What was going on in your neighborhood, your town, your country, and the world during the time period you’ve decided to write about? You can do a little research to refresh your memory. Make a list of the ways that these larger events affected your life.
As mentioned before, Halifax-Dartmouth (commonly referred two as the “Twin Cities”) was a navy town, and so it naturally dominated our daily lives. Following the 1968 Unification of the Canadian Forces, and budget cuts, HMCS Bonaventure (affectionately known as the “Bonnie”), the only aircraft carrier in our fleet, was decommissioned in Halifax on 3 July 1970. Her last voyage in 1969 was to offshore exercises off the coast of England. On their way home, the HMCS Kootenay (one of our destroyers) had a terrific explosion and fire on board, and the Bonnie’s crew played a big role in putting the fire out and saved a lot of lives.
My boyfriend, François, who was an observer on the tracker aircraft on board, had been away for 3 months and I was on the dock at Shearwater, freezing my toes off, waiting for the ship to dock. When she finally did, I, in the midst of a mob of wives and girlfriends, rushed aboard, trying to find our men in the maze of messes and sleeping quarters below decks. When I finally spotted François, he turned and ran away from me, laughing. Of course, he didn’t go very far, he was only joking around. I didn’t find it very funny myself.
After the decommision of the Bonnie, François took training for his new duties on the Sea King Helicopters. They also went to sea on the destroyer helicopter escorts, such as HMCS Saguenay, the ship François was on. The Saguenay was part of the NATO fleet, and he made several voyages on her.
A sailor’s wife or girlfriend at most times leads a lonely life due to the nature of her man’s vocation. Unfortunately, there were many examples of infidelity on the part of the women left at home, but I would never have done that to François. That didn’t stop him, however, from accusing me of doing so. During the approximately three-year course of our relationship, this happened many times and caused me much grief and heartache, especially as it was completely undeserved. No matter how much I denied it and reassured him, he continued to be accusatory and make outrageously jealous scenes, even in public. To make matters worse, I was pretty sure that he was seeing other women when he was away on naval exercises. The jealousy and abuse escalated over time and we finally broke up for good in 1971, but not before my self-esteem and self-worth were pretty much decimated.
There are six degree granting universities in Halifax – Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University, Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Nova Scotia Community College and The Atlantic School of Theology. There are 81 post secondary students per 1000 people, three times the national average.
Unfortunately, I was never one of them (except for the Accounting 101 night classes I took at St. Mary’s one winter.) Most girls in my town only went to university if their parents had money (which mine didn’t) and they were looking for a husband. Our generally accepted life path was go to school, take a trade, work for a few years in order to put away enough money for a down payment on a house, then marry your boyfriend and start having children. End of story.
I did manage to win a first-year tuition scholarship for the Nova Scotia College of Art, but contrary to what I was told when I first applied, the scholarship could not be deferred for a year while I took a secretarial course. I would need some means to work my way through university, and a secretarial course would give me something to offer. I gave up the scholarship and with it, my dream of becoming a commercial artist.
Nova Scotia has always been an economically depressed province. When I was young, many people were employed in seasonal trades, such as fishing and forestry, or construction. Mining employed a good deal of the population in certain areas of the province. Although there used to be some old gold mines and there were gypsum mines as well, most miners were employed in the coal mines, and countless lives were lost either because of mining disasters or black lung disease. Life has been hard for Nova Scotians on the whole, with people scrabbling to make a decent living.
I found the boys in my town that went on to university to be arrogant, condescending and full of themselves. I wanted nothing to do with them. I was much more comfortable with the blue-collar workers, who were down to earth and appreciated a bit of fun on the weekends. I managed to avoid thinking about how life could pull them down in the future and thus affect my health and happiness. My parents worked hard and although we didn’t have a lot of money, they seemed happy together. I was really good at looking at things through rose-coloured glasses, a gift from my mother.
While I was coming of age, the “Twin Cities” were growing and developing business opportunities as well. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970’s was slow to make inroads in our region. Oh, there was lots of talk ridiculing those “Libbers” who refused to allow men to open doors for them. They were judged “dykes” and became another joke in the male arsenal for those men who wanted to undermine the movement by demeaning the Libbers through belittling them with ridicule. Being one of the first women of my generation (in our area) who was a single parent, I was all for equal pay for equal work. I also felt that women should be able to take a shot at running things for a change, because I felt the men had made a great mess of things and caused too much war and suffering through greed and their lust for power and control.
Women were as capable as men, even though a great deal of debate took place on this subject. Men argued that women just weren’t as physically strong as men, and intimated that women’s brains weren’t as smart as men’s either. The world was changing; technology was making brute strength less important in the grand scheme of things, and women were educated as well as men, had the right to vote, had control over their own bodies with the help of “the pill”, and were slowly but surely overcoming the opposition to women in power. There was a lot of male posturing about Libbers trying to “change the natural order of things” (i.e., men in domination over women) and they had no hesitation in using the Bible to back up their claims.
I’ve always said that women are their own worst enemies. Here we were, finally beginning to realize our independence and autonomy, yet a good percentage of women who were well-established in their roles as stay-at-home Moms and wives were vehemently trying to protect their way of life. It was their perception that the Libbers wanted to put them down and change their way of life, but I don’t really think anyone wanted that. There may have been a few who spoke unwisely and emotions were high on the subject, but as far as I was concerned, Libbers just wanted the right to be themselves without needing to lean on a man – and that came down to being able to earn their own way with a fair wage.
I didn’t burn my bra or march in protests. I was much too busy trying to support myself and my son without child support payments from his father. In one way, it made things easier for me not to have his father contribute financially to his upbringing, because it gave me the freedom to make choices without having to discuss them with my ex. It also kept him from having the right to spend time with his son. It was great not to have to worry about how his violent ways and drinking habits would influence my son, but I think it was very difficult for my son to grow up without having his father in his life.