The sheets were a tangled mess where I had thrashed about during the night. What was bothering me was how to write my Mom’s story because she had left me a written copy of Part 1 and 2 and Mom was a wonderful verbal storyteller but I didn’t have Part 3. Her written story stopped and I had books of pictures and ancestry. By morning, I had figured it out. Just like those tangled sheets, I was tangled up in my mother’s story so some of the writing are my memories and some from notes on the pictures. What helped define her from 1951-2008 was being a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother; that is the story she wanted told. Her last written words about herself were, “Since then (being a teacher 1945-48) I have spent my time trying to be the best wife and mother I could.” Her focus shifted into motherhood. Mom told me she had never held a baby? Being the youngest sibling, moving away to a dormitory filled with teenagers, and teaching from age 17-22 there hadn’t been any babies around. I think she did just fine and honored her vows for better or worse, in sickness and health. What held my parents together for 57 years when the divorce rates were soaring? Coffee!
Marlene Beryl Waddell August 20, 1951 – September 6, 1982 was born in St. Michael’s Hospital, Lethbridge, Alberta. The weather was beautiful but when they came home eleven days later there was a foot of snow and the crops were flattened. Harvest lasted into November. Johnny named her Marlene after the sister of their friend, Veronica Blair and Jeane added Beryl to honor her sister. Marlene slept in a homemade crib in the living room of the old house. Jeane by the light of an old coal-oil lamp, got up to change and nurse her. It was cold that winter! Johnny lifted her up on “Diamond” the next spring who would become her pet and companion.
There were few playmates close by. Marlene was her father’s shadow and became an excellent rider and hard ranch worker. When her siblings came along, Marlene spent hours playing up the coulee and taking them for rides. By the time Marlene was 5, Mom had taught her to read. There was no bus service in the area (20 miles was too far to travel) and the school superintendent suggested correspondence lessons. When he saw her reading and math skills he ordered Grade 2 lessons.
School was at the round, claw footed oak table and a real slate blackboard. There were few distractions, they finished early each day and by Easter the super promoted her to Grade 3. The next year Marlene started school but had a hard time adjusting to the noise and rowdiness of the other kids.
Les and Esther Shock lived across the American line, 2 miles away. They became life long friends, and with their children Sharon and Rick, we spent birthdays and holiday meals with them. The Coutts School teachers did an excellent job of teaching and Marlene passed Junior High in the top 1/3 of the students in the province. The bus ride into Milk River for High School started at 7:30 in the morning and Marlene arrived home at 5, after supper was 3 hours of assigned homework. By this time, Johnny had serious health problems. Social life was near non-existent. Marlene raised 4-H calves, won trophies, and had her horse, named “Flash”. Marlene took Gr. 11 at the Camrose Lutheran College – a boarding school for students from isolated areas. This was a big change, but she made friends, especially Bev Perrott. She finished her 3rd year of High School back at Milk River. During these years she helped on the ranch, stacking and feeding countless bales. During the winter of 1962, at age 11, while her father was in the a Calgary hospital, she kept the chores done up and again in the spring of 1968.
Jeane Waddell’s mother Josephine Miller had a stroke in 1961. My mother, Jeane went to nurse her and Marlene wrote Mom a letter, Jan 13, 1961, Dear Mom, I miss you so much. How is Grammy? Give her a get well from us kids and daddy. Dawn and Wendy have been good. The first night when you were away Dawn didn’t want to go to bed but Aunt Alice persuaded her. My toe is still sore but I can run on it. We had our language test. I got 31/37. At first I didn’t understand fractions but daddy helped me. I’ve learned them pretty good. Marlene. Mom kept many of Marlene’s letters, they run 6-7 pages long and were always newsy.
Marlene was an excellent cook and seamstress and housekeeper. She was equally at home in a kitchen or in a formal setting. She made many of her own clothes and her wedding dress was self-styled. She took a business course and her fingers flew over a type-writer. Marlene grew up in the difficult changing times of the late 60’s and 70’s, and faced them head-on. Mom wrote, ” Marlene was a treasured family member, a loving daughter, sister, wife and mother – always working to better herself and to help others along the way. Marlene, was the first-born child – their first Honeybunch!”
