Thursday, November 1, 2012

Country Girl comes to the City


Nellie had heard that jobs were plentiful in the big city of Vancouver.  When she graduated from the residential school, she wanted to see different places and meet different people.  Money was scarce on the reservation.  Even though her family and her siblings wanted her to stay, she bid them goodbye and left to make her way by herself.

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Residential School graduate, prop. AHC

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Her friendly smile and infinite sense of patience helped her charm the patrons at the Ovaltine Cafe, where she worked from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.  Hastings and Main was part of the downtown epicentre until the late forties.  There she met most of the local Vancouver Police officers who liked to stop by the cafe, and her future husband, a heavy duty mechanic from the prairies.

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The Couple, in the late 1940s, prop. AHC


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Two boys were born in the next few years and jobs opened on the Dew Line, the Distant Early Warning System that was being installed in the far north.  Her husband signed on.  During his early days of work at the site, the report indicated the plane had crashed within the Artic Circle.  He was believed dead.  Communications were practically nonexistent, especially in the cold winter months. There were no letters.


Devasted, Nellie moved back to her hometown and tried to look after her young children.  Life was hard, even with family nearby.  Enduring the cold winters, the resentment by others in the community, and the feeling of loss, she worked as a waitress to feed her kids.  The customers always liked Nellie.

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Nellie, in hat, with friend at cafe , Vancouver,BC - AHC


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Seven months later, E.W. was able to get a letter to Nellie and advised he was coming home.  He had not crashed, after all, but had been restricted from contact.  Back to Vancouver Nellie went, hiring on with the T. Eaton Company, where she worked until she retired at age 65.  Her two boys flourished in Vancouver, riding the streetcars and meeting mom for dinner after a movie on Saturdays.

Local gossip said that Nellie's dad helped catch one of those famous bank robbers in BC, but I can't say which one.  That would be another story.  Nellie's birthday is coming up later this month when she will be 97 years old.*  There's always a celebration at the care home, and her family visits with gifts.  A lovely lady who never gave up despite her setbacks.  She's one of those people who inspire me.


*Disclaimer: Names altered for privacy; based on true and fictitious facts. Photos, courtesy of family.

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Do you have a relative or a friend like this, one you would like to celebrate?  If we don't tell some of their stories, who will?  Please share your thoughts on this in the comments.

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25 comments:

  1. What a great woman. We all believe we lead ordinary lives and then when someone looks back over many decades they realise that the 'ordinary person' was actually an 'extraordinary person.' I hope Nellie is well.

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    1. Thanks, Sally. Nellie is well and still has her sense of humour. She's outlived the rest of her family.

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  2. Nice story. That must have been awful to think her husband was dead for those long months. Wow. Hard to imagine in this day of instant communication how limited things once were for getting a message through.

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    1. When there's nothing you can do, you do what you have to, so you can move on. After being forced to attend residential schools, she knew how to cultivate patience.

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  3. What a great story! One of my best friends is an inspiration like this.

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    1. I'm glad you're so fortunate, JoJo. Be sure and tell that friend that they do inspire you. They don't always know.

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  4. Loved this story! Glad it had a happy ending.

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    1. Glad you could stop by and read it, Sherry.

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  5. I'm glad that her husband was OK and hope they had a lot more time together. She had a tough life, but a rewarding and inspiring one as well.

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    1. Her husband was okay and lived until his early eighties, as did her brothers. She's one of those welcoming souls.

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  6. What a lovely story! I'm so glad it ended well :-) And what a great idea for a post.

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    1. Glad you liked it. Her husband was one of the first white men seen by many of those living in this native community (in the early fifties).

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  7. I really enjoyed reading Nellie's story, especially with the aura of love wrapped around it. it's beautiful.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Mary. We forget how much communication has changed our lives.

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  8. Great topic! I think that so many people we know have brave and interesting stories to tell. And, DG, you have given me an idea. Since I am not writing a book, perhaps I could write about people I know. People do not see their lives as special, but they are. Perhaps as writers, our "task" is to tell their stories.

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    1. Thanks, loverofwords. Sounds like a great idea if you want to tell us about some interesting people you have known.

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  9. Wonderful story. I'm intrigued by the Ovaltine Cafe--what's that all about?

    Lee
    A Faraway View

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    1. The Ovaltine Cafe (a real place) is close to what was then the Main Vancouver Police Station, (the Downtown Eastside - not nearly as society-challenged as it is today).

      All cities get that changing of trendy sections as money moves in and out of the cities.

      The Ovaltine Cafe (close to Vancouver's Chinatown) used to be a popular lunch place of the policemen who worked nearby.

      Now, it's one of those nostalgic places. Reviews good and bad are to be had by searching for the name. But hey, it's still operating. I've only seen it myself, it used to be on my work route.
      Glad you could drop by, Lee.

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  10. Beautiful story! Thank you for sharing, D.G.

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  11. Thanks, Sean, for the follow and welcome!

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  12. Fantastic DG! I love hearing stories about the early days of Vancouver and the North Shore. I remember the Ovaltine Cafe being there in the '70's...we used to go there for lunch on days when we were in that area. My brother has worked at the Main St. docks (Tymac Launch) for 23 years and has seen a lot of strange goings on in the downtown eastside over the years.
    I love that Nellie is still with us. What a terrific lady she is. 97! Wow, that's something to celebrate!

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    1. In the 70s, Nellie worked at the Eaton's Store on Hastings, and later at Pacific Center 'til she retired.

      It's nice you remember some of these places, Eve. The downtown east side is one of those areas the city has to deal with sooner or later.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  13. Lovely story, thanks so much for sharing!

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  14. This was wonderful! Nellie is definitely 'heroine' material. Sounds like a wonderful romance to me! :)

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