Mabel Marion ANDREW was born 14 Feb 1918 just before the end of WWI on her family farm in North St Eleanors, Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada. She was the oldest daughter and second of seven children born to Harry ANDREW and Nell RICHARDSON, and the namesake of her paternal Aunt Mabel MAY who did not have any children. There was work to do on the farm, and all children helped out as soon as they were able. Mom helped care for her younger siblings and was known to work in the fields and garden. But there was also school and church to attend, and many relatives and friends to visit. I grew up on the other side of the country, hearing about the many places and people that occupied my mother’s childhood rural farming community in PEI.
Distances were not large on PEI, but it wasn’t until my teenage years when I looked at a map of PEI (Canada’s smallest province) that I realized the true scale of the place. Prince Edward Island is only 3 miles across from shore to shore in that particular part of Prince County! North St Eleanors is on the north shore and Summerside on the southern shore, but still they are at most 3 miles apart. My perspective underwent a rather abrupt reality check that day. It was literally a “small world”! Now of course Summerside has grown and spread, and the two communities have since amalgamated.
Mom’s generation lived through the post-war recovery years of the 1920s, followed by the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression in the 1930s. While everyone needed food, the price that farmers could get for their crops was often less than the cost of labour to harvest them. My grandfather once told the story of having to abandon a field of turnips because he couldn’t afford to dig them up. It was a very hard time. Then WWII started and in 1941 the family farm was taken over by the government as part of the new air base and training centre for Atlantic Canada, where my grandfather later got work as a boiler man. I don’t think he was too sad to see the farm go.
Barely attaining adulthood by 1939, WWII took away so many of these young men and even women in my mother’s generation while in their prime. Their lives and their families were turned upside down during the six war years, by life altering experiences both at home and abroad. Mom’s life was no exception, as three of her brothers were old enough to enlist including Dean ANDREW who was critically injured while oversees. My Mom had already finished 10 years of school by then, which was as high as grade school went at that time. She moved to Summerside and got a clerical job there in the legal office of a relative Lowell Compton. According to one of her brothers: "She had this job after she left school. She proved very good at it. She had a good mind, and picked up the 'legalese'. It was a Compton firm she worked for." Mom also made new friends, and seemed to enjoy her new freedom and responsibilities. Her best friend during this time was Betty Manderson, known as “Mandy”, who may have been a nurse.
The following photos, many taken by Mom's uncle Fred MAY, give us a glimpse at her earlier years living in Prince Edward Island.
At some point she met my father Claude Angus HENSON, a veteran as well as a miner and logger, whose sister Ethel KING lived in the area. In 1952 Claude and Mabel moved to Sooke, west of Victoria, and my sister and I were born in rapid succession. Then in 1954, tragedy struck when Claude was killed in a logging accident, leaving the whole family in shock and devastated.
Mom moved back to Duncan with her babies and once again moved in with her parents; it must have been a tight squeeze in their small house. She found work in the nearby Cowichan Senior Secondary School Office (where I later graduated). In 1959 her Aunt Mabel MAY (nee ANDREW) died, and as her namesake, Mom inherited her 2-bedroom house at 667 Coronation Ave in Duncan. She met John Gilbert TAYLOR, an English bachelor who was part owner of Taylor Bros Logging with his brother Geoffrey TAYLOR. He was known as Gilbert and lived in a boarding house two doors down the street from her house. I know very little of their short courtship except that their first date was square dancing in Mill Bay on the outdoor platform which used to be visible from the highway. Mom finally learned to drive using Gilbert’s large red and white Oldsmobile. And she gave up smoking.
In the summer of 1963, they sold Mom’s house in town and bought a farm 5 miles out of Duncan on the old Cowichan Lake Road, between Tansor and Sahtlam. Gilbert proceeded to log part of the property between the house and the road. This may have been necessary for financial reasons, but it was upsetting to lose most of the beautiful large evergreens, and created an awful eyesore that he made little effort to properly landscape. There were more adjustments needed because of the more isolated location, where we needed to bus to new schools, make new friends and meet new neighbours. And visiting my mother’s relatives was no longer within walking distance. We were on well water and septic tanks, and had to be very frugal with our water use, especially in the summertime.
