In Seven to Seventy, author Lavera Goodeye chronicles her life’s journey. She begins by relating how her grandparents immigrated to homesteads on the Alberta prairie before trains provided transportation. Her parents met and married during the drought and depression of the thirties. She and her two sisters were born during World War II. Religious turmoil, mental illness and tragic loss to suicide were all part of her young life. But she persevered, grew up and eventually established a family of four sons.
As an adult, she experienced loss and found herself rebuilding her life while fighting for satisfying relationships. She created a business around the skills of her troubled second husband and discovered a talent for helping others to improve their self-esteem and competency while learning to deal with loss. She hoped that another degree would allow her to do development work, only to have those hopes dashed. Even so, she found new ways to pursue her mission to help others improve their lives.
Today, Goodeye continues to ponder questions about suicide, addictions and fundamentalist religion. Through Seven to Seventy, she returns to family and roots to find satisfaction in aging. She recovers mobility after major surgeries and realizes that she enjoys her home and the people who are part of her life.
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Seven to Seventy
My Journey through Time
By Lavera Goodeye
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Lavera Goodeye
All rights reserved.
My Grandparents Establish Our Family on the Prairie
I now write, some years into this new millennium, the stories I've saved throughout my life. I choose to begin when my grandparents came to Alberta more than a hundred years ago. Both of my parents and my stepmother were born and lived all their lives in this rural area, which was officially established when the railroad first brought its trains through in 1910 and 1911.
The towns were established as the railroad track moved east from the larger centres. When I was growing up, all of these prairie towns featured grain elevators, wherein the grain was stored until it was transported either east or west by train. Then at that point, the grain would be put on a boat, shipped and eventually sold around the world. My hometown boasted three such elevators.
Coronation has been described as a place where the parkland meets the prairie. To the north of the town, there are groves of aspen trees and some spruce along the river valley. The south is more open. Antelope appreciate the prairie, and deer like to hide in the trees. Both can be seen enjoying our landscape.
The groves of poplars are dying because their lifespan isn't as long as mine. Survey crews easily mapped out this land into 160-acre quarter sections and 640-acre sections. (A section is one square mile.) Road allowances run north and south every mile, and east and west every two miles. Sometimes a road was built, but if it hadn't been, then the farmer fenced the land and used it until a road was needed.
A feature of my homeland is the Nose Hills to the east. When we children stepped up the stairs in our grandfather's house, we could look out the east-facing window and see the hills' variegated blue line on the horizon. The Nose Hills create an incline that rises to the south and drops off suddenly in a nose. Our Native people named these hills. As a tool for navigating they visualized a man lying on his back and stretching across Alberta. The Hand Hills were farther south and west, and then came the Knee Hills and Foothills.
The Nose Hills are part of the Neutral Hills. Native legend says that the Great Spirit caused these hills to rise up during a longstanding war wherein many braves died. The Cree and Blackfoot eventually buried their hatchets and made peace.
A local history book compiled in 1967, Shadows of the Neutrals, discusses the significance of Native people to this area. It includes the legend of the Great Spirit creating the Neutral Hills. It also includes the contribution of the missionaries, who worked extensively with First Nations inhabitants of the area to help them accommodate the oncoming rush of settlers.
Reverend John McDougall retired in the year that Grampa came to Fleet. My father was born on the day Father Lacombe died. The Catholic priest and the Methodist missionary spent their last days within 10 miles of each other. Both passed away within a month of each other.
My grandfather Sam Annett from Northern Ireland claimed his homestead in 1905. He established our family farm almost a mile south of the location where the town of Fleet would later be created.
Fleet hasn't grown very much over the years. When I was still going to school, we counted all the people living in the hamlet. There were 104. I used to say that the town was called Fleet because people seemed to be fleeting away. The community hall is still available for social functions. Homes remain, but none of the stores or schools operate anymore. The church where my sister and I married our husbands stands proud and empty. I wouldn't be able to find our skating rink. Trees now fill that area.
When the land is flat and empty, the naming of towns is difficult. Two towns in Alberta were named for their physical features: Two Hills and Three Hills. Saskatchewan was similarly void of unique features, so towns were given names like Superb, Success or Major, indicating hopefulness for a bright future.
Canadian Pacific Railroad honoured our line of towns by relating them and their people to English royalty. Driving east from Fleet, one finds the towns of Federal, Coronation, Throne, Veteran, Loyalist, Consort and Monitor.
In Coronation, I can stop my 2006 Toyota Yaris at the corner of Victoria and Albert and contemplate my family's beginnings on this prairie before Fleet was given a name.
My mother's father, Joseph Wideman, and his brother, Wilmot, arrived in this prairie area in 1906. My mother's Mennonite family was quick to build their Markham Community Church three or four miles north of our farm after they had settled.
A large group of Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites had left Markham, Ontario, to set up farming communities in Alberta. Many settled amidst the rich farming land of Didsbury and Carstairs. When they had run out of room in that part of Alberta, the two Wideman brothers were among the settlers who came to Fleet where the soil is less productive.
