At 97-years-old, Cathie Smith has a lot of stories and wisdom to share.
From her room at BonnyLodge, and with the help of her daughter, Smith did just that. The Bonnyville senior recently published her memoir, In Sunshine and in Shadow : A Daughter’s View of Homesteading and Beyond, recounting the lives of herself and her parents.
“I’ve always thought it would be kind of nice to write a book; I thought ‘I have quite a few things to write about’ so maybe I could. I didn’t think I could accomplish it, but my daughter came along and saw her mother struggling and said ‘I’ll help you mom.’ So, the book was born,” said Smith.
In Sunshine and in Shadow starts with the story of Smith’s parents, William and Helen Ross, homesteading on Chicken Hill in 1913. William was originally from Prince Edward Island and Helen came out from Ontario. After meeting in British Columbia, when the mines started to decline, the pair made the move to Alberta.
“They stayed in Chicken Hill for seven years. My mother went down to Ontario because she was going to have a baby, and it would have been disastrous if she hadn’t had a doctor on hand. Then they were just homesteading away,” recalled Smith.
Five years later, the Ross’ had a second child at Chicken Hill before, on June 26, 1919, Cathie and her twin brother were born, much to their parents’ surprise. Expecting only one child, it came as a shock when, an hour after her twin brother, Cathie was born.
The family then moved down to Flat Lake, before settling in Rife.
“Homesteading wasn’t too bad in my home. My folks had collected a little money, but some people came with next than nothing,” said Smith. “It is pretty tough. You had to haul your produce to Vegreville with teams of horses, usually a couple men would go together. To my notion, that was a pretty hard trip – everything was pretty hard.”
Recounting the tale of her parents was something Smith wanted to do for her descendants, but having written about 50 pages, she was at the point of giving up. That’s when her daughter, Jean Smith Mottershead, offered a much-needed helping hand.
“She wanted to preserve her parents’ experiences in writing. She was very fond of her parents and proud of them, even though they weren’t famous people. I said ‘mom, if you just write an anecdote a day, I’ll look over it and maybe we can piece it together,” explained Mottershead.
Starting out as a short story for just the family to remember their roots, it quickly grew into a much larger project. They then decided to add in information about the history of Cathie’s husband, Danny Smith’s, family.
“Dad had fairly interesting experiences. When they came to Canada, 95 per cent of the people were farmers and now the latest statistic is about two per cent of the population are farmers. Mom traced this, talking about the excitement of the threshing machine coming to the farm and all of the work it involved,” Mottershead said. “I was able to contribute some as well, I’m 76 so I knew quite a bit about farming in those days.”
Growing up, Smith stayed at home until she was 16-years-old. She then made a trip down to Detroit, where she met up with her aunt. Getting married to Danny while in the U.S., the newlyweds spent some time in B.C. before coming back to the area. Together the couple had four children, before Smith started teaching Grade 1 at Glendon School for six years and Duclos School for 12 years.
Mottershead noted the book is more than just a chronological list of events, but is also a bit of a love story.
“She had written about her formative years, and a little bit about when she met dad when she was nine. He was 14 or so, and she thought ‘pretty sweet fellow.’ They were too young for romance at the time, but always had each other in mind from that time on.”
Mottershead added, “I enlisted all of the information from her, and we had lots of fun talking about it over the phone.”
In Sunshine and in Shadow continues on with telling the tale of Smith’s life, up until she moved into BonnyLodge with Danny 16 years ago. Sadly, Danny passed away four years later.
“I just think people should know what it was like,” said Smith, adding she’s hoping others will enjoy reading her book.
With almost a century of observing life, being through ups and downs, the book includes Smith sharing what she’s learned on love, life and farming.
“Mom and I talked about what are the principles of life she’d like to pass on. That’s how the book ends, with her principles of a good life,” said Mottershead.
For more information on Smith and Mottershead’s book, In Sunshine and in Shadow, go to insunshineandinshadow.wordpress.com.