Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Heroine of mine, wno accomplished so much with gentle grace

Several days ago, Geraldine at Take a Happy Break, posted a wonderful piece about heroes and heroines, with a story of her grandmother. This set me to reflecting on individuals I've known and admired and really there are many people I've met who have been people I would be happy to emulate, and who have inspired me.

Here is abit about one of these individuals.

Regina Leader Post article, Margaret Hryniuk, August 28, 1990

I met Bessie, with a group of daycare children, when we visited the Regina Plains Historical Museum. Bessie was a gentle, tiny woman, with a far away look to her eyes, who led myself and my children on a lovely tour of this museum in 1990. She finished our tour with an interesting story of a family of gophers, she had raised as a child, with the authority of a true story teller. At the close of this story, several of my children spontaneously jumped up to run into her arms.

So when I needed to interview an older adult, as part of a Social work and Aging class I was taking the following winter, I immediately wanted to interview this woman who had captured the hearts of my children.
I was able to find her through the museum, and she readily agreed to see me. So, began a friendship which came to mean so much to me.

I learned that Bessie had been a strong, single woman all her life -  growing up on a farm just near our city; that she had taught business school for many years, as a young adult; then became the provincial registrar for the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), until her retirement in 1968. She had been an active volunteer throughout her life -  for the St. John's Ambulance(eventually achieving the rank of Commander Sister); as an elder in her church in the inner city; and her most recent involvement was volunteering as a tour guide, with the Regina Plains Museum, I think since it's founding.

From, Making History,Regina Plains Museum, Autumn 2001
This is her and her dog Spot
 Here Bessie is featured on the front page of this museum's publication. At her death in 2000, at the amazing age of 97, Bessie had left a generous bequest to help with the development fund of the museum. But over the years she had also donated countless items from her family as artifacts for the collection, as well as many volunteer hours for the museum - sitting on the Board, acting as book keeper, and as tour guide for school children, (this last seemed to provide her alot of joy.).

Our friendship developed over a few years, and was focused on my interest in hearing her stories. Bessie had been a writer of short stories throughout her life - she had at least 10 large scrapbooks bursting with these stories which had been published in various journals. She had predominately submitted stories to Onward, a youth journal for the United Church of Canada; but as well her stories had been in a few other journals, and she had as well written articles for the Regina Leader Post. I  was enthralled with her stories - written by a true story teller, about life in the depression years in Saskatchewan. The stories were about ordinary people, in life altering circumstances and the choices people made then; some life affirming, and some destructive of moral values, and the consequences people met through poor decisions. She vividly described the shabbiness, dirtiness, and shame of being poor in the 30's in Saskatchewan - describing plagues of grasshoppers, and dust storms, from the very personal level. The narrator seemed always to view the people in the story with utmost compassion.

Bessie's health diminished in our 2nd year of friendship- she entered the hospital, and from there lived in a nursing home, although in a wing allowing independence. She became "legally blind", as she described it, saying how interesting it was for her, that after all the years of helping the blind with her work at the CNIB, she was now the recipient of these same services, and how grateful she was.

I asked her if we might make a book together for her family of nephews and nieces I bought myself one of those tiny handheld tape recorders with the tiny, cute tape reels , and we were ready.

We were able to record several lovely stories of Bessie's girlhood years on the farm, predominately featuring some amazing animal stories

I transcribed the tapes, and a friend typed it up for me, and her husband who owned a printing company bound it. We were able to send this to many extended family members, who appreciated this little volume of pure Bessie.

Even while her body had weakened, and her life circumstances had narrowed, she was able to talk into this little tape recorder telling her stories from memory, with a wonderful lilting story telling cadence. I just believe these animal stories would be wonderful to  share with children .

So I thought why not try to illustrate the stories? I like to sketch, but am not a very good or detailed drawer, mainly doing it for the fun of the process.But sometimes illustrations for children's stories are not truly realistic - maybe I could pretend to be illustrating in a kind of folk art style (not in true proportion, child like sometimes, not in perspective I think)(This is recognizing that artists who draw this way, are usually also accomplished at all the techniques of drawing).

I also thought I might experiment with illustrating with fabric art.

So I combed through her tape recorded stories for my favourite ones:

And I set to work with pencil and paper; cloth and thread and needle. Here are some examples of my attempts so far:

This is the first cloth picture I did, of Bessie's remembrances of watching the rabbits play in the light of the full moon.
I posted this a little larger,thinking it might show up better. The model for the farm house is my little house I just sold last year.

The story of rabbits playing in the full moon, in her farmyard where "they knew they would be safe from the coyotes", seems to me to be iconic or universal, as this theme is represented in other childrens literature.

Spot, the family dog featured in several stories, Here is one of "how Spot knew to get into the house - by bringing in fire wood".  I used my nieces as the children for the illustration, in contemporary clothing.
I also used my sheltie dog Rocky, as the model for Spot, and was interested years later to see a picture of Spot, who did look pretty much the same.

Bessie appreciated even the small creatures such as ants, and gophers. This illustrates a story from her girlhood of observing an anthill. Naturally her companion Spot is nearby.

Watching a mother hawk "take a bath" in some large cumulus clouds on a sweltering day, and how mother hawk swooped down to tell her babies she would be back, they would be fine.

