Much has been written, by others, about my Aunt Nellie’s career as a writer, as a political figure and as an ardent advocate of Women’s rights. It is my privilege to pay a tribute to her as a wife, a mother and as a beloved relative.
Aunt Nellie was a member of the close-knit Mooney family.
As small children we saw her frequently for she lived at Manitou, Manitoba, and came often to see her mother, my grandmother, who lived in Wawanesa.
Later when the McClungs moved to Alberta and Grandma Mooney had passed on we did not see Aunt Nellie often but she had her own endearing way of keeping in touch – a small gift sent to one of us, a birthday card, a magazine subscription, or maybe some information about a special project in which she knew one of us would be interested.
Her letters to my father and mother were a delight to all, full of cheerful family news written in her own inimitable fashion.
Aunt Nellie considered relations between families were important and in her book “Be Good To Yourself,” in the chapter headed “Keeping friends with the family,” she wrote:
“The family, half a century ago, was bound together by the strongest ties of all. The worked together, they needed each other. The couldn’t raise the barn or gather in the crop without their relatives – family feuds had to be patched up at threshing time.
“But different methods of work have changed all that and the economic bonds have fallen off the family. Instead of one enterprise in which every member of the family has a stake, we now have the spectacle of members of the family going their several ways. Yet, in spite of this indifference, we are dependent on our own people for our happiness – and always will be.
“And let us remember with deep affection and humble gratitude that it is our own fold who come to our rescue in times of trouble. It is in the dark hours of distress that the family shines – which possibly was the thought in mind of Solomon when he set down the statement that ‘a brother is born for adversity’.”
I have pleasant memories of Aunt Nellie’s visits to our home, the old original homestead. I remember my mother sitting chatting with her in our large kitchen, and I recall my father taking her to the barns, to show her the stock, and how she especially admired the standard bred horses which have always been hobby of the Mooney men.
Then there was the family dinner when we brought Grandma out to the farm and Uncle George and Aunt Jennie and their family came or else we all gathered at their place. Aunt Nellie’s visits where gala occasions!
The McClung children sometimes spent some of the holidays with us and I remember my sister Mary, and my brother Harry travelling to Manitou by train to visit the McClungs. They had to change trains at Belmont and it all seemed vastly exciting to me, who was considered too young for this sort of sophisticated travel.
Paul McClung and Harry were much the same age and he spent par of the summer at our farm until he finished school. We were all very fond of him and for Harry he filled the need for a brother. They kept in touch through the years, until dear Paul’s untimely death five years ago.
When our sister, Mary married, she went to Calgary to live. The McClungs who were residing in Calgary at that time, took the Morrisons into their family circle in their affectionate, big-hearted way.
Writing home, Mary said, “Don’t worry about me being lonely, of course I miss you all, but the McClungs are so good to us! We were there for dinner Saturday night and what a good time we had! After dinner we had a sing-song. Uncle Wes and I sang a duet. The McClungs enjoy being together and have such fun.”
I have admired my aunt for many reasons – for her great love and compassion for the human race. She spent her life working to make the world a better place in which to live.
Some of people’s actions, she hated and deplored but never the people themselves. She did not despise anyone. She understood the conflicts and conditions which induced her behaviour. Her sparkling wit and ready tongue, she never employed cruelly or vindictively. Many times in her political career she must have been sorely tempted, but she was unfailingly courteous and never less than a lady.
I have admired her for her generous attitude toward others. She never failed to accord credit when it was due. She had a healthy self-respect but of self-conceit, not a shred.
It was my good fortune several times to hear her speak in public. On these occasions she was always well and becomingly dressed.
I remember how she would come quietly onto the platform and stand there completely composed, looking over her audience.
Then her smile would come, lighting her face and crinkling the skin around her cinnamon brown eyes, radiating the warmth that seemed to gather everyone close to her. From then on you could have heard a pin drop.
She has been described as “a spell-binder.” And she was! Her audience laughed with her, cried with her, rejoiced and grieved with her and when the program was over they felt they had made a friend, and pressed forward to meet her and shake her hand.
Aunt Nellie had an amazing memory for people, and often after years had passed, could readily recall personal incidents and occurrences.
My late husband and I visited Aunt Nellie and Uncle Wes. at their home “Lantern Lane,” in Victoria, in March, 1951, and found Aunt Nellie confined to bed.
She made light of her serious ailment, saying:
“My doctor wants me to have bed rest, even though I don’t think I need it. Well, he’s a fine fellow and has been very nice to me, so I’ll guess I’ll humour him for a time.”
This was my first trip to British Columbia and Aunt Nellie said:
“Your eyes are tired, dear child. I know how this rugged scenery can weary prairie eyes. Go to the window and look out over the sea. For many months after we came here, the sea was the only sight that rested me – the closest thing we have here to a field of prairie wheat.”
I think she was always a bit homesick for her beloved prairies. She wrote the following verses on their way to make their home in B.C. as they stopped at the “Great Divide” and they appeared on their Christmas card that year:
“We halted by the brookside, where the waters break in two
And we knew we should look forward as good travellers always do
We tried to think of gardens, down beside the ocean blue,
But our thoughts kept travelling backward to our happy years with you.
For Alberta, soft with sunshine, forest-clad with cloud-flecked sky
Stretching to the verdant prairie where the waving grain fields lie
Drew us with a tide of magic, called us with is pipings sweet,
And our prairie hearts went racing with the wind across the wheat.”
We spent a happy hour. Uncle Wes was an entertaining conversationalist I have often thought he might have been a writer – he had a real flair for words. He and Aunt Nellie were well-suited; there was a remarkable “rapport” between these two which was always a delight to witness.
When we said goodbye to Aunt Nellie, we all realized we would not see her again, but she was in hopeful spirits and said:
“Tell the dear Manitoba Mooneys that I am fine, that I think of them often and that I love them dearly.”
Aunt Nellie died the following September, gallantly, as she lived, her faith in the ultimate good, still strong and unshaken.
– Mrs. Chas. (Ruth) Scott
Credit: Published in the “Souvenir Photo Summary of the Colored Dramatique Presentation ‘Recalled to Life’” As Presented By M.J.G. McMullen