Friday, November 16, 2012

Erma McAllister - Still Writing at 96 by Rose McCormick Brandon

            A sturdy gate and tidy flower garden lead visitors to Erma McAllister’s back door. My mother, sister Carolyn and I recently visited Irma in this house where she’s lived since the 1940s, located across the road from her childhood home.

            Erma’s best known for her column in the local weekly newspaper, The Manitoulin Expositor. She writes about social and township events in her Island community, Spring Bay, a tiny village surrounded by farms. In my recent story, Manitoulin Connection, for Chicken Soup for the Soul O Canada, I mentioned how our family’s visits to Manitoulin Island appear in Erma’s column because of our Island roots.

            After much urging from her children and grandchildren, Erma, at age 90, decided to write her life story. Her life entwines with the rich pioneer history of the area. It appeals to those who treasure their roots, which on Manitoulin, is nearly everyone. At 92, Erma self-published her memoir, Reflections and Stories. To date, her sales are just short of one thousand copies, an enviable number in the self-publishing industry.

            I read Erma’s book and found references to both sets of my grandparents. It turns out, Irma loves to dance and often step-danced to my Irish grandfather McCormick’s jigs and reels. I envisioned him sitting on a wooden chair, his right foot stomping in a heel-to-toe pattern as he fiddled, dreamily lost in his music. And Irma, a young, limber, step-dancing beauty.

            Erma tells of home prayer meetings attended by most people in Campbell Township. My mother remembers gathering with local families, kneeling on hard, often cold, floors, taking her turn talking out loud to God. Hard-farming adults, children in tow, regularly cleaned up for prayer meeting night.

            A week after our visit, this appeared in Irma’s column:

“Mildred McCormick and two of her daughters were in to visit me on Tuesday morning. Mildred bought a book from me. I now have 36 books left. Her daughter, Rose, is writing a book and very active in writing stories, etc. I enjoyed their visit. Mildred was raised on the Beaver Road.” (Erma’s reference to Beaver Road lets readers know we’re connected to the Island; connections matter here.)

                        Erma’s enthusiasm for life inspires her family, friends and readers. We spent less than two hours with her, but all three of us – Mom, Carolyn and me – exited her gate with a stronger belief that participation is the key to a meaningful life. A widow of more than two decades, a non-driver, alone in a country setting – she has earned the right to grumble and succumb to self-pity. But succumbing isn’t in Irma’s DNA. In her soul, Erma’s still step-dancing through life, drumming the message that staying connected to one’s community and writing about it keeps us young at heart.

Rose McCormick Brandon’s most recent book is He Loves Me Not . . . He Loves Me. Her articles and essays are published in magazines, books, newspapers and devotionals in Canada and the U.S. She is an award-winning writer who specializes in personal experience, faith, life stories and the British Home Child Immigration period of Canadian history. Rose is married to Doug and lives in Caledonia, Ontario. She has three adult children and two grandchildren. Visit her blogs: The Promise of Home and Listening to My Hair Grow. Contact her at: 


Peter Black said...

Rose, what a delightful reflection on your visit and sketch of Irma's life! She is a grand example to us of a forward-looking writing senior.
I wonder whether she is a relative by marriage of the McAllister family who played such a formative role in the earlier years of the PAOC fellowship, such as the late R.E. McAllister and Walter McAllister?

Rose Chandler Johnson said...

What a sweet story. I love the fact that Miss Irma McAllister (as I'd call her in my native Georgia even if she's married)wrote her story even at an advanced age. She looks vital and alert and her writing shows she has so much to offer the world. I hope to be so young at her age. Thanks for sharing.

Popular Posts