Things people have said
What we can learn from Athabasca University’s oldest student
By Reinekke Lengelle
I started working with Louise Daley, Athabasca University’s oldest student, a few years ago because she was interested in doing more writing. Louise had already finished her Bachelor of General Studies in 2017 and decided to keep on the learning journey in the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies (MA-IS) program. She completed a history of her experience in England in World War II with Dr. Angie Abdou and then started on the course Narrative Possibilities with me. In this course she wrote a long fiction story where she revisits the atmosphere of her life in England before she came to Canada at age 58 in 1981.
She is currently completing another writing course in MAIS, where she’s writing a series of shorter pieces, both fiction and non-fiction, on the people and places that have made an impression on her, including a humorous reflection on what people have said to her throughout life. I’ve visited her twice in her Calgary home and note that in person she’s as funny and engaging as she is on the page!
On a more personal note, when my husband died of cancer in November 2018 (while Louise was studying with me), she offered a beautiful poem to me which she had written when she herself was widowed at 55. I value her personal experience and the writing she has done here for her own well-being.
I still can see him sitting there
Hear him speaking like a ghost
Your husband, he’s got cancer
He has three months at the most.
He died his pain was ended
but mine had just begun
Because I was left in darkness
without a gleam of sun.
I’d always been a clinging vine
and clung to him in the past
But God has given me two feet
Now He’s made me stand on them at last.
Louise Daley, 1979
Her latest story, “Things people have said,” is one I think other AU students can benefit from and be inspired by so I asked her if she would share it. In the courses I teach, the learning is about how the stories we tell and believe about ourselves can either support us or hold us back. The idea is that what we tell about our lives and what others tell us needs to be articulated, examined and often re-narrated.
A part of how we come to believe our (identity) stories is through the things other people have told us about who we are and what we’re capable of. Those things easily become part of our self-narrative, even when it turns out much of it is not true and can seed doubt.
Things people have said
By Louise Daley
When I think of things, people have said I cannot help but laugh. Dare I start at the very beginning? From the moment I was born, I have been told several times that I would not live long. I was even christened straight away, but I do not know why that was needed. You see, I am now 95 and still here. As my heart had been damaged, my life was always interjected with,” you cannot do that, your heart won’t stand it,” but it did!
When I started going to school, there was a note to the head that I must not run, play games, or, well, do anything all the other children did except sit at my desk. However, I can remember one time that I even surprised myself and my abilities, even if I was lectured about it afterwards. I must have been about 11 years old, and we lived in a small village. The school was attached to the church, the name of both being St. John’s. Therefore St. John’s Day was a big day for the village. The day started with a parade of the children, the girls leading all in white dresses and ended with dances and races.
To begin with, I was placed with the dancers doing the Maypole dance. At some point, a bonnet was placed on my head, and I was handed a ribbon and someone had pushed me into the circle. I had watched the practices so just went along with it. Later in the day, I was standing watching the races being run, and unbelievably my name was called, so I went forward and found myself lined up for the vault race, where I had to run a set distance and jump over hurdles. Well, I did as I was told and, believe it or not, I won first place!!! It was a good thing that none of my family was there.
During 1939, while England was preparing for the war, I was fourteen, and things were slow for me. I spent most of my time standing in various queues, usually the food line, where I would stand for several older people who lived around us to help out. When I turned seventeen, the thought of being called up arrived, and there was worry about how my parents would manage without me, as they were older, and mother had problems walking. I ended up going to the employment office and getting a job. Yes, it was war work, but I did not need a medical examination to get in. It was heavy work, but I managed over two years until I collapsed at work. Yet I survived that too.
Then I got the rather shattering news, just before I got married, my doctor insisted I take my future husband to see him and we were told I could not have children. In spite of this news, I was able to have four girls. Admittedly they were four dangerous times, but I am still here!
Then I was advised not to take on the insurance work that involved me travelling and going door to door, but I really enjoyed it. I also ran Brownie Packs with lots of energetic girls which sounds overwhelming, but it was fun to do.
I was also advised not to come to Canada, but I did, and it has given me wonderful friends and a whole lot of laughs.
But I think the funniest is the latest thing a person has said about me. I was interested in an e-mail that was sent to my doctor about me, and I asked if I could have a copy, and in it, it read “I suspect that she will not live long enough to experience more problems.”
I’ll let you know if that happens.
About the Authors
Louise Daley is Athabasca’s oldest student. She is 95 and is currently doing courses in the MAIS program.
Reinekke Lengelle is a MAIS professor and poet who specializes in how “writing the self” can empower us both personally and professionally.