This is from a story of Bessie's as an adult woman. She and two friends were driving on the highway when they noticed a huge migration of geese.They stopped, and got out of their car  to watch. The numbers were just overwhelming - the sky was full of geese flying in both the V formation, and what Bessie described as an A formation. Later she learned that the night before the lakes up north had frozen over unnaturally fast, and the geese took off in  unprecedented numbers - they landed in a small town in the United States, on the migration pathway, and there was literally no room to walk or drive cars, the number of geese was so huge.

I just love this story, it seems sort of mythical, there is a lovely story in a similar vein in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, featuring ducks...not really the same, but it has a similar feel... a true yarn.I'd love to draw a picture of this with cars from the 40's, and people in the clothes of the 40's, trying to move through these geese. Bessie said there was a newspaper article about this, so that was how she came to learn about the reason for the tremendous migration of geese she'd never before witnessed.

 I still have the tapes of Bessie telling her stories, and I would like to have children have the opportunity to hear her voice, with it's wonderful, lyrical cadences telling her stories. I've thought of bringing the tapes to the museum, but don't want them to be hidden in the archives. I've dreamed of some sort of installation with photos, and mostly fabric pictures illustrating the stories, along with her voice as background, but not sure how to even think about doing this. I think I should try to have the tapes transferred to cd's and will have to look into this.

Just thought this would be fun to share. Thanks to those of you with the patience to actually read to the end of this post!!! :)

Wishing everyone a Happy Sunday - here the sun is shining and warm. I'm headed to a picnic with some friends.


sandy said...

I am so glad you shared this, Brenda. She was an amazing woman, and so it seems, are you!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Hi Sandy,
Thanks for checking in, and this kind comment!
Funny, I just edited it abit, after posting, and when I posted the second time, I see you had already had a chance to read,!

It's fun to share about her, as I've thought about her so long- my son and I share her, he'll ask about "Bessie", now and then. :)

Wishing you a Happy Sunday!

Geraldine said...

What a wonderful post Brenda and such a lovely tribute to your friend Bessie. I really enjoyed reading this.

Hugs, G

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Thanks, Geraldine,
It seems we're "blogging" so to speak at the same time, I was just going to check over at your blogs to see if there might be a new post!

Teri C said...

Oh Brenda, this is a fabulous post, story, photos and sketches. You made Bessie come alive. You sketches and fabric pictures are just wonderful. Oh gosh, I SO enjoyed reading this.

Yes, you should make a CD of her stories and there are places that do that. (I had our old family movie made into DVDs and they are so fun to look at) Then you can give the tapes to the museum. Your Bessie was an amazing woman and how fortunate that you pursued your friendship with her.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Thanks for dropping in, and your helpful comment here!
I'll look into making these tapes up into cd's, it will be nice to do something, and share her words.
Thanks for your encouragement here!
Hugs, Brenda

The Boston Lady said...

Brenda, what a gem of a post about a truly fascinating woman, who probably thought she was just ordinary. How wonderful that her family (and you) have her "Rememberances" taped and also written down. I love your artistic interpretations of some of her stories and you surely enriched Bessie's life just as she did yours and so many others. Ann

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Thanks for dropping in! It's really great to have you check in now and then!
Thanks for these kind comments-I think Bessie was aware of the value of her accomplishments, she was actually quite a saavy professional woman during her career, benefiting many blind persons, and in some cases rescuing individuals who had become abandoned or isolated do to their visual impairment. As well she worked closely with the chairperson of the board as his secretary, and he was an esteemed judge.

She also was pretty aware of the value of her writing, and what I found was that her interest was actually in the craft of her writing, explaining the research, etc. she undertook to create some really sophisticated short stories, that were extremely carefully crafted. But yet she didn't seem self centered about her work, she was more interested in discussing the topic, and circumstances around the creation of her stories.

But in many ways she was a simple living, modest woman, who probably considered herself an ordinary person.

I don't think I was all that much of a factor in her life, I came around now and then to listen to her stories, and she helped me with a social work assignment, by allowing herself to be the subject of my paper.She was a much larger person, than me for sure, and touched many peoples lives in very significant ways for the good.
Brenda :)

Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree said...

Oh Brenda.....This is wonderful! I think what you have done truly matches! You've taken something you do well (quilting/sewing/applique and have illustrated these stories so well! I definitely think you should continue with this project! What a wonderful woman and great stories. I think anyone would enjoy seeing this when it is completed! You are so talented in writing and this type of illustration! Thanks you so much for sharing!

Hope this helps! Let me know if you need any more input!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Thanks Melissa for looking in here, and your helpful comment.
I think I'll continue with the applique illustrations, and see where it leads me. It will be fun, and sometimes working on a project helps a person to know where you want it to take you!
This was very helpful, I appreciate it, and will share with you down the road!

Abbie said...

Wow! What an amazing connection you made. Those pages you created are just gorgeous. Great work.

sparksinshadow said...

This is such a beautiful article, Brenda! A great read! I love hearing the stories people can tell us of the interesting things they've been through (true history!) and the things they've seen. I hope you are able to focus your future work on this in a way that works for you and feels right. I can think of no better subject than this generous woman's stories. :)

And I love your fabric pictures!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Hi Abbie, and Re',
Thanks for your supportive comments. It felt pretty risky, posting this, as I've lived with these stories for so long, and I'm aware I'm not an artist, but I do love making the fabric pictures, and am planning now to do more towards this project.
Many thanks!