Since last I wrote, my life as an author has slipped into the background. It’s been a sabbatical after ten years of relentless research to keep a promise I made to my father before he died—”I’ll find out more about your grandmother.”
When I realized the story I was uncovering “needed to be told”, I set about learning how to write a book. In discussing my plans with my son he said, “What you want to do Mother is impossible.” It certainly felt like that to me also, but I was determined to try. I had to exchange my usual oral presentation of building on feedback from students that I used when teaching. Writing seemed a lonely business of placing sentences on a page. But I began building short sections, writing and rewriting to recreate my great-grandmother’s life. Through the mists of time my unknown ancestor emerged and sometimes even felt to be sitting on my shoulder. The words from my fingers on the keyboard came more and more easily. My confidence grew as I wrote, and the last two chapters of the book fell into place. I admit that the journey was long and there were times I was so depressed I was tempted to throw in the towel. But friends encouraged me to continue and the book finally went press in July in 2012.
The five years since For Elise came off the press have been more rewarding than I could have imagined. My fears faded as my confidence grew. A great deal of positive feedback has assured me that the struggle was worthwhile. The Vane family have thr0wn away the shameful burden that had been so unjustly laid upon them. There are young descendants with Elise in their name. Furthermore, a number of readers with their own sad histories are celebrating a female ancestor with a new understanding after reading my book that she was also a victim of male power. I hope my book will inspire others to write their own unique family story before they are lost.
Elise is now a respected prairie pioneer. Her sacrifice and her children’s work provided the income enabling the Criddles to survive on an unproductive sand hill. Through her training in art, she taught Norman to learn to draw and paint, enabling him to find employment beyond the homestead and eventually become Manitoba’s entomologist. Norman’s income allowed the Vane boys (in their mid-30s) after their mother’s death to escape and begin to build their own lives. My work is done.
Since returning from my trip to BC and this Christmas season, I’ve enjoyed my ‘mother role’. I created a book following a fun day with our son Peter’s family at the farm, called “Otto’s Secret. And another for our granddaughter called Jayna’s Biography. Both projects using InDesign were exacting but fun. That done, I dug out my mother’s pumpkin pie recipe to serve with real whipped cream, the family’s favourite and would be yours as well if you had a chance to have a piece. I also baked an enormous batch of oatmeal cookies. For our tough little grandsons, I’ve mended seams and put patches over vanished ski pant knees. A mother’s work doesn’t survive long, but there is immeasurable joy in having such a loving family.
My only engagement since Christmas was to present a session at the Manitoba Genealogical Society on my Mother’s side of the family. It’s an amazing history tracing back to a Saint in Montreal, and the unfortunate Samuel Wardwell, hung in Salem. Their stories may be told another time.