“I was the second youngest daughter born into an Irish Catholic family of 17 children. It was 1928, May 17, in Bedford, Prince Edward Island.”
This is the first line of Anne Bernadine Campbell’s life story. I love it because it’s so matter of fact and shocking all at once. I love it especially because Anne is my mother.
I have always had an interest in storytelling and an interest in the stories of older people. First, they know how to tell a story, like my dad for example. He was a great storyteller. His attention to detail, his gestures, his amazing way of weaving in a hilarious situation. Many stories were told numerous times over, each time revealing more colour, more hijinks, just in case we "heard that one before". And we couldn’t get enough. There was always an enthralled audience when he would begin one of his tales.
Second, older people seem to have interesting stories. Their lives growing up were so different from our own, essentially because it was a different time. Our lives are going to seem infinitely more interesting to our children, again for the same reason.
My mother’s story always fascinated me. I was born when she was 42 years old. She had wanted to have more children, I was her third, but she had a different calling in her 20’s and 30’s as a religious Sister for 17 years. Many times I asked my mother to write her life story. Finally much later, on a snowy day and the first winter without my dad, my mom sat at her kitchen table and with pen in hand began to write. I was living here in BC and I was delighted to help. I said 'Mom, I can put this into a book. I’ll figure it out. Just send it to me.' Thick packages of manuscript landed on my doorstep. Mom’s life unfolded in my hands. She wrote while I typed. We were a good team. I knew at that time how important this was. My husband and I didn’t have children yet. We had only been married a year. But I knew what this would mean for my children someday, her grandchildren. I became pregnant as the book took shape. Before it was printed, Mom was able to tell the story of hearing the news of the birth of her first grandchild. My mother was 74 years old and the most excited first-time grandmother ever. We even delayed the printing of the book until Mom could hold her grandson in her arms. That picture is the last picture in the book.
Not two years later, my second son was born. With two little ones to care for, I put the idea of recording life stories for others on hold. In 2011, my mother was to come out West for her annual spring visit. She was to arrive on May 22nd. However, instead of Mom flying to me, I flew to her as she was suddenly and critically ill. I had the foresight to bring her book. The nurse in ICU said she could still hear me. With great sadness, we knew it was the end and the shock was incredible. I opened her book and I read her life story to her. Hopefully I took her back to her beautiful memories of her family farm in Bedford, Prince Edward Island, her beloved home. Just a month before, I organized an interview with a CBC reporter Dutch Thompson. He produces a radio show on PEI called “Bygone Days” http://www.islandvoices.ca/ and I sent him my mother’s book and he agreed to interview her. He spent two hours with her and my mom was delighted. When I went to her apartment to prepare for her funeral, I found the tape on her kitchen table, ready to bring out West.
On May 22nd, 2011 my mother passed away. It wasn’t until exactly a year later that I could listen to that tape. Instead of being overwhelmed, I was overjoyed. To hear my mother’s voice again was incredible. And this is why I created Tell Your Story...to give this opportunity to as many families as I can. As my mom said, it's something you'll never regret doing and wish you had done it sooner.