Margaret Gormley is about to lose her job but she is busy counting her blessings.
She regrets the Ship Hector Company Store will be closing soon, calling it a great loss for proprietor Karla MacFarlane and the Pictou waterfront but she considers herself fortunate to have spent 23 years at a job she loved.
“I loved every minute of it, never had a single day I hated to go to work. It was great to work and close to home when my kids were young. I worked with lovely people and it was a grand job for meeting people from so many different places,” she said.
Counting her blessings is a way of life for Margaret who was raised with seven brothers and a sister in west Belfast and lived there at the height of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, when sectarian violence between Protestant and Catholic groups was rampant.
“You were on one side or the other, middle ground did not exist. You were swept up in it whether you wanted it or not. We all lived very carefully because we didn’t know from one day to the next whether a father, mother, brother or sister might be shot,” she said, recalling how a friend who married the day after her lost her husband to a bullet within a short time.
Gormley’s former husband was offered a position with Michelin in Nova Scotia in 1974. They arrived one week before Christmas to the short-lived novelty of falling snow.
“We had two young