Tag Archives: family

Evans Store

Evans Store on Hansson Ave, at the corner of Anna, was a fixture to every kid in South Beach, Gimli. Forever.

Evans Store Building in 2017. Put out to pasture behind 15 Hansson Avenue, Gimli.

My first memory of spending money was at Evans Store. My grandpa Percy would give me a nickel or dime and I would be allowed to walk by myself the 50 feet down the gravelly road to this tiny little convenience store.

Ev and Grandpa Percy, 1960

A wee brown paper bag was given to me to select my candy. Loose candy was laid out in the very boxes it came in from the wholesaler. Three for a penny. Five cents would yield 15 mint leaves! Bright green leaf-shaped gummies, the size of my thumb, covered with crystalline sugar. Liquorice ‘cigars’, blackballs, pixie stix, and the famous Koko bars. Old Dutch Potato Chips, Hawkins Cheezies and sunflower seed bags were neatly displayed in rows on a metal stand with little clips.

And soda pop. I don’t remember my mother ever buying pop at home in the city. Maybe we would be allowed one if we went to A & W. But in the summer I was allowed to go to Evans Store to buy pop.

A similar Coca Cola dispenser at Hnausa General Store.

Depositing my coins in the slot and extracting my pop meant sticking my hand into the ice cold water of the red Coca-Cola dispenser and grabbing the protruding bottle neck. There was a rag hanging on the side of the cooler to wipe the water off the bottle. Cream Soda, Orange Crush or Seven-Up.  A summertime treat.

Evans Store was owned by Anne and Mike Evans. The store was only 12 x 17 feet, really a glorified fruit stand. Judging by its construction it was no doubt built around the same time as Camp Sparling, the fresh air camp on the lake directly at the end of Hansson Ave. Farmers donated food to the fresh air camp but Evans Store serviced the camp staff for their treats. And cottagers for their staples. (In the early days cottagers were called campers.)

Mike and Anne, were of Ukrainian descent. Their name was undoubtedly changed from Ewanchuk. Mike was a fisher and added to his income doing carpentry and odd jobs taking care of people’s cottages in the off-season. The store was in direct competition with Mike Shewega, his wife’s brother who had an identical camper’s convenience store only two blocks away on Colonization Road. However the Evans were reputed to have the best ice cream in the area.*

It had one of those screen doors with a metal band across as a push bar, the type which sported advertising. Evans Store was Coca Cola all the way. Ice cold coke in glass bottles. We would scour the ditches for empty pop bottles which could be redeemed for 2 cents a piece. Which meant more candy!

Eileen Evans, circa 1940

Opening the screen door would activate a lively bell which alerted Mr. or Mrs. Evans of a customers arrival. Hung inside among the sticky fly-catching strips coiling down from the ceiling was bologna and other quality deli meats from Manitoba Sausage. And great wieners for roasting over a bonfire. Mr. Evans would cut bacon slices individually off a big slab with a very sharp and well-worn knife. Shallow shelves nearly to the ceiling were lined with canned goods; coffee, jam, Red Rose tea, Klik, Spam, soup, Del Monte vegetables and fruits, pickles, cat and dog food. And fresh bread, milk and butter. Most of the basics needed by cottagers. When South Beach girls got old enough to need feminine hygiene products we could count on Evans Store to get us out of a jam. They were wrapped in brown kraft paper for discretion!  And of course Evans carried the ubiquitous cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars, no doubt the real profit makers.

In the 1940’s the Evans girls Eileen and Eleanor’s friend Marie Isfeld took a path all the way from the south end of Colonization Road through the wooded field to the store. Or Marie would meet them at the end of Hansson Ave and walk to school with them, either following the Arnason Dairy truck to break trail in the snow or riding on it. And much later her son Lawrence would be sent by his Afi (grandfather in Icelandic) to get cigarettes at the store, on credit. Credit was extended, graciously to most people in the area. When the South Beach mink ranchers sold off their pelts in November they would pay off their debt to the Evans.