Henry and Elizebeth Wideman left Pennsylvania and cleared the homestead in Ontario. They built the cutstone house that I saw and photographed in 1973. By that time, it was at the edge of Metropolitan Toronto.
Henry and Elizebeth had four sons and five daughters. Their seventh child, Martin, was the one who inherited the family home. Joseph and Wilmot were his two oldest children. There were five younger children, as well. The youngest son, Wesley, would come to live in the stone house. When we were children, Wesley and his wife, Agnes, were our visitors. He would have been in his fifties at the time—and he was handsome and robust.
When Ira and Roxie Weeks and their family came to their homestead in 1906, at a place called Lindsville, the train brought them as far as Lacombe. The entire family travelled for three days from Tillsonburg, Ontario, in boxcars that also held their household effects and farm animals. They had to arrange wagons for their oxen to take them the rest of the way to their new home near the Battle River.
Pearl, grandmother to my three half-brothers, was already 6 years old when she came to Alberta with her family. The Weeks children who arrived from Ontario were Clara, Pearl, Ross and Elsie. I think that George, Hazel and Omar were born in Alberta. Their mother died after Omar was born. It was Ross who established his Weeks family beside my relatives in the Markham community of Alberta.
Milton Strome married Pearl Weeks and established his family at Beaverdale. My grandfather Joseph Wideman and Mike Troyer travelled there to minister to Strome's family and encourage their attendance at Markham's vacation Bible school—or camp meeting—and at church services. I think that my mother's parents took their straw ticks to use as mattresses when they connected with the people at the camp meeting in Didsbury.
My grandmother Ellen Beck came to Stettler by train. She arrived on April 22, 1909. Grampa told me the story of walking to Stettler and discovering by letter or telegraph that his wife was arriving on the train that day. He had to walk back to his homestead to get his horses. My grandparents were married that day in Stettler, and Grampa drove Gramma home with a horse and wagon, not the carriage I had envisioned. He brought her to live in a two-room shack that later served as a granary. It stood in the barnyard next to our well and water trough for many years.
Sam and Ellen grew up in Kilkeel, in County Down, a rural community in Northern Ireland, and they had known each other before Grampa came to work in silver mines in the States and Mexico. When he sent word that he had a homestead in Alberta, she was already working as a seamstress and staying with Grampa's brother's family in New York City.
Grampa told stories from his homeland of Ireland—stories of fairies, witches and ghosts. One of these begins with him as a young boy walking down the road.
An old woman said to him, "There will be a death in that house."
Grampa asked, "How do you know?"
She said, "I can see a coffin going in the chimney."
Grampa was not convinced.
She said, "You can't see it? Here, take my hand."
When he took her hand, he saw the coffin.
Most of the magic stayed behind in Ireland, but it happened on more than one occasion that a rooster came up to the door of the house and crowed. This was seen as an omen. Word would come all the way from Ireland that there was a death in the family.
Grampa was against the papists, as he called them, but his life in Canada exhibited none of the strife that still troubles his homeland. I often heard Grampa talk about purgatory, usually in a joking way. I found it to be a lovely, long and interesting word. I thought it was a place that Catholics reserved for Protestants. Right now, my chime clock is in purgatory while the repairman enjoys his winter in Arizona.
Much later in my life, I found out that our Annett name is really of French origin. One of my relatives reported that our family consisted of Protestant Huguenots who had left Catholic France to go to Scotland. They got as far as Northern Ireland and settled at Kilkeel beside the Irish Sea.
In Ireland there is a guesthouse called Sam's Cottage on land that was intended to be my grandfather's inheritance. When he saw the 17-acre plot, which included a view of the hill and home where my grandmother lived, he knew he wanted more for himself and the woman he hoped to marry. He packed his bags and left for America.
Gramma had two daughters, Helene and Minnie, in 1913, when the train brought her two sisters. Martha Beck married Gordon Booth. They settled a mile east and had a daughter, Muriel. Lydia married Howard Saunders on a farmstead one mile west. The couple had one daughter, Ethel, and two sons, Howard Jr. and Gordon.
That year the Slemp family, which included 11 of their 12 children, moved from the southern United States to a farm near the Booths'. Earl and Leo married two of Gordon Booth's sisters, so my father had Muriel as a cousin in common with the Slemps.
My grandfather built the two-storey farmhouse. The two girls were older than my father, whose name was John, and older than the twins, Willie and Doreen, who were born after my father was. When I was in junior high at Fleet, I found an old school register. My father and the twins were in the same high school grade. When I asked my father about this, he said that the twins had caught up to him.
I am thinking of an old song we loved to sing as kids: "My Grandfather's Clock." We emphasized the line "And it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died."
The song includes the phrase "90 years without faltering." In the time of our grandfathers, a life of 90 years was an impossible goal. My grandfather's last surviving son died at age 92.
When people of the third generation in Alberta were singing the "Tick, Tock" song, most of us were living with or were close to grandfathers who'd come from somewhere else. Only the Cree, Blackfoot and Métis—and a rare few non-Natives—were born here in Alberta. Most had come from Europe, eastern Canada or the States. These men and their wives had struck out from the past to start a new life in a wild, unknown land. The buffalo had already been wiped out to make room for farming and railroads.