Wendy Jean Waddell was born in the Lethbridge Municipal Hospital on September 24, 1955. Mom (Josephine) and Pop (William) Miller, came to the ranch in September to help with the harvest. They stayed with Marlene while Wendy was born and then Josephine stayed for a few weeks. Jeane wrote, “Wendy is very much like my mother and this is one of my greatest memories; that time together. There was a special bond between Wendy and my Mom. When Wendy was 3 years old she said, “I wish the whole world was nice, them is always just nice to me.” (I still have a wish for the whole world to be nice!)
We entertained ourselves at home and worked the ranch. My (Wendy’s) first recollection of significance is a snowy Christmas Eve, after supper in the old house. “Listen, do you hear something?” Daddy says. “Look, there goes Santa’s sleigh!” (Probably the red tail lights of a passing car) But it worked back then and we opened the porch door to find a brand new toboggan with a box of Christmas presents, including a Zippy doll, a monkey dressed in a striped suit, having large ears and a banana to stick in his puckered mouth. I loved him forever til he fell apart.
We girls had stick-horses and played along the coulee banks – toboggan riding in the winter and horseback in the summers.
One fall day in 1960, Marlene and Wendy strayed as far as Deer Creek. When they didn’t come home by suppertime a search party was organized and soon over 100 people were searching the immediate area. My recollection at 5, is a bit different from Mom’s. | think we were running away to Esther’s house for pop and chips. It became dark and we decided we had better head home but there were all these police lights and people out there in the dark and we weren’t sure who they were so we snuck though them back home. It’s lucky Gramma Waddell heard us or we probably would just have tucked ourselves up in bed! The RCMP tried telling Mom we were drowned in the dam and needed to use the phone for more backup. Mom said sure and filled a pail of water, took it outside and dumped it in the corner. The RCMP followed her and thought she had gone daft, but that was the way to make the party line telephone work. And we were the talk of the countryside for a while.
How vividly I recall the cupboard in the living room that was too high for me to reach. It contained a treasure! A treasure of books. Red, blue, yellow and green books, Dick and Jane. When I could master the words in one, with Mom’s help, I could have the next one in the series. This was fun. At the age of five I was reading on my own. There was no kindergarten back then and when I started grade one in Coutts School I was reading on a grade four level which caused “no little stir”. I remember a day when I was chosen to read to all the other kid’s moms (pretty momentous for a child of 5 who was so shy, she just read the book flawlessly but without looking up once). What were they to do with me? I was “skipped” into grade two after that. A sample of my printing while Mom was away nursing Josephine after her stroke, 1961. I was 6.
We were always the Waddell girls but no boy could have a better time than we did. Observation Hill was climbed which had a buffalo rock, a rock rubbed by the buffalo for eons and polished to a glossy sheen. Just touching its smooth surface could return to me a peaceful state and from the top of the hill one could see for 50 miles. We played Gunsmoke on the saddles in the barn, climbed the hayloft to discover new kittens, robbed magpie eggs from their nests and had our horses. Poncho was the black and white Shetland pony we learned to ride on. One day, Marlene and I were riding double when she said, “Duck”. Well, when you are second man there is no place to duck and when she ducked I was swept off onto my rear by a tree branch. I graduated to a “big” horse named, “Chief” He was brown and beautiful and mine. That first spring together he became all lathered and had difficulty walking. What a ruined spring day and agonizing ride home. I was as wet as he, some of it from tears. He had a disease that crippled him and he had to be destroyed. Then there was Muggins, Brownie, Flash and lastly Goldie.
Ah, Goldie, my first true love with a power walk, not quite a jog, that was so smooth and could cover the miles. She had cow sense. The only incident we had was the day I was using my dad’s saddle and didn’t undo the back cinch. As I pulled of the saddle she went wild, though the sliding door of the barn door, over a gate and was gone. No on got hurt, and all my dad said was, “Bet you’ll never do that again!”
