On this day 135 years ago, my grandmother, Eva Selina McDonald, was born in the family home in the hamlet of Liscomb Mills, a place reached at that time only by ship, horseback and cart. The name reveals the main industry that pumped money and people into the area. There were several mills within walking distance, including one across the brook from where Eva was born.
Eva was the daughter of Jane Baker and William Aaron McDonald and the granddaughter of Martha and William McDonald.
Though I truly never knew her, I sense she knew hard work at a young age. I feel she was an adventurous girl who grew into a woman who loved nature and the simple things in life. My mother met her in 1949, and she told me Nan would go off on her own, wandering in the woods for hours on end. No one knew where she went or when she’d return.
I’m not sure if Nan came to this activity on her own or was influenced by her grandmother Martha, a Mi’kmaq woman. What I find interesting is that before my mother told me the stories of her wanderings, I was doing the same thing in the forest surrounding my childhood home. By the time I was 14, I’d wander into the woods, following one path then another to explore and to just be in the forest. Sometimes I’d be gone only an hour or two. Other times, I’d be wander for seven or eight hours.
I often told no one I was going for a walk about. I just got the urge and went. When I had a dog to take (mine or my brother’s), it would come along, enjoying the peaceful setting as much as I did.
Photo c.1942, Liscomb Mills, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Canada: My grandparents, Eva Selina McDonald and William Clarence Typert with Lorraine Hartling, a girl who stayed with the family a short time during the war years.
Shortly before my 12th birthday, Eva passed away on August 23, 1979. She didn’t live in the same community as me. I saw her only from May to October, when we went to ‘the camp’, which was where she lived. In her elder years, she didn’t say much. I remember her mostly sitting in her rocker, which I inherited, where the kitchen turned into the living room. From there, she could see the main road through Liscomb Mills, a paved road that was only a trail when she was born.
Eva was 92 years old when she passed. In her life time, she had helped raise three nephews, children sired by her brothers whose wives had passed in childbirth, 17 children of her own and two grandchildren. She also took in children during the Second World War while four of her boys, including my father, were serving overseas.
While caring for this many people today would be quite a task, it was more so back then when everything was done by hand, and food was grown in the garden, caught in the rivers and ocean, and hunted in the forest. My mother is an excellent cook, yet she’s said she was amazed at the meals Eva made. Feeding that many mouths on pennies and nickels was no easy task, yet Eva kept them all fed. She made bread every day when her family was young, and often had a pot of beans on the woodstove.
They say tough times make tough men. They also make tough women. Most of the knowledge my grandmother possessed has been lost. Hardly a woman today in North America could do what she did. I know I couldn’t.
Happy Birthday, Nanny. My wish is for you to have this day and many more to wander through the trees and meadows of wildflowers and to find peace within.