In the 1990s, Gilbert decided to buy Mom a house without consulting her, and purchased a 2-bedroom bungalow off of Gibbins Road closer to Duncan. I think the idea was to replace the house she already had when he married her. With the farm not sold, he didn’t stay at the new place that often. And then he announced that he was leaving Mom after over 30 years of marriage. He contacted my sister, then living in the US, and told her to come back home to look after Mom, and in 1995 she arrived with her two sons. It was a hard time for everyone. Gilbert subsequently sold the farm, moved out of the area and remarried twice after Mom died. In the end, he refused contact with my sister and I.
Mabel’s obituary was published on page 25 of the Cowichan Valley Citizen, Duncan BC on May 24, 2000:
“TAYLOR, MABEL MARION (nee ANDREW)
At the time of her memorial service, the outpouring of love for Mom was extremely heartwarming, and the church was packed to overflowing. One of my cousins shared the following testimonial about Mom, which speaks to both her character and her lasting legacy:
"Aunt Mabel was such a constant in our early lives, partly because of Dad’s powerful affection for her and partly because of his work with Gilbert and his brother. At any rate, because we saw her so often, especially out in the country, I have more of a “sense” of Aunt Mabel than specific recollections. Whenever we arrived, Aunt Mabel was hard at work. But, like Granny, she always had something to offer those of us who dropped in – juice or milk for the kids, tea for the grownups, and usually some cake or cookies. She always made sure we were warm enough and sat us down by the fire or heater – I guess what I think of is that sense of safety and comfort, with grown-ups talking in another room. I do remember going haying at Aunt Mabel’s when we were slightly older: she did up all or most of the food that day, and we had so much fun getting hay stuck in our hair and cutting our fingers. As with all of Dad’s sisters, food was a very important element of get-togethers, and provided the glue that kept the family in touch with one another.
I know that Dad loved Aunt Mabel very much. He was a close friend of Claude’s and I think, after his death, Aunt Mabel’s welfare was often a subject of concern for him. It pained him that she had to work so hard on the farm. I find that Dad’s love for Mabel and Eleanor (and theirs for him) has shaped my own feelings of tenderness for those two. And, like you, I was often struck by how smart Mabel was and how interested in the world – especially when I called to visit in later years."
It's always revealing to learn other people's memories or impressions of a person we both know. These comments about my Mom were very touching, and I heartily agree. Yet I often saw the other side of Mom that liked to keep in the background and not "force" her opinions, wishes or thoughts on others, even though she did have some strong opinions. She also had a wonderful sense of humour. She was such a caring person, and always seemed to put others first. It was not her way to "rock the boat" and she was rarely outwardly assertive. Mom had her share of insecurities (don't we all?), often second guessing what would be best to do or say or act. I know she carried a lot of guilt around with her about some of the decisions she had made at various times in her life, perceiving they had caused others harm. But she kept the details about the hard times to herself. Although I felt that she was being overly hard on herself, it's difficult to see things from her perspective without more details. I so wanted to reassure her that she really was a wonderful person, but didn't really know how to make her believe it. She WAS smart but I remember her being self-depreciating about that too. We once talked about the final grades she got in school at the end grade 10. If memory serves me, she said she graduated in all but 1 subject. Her best subject was math (perhaps 80%?), but she didn't quite make it in history (perhaps 48 or 49%?) (dear knows where my notes on that little story are so I can't check the details). She obviously regretted that failure. I look on the positive side and celebrate her successes and her strengths and her caring nature.
Mom, we love and miss you and thank you for all your love and your gentle heart. You will forever be my special Valentine. Rest in peace.