Mothers, fighters – Mother’s Day Message 2013

“He who plants a tree, plants a hope”

– Lucy Larcom

I voted early yesterday in the Provincial elections here in BC.  Having lived in Europe for so many years, voting locally is an artisanal gelato of a treat!  I give thanks to the suffragettes who suffered for women to be granted the right to vote about a hundred years ago.  So many steps and firsts women have fought for.  My Master’s thesis advisor Martha McClintock told us tales of the first bra-burning and about women having to use separate entrances in Ivy League colleges in the 1960s .  Martha is one who has pushed peacefully, elegantly and eloquently for equality.  I have had wonderful mentors and role models of powerful and loving women in my life.


Suffragette, suffering for women’s right to vote

Norah Beatrice Lee was an eccentric who helped to raise me.  One of my fond Norah memories was ‘doing Norah’s hair” which involved putting twigs and leaves on her head and any other bits of ribbon and elastic bands we could muster, plus the occasional insect.  She would close her eyes during our gleeful administrations and then shake it all out.  Norah was most famous in the community for never wearing shoes.  Never.  In all weather: snow, sleet, hail and ice she went barefoot.  Having loaned my parents seed money to start their first business, Nora’s hard-cracked heels were always welcome in our home.  A child of Saskatchewan’s bitter depression, Norah became the first woman to operate a digger.  She was on the cover of MacLeans Magazine I was told.   When people asked her the secret to her long-life, she barked, “I stay away from men and doctors!”


Norah Beatrice Lee. We would dance up storms in our kitchen together.  She had great rhythm in her (bare) soles.

My great-grandmother from India was widowed at 18 with three young boys.  Abstaining from men and re-marriage, she dedicated the rest of her life to her sons and my mother,   She fought to keep them alive during India’s Partition.  Beiji passed on her iron will and determination to my incredible mother, who has fought many a winning battle in the game of life.

Me, Mom and sister Jyoti

Me, Mom Ratana, and sister Jyoti

My husband’s great aunt Tante Bite was the first French woman to get a PhD in Physics in France.  Today I came smack upon another trail-blazer.  It was at an unlikely setting, a beautiful bridal shower.  I had just given a gift of trees to my friend Harmony when her mom Barb spoke up, “I was the first tree-planter, you know.  *Woman* tree-planter, “she clarified, “I bet you didn’t know that,” she said with a smile.  No, I didn’t know that at all.  For those of you unaware of this profession, tree planters spend summers planting thousands of trees to help rectify clear-cut logging practises.  Now, I grew up knowing Barbara Roberts in the community as a warm, effusive and practical soul.  But I clearly hadn’t spoken to her enough.  “Really!” I exclaimed, “The *very* first?”  I perked up my eager ears.  Barb raised her fist, emphatically as she told the tale:  Her hippy-friend-tree-planters in the early 1970s wouldn’t hire her or permit her to plant with them.  “Tree planting is not for women,” they shook their heads; No Way Sister.  Not one to take No for an answer, Barb banged on the door of MacMillan Bloedel and insist she be given a trial.  Up for the back-breaking work, Barb was hired as BC’s and perhaps Canada’s first woman tree planter in 1972.  One small step that opened the gates.

Barb roberts

My busy friend Lucy who co-farms up in Pemberton was telling me how many organic farmers (aka Heros) she knows who are women.  In these frightening times Ecocide is sad new word and the direct result of the war machines of GMO production.  In these times where the GMO issue is the equivalent of last century’s “Big Tobacco,” women are stepping up for the land.  Along with men of course (love men), women are saving seeds and preserving bio-diversity in the face of adversity.  These farmers are nurturing the planet one precious tract of land at a time.  These heroines are purifying our waters, detoxifying our Earth, allowing ecosystems to flourish.  And giving bees a chance.  I was recently given a medal for being a living organ donor.  If I was given a medal for saving 1 life, our organic farmers should be honoured daily.  I dedicate this medal to them:

from iphone May 2013 718

Women.  Fighters, nurturer’s,  life-givers.  We women become ecosystems of our own when motherhood comes to us through the trial and fire of labour.  We sacrifice our sanity and sleep for that little helpless creature we created.  On my 40th Mother’s Day as a daughter and my 11th as a mother, I salute the fighting courage of my mother and every other mother who has stood up for common sense in the face of a fair or an un-fair fight.  For mothers who have fought for freedom, for change, for justice, for the meek, the voiceless and the helpless.  I. Honour. You.

3 thoughts on “Mothers, fighters – Mother’s Day Message 2013

  1. Gurdeep Stephens Post author

    My Dad Arran wrote:
    I have to correct one factoid, however, as you state: “Having loaned my parents seed money to start their first business, Nora’s hard-cracked heels were always welcome”. Norah never loaned us money to start our first business. She sold us her brother’s house, our first house in 1970 which she inherited. She held the mortgage and we paid her instalments plus interest until we had paid her in full. The first business, the Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant on W. 4th ave, in Kitsilano, was opened in 1967, with $7 and $1,500 in loans from a friend and a distant relative. Norah came to work with me at the Golden Lotus in 1968. She refused to work for wages, instead she worked for room and board, and was a real inspiration. You can read about the history of the Lotus here:

  2. Tessa Lloyd

    Thanks for sharing this Gurdeep, strong and beautiful. Norah, what a woman. And your powerful mother who I look forward to meeting one day.

    Sacrifices are us, indeed-but oh the joys we reap are all the deeper and more wondrous as a result! And, eventually, our sleep and sanity return… and we get GRANDCHILDREN! (three so far and a steady supply anticipated over the next few years).

  3. Kim Richmond

    Lucky I got signed up on your friend list just in time to see this post Deepa! I enjoyed every word and so fun to see the barbie story!


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