Our grandparents were inspired by the promise of 160 acres of land and opportunity. They came from large families. There was not enough land in Ireland or in Ontario to accommodate the younger generation. Grampa Annett had five older brothers. He also had two older and two younger sisters. The Wideman brothers were the oldest sons of a seventh child. They left Ontario to leave room in the house for their five younger brothers and sisters.
My grandparents and their neighbours held close to their hearts ideas from their homeland and from the people they had left behind. They did everything they could to establish their families. Grampa built the farmhouse and the hip-roof barn, each on its own small knoll. Sheep, draft horses, black cows and clucky hens with broods of fluffy yellow, red and black chicks populated the yard and fields.
The milk was fresh from the cows' udders each morning and night. While the milk was still warm, it was run through the cream separator. Pigs or the pail-bunter calves of the milk-producing cows drank the skim milk. Cream was saved to make butter, or else it was sold in cans to the creamery in Castor. Young girls took turns lifting and lowering the plunger in the crock butter churn. It was hard to stay with the task long enough to hear the splash as the lumps of butter separated from the buttermilk.
Straw was thrown into a hole of winter snow and formed an ice well, which cooled the summer milk and cream to prevent souring. Eggs were cleaned and sold, as well. Our soon-to-be summer meals picked at grain in the yard. Two or three young fryer chickens would be caught and tied to the clothesline. Young people had to learn how to tie them with binder twine and cut off their heads with a butcher knife. Then they would run away and watch from a distance while the chickens flapped their wings and bled out. The teenagers would cut them down when they were ready to pluck, and then they'd clean and cook them.
After the Fleet School was built in 1920, the Annett children attended classes there. They were able to continue onto high school because the first rural high school in Alberta was built there in 1921. My aunts Helene and Minnie started school together. They must have been among the first students in Fleet School.
Improved yields and favourable grain prices provided the money our family needed to buy telephones and motorcars in the 1920s.
The prosperous years faded into the dry, dusty times of the 1930s, when my parents were beginning their adult lives and finding mates. Hard times had to be endured. The crops dried up and the fields began to blow away. If there was a garden, it provided a cellar full of potatoes and turnips. Corn and peas were dried and stored in syrup cans. Jars of canned berries, jams and pickles were also stored. A heater in the cellar prevented them from freezing. The animals provided meat, eggs and milk.
Minnie helped me visualize the time before I was born, when my parents were getting to know each other. She wrote this:
Dad and us kids all went to church and Sunday school in Fleet on Sunday mornings. In the afternoon after we had the car (1929), Mom and all of us went to church and Sunday school again at Markham, about four miles north of Fleet. We used to like that, as there were about fifteen young people and we all sat together in the back three or four rows. This class was just for unmarried folks, so we got a kick out of the fact that Artie Troyer used to have to sit with us. He must have been in his late forties. After church, everyone used to stand around and visit for maybe an hour or so. Every Sunday, we either had some family home for supper or went to some home. The meals were fabulous, and we always had two kinds of dessert. Mrs. Spencer's father, Mr. Burkholder, used to travel around the country and sell Bibles and mottoes and religious books.
Excerpted from Seven to Seventy by Lavera Goodeye. Copyright © 2013 Lavera Goodeye. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Table of Contents
My Grandparents Establish Our Family on the Prairie, 1,
My Childhood Home, 13,
I Go to School, 27,
Our New Mama, 31,
The Middle Grades, 37,
Life on the Farm, 42,
Poplar Trees, 45,
Prairie Weather, 46,
Teen Troubles, 50,
High School, 52,
Striking Out on My Own, 57,
Summer Work Again, 60,
Auntie Minnie and Grampa, 62,
Teaching at Brownfield, 65,
The Ranch House and the Rancher, 67,
Our Wedding, 75,
Our First Year without Dave, 98,
Bankers Row, 101,
We Move to Edmonton, 106,
Acreage Living, 111,
On the Edge, 115,
A Turn to Nature for Respite, 118,
Building and Construction, 121,
Tough Sledding, 127,
The Peace Conference, 127,
A Slippery Slope, 130,
Finding My Way at Hanna, 138,
Picking Up the Pieces, 140,
Autumn Colours Rage at Me, 150,
A Story of Letting Go, 156,
Native Studies, 160,
Two More Homes, 168,
My Positions in the North, 173,
Working on a Native Reserve, 175,
Collision Course, 179,
Life on the Reserve, 180,
My Third Marriage, 182,
My Brother Calls Me Home, 186,
A New Position in Calgary, 187,
Returning Home, 194,
Help for Body and Soul, 197,
Hurting Again, 202,
The Body Hurts, 206,
Travelling Back in Time, 209,
Coming Home to Faith, 213,
Mental Health Training, 223,
Changing Seasons, 228,
The Men in My Life, 232,
The Value of Family, 235,
Another Easter, 242,