Here is another story (part 1 of 2) taken from Ningwakwe Learning Press’ collection of stories, “Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing,” that highlights the joys and pain of love and how it influences every aspect of our lives – including lifelong learning.
This story focuses on the love for a mother and inspiration for a lifelong path of learning and teaching. Part 2 of this story will be posted later this week.
Ningwakwe George is an Anishnawbe from the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. “This submission came about as a result of my healing process following my mother’s departure for the Spirit World. In June 2007, my home community invited me to be their guest speaker at the Annual Education Awards. In this presentation, I attributed everything that I have learned and become to the teachings and example of my mother. This story gave me the opportunity to put it into writing.”
I’ve heard that love is the most powerful energy in the universe. My mom, Amazing Grace, went to the Spirit World on February 3, 2006. She left a fabulous legacy of Love with her family. I hope that we can honour that legacy by living what she taught us through example.
Because she got so much comfort from loving Creator/God, Amazing Grace believed in exposing her children to that divine energy early on. One of my earliest memories of Sunday school comes from when I was so small that I must have come up to the elbow of my Sunday school teacher. I remember her arms being so fat that her elbows looked like dimples.
Amazing Grace became a single mom when she was widowed in the forties. Because she loved her children dearly, she held down many jobs trying to provide for us. When it became too difficult, we moved back to the Saugeen Reserve with our grandparents. The house that was allotted to us was too small and those of us that were school age were sent off to residential school. I am so grateful that Amazing Grace loved us enough to send for us after only one year! That year had quite an impact on my brothers and me, but we were still better off than some of our classmates.
Love for her children would give Amazing Grace the strength to stand behind some decisions that were not too popular. She saw to it that we hardly ever missed school and that we kept up on our schoolwork. I had to come home before dark to get my homework done, but also so I would get enough rest to be alert the next day. When the other kids got to hang out I felt like I missed – little did I know, this discipline would help me stay grounded later in life. She also ensured that we continued going to Sunday school, thus making a place for Creator/God in our lives. It’s because of this that I became a Sunday school teacher when I was just barely older than the kids I was teaching. This set the stage for me to become a summer school teacher as well.
I dearly recall Amazing Grace’s work ethic. Anything that brought in money to provide for her family, she did – working in nearby hotels and restaurants, labouring in the tobacco fields, as well as picking strawberries, apples, peaches, and grapes. She often took us with her so that we could work alongside her, thus instilling in us the value of hard work. When I think of all the things that Amazing Grace accomplished, I marvel at how she was able to carry such a load. Being the oldest girl, I was often responsible for taking care of the younger ones while she was away in other communities making money to send home. She bought things for us that we would not be able to get in the small towns near the reserve. She would mail them home along with a letter about where she was and what she was doing. I loved those packages, especially reading those letters to my family.
I was often the only kid from the reserve who attended my high school at the time. Amazing Grace saw to it that I attended regularly. One winter I was moved to Port Elgin to live with a Mormon family so that the weather would not cause me to miss school. While in Port Elgin I saw what other families had and I wanted the same things for the family I would have one day.
In early 1964, George Oliver Dickenson (G.O.D.) came to speak to the graduating classes at the Saugeen District High School. He was the principal of Stratford Teachers College and was recruiting students. As I listened to him speak, I realized that, thanks to Amazing Grace, I already had a lot of practice in some of the things he spoke about. I applied for Teachers College and was accepted. I loved Teachers College! Because Amazing Grace had instilled in me the practice of keeping up on my schoolwork, I did really well on my exams.
I loved traveling to nearby schools and communities to do my practice teaching. I worked one week with a Mennonite community in Owen Sound and a week at the public school in Port Elgin. I was especially drawn to the kids who came from families that were not well off. I wanted them to understand that there is always a way out through loving Creator/God. That same year I was exempted from all my exams and got to go home a month early. Before I went home there was a ‘Hiring Day’ at the Stratford Teachers College. I applied at only one place – Toronto. For some reason, they asked me only one question: “Can you teach music?” I replied, “Yes!” and I got the job!
In September 1965, I started teaching Grade 3 at the Ryerson Public School near the Kensington Market in Toronto. I continually sought ways to make learning fun for them and for them to learn to love themselves. Two years later, I was hired to fill in for a woman at Jesse Ketchum school who was on maternity leave. It was a Special Education class. The school had a large immigrant population as well as a lot of kids from the Alexandra Park Housing Complex. Again, I was especially drawn to the kids that needed extra tender loving care. I continually sought ways to make learning fun for them and for them to love what they did. I taught Special Education for five years. I also became interested in helping kids to speak English, so I taught English as a Second Language at summer school for a few years as well.
In the meantime, I had two children – first a daughter, Denise, then a son, Dennis Junior. I was so grateful to Amazing Grace for making it possible for me to have a job where I could spend school holidays with my children. I tried to do some of the things with my children that she did with me. Most important, Amazing Grace taught me the value of a good education. It gave me choices. I taught my children to read before they even went to school and spent evenings reading with them or finding educational toys and activities for them. They even came to school with me on the days that the Professional Development Days at their school were different from mine. I felt like I had the best of worlds!
….to be continued