by Claire Lindell
Every year, even after all these years when the Feast of the Annunciation draws near, my memory is flooded with the events that transpired more than fifty years ago. Decisions that would change my life seem to come to the forefront of my mind. I think back to that weekend.
Early on the bright spring Thursday morning of March 25th, 1965 the chauffeur driven car pulled up beside the convent. My father walked up to the front door and welcomed me with opened arms. He had come to bring me home.
For almost six years Joan of Arc House had been my convent home. Taking the Holy Habit, becoming a bride of Christ, two years in the Novitiate, studying theology, teaching Kindergarten, daily prayers and community living were the way of life. Leaving all this behind was not an easy decision.
We set out on the long drive from Ottawa to Asbestos. We had much to talk about, but to this day I can not for the life of me remember any of our conversation. Heading in to the unknown can be rather daunting. There was a great deal to ponder.
Mom was waiting for us at home. The following day, Friday morning, she took me to the hairdresser to have my hair cut and permed. It was in dire need of something. I had worn a veil while a nun and “one’s crowning glory” was not a priority under a veil! I came away from there somewhat transformed and ready to face the challenges that lay ahead. That afternoon we drove to Richmond where I signed a contract to begin teaching Grade One beginning the following Monday morning. Arrangements had been made earlier when a friend knew I was leaving the convent and they needed a teacher at her school.
The weekend flew by as I tried to come to grips with my new surroundings, not to say anything about a new look! Life was so different. No bells. No prayers. No meals in silence. No community time.
Monday morning arrived and my Dad suggested I use his car to drive the fifteen miles to Richmond until I could buy my own. His car was a 1962 white Ford Thunderbird convertible with bright red leather interior! It was a very snazzy sports car for an ex-nun to be driving. It was a perfect way to get back in to “the real world” and forge ahead on to the next chapter.
That Monday morning I could only chuckle to myself wondering what my new colleagues were thinking when they saw this “to die for car” pull in to the parking lot and out I came, the new teacher, an ex-nun who was the driver of the Thunderbird convertible! Can you imagine?
Since that day in 1965 life has been good and there have never been any regrets about the decisions made. Within two weeks I had my own car and I can assure you, it was nothing like that 1962 white Ford Thunderbird with the beautiful red leather interior!
Me and my Mom on Holy Habit Day
April 30th, 1960
by Marian Bulford
In the March 31st 1901 UK Census Lilian Mary Symons was listed as a ‘servant girl/domestic’ in Leicester, Leicestershire in the employ of Mrs. Mary Whatnall, ‘Retired Lunatic Asylum Matron’ Mrs. Whatnall’s niece also lived in the house.¹
The 18 year old Lilian had, the previous November 25th given birth to a daughter. The father of the baby was a Royal Navy Cooper and master carpenter Thomas Bevan whom Lilian met when she was 17. They had started to court, but neither of them realised she was pregnant when Thomas left for sea. He was gone not knowing he was to be a father and Lilian had no contact with him for the next three years.
Lilian was the oldest in a family of five. Her father was a jobbing gardener and her mother a housewife so they would have had no means to take care of Lilian and another child.
How Lilian must have felt at that time, being pregnant and unmarried is not known, but I can only imagine how she would have had to approach her family and tell them. She also had to tell them that she did not know where Thomas, the father was.
Lilian’s father Thomas Symons unsuccessfully searched for Thomas and he also wrote to the Royal Navy regularly to find out the father’s whereabouts, but to no avail.²
In the 1900’s in the United Kingdom, unmarried pregnant women were often disowned by their families and the work house was the only place they could go during and after the birth of their child. There were no fees, but hard work was expected of the inmates. ³
According to my family, although Lilian was not ‘disowned’ by her family she did give birth to her baby and her child’s birth certificate states the child was born in the ‘Leicestershire Workhouse’.
In addition, the original birth certificate also had the words ‘ILLEGITIMATE’ in large letters stamped over the entire certificate. Lilian immediately tore it up and threw it away. 4
Lilian’s circumstances definitely changed, as I have a wonderful photo of the child at two years old and she is dressed in a very attractive dress with a matching dolly. These are not the usual working attire for someone living in a 1902-era work house and tape recordings of family told me her parents looked after the baby daughter and Lilian went to work for Mrs. Whatnall.
Thomas Bevan did eventually return from sea and Lilian and he got married on 25th April 1904 when the child was three and a half years old.5
In the 1911 Census 10 years later, Lilian is the ‘head’ of a household with three additional children. They lived in the Royal Navy Port of Plymouth, Devon England and Thomas was once again, back at sea.6
The couple went on to have four more children, who all lived to adulthood, including my grandmother, Edith, who had no idea she was born out of wedlock until she was 65 years old, but that is another story!
1 1901 UK Census at Ancestry.com
3 Family tape recordings
4 Certified copy of a Birth Certificate, Leicestershire City Council, England
5 Registered marriages in April, May and June 1904 Leicestershire, England at Ancestry.com
6 Family tape recordings
Lilian Mary Symons 1899
Edith Symons Bevan 1902
Thomas Bevan, RN