Use Your Words like Your life Depended on them

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Therese Deranger - May 08, 1919 -

She arrived into this world at Old Fort, Alberta on May 08, 1919. Eldest child of 11 Children, 2 sisters and 8 brothers.Married at the age of 15 on July 1933 in Fond du Lac (Isadore Deranger) Widowed April 4, 1993 in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

She was born in an era of no electricity, plumbing, telephones, TV and many other amenities that we now take for granted. Even when electricity and plumbing were available in our area it was years before she would take advantage of it.  Life in those days was about survival. Imagine from moccasins to seeing the world from the palm of your hand on an Iphone!

Born and raised in the traditional Dene lifestyle in northern Saskatchewan, to say that she did not have an easy life by today’s standards would be an understatement. But it is also a blessing in disguise, because it was those very conditions that makes her who she is, who I am, and who we are as family.

My Mama is having an amazing life journey, from bush life to city dwelling, from dogsled to concord, from moccasin telegraph to emails and texting. When I feel sorry for myself, I say to myself, "Imagine what life was like for your Mama." That is usually enough for me to get over myself.

Once, she told me that she wanted to go to school but her Dad would not allow it. Although I remember when I was a child, Mama went to school briefly, she was so thrilled that she could do some rudimentary writing, particularly when she was so proud to be writing the names of her children.

Mama missed out on being a regular teenager because she was married at the tender age of fourteen through an arranged marriage. She first met her husband when they married. She became pregnant almost immediately, and had her last child well into her forties. Earlier in her marriage she would run away back to her parents' home, but each time her Dad returned her to her husband. She still resents this.

She gave birth to nineteen healthy children; the majority of her children born without the help of a doctor. During one of the pregnancies she had to walk about 10 miles to the nearest community in early spring with the ground snow-covered, so she could make it to the midwife’s home for the birth of my brother. There were no prenatal classes to help her cope with understanding the development of pregnancy and caring for babies. There were no nurses to talk about baby blues. No one to help her understand what her body was going through, no one to help her understand the emotions that comes with exhaustion after having a baby and being sleep-deprived caring for babies whilst living in a tent miles from the nearest town.

Can you imagine, there were no Pampers, no baby formula and no prepared jars of baby food. Everything was home-made, and all those diapers had to be washed by hand. Fortunately, as the babies grew they became helpers in the care of the younger ones.

Mama experienced many challenges.  We were very poor. My Dad was a trapper and so he was absent for long periods, leaving her alone for extended times. As with most women in her generation, she had to cope on her own. Some people would argue that many other women of her day were in the same position, and maybe this is so, but that does not minimize the hardship she endured.

She once told me a story about how she hated the sound of the wind blowing through the house because it reminded her of a time when she was living in a tent during the early years of her marriage. It was in the fall, and she had a head cold. Throughout the night the wind was howling and she was all stuffed up. She said she was alone with some very young children at the time. Sometime during the early morning her head was aching so much, that the increase pressure in her ears eventually blew her eardrums. She remembers the warm blood pouring out of her ears. She said that ever since then, she has had problems with dizziness (she may have damaged her inner ear). Another time when one of my sisters was just two weeks old with the wind blowing the walls of the tent, my sister took ill and died a week later. How it must have been difficult for her to cope with the loss of a child when she herself was no more than a child. Later in her life she would lose five more of her children, as recently as last December she lost another son.  Indeed, the start of 2013 was a difficult time for her. Parents should never have to burry their children, it was heartbreaking to see her so over come with sadness with the loss of my brother Billy.

In her thirties she had breast cancer and had to have a partial mastectomy. Over the years she has had eleven operations. Years later, I remember one incident where she was very sick in the hospital, I was young at the time, and we all gathered in her empty bedroom in Doghead in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta and prayed for her to get well and come back home. She made it through that ordeal. I remember her telling us that she had a dream that she saw a man standing at the feet of her hospital bed, and she asked him to not take her because she still had young children. She came home from the hospital, and in her mind it was God’s will that she survived.  And not for her sake but for the sake of the children who still needed her.

