Last week I spent a morning in Carmen Manitoba talking to a group of some twenty -five women about my life and travels. Susan Mooney had invited me to speak. She and her husband Tom are long-time residents of Carmen, but Tom’s parents Isaac and Lottie Mooney lived in the Steinbach area from 1944-1980. One Christmas Lottie gave her son Tom and his wife Susan a gift subscription to The Carillon and they have been subscribers ever since. Susan has been reading my newspaper column Viewpoint since I first began writing it in 1985. She had always wanted to meet me and decided inviting me to Carmen, as a speaker for her women’s group, would be a way to do that.
I was interested to learn that the group, which meets at the Carmen United Church, has been in existence for almost forty years. Every Wednesday they invite a speaker to make a presentation and then they ask questions and have a discussion. In the weeks prior to my October visit, Theresa Oswald, a former Manitoba Health Minister had been a speaker as had Jean Friesen a university professor and spokesperson for the Treaty Relations Committee of Manitoba. The week following my visit Nilufer Rahman a Muslim community builder and filmmaker was scheduled as the guest and after her retired Canadian senator, Joanne Buth was speaking. I was told authors Miriam Toews and recent Governor General award winner Joan Thomas had presented in past years.
The women began their meeting by introducing themselves and then answering a question posed by Susan Mooney. She said since she had always wanted to meet me she wondered who might be a person the other women had always wanted to meet. A number thought they would like to meet Queen Elizabeth while several named favorite childhood authors like Lucy Maude Montgomery, Beatrix Potter, and A.A. Milne. Others mentioned the Dali Lama, Michelle Obama, Margaret Atwood, and Eric Clapton. One woman was looking forward to meeting a refugee family that would be arriving in Carmen shortly. Hearing the women’s answers was a great way for me to get to know the group a little better. I told them I already felt like we were kindred spirits.
In my talk, I used examples from my own life to expand on an idea I was first introduced to at my son’s university graduation many years ago. On the journey of life we have a choice to be pilgrims or tourists. Which will we be? After my presentation, the women asked questions and made comments and their ideas and contributions were thought-provoking and meaningful. During our lively discussion, I learned more about the women’s families, travels, reading preferences, community work and faith affiliations.
The women take turns bringing soup for lunch each Wednesday, so I was treated to a hearty bowl of hot vegetable soup and some fresh bread before beginning my drive back to Winnipeg. The women in the group are busy with all kinds of other interesting things. The woman to my left at lunch had come to our meeting from her yoga class and the one on my right told me she was headed off to a community choir practice.
Before I said goodbye the women posed for a photo with me. I wanted a reminder of my morning with them. I gave Susan Mooney a hug and thanked her for inviting me. Two other women who also happened to be near the church door as I left gave me hugs too. I left Carmen enriched, blessed and delighted to have spent a morning with such a group of caring, engaged and intelligent women.