She stood at the bow of the Aquitania – one of the 43,000 war brides who arrived by ship to Pier 21 in Halifax after World War II. The crossing could not have been easy with the unpredictable Atlantic during the cold month of January 1947. I imagine her standing there, her petite frame struggling to stand against the wind, dressed in her long skirt and jacket, lively red hair tucked neatly under her cap. She would have been excited about the new adventure that waited, but wary of this new world of which she had only heard stories.
Can you imagine leaving your Father and sisters behind as you traveled alone at 19 years of age across the Atlantic? I liken her at that age to a colt that could not be tamed, struggling against the reins of status quo, willing to give everything she knew up for the man she loved.
The Halifax port loomed larger and larger and finally the big ship docked. As she disembarked from the steel giant, she lightly stepped onto the cold Canadian soil with very fashionable, yet impractical footwear – her open toed shoes.
The trip via train from Halifax to Spirit River would have been long and exhausting. I can imagine as she laid her head against the cold glass of the train window, watching the foreign landscape speed by, she would have reflected on her life.
Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales September 25th, 1927, Eileen was the youngest of 10 children. Her mother, Elizabeth, passed away when she was only three years old, leaving Eileen in the care of her widowed father and older siblings. This is where her strength began to develop out of necessity; coupled with her red hair and welsh/Irish heritage – Eileen grew strong and resourceful.
I spoke at Jack’s funeral about their first meeting in a restaurant. I wondered if he spied her across the crowded room and noticed her twinkling, laughing eyes and lovely red hair. A petite sprite, with an almost uncontainable zest for life.
There is a quote that I recently read that speaks to her nature and it is, “There’s only one place I want to go and it’s to all the places I’ve never been.” That was Eileen – always looking forward to the next thing, the next step.
When her train arrived in Spirit River, she stepped off the train with those open toed shoes into what would have seemed like a frozen wasteland.
Many of us would have wanted to get back on that train and head home to Britain and the familiarity of family. In fact, many did just that – they turned around and went home.
But no….Eileen was committed to this adventure and although part of her might have been wary, her free spirit would have been enthusiastically embracing it!
After living for a time with a family in Spirit River, Eileen and Jack made their home on the farm. There were no cobblestone streets like London, but there were also no air raid sirens or buildings in rubble. She left that behind for the wide Peace Country skies.
I can’t imagine how both exciting AND challenging this time would have been, coupled with wee Jacqueline being born in November of 1947. As we recall, Eileen lost her own mother 17 years previous, so she had no one to guide her through this emotional and exhausting time of her life.
Both Eileen and Jack worked very hard. The land that had been provided to Jack upon his return from WW2 by the Canadian government was completely tree covered and needed to be broken in order to grow both a crop and a garden. It was a stressful time in their lives as they made both a home for themselves and developed a livelihood.
Life went on and with that came their second child Linda in the warm, summer sun of June of 1953. Their family was growing.
In 1958, the Kucharuk’s moved to the big city of Dawson Creek and settled into the Blue Bird Motel as they searched for more permanent accommodation. This did not mean that they abandoned the farm – no, far from it. They continued to farm the land and every summer were spent there, tending to the crops and garden.
After their short stay at the Blue Bird Motel, they moved into a rental home not far from where they built the existing home in 1961. During that time, they welcomed Bob or “Bobby” as his parents and siblings affectionately referred to him.
Jacquie, Lindy and Bobby – the family was complete.
Eileen flourished in her new home, finally able to tend to a flower garden once again which no doubt reminded her of her beloved England.
While Jack worked away from home, Eileen immersed herself in the goings on of the community. In fact, from 1957 onward, Eileen worked for Elections Canada in various positions of authority. In her time with Elections Canada she was a part of every Prime Minister elected from John Diefenbaker to Justin Trudeau. From the 18th Prime Minister of Canada to the 29th Prime Minister – Eileen was a part of the process.
Her unwavering community service and her intense desire to continually improve herself was known by those who knew her well. Perhaps it was because she was a proud immigrant to Canada or perhaps it was because she needed constant change and personal fulfillment – whatever the case, the list of organizations that she contributed to is endless.
