People may have wondered why I haven’t posted for a while. It is because I want to write about my mother and because she was such a complex woman, it is hard to limit her to the written word. I have been trying to figure out how and what to use to describe her.
Just looking at the basic details, she was an impressive woman – farm wife;mother of five – four surviving; teaching degree from Wayne University; having to re-qualify in Ontario; many years of teaching first in rural schools, then two room; getting her BA degree from Queen’s University at night and summers; became one of the first women principals in Frontenac County (there were four); travelling by herself in a Class C RV after retirement and the list goes on.
The challenge is to try to explain what made her so special. Mom was born March 16, 1912, the oldest of Burton and Myrtle Blackman’s (Pappy and Ma) four surviving children. The children were Mom, Ruby, Edgar and Stuart. Mom, being the oldest, was Pappy’s assistant and knew everything about farming, very little about cooking! Aunt Ruby was Ma’s assistant, so knew everything about baking (Ma was an amazing baker), even though she also knew about farming, especially after she married Uncle Ted. Uncles Ed and Stu started farming as soon as they were able.
There was an incident which would have handicapped most people, especially women, but served to contribute to Mom being the strong woman she became. When she was six, the summer before she was to start school Mom climbed up to the top of a cupboard and got a dynamite cap Pappy used when building barns. (Pappy was known all over Leeds county for his barns. In fact there is one I know of that still stands straight and true) Mom took the cap outside and holding it in her left hand – her dominant hand- lit it. Needless to say Mom’s fingers were badly damaged. Pappy took her to the doctor- one of those wonderful country doctors of that time. The doctor was going to just take all the fingers off to the first knuckle, but Pappy stood over him and made him save every bit possible of every finger. It boggles my mind that he was able to stand it. Pappy was an amazing man and seemed to know she would use every bit available. I am trying to remember what was left of each finger. I think it went like this – thumb down to the knuckle, next finger was the most damaged down to her last knuckle – very little there, the middle finger, just to the first knuckle, the ring finger was just scarred and had lost the tip, same for the little finger. Mom has been dead for thirty years, so you will forgive me if I have made some mistakes.
Mom was always very stubborn, and her sons-in-law will tell you that that trait didn’t end with her in the female line! When she was still a little girl, she was just going to enter the kitchen when she heard one aunt say to another, “Poor Laura. She won’t amount to anything with that hand .” That was when she decided there was nothing anyone else could do that she wouldn’t do…and do it better!
Mom did not go to school for the next year as her fingers healed and she learned to use her right hand. To show how it became so natural to her, near the end of her teaching career she was standing by a grade eight girl’s desk helping her with a problem. She was leaning her left hand on the desk, and all of a sudden the girl cried out, “Mrs. Jones how did you hurt your hand? Are you all right?” This was probably fifty years after the accident!
She began to go to school the following September in grade one at the age of 7. There the teacher discovered she could read, and knew her numbers, and she came home as a grade 2 student! No one knows how she learned to read, as no one taught her. The only thing they figured out was that at night she used to sit on the hired man’s lap as he read the newspapers out loud, and she picked it up. She used to laugh that she came home the next day she was in grade three, the next day in grade four and if not for long division she would have made it to grade five by the end of the first week! She had seen the pattern the older kids had made doing when doing long division, so she just copied the pattern using random numbers!
As you can probably tell Mom had a near genius IQ. Pappy was close behind, I think. She would go to him with a math problem she couldn’t get, and he would tell her the answer. He didn’t know how to solve it, but knew how it ended! Mom learned how to work back from the answer.
In each generation there is usually one person gifted in math. I am the one in our generation and as Pappy and Mom, I could never understand why you had to put all those needless steps in if you knew the answer. I can remember the frustration I felt when I wrote a perfect exam in Trig , and got 95% because I hadn’t put down all the steps. That can be a problems in other area too. I had a principal who used to say when visiting my grade three class , “That is really interesting RubyAnn. Why are you doing it?” I would say,”I am not sure. I’ll tell you tomorrow!” I would have to re-think the process and tell him the educational reason. Once I came to a process, I would forget the steps I took to get there. Fred Jones is the reason that from then started writing down to steps to defend my methods!.
Mom was the same. She was a very innovative teacher, but probably would have to ponder why she was doing it.
Mom passed the entrance exam to high school when she was eleven, and my next blog will be about her education away from home.