to stay home when more children joined the family. The birth of three babies in her mid-40s put Agnus in bed for months. Dorothy became the substitute mother of Don, Lloy and Pat.
My mother, Eva Miller (born in 1918), died in 2010. She was 91. For three months after her death, I talked to her, I really did. I asked her how she was, and her response, “I’m fine,” was typical mother speak. When I pressed that mother voice about the afterlife, the response, both simple and complex, was “Unfathomable!” Strange that she spoke so eloquently while dead, but while alive had so many secrets. Mom was an extraordinary woman. Born on a farm in Chatham, Ontario, she was a direct descendant, through her mother, of the United Empire Loyalists and natives who fought against the Americans in the American Revolution and War of 1812. She was an iron butterfly and endured where others would have faltered.
17 Apr Gaile Lacey’s story of VelmaVelma Isabelle was born on April 3, 1916, the fourth child of Charles and Cora Boothby from Gormley, Ontario, who had homesteaded to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in 1908. Charles had health issues, so in 1919, when Mum was three years old, her father decided to move out West to Mission City, B.C., where members of his family had already settled. They sold the farm, the equipment and all the animals, and Charles and Cora, with their five children, rode the train to British Columbia.
In the 1920's, every Sunday, Eliska Kadlecova, her brothers and sister would take walks with their father through the streets of Prague. He was an engineer and taught them the history of the buildings, the architectural styles and the myths that make Prague what it is. Eli, my mother, loved her city and thought she would never leave.
My favourite photo of my mother, Elisabeth, was taken in 1954, in Ceylon, just before she was to be presented to Elizabeth, the newly crowned Queen of England. My mother looks so happy and, as I have always remembered, beautiful. It was the most special event of her life. Born to Herbert and Ethel Jarvis in 1916 in South Croydon near London, Elisabeth was the eldest child, followed by her sister Mervyn and brother Geoffrey. Her father was a public servant for the local council, and her mother had trained as a violinist and, before she was married, even joined the London Symphony Orchestra. However, when Ethel’s mother died in childbirth, Ethel had to leave her career to look after her seven siblings.
16 Apr Jane Torresan’s story of JoJosephine 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 . . .