In the five years since her arrival from England in 1961, Elizabeth Fulcher married my widowed father, mothered his four children and had a baby of her own.
Although her roles as wife and mother of seven kept my stepmother plenty busy, Elizabeth continued her interest in teaching. In 1969, with two babies of her own, she organized a nursery school counselling the parents while they observed their children at play. However, it proved to be stressful and more difficult than she imagined.
Instead, Elizabeth taught herself the necessary bookkeeping skills to look after my father’s accounting needs in his engineering company thereby reducing his operating expenses. In compensation, Elizabeth allocated the rental income from Tom’s office tenants to her household budget which had remained unchanged since the day they married.
My father Tom grew up during the Depression which most likely left an impression on him. He worked long hours running his company in order to support his growing family and always managed his money carefully. Never would he consider debt to make ends meet.
Fortunately, Elizabeth knew how to ration pretty much everything from growing up in wartime England. Many of the same clothes were worn by child after child. Various craft projects littered the kitchen counter between meals. We all enjoyed the trunk full of old fancy clothes which provided endless hours of dress-up skits over the years.
Her only request? Once a month they wined and dined out… just the two of them.
At one point, Elizabeth received an inheritance from her family in England. She quietly used the money to pay for necessary repairs around the house. Alternately, Tom invested his family inheritance to provide a family nest egg for emergencies. The arrangement seemed to work well for them.
In 1976, Tom sold the Knowlton cottage after 20 years of memorable family summers, and bought land in Franklin, Vermont, with the proceeds. He designed and built a large shell of a two-story house with a deck spanning the entire width of the upper floor overlooking a fabulous view of the nearby fields and the mountains in the distance.
Over time, Elizabeth saw to the finishing touches like walls, cupboards and a septic tank making it into more of a home. Together they blazed trails in the woods, planted gardens and, for a time, beekeeping produced the family honey. What a sight to see Elizabeth handling the large red tractor like a pro… sometimes towing a trailer full of kids!
The children eventually brought their children to enjoy autumn walks, bonfires, winter sledding, berry picking, crafts, games and the breathtaking view. A wall of photos captures some of these memories – even a family wedding.
Elizabeth graduated from McGill University in 1988, at age fifty, with a Degree in Special Education. She continued teaching children with learning disabilities part-time for a while and felt secure that she could support herself if need be.
After Tom died in 1995, Elizabeth joined The Unitarian Church near her in Montreal. She volunteered actively for ten years in variety of ways. In 2015, the church awarded her “The Unsung Hero Award” to acknowledge and celebrate her efforts. Even today she volunteers her time with their “Caring Committee” and organizes visits with anyone in need of some company.
This year, due to the Coronavirus lockdown, the family was unable to gather at the house in Vermont for our usual Thanksgiving turkey dinner feast. Instead, Elizabeth enjoyed time with a whole bunch of us on a “Zoom” meeting and afterwards sent this heartwarming note to all her stepchildren, children and grandchildren:
“I feel as if I have been with all of you (on the Zoom video) and am really lucky to have such a wonderful family. You may not realize it but you all are the most significant aspect of my life. I did not want a career, I wanted a family and I am so pleased with the way you live and your authenticity. With love from Elizabeth, Mum or Nanna”.