When I was 12, I became the weakest link in the family chain. Although my mother was the best cook around and had me drinking milkshakes and eggnog, I quit growing and gaining weight and become anemic. She must have been at her wit’s end with doctoring and every test came back negative until a dentist diagnosed the problem as a bad back bite and said the first stage of digestion just wasn’t breaking down food to get me any nutrition. Three years of train tracks, retainers, elastics and lastly that ugliest of uglies – the Black Mouth Guard to wear four hours a day. These were high school days when we got on the bus at 7:30, off at 5:00 and after supper in went the guard for four hours. I was cured. With pride Mom and Dad sent me off to university when I graduated at age 16 to take Rehabilitation Medicine at the U of A. I know I didn’t please her when I didn’t finish and married instead, but she watched me cross the stage to get a diploma as a teacher’s aide when I was 42.
My mom and I had two fights and I know now it was only the Mama Bear in her. The one was my being married at age 18 and her worrying about me having too many babies. I wanted 12 and she didn’t think I was healthy enough. And I hadn’t finished my education. Mom sent me a poem with a note and I knew we were back on track. “And as she spoke I was very sad. For I wanted her pleased with me. This slender girl from the shadowy past. The girl that I used to be. So gently rising I took her hand and guided her up the stair. Where peacefully sleeping my babies lay, Innocent, sweet and fair, And I told her that they are my only gems. And precious they are to me. (I have 3 wonderful children.) My gift from Mom was a women’s retreat in Calgary with her for three days. The speakers were enthused and amazing but what I treasure are the nights with Mom, a glass of wine and the stories. I learned for the first time she had a 3 month courtship before marriage, had miscarried a baby boy between Marlene and I, and that they left a party when they found out it was to end with the men putting their keys in the middle of the floor and the women wouldn’t know who they were going home with, until they reached for keys! I know our social life was strictly guarded because of this incident; however they gathered good trustworthy friends and my aunts and uncles. The coffee pot was always on and many stopped. Coffee was made camp stove style, cold water, a scoop of coffee and brought to a roiling boil on the stove in a pot. We were the start of the bus route and for years my mom was up early making coffee for the bus drivers who warmed up their busses while enjoying breakfast with us. The coffee cream was our own being milked from the cow and separated. Just think about the effort in that? Dixie tells a story of the day I left for University with Daddy. Mom had an ordeal with the milk cow that day. She ended up putting the cow in the chute and tying the feet to the corners in order to milk her. Dixie’s words, “I guess Dawn and I knew better than to fight that day and we’ve been friends ever since.” The second fight with Mom was about the farm. I’d been diagnosed with MS and Mom thought the farm life was to hard on me! We reconciled this one too. Mom wrote me a beautiful poem in my ancestry book she made and called me “her second honeybunch!”
Dawn Elizabeth Waddell was born in the Lethbridge Regional Hospital at 7:30 AM on the 17th of December, 1957. The doctor pronounced her fit and healthy. Jeane counted her fingers and toes and thought, “How much she looks like my sister, Beryl.” Johnny and Jeane had watched so many beautiful sunrises and liked the idea of having their own. So she was named Dawn Elizabeth – the Elizabeth for Jeane’s mom, Josephine Elizabeth.
While Marlene and I were off to another school year, Mom took Dawn up on Observation Hill to spend some alone time with her. Mom was contemplating how to raise daughters with drugs, hippies, free love amid a world to her “gone crazy”. Mom writes, “There was never a dull moment around with Dawn. She was always so bubbly and happy. Dawn met the challenges head on. She graduated from high school in 1975 with great marks and awards. She did her share of ranch work, lifting bales and caring for horses. Dawn graduated after 3 years at Galt School of Nursing, “our own RN”(registered nurse). “
Dawn sent Mom a card June 16, 1978 when she was a nurse. Mom… I’m a nurse and the dream of childhood hours stands achieved, my heart is gay. But mother, I know I could never have won, If your love hadn’t helped me along, Your love and help, and your kindly praise, God couldn’t be with me all of the time, So He gave me a mother like you. Mom wrote her ancestry poem to Dawn after she had re-established herself the fall of 1984. “But the skies were dark and cloudy and the days cold and long, She never would have made it, If she hadn’t been so strong. So today our 3rd Honeybunch Her nurses lamp held high, continues on her joyful way, With a twinkle in her eye.”