There were times of difficulty involving alcohol during the sixties and seventies. I can recall bits and pieces but mainly I was oblivious to what really happened. I was too young, thankfully she gave that up, and we survived. We, her children, did okay for ourselves, being educated and becoming contributing members of society. I definitely believe we survived because of Mama, and not in spite of her. Her guidance allowed us to be strong individuals much like her.

Mama’s life is not all gloom and hardship. She enjoys life and loves to travel. Visiting with her grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and her friends, and helping others makes her happy. She especially enjoys her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren which number over a hundred now. Her passion was beading and sewing things for her family before her eyes failed her. She says that she enjoyed keeping busy. Her Dene beaded jackets are distinctive and recognizable all over the territory. She did the most beautiful beadwork. When I was a little girl she looked at my long thread as I was beading and she said, “Don’t be lazy, make your thread shorter.” She was right of course because when your thread is shorter it does not get tangled up. It takes longer to bead, but the results are perfection.

If things were not done right, be it sewing, cleaning or anything, she also had you redo it until it was done properly. I don’t know how many hours were spent cleaning, even when the house was already clean. Her standards are high for all of us.  People nowadays don’t take enough care to do things right. Rarely do we find anyone that actually takes pride in their work.

Until a few of years ago, she enjoyed the yearly pilgrimage to Lac St. Anne, one of Canada’s largest Indigenous healing pilgrimage. She enjoyed visiting with old friends and family who also have travelled a long way from isolated communities to attend. There she always bought Holy Water, blessed statutes, and pendents like St. Christopher, which she gave away as gifts. I still have a few she has given me over the years.

When I was younger I always enjoyed the fresh bread, and bannock she baked in the summer. The wood stove was moved outside because it was too hot in the house. At Christmas she made the best bread pudding I have ever tasted. I also really enjoyed the fun we had making homemade taffy in the winter.

        Mama's 92 Birthday
I honour Mama. Her gifts to me are strength, courage and reverence. When I’m worried or upset, I clean, clean, clean, I know she gave that to me too. She welcomes work, and keeps busy all the time. But most of all, she gave me life.

Mama turns 93 and makes the local news!

May 2012
The last few years after a fall that resulted in a broken hip and shoulder and was no longer to take care of herself she lost her independence
Liz & Mama
and had to move into an extended care facility.  I know it was difficult for her to accept that after all these years of care taking children, grandchildren, and great, great grandchildren she was no dependent on the good will of family and friends for her basic needs.

I could not resist adding a story told by Margo;  

"My story of Mama.  Mama grew up in a hard life and she did the best she could. Yes.  Many times I could see the stresses in her life.  With so many children how would anyone not understand her.  I only have a couple, and my God I get stressed, then I think I now fully understand mama.  I have always had a great respect for mama.

One day long ago, I took mama, my mom, and Adeline TripdeRoche to Lac St. Anne with my old car.  My car had holes on the floor, which I tried to cover with a cardboard paper.  Hight 63 was not payed yet back then.  I tell you each time I hit a bump puffs of dust would fill the car.  The ladies sat in the back seat and they all had polyester suits on.  We would stop on the way a couple of times getting out to stretch.  My goodness they all would brush the dust off their suits, all the while laughing about it.

As we were getting closer to Grassland, my mom said in Dene, "Oh, not too far now we will be stopping in this place called "Greengrass".  Mama then said in Dene "No, it's not called that, it's called "Gasline" and here is Mrs. TripdeRoche with her high pitched laugh practically rolling with laughter in the backseat. This was so hilarious.  I couldn't stop laughing too.  They were all so cute.  Mama is a very strong woman and inside mama she is very loveable, and I love her."

Thank you Margo for sharing this story!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]