Two projects that I recall clearly were the fundraising campaign for the DC Hospital CT Scanner and the paving of the road in front of their home. While different in scope, both were projects where Eileen could leverage her negotiating skills.
Have you ever negotiated with Eileen? Well…..let’s just say that she came out on top most of the time. As publicity manager for the CT campaign, Eileen cajoled Jack into participating as well, which was no small feat! When she became determined that she was “no longer going to live with a dirt road in front of her home!”, she petitioned her neighbours and led the charge for fresh asphalt – that red haired English rose was in full bloom!
We say that it was because she was a Libran that Eileen was devoted to fairness and equality for her fellow human beings. She would stanchly defend the underdog and speak up for those who could not or would not speak up for themselves. As someone surrounded by Librans, I do believe that it is true. I am looking at you Bob, Michele, Amy, and Jessie.
Eileen was a career woman – she worked for many years at the Hudson’s Bay as well as she was a ticket agent for Pacific Western or PWA. Airline work seems to run in the family with Jacqueline, Linda, Brian and myself all working for airlines.
Working at the airport no doubt fed her desire to travel and both she and Jack did a lot of traveling over the years: They went overseas, stuck their toes in the sand of Hawaii and Mexico and traveled to Eastern Canada. I see that same desire in her children and her grandchildren as they travel frequently to all corners of the world.
We all agree that without the passion of Eileen and her incredible desire to better herself and her surroundings that Jack might have been content to stay home and tend his garden. She pushed him gently (and sometimes not so gently) out of his comfort zone and the reluctance he felt most often gave way to pure enjoyment once he arrived at his destination.
Food was a big part of Eileen’s life – not only was she a great cook, but she loved great food! She had an incredible palette and could pin point even the most minor of gastronomic errors. One time while camping, I was making her some hot chocolate before bed. I was tired and therefore I microwaved the water and mixed in the coco. Handing it to her she took a sip and made a wee face.
She then asked, “Did you boil the water?” and I was caught red handed! So I lied and said, “Of course I boiled the water…..just the way you like it”.
Jacqueline’s discovered a love of cooking from her mother and her ability to make satisfying, nutritious comfort food. Linda’s love of fruitcake and subsequent recipe tweaking was a result of being introduced to the heavy, fruity dessert by Eileen. Linda went on to make up her own recipe, complete with ‘raisins that make me feel funny mummy’ – as poor Brian was sneaking rum soaked raisins from the kitchen.
Bob shares Eileen’s red hair and her temperament and has the same fierce sense of fairness. He too fights for the underdog.
After Jack’s passing 6 years ago, Eileen could have given up…..but she didn’t. Her incredible strength allowed her to rebuild her life as her own person and she blossomed. Her companion and dear friend John was someone who helped her thrive and live her final years so fulfilled. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you John.
Last night as we visited with Pastor Cory, he said something that really struck home. He spoke about living a life with passion instead of perfection. That is exactly what Mom, Eileen, Grandma, Grandma K and Great Grandma did in her 90 years – she lived her life with a passion for life and a wicked sense of humour. A life of perfection would have been boring – can’t we all agree?
Eileen passed away in her own home, with her children at her side in the wee hours of February 1st. She leaves behind her children Jacqueline and husband Lorne, Linda, Bob and his wife Judy. Grandchildren Deris, Michele and her husband Greg, Brian and his wife Krista, Jennifer and husband Bob, Amy and husband Ian, Matthew and wife Samantha. Greatgrandhildren Charlie, Carter & Bennet, Dylan and Isla.
Eileen is predeceased by her husband Jack and her 8 sisters and one brother.
The family would like to thank each and every one of you who touched Eileen’s life and for coming here to support us today. Thank you to Jaki Stanley for the lovely movie presentation and the cozy crocheted blanket that she dropped by the house for Eileen – we are in your debt.
In closing I would like to read a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
Mother, you were just a girl,
So many years ago.
You had your loves and had your dreams,
You watched us come and go.
You watched us make the same mistakes,
That you had made before,
But that just made you hold us tight,
And love us all the more.
We haven’t always thought about
The things that you have seen.
To us you’ve just been ‘Mother’,
No thought of who you’ve been.
But we remember now in love,
Your life from start to end,
And we’re just glad we knew you,
As Mother, and as Friend.
We will miss you, Love Judy