Dixie Gwen Waddell was born September 11, 1967. I remember it as a beautiful fall day. Marlene and I were out behind the barn where she was going for a smoke, when we heard Mom call for us. If not for the intervention of Dixie’s arrival I probably would have taken that first puff. They were off to Milk River Hospital to bring us a baby. When Dixie came home a week later, she was my friend.
She spit up regularly because of her cleft palate, but a change of clothes didn’t matter greatly before I was off to school. I fed her, changed her, and read to her. She always wanted me to wash her hair “cause I didn’t get water in her ears.” I went to Calgary with her and Mom to the Children’s Hospital during her operation. I think I spoiled her rotten, but she made my teenage years very joyous.
When she outgrew her crib, I welcomed her into my room and from then til I left home we shared it without too much hassle. I still have her letter that starts out, “I watched a calf get born”. We played school and most of the other things mentioned above. I still quote Dixie, if I overeat, “My stomack is sooo full I don’t know what to do!” and loved her version of the song, Raindrops Are Falling on my Head, which I helped teach her, accompanied by her toy guitar and recorded. Dixie went on to perform at the Yates Center and the Kiwanis music festival. When Dix graduated from high school in Lethbridge, she and her clarinet went to Europe for a concert tour with Canada’s Honor Band. Mom’s ancestry poem to Dixie dated June 5, 1990, reads: Dixie got a Bachelor degree from the U of A today. Last year she go a bachelor from up Grand Prairie way. It’s for Phys. Ed. Adapted and I think she has a gift For reaching out her helping hands to those who need a lift. And her Mom will have a great big hug, For this lovely southern lady whom she still calls Honeybunch! (#4)
Remember Saturday nights. Dad made popcorn and watched Hockey Night In Canada. Mom sat us around the round oak table and gave us Bible lessons. We could pronounce Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and knew there was a fourth man that the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar saw – like a Son of God who preserved them from harm. Mom left organized religion but knew Jesus walked beside even when there was only one set of footprints in the sand. We didn’t get to skip over any of the begets and maybe that’s where my first love of ancestry came from. After hockey came Don Messer’s Jubilee and we all learned to dance. The smell of home made bread baking and the taste of Mom’s air buns, the good stuff that came from her kitchen. Remember the pancake griddle in the middle of the gas stove and the heater on the side of it to warm yourself by. Remember the one spanking I got for carrying eggs in my coat pocket, fighting with Dawn in the hallway and the eggs got smashed. We played ping pong in the basement by the hour and cards and cribbage, There was an annual Elkwater holiday July 1st, picnics at Writing-0n-Stone, horseback rides together, and all crowding in the truck for trips to Lethbridge.
In the winter of 1962, my Dad, Johnny underwent an extremely dangerous spinal fusion, only the 3rd done in Alberta, for a broken neck suffered when he was 12 and fell backwards off the haystacker. He was in the hospital for over a month, on a stryker board which was turned every 2 hours allowing him to drink from a straw. I remember the call that came telling Mom to come. She told me later she held his hand and told him not to leave her, cooled his forehead when the hallucinations and fevers became so bad he was bathed in sweat. He had developed complications from a staff infection.
She nursed him through another lower back fusion in 1968. Mom worked very hard, doing chores, pulling calves, riding the tractor, all the while keeping a spotless home and delivering food to the fields, keeping our clothes clean with a wringer washing machine and clothes line. She grew a gigantic garden and processed it into the vegetables we ate.
Marlene died in a horse accident September 6th, 1982. Marlene Beryl, aged 31, beloved wife of James Neil and mother of Jennifer and Andrea. Services conducted at St. Andrew’s United Church, Cochrane. Interment in the Cochrane Cemetery.
I answered the phone and heard my mom’s voice, “Come”. I travelled with them in a speeding car to Calgary. I felt Daddy’s involuntary reflex and sob, and heard Mom’s whisper, “No Johnny, No” But somehow he knew. When we reached the intensive care ward Marlene had 6 hours of brain surgery and was on life support. Decisions had to be made and my sister’s organs enabled someone to have new kidneys and sight. Jim and Mom went to make funeral arrangements; I walked my nieces to register for the first day of school. Nothing seemed real but trying for normal I guess and things like meals, and figuring out what the kids would wear as I stayed the next 3 days with them. I hated the minister’s sermon, he’d never known my sister so I tuned him out, hugged my child on my lap too tightly and did not cry. What I do remember are the words Mom chose for the music: “When you walk through a storm, Hold your head up high, And don’t be afraid of the dark, Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain Though your dreams be tossed and blown, Walk on, Walk on, And you’ll never walk alone. By songwriters Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers. Mom walked on!
