It is observing my fellow Seniors that I truly understand what it is to really become ME. The freedom of expression. Many of us finally find the freedom to express ourselves while enjoying every minute of a new ME. At times amused when observing the disapproving looks from others. Some are surprised and think we should know better and behave more discreetly at our age. The truth is Who Cares! especially when all we do is simply make ourselves and others smile or cheer up some otherwise sad lives.
As a new immigrant, a French Canadian friend some 10 years my senior warned me to be aware and not succumb to the “shoulds” that people will try to place on me. She raised her hands to indicate inverted commas when saying the words. Do not let others dictate what you should do with your life.
It was through her sister Annette that I met Yolande. I met Annette while travelling to work on the bus (one of the three that I had to take to get to work). Sitting next to me, on our daily commute, we soon became friends and shared stories. She had returned to work after raising her family because Ron, her husband had severe arthritis and could no longer work. She worked as the book keeper for a lumber company and got off the bus before I did. We were even able at times to co-ordinate our return journey home.
Annette introduced me to her sister Yolande and warned me that she was different. An artist who determined her own lifestyle and was sometimes
controversial to her family and other people. After years of running a successful business with her husband, Yolande was divorced and living the life she wanted. She was different alright, but I enjoyed this free spirit and learned so much from her.
I suppose some of her paintings were meant to shock or make me realize that there is another way of seeing the world. I was shocked at the one of a hanging carcass with the entrails hanging out. From a sheltered background, it was a shock for me as I had never witnessed an animal being slaughtered nor butchered. In her world, it was a reality of her childhood. I loved her renditions of Van Gogh’s famous painting with sunflowers and those of many other famed artists. Other shocking ones were simply of her life experiences. She taught me how to see beyond. I could see so much more that was not visible in a cursory glance. Art appreciation was her gift to me.
They were from a Catholic family of 16 many of whom died before reaching maturity. Yolande talked of her brothers Gaston the first, second and third. All named Gaston! All three died as young children until finally the next brother was given a different name. They moved from Quebec when the call was to her father’s generation - “Go West, young man” to find better lives. They moved West to Alberta but life was still very hard, perhaps even more so especially for their mother who had little English language skills. With a large family and survival the only option they fed off the land, hunting rabbits, moose, growing and canning their food to survive winters.
I was very impressed by her survival skills - she could skin rabbits, clean fish, can food - salmon and fruit but most of all that she had disposed of all the “shoulds” and become the artist she was meant to be. She painted and could create so much beauty from simple things - sewing, knitting, cooking she was able to do so much. With an excellent head for business, she also made some very successful real estate deals. She was, for me as a new immigrant, an inspiration. With my father’s voice in my head saying “Yes, you can” and her physical presence showing me the way, I have survived.
An invitation for tea would always involve eating her home made foods - like quiche, tortierre, sampling pickles and salmon which she had canned. She showed me recipes from her mother - one labeled “Bon Green Tomato Chutney” in her mother’s handwriting. We smiled and imagined her mother
writing this. I too learned how to can salmon, tomatoes, fruit (peaches, pears) and make chutney. On leaving I was always given the remainder of
the quiche. She declared I must take it or she would find herself having yet another sliver until she had slivered her way through the whole quiche.
I accepted gratefully and was delighted to share this gift with my family.
It was Annette who showed me and my children how to grow our own food.
Having a large lot, and on a limited budget, we agreed we needed food more than a well kept lawn. We grew peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and potatoes. We were very proud of our efforts and with the results. Then came the tomato bounty when from six plants we had enough tomatoes to feed everyone around for miles. Yolande got out her mother’s Green Tomato Chutney recipe and helped me to use every tomato! My children begged me to plant only one tomato plant the next year.
I was so proud that I too could do this very Canadian thing. I learned to grow and can food. I even made chocolates for Christmas presents. I sent some of my canned salmon to my younger sister in Ontario and she swore that it was the best canned salmon she had ever tasted. Feeling good with this praise, she definitely got herself of my list for my annual canned salmon.
Making chocolates, did as Yolande warned me, put me off reaching for too many chocolates at Christmas! My friends and family were however, very impressed.
Both sisters are now dead and I write this in loving memory of them and with gratitude for their kindness.
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