Mrs. Buckets was the first old woman to rise up in me, followed by her friend Mrs. Peabody. I was around four years old. They were comforting, like some kind of guardian angels, I suppose. I remember conversations with them as I sat on the apple tree swing on our farm.
Over time, Mrs. Buckets and Mrs. Peabody disappeared — forgotten by the wayside of childhood, like an outgrown favourite dress or beloved teddy. I thought about the old women from time to time; sometimes a family member would tease me about them, but they didn't reappear. They'd fluttered off to a retirement home, perhaps, or to comfort some other child.
Decades later, I was living in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, working for The Canmore Leader newspaper. As a reporter, I covered peewee hockey, deaths, preparations for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, town hall and the arts. It was fun, but I was very busy — and stressed. I coped with a new job, a new community and a divorce. And that's when another old woman appeared to me. She bade me (yes, she talks like that) to write a column under the name Violet Flowers. She was 70 years old (I was 39) and wrote from Gopher Gulch, Alta. Her first column ran in April 1988.
Violet wrote about all manner of things, ranging from her admiration of teenagers to National Asparagus Month (which, in case you don't know, is May.) My editor, Pete Brewster, enjoyed the joke. He ran a headshot of my sister wearing a hat from her dress-up box and glasses that I found at the dump; that way, Violet was incognito in Canmore.
When I moved to Edmonton, Violet did, too, and filed stories of her impressions of the big city. When Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York visited, "we" received a press pass to hang out with the throng of international journalists. On that thrilling note, Violet retired. I didn't hear from her for years.
When my husband, Bill, was elected moderator of the United Church in 1997, the first two years were exciting, challenging and wonderful. We bounced between a condo in Toronto and our manse in Calgary. We travelled the country and the world. The pace was dizzying. By the third year, though, I felt it. That year felt long to me, partly because of my parents. After a brief illness, Dad died in 1999. Mom lost her sight and the home she loved. I was stressed.
And then Violet Flowers returned. She said that I had lost my perspective and that my sense of humour had worn thin. She declared that she would dictate columns to me. She called them “Travels with the Modifier,” and had me fax them to friends around the country. When Bill's term as moderator ended in 2000, Violet retired once more.
A decade later, I struggled to figure out how to move The Child Wellbeing Initiative forward. Working with United Church Women members in Alberta, we drew attention to child poverty as best as we could. We used demonstrations, speeches, letter-writing, handmade rag and paper dolls, workshops, news articles and a YouTube video featuring Lillian Stewart, the Child Wellbeing Initiative's co-chair. What’s next, I wondered. Well, Dear old Violet slipped out of Calgary’s Windy Achers Retirement Home and performed, as she put it firmly, her swan song (“Violet Flowers Reads the News” also appeared on YouTube). That was four years ago.
Yesterday, I glimpsed an old woman again. She was in my mirror, and she was laughing.