All the overstock cigarettes and paper goods were stored in a shed behind the store, secured with a simple padlock. Evan’s granddaughter Lois remembers occasions when she would sleep over at her grandparents in the 1960’s waking up in the night to the sound of someone breaking in to the shed, mostly to steal cigarettes. In the winter the Evans would move the store into the porch area of their house directly behind the wee store. In later years burglars came in the early morning hours, terrified the elderly couple by tying them up and threatening them with a comb (though they thought it has a knife or gun) and robbed them. It made the Winnipeg radio news and that’s how their daughter Eileen found out about it. 

One day in May 1967 Anne Evans happened to look west down Hansson Ave. She saw a man lying on his front lawn. That man was my grandpa, Percy Wallace Carter. He was dead from a massive heart attack. The rake beside him. He’d been raking leaves in the early spring. Dead beside a cotoneaster bush. My grandmother napping only a few feet away in their cottage. Anne Evans called the R.C.M.P. who contacted my mother in the city. Anne Evans, the woman who stayed and comforted my grandmother.

Percy W. Carter, 6 Hansson Ave

Up until 1980, when my own father had heart problems, we never had a phone at our cottage. No one did. We always walked uptown to the harbour where there was a pay phone booth near the pier. But in an emergency everyone in South Beach knew they could use the Evans phone. It was in their house, right behind the store.

Anne and Eileen, ca. 1934

Anne Evans a stern, well-dressed woman. Mother of Eileen and Eleanor. Awarded a life membership in the Gimli Women’s Institute and noted best canvasser for the Cancer Society.** She herself died of cancer June 12, 1972 at the age of 69. The store had been closed before that when Anne had to go live in Winnipeg with her daughter Eileen due to ill health. Mike passed away in the early 1980’s.

The fact that my grandpa died raking leaves on the front lawn of what is now my cottage is actually a beautiful, comforting memory to me. Of course it was a traumatic event for my family, what death isn’t, causing all sorts of repercussions. But I will always remember Anne Evans and her compassion. And I will never forget Evans Store where I received my first education in financial literacy. 

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Evans Store Building, 2018

Sources:

* “The Stores of Gimli”, by David Arnason, Interlake Pulse, 2013, pp. 44-45.

** Gimli Saga: The History of Gimli, Manitoba. Gimli: Gimli Women’s Institute, 1975, pp. 275 and 336.

Many thanks for the black and white photos, memories and fact checking of Evan’s grand-daughter Lois Bergman Marotta.  Also memories of Lorraine Hicks, Marie Isfeld, Lawrence Frantz, Susan Woodruff, Julie Ewanchuk, Sheryl Stephen, Wendy Rothwell Dunlop, Dan McKelvey, Barbera Buffie, Ken Kristjanson, Val Sobkowich Verity and Joanne Couture Burns.

Thoughts on Grief

A year ago I drew this labyrinth in the sand on my favourite beach.

Dragging my fingers in the barely-warm April sand felt wonderful after having spent three days in a nursing home. My mother was struggling so overwhelmingly. The only thing I really knew how to do was play the piano for her and sing the hymns she liked. (During those moments I was very grateful to her for forcing me to take piano lessons so many years before.)  She was a very good mom.

At the moment I drew this little spiral I did not know that a few hours later I would watch my mother leave her earthly body. That morning I just drew something very familiar, a small Cretan labyrinth. Into the centre and out, one path. Death is sort of like that. Just one way in and one way out. I will spare you the selfie I took of me laying beside her in the bed that spring evening as she struggled with her last few breaths. My need to crawl up beside her was more to comfort myself than for her benefit. I kept whispering to her “Don’t be afraid mom”. Whether or not she heard, I do not know. People say that hearing is the last to go. I felt privileged to hold my cell phone up to her ear as I called her grandchildren near and far and had them say their goodbyes. From many miles away her daughter-in-law sang a hymn to her over the phone and her son recited her scripture. Her son-in-law prayed on the phone as she took her last breath while her other daughter-in-law held her hand. 

It was a good death. And a good funeral.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about both.

