Island Stories: Evelyn
by David Weale & Loretta Campbell
(RED Volume Three 2011)
I had heard from friends up-west that I really should go see her. That I must. And as I walked away from her door after my first visit every remarkable thing I had heard about her had been confirmed, and more. I was amazed, and strangely moved.
Evelyn Christopher of Northport/Alberton is a phenomenon: a passionate, delightful, seventy-nine pound, ninty-three year old force of nature. She takes no medication, wears no glasses or hearing aids, and lives alone in her little house where she prepares all her meals on a wood stove. when I visited in late September the kitchen was piled high with firewood, and scattered with pots, pans, bags, buckets and trays, all filled with vegetables from her garden. There was soil every-where, and, oh yes, a young rooster.
Evelyn's longevity and fitness are certainly not attributable to the easy or pampered life she has lived. She has been a hard worker all her life, and is still working - everyday. Her garden, on the old family homestead in St. Felix, is immense, and every fine day of the summer you can find her there with her seventy year old son, Wilson, planting, weeding, thinning, hoeing and harvesting. When I visited her between the rows she looked as though she had been there all her life, and, of course, she has. As I watched her I was struck by the thought that, no less than the plants, she was a creature of that garden, and a friend told me recently that when you hug her, "she smells like the earth."
If there is such a thing as an Earth Mother, I have seen her, and her name is Evelyn.
When I commented on the unusual looking corn hanging on the wall, both Evelyn and her son Wilson were proud to inform me that they are still growing ancient variety that has been in the family for more than one hundred years "My mother brought it over from Nova Scotia when she came here in the early 1900s," said Evelyn, "and she had it from her mother who came out from Holland in 1872, or '73."
"We used to grow a variety of blue potatoes called 'Early Rose' that were so long-oh! eight to ten inches-that you could carry a bunch of them in the crook of your arm, and in the cellar we used to stack them, just like we stacked the firewood."
Interviewer: "Did you like gardening over the years?"
Evelyn: "It's how we stayed alive, so you had to like it. It's all fast work today, no more good work."
Interviewer: "So Evelyn, you worked in the garden in St. Felix pretty much your whole life."
Evelyn: "That's right boy, that's right, and I'm still here."
She (Evelyn) asked me one day if I had put in my garden. When I confessed I wasn't putting in a garden she grew puzzled, and asked me very seriously, "Well what are you going to eat this winter?" She is still of that old frame of mind that to get through the winter you have to grow a big garden and put away enough vegetables to keep from starving. And her gardens is still huge."
When we were talking about growing potatoes Evelyn recalled a vivid image from when she was young, in the days before commercial fertilizer. She said she would put potato sets in the mouths of herring, then line them head to tail the entire length of the drill before they were covered.
Evelyn: "The fishermen's boats is all tied up at the wharf, the factory is closed, there's no work. I said where are you going to ring in boy, tell me this. If you didn't have a garden where would you get a bite to eat? You go up here to Hardy's to buy it, but how much spray is onto it. The day will come when I have to eat it I suppose, if I don't die quick. Boy, it's no good...and you...can't go back!".
We are sad to say, the lovely woman called Evelyn passed away, June 2016. She lives on through story.