My Mom, Jeane never left me any written words about this time in her life but she and I shared a bed in the home of her grandchildren where we had gone after Marlene passed. We sobbed and I could not comfort her. My dad, Johnny, finally said, “No more tears or I can’t get through the funeral.” After 3 days, I don’t think there were any left to leak out anyhow? Mom left in her picture books 3 newspaper clippings, one titled, “A Child Loaned”, “I fancied that I heard them say, “Dear Lord, thy will be done.” For all the joy thy child will bring the risk of grief will run. We’ll shelter her with tenderness, we’ll love her while we may; and for the happiness we’ve known we’ll ever grateful stay. But should your angels call for her much sooner than we planned, we’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.” And 10 years later, in September of 1992 they placed a memorandum in the Lethbridge Herald. “It’s hard to put on paper, the feeling that we have inside. Of a broken-hearted family who’ve missed you since you died In our hearts there is a picture . You had a smile for everyone, you had a heart of gold, To us who loved and lost you Your memories will always last. They say that time heals everything But we know this isn’t so, Because it still hurts just as much today, As it did ten years ago. And Mom kept an Ann Landers letter that starts out PLEASE – don’t ask me if I’m over it yet? PLEASE just say you remember her, or just let me talk if I want to, or let me cry when I must.
Johnny and Jeane sold the ranch in 1979, and bought a lovely home in Lethbridge where mom could garden, grow her flowers and eventually win firsts at the Provincial Horticultural Awards.
Mom had three great loves during her retirement years: volunteer teaching the Literacy Program at the Lethbridge Public Library, belonging to the Oldtimers Pemmican Club with New Year’s galas at New Year’s with old time country and big band swing music, and working on her ancestry. The ancestry was all done by hand written letters searching for birth, marriage and death records, before computers and resulted in over 20 albums.
When Johnny’s health began to decline they moved north to be near Dixie who helped them greatly in their “old age.” Are you wondering how coffee could make a marriage survive? Every day at 10 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, Mom and Dad paused in their work and sat and had coffee together. They talked.
We surrounded my Dad. Mom, Dawn, Dixie and I and kept vigil for 3 days when Dad passed, August 19, 2003. In a conversation with Mom about what was the hardest with Daddy gone, she answered, “Coffee” Since they retired he made the coffee and brought to her in bed every morning. She missed their coffee conversations; they weren’t master and slave but husband and wife serving each other.
We were able to be together for a vigil on January 2, 2008 when Mom passed at the opening of the curtain to a beautiful sunrise. My mother’s wish was that her children continue to love and care for one another long after she is gone. She’s been gone 13 years and we haven’t missed a reunion until Covid-19. But with Facebook and messenger a day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear from both Dawn and Dixie. We send the angels flying to each other no matter what the crisis or situation. I think my Mom is looking down on us, smiling, because her mother’s wish came true.
I’m going to change the I to we in a letter Dixie wrote in ’89 To Mom and Dad. We will never be able to find all the words we need in order to Thank-you! For everything you are always doing. We will never forget all the love, support, and encouragement you have provided us with. We feel so extremely lucky to have been raised in such a good home with two parents who loved us! You are two very special and precious people! Love always, Dixie, Dawn and Wendy
P.S. Dear Mom; today I received a Facebook message. “Only visit an unpleasant part of your history if you are healing it or using it as a reference for how far you’ve come.” So, yes Mom, though the pages are tear soaked, this writing was healing and I’ve come a long, long way.
P.P.S. to my kids and other readers: Go have that coffee with your significant other and put down the iphones. Have a real conversation. My green sleeve is above the refrigerator with my last wishes written on it. Don’t make others make the decisions for you and sign your donor cards, if so inclined. Marlene’s donation was of comfort to Mom.
Lovingly, Wendy Jean