When my husband was a clergyperson I loved it when he would take some sand or earth and make a the symbol of the cross on top of the coffin as it was lowered into the grave. I reflect that putting my hand in the sand that morning was a sort of ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ kind of moment for me.

These moments are necessary. This last year of grief has been good. 

from The Good Funeral: Death, Grief and the community of Care by T.Long & T.Lynch.

 

On Ceremonies, Cloth Bags and Grief

One of the most powerful moments of my mother’s committal service was seeing my brother and sister-in-law placing her ashes into the ground. They knelt down on the grass beside the small hole. Gently her arm went all the way to the bottom of the soil floor, over a metre down, like a final caress.

graveside

Families who are not given the opportunity to partake in rituals such as, funerals and memorial services, religious or not, are missing out on chances to fully mourn, experience their grief and have that grief witnessed, a vitally important function. All of the great religions feature rituals around death, for good reason.

I increasingly hear about individuals requesting no ceremony after their deaths. This is troubling to me. We have rare opportunities for collective emoting, not just for joy but especially for grief. No wonder grief sometimes takes the form of huge displays after public tragedies. When our grief is denied expression we gunnysack it and it comes out in other ways, like anger and depression.

Public displays of grief are important and necessary, such as state funerals, processions, piles of flowers. Why do we deny ourselves the right to grieve when it is our own loved ones?

Ceremonies are not for the dead, but for those who need and want to remember and mourn. They help us to face our own mortality. Of course not all families and cultures need to do things the same. Nor do individuals need to grieve the same. But pretending that nothing is going on, by bypassing these rituals, does not support good grief.

I felt privileged that my brother had asked me to make a fabric bag to house my mother’s earthly remains. I put off making this bag for weeks until I just couldn’t procrastinate any longer.

It took a couple of attempts before I came up with something which satisfied me. I started with a piece of batik fabric in teal colour and held it in my hand for about 20 minutes. Nothing came. I then went rummaging through a special drawer I have of old pieces of fabric, tapestries and recycled cloth. I came upon a piece of old quilt on which I had already started a kantha quilting on years before and never finished. THAT was it!  The fabric just jumped out at me. Pick me, pick me. This old quilt, no doubt fashioned by a woman many years ago and well worn with loving use was in the perfect colours.

bag – Version 2

I felt a tinge of what artisans (no doubt slaves) of King Tut must have felt to fashion things for his royal tomb, grand things, like a gold chariot, that they knew would never be seen again. When I finished the embroidery, and embellishments of costume jewelry selected from her jewelry box, including a butterfly/cross pin which symbolized the Faith At Work movement, I knew my mom would have liked it. 

Then when my sister-in-law read a poem entitled “Butterfly” at the graveside, a poem which she had written immediately after Mom died, it was like a mind meld had happened that I had included the butterfly pin on the side of her bag.

Faith At Work symbol

The Faith at Work cross symbolizes death (the cross) and resurrection (the butterfly) and the lifestyle Sam Shoemaker urged: “Get changed (cross); get together (circle); get going (butterfly).”

Beautiful.
Light as a feather.
Translucent gossamer wings
shimmer in the sun.
She flits from blossom to blossom,
gently touching all in her path.
She imparts the blessing of mercy
with each delicate touch,
leaving the fragrance of beauty 
to linger lovingly
long after she has gone.
Unaware, 
she drifts into a lurking cage.
She is frightened,
cannot find her way out.
She struggles, throws her fragile body against the 
prison bars
again and again.
She cannot escape.
Bruised, battered,
confused, and bewildered,
she collapses on the floor.
And she waits.
Kept alive by a few random raindrops that fall
into her prison.
Slow death awaits.
Those who come and stare cannot release her, 
this she knows.
Yet somehow she imparts her gift of loving kindness and mercy
to each one.
The sheen of her gossamer wings has faded now.
Translucence transformed
into dull lifeless grey.
Unable to fight it any longer,
she rests, releases her battered body after years of struggle.
That beautiful body, now at peace.
Spirit soaring now to heights unknown,
to beauty never before realized.
She is finally free of the fetters
that bound her for so long.
She is in the sparkling diamonds on the river.
She is in the tender young buds on the tree.
She is in the timeless sweet song of the robin I hear.
She is in the tiny any scurrying along my path.
She is in the sweet squirrel
staring curiously at me from the branch above.
She is in the beautiful butterfly
who lands beside me,
on my bench by the river.
She is finally free.

-Sheri King Ward, 2016

Perhaps one of the greatest compliments I have ever received as an artist (and daughter) was from my other sister-in-law who said something to the effect “it’s remarkable how you were you able to get a piece of fibre art to look like someone”.

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Few of us will ever get the chance to see human ashes, or touch them. Of course, it was me who had to transfer the ashes from the temporary box provided by the crematorium into the bag; a job which was difficult, enough in itself, to perform.  Again, this was a healing moment of grief.

Cremation isn’t for everyone. If you have quandaries about cremation, I recommend listening to this podcast on End of Life University, https://lessonsfromdying.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-cremation/. Even though it comes from an American perspective there is much to gain from it.

I know my mother isn’t ‘in’ that bag. But the act of creating the last holding vessel for her ashes was profoundly healing. And seeing it placed into the ground gave me a finality which, even though ripped my heart out, was necessary.

Later we all joked about me making this “griefcase” and how I should be selling them on Etsy! But it was a ‘one of’.

I honestly don’t know how families who are denied these rituals cope. Ceremony is necessary. Rituals are important. Creating your own as a family is wonderful. Please do not fear these times. This is where the healing lies.

 

Sitting on the Edge of Patriarchy

“Say ‘goodbye’ to Patriarchy,” said my husband as he passed me the captain’s chair.

captain's chair

1977, a very special wedding gift from my parents. A suitably expensive Roxton maple dining room set; 4 chairs and a table. We have gathered around that table for the last 39 years.  We still love the table.  Whoever designed the chairs sure didn’t factor in how difficult the spindles would be to clean and how the knobs dig into the back of your hips.

About 4 years ago we bought new dining room chairs, finally giving up the uncomfortable chairs. We stowed them away in our garage. I hung onto them because I ‘didn’t want to break up the set’. Old thinking.

Only one of the chairs had arms. The Captain’s Chair. That’s where the Daddy sat. When my husband said “Say ‘goodbye’ to Patriarchy,” I had to laugh. We had had those chairs for nearly 40 years and that small fact of that one chair being the preferred chair hadn’t hit me so poignantly until just today.

Today I said goodbye to old thinking and sitting on the edge of patriarchy.

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Christmas Past

One of my favourite pictures, circa 1963, is this one of me and my Mum in front of the Christmas tree. It’s badly taken, that’s for sure. Probably from my Grampa Percy’s camera.

When I went to touch it up in photoshop I noticed that my Grandmother Winifred appears reflected in the living room window of my childhood home. Kind of spooky, considering my mother now looks exactly like her.christmas0001(A four generational picture if you take into account that when a girlchild is born all the possible eggs waiting for fertilization and subsequent progeny are within her.)

This picture gives me much joy. My mother always made sure I had a lovely dress to wear on Christmas. Something, no doubt, she herself had sewn for me.

On the tree is a Santa Claus ornament made from a recycled toilet paper tube and cotton baton. Original tinsel which was painstakingly placed piece by piece (no throwing in our family). And taken off the same way, individually piece by piece and stored carefully for the next year.

My mother always took great effort to make a lovely Christmas for us.

Today I’m taking down our real cut Christmas tree. It has been a perfect little tree, not dropping nary a needle over the time it has adorned out house over the festivities. Forty dollars, a small amount to pay for a little Christmas cheer and to support Ontario agriculture.

And as I pack away the treasures of family ornaments I can’t barely keep from crying knowing that my mother’s experience of Christmas is immensely diminished due to advanced dementia.

Even though she is but a ghost of who she once was I am eternally grateful for the memories she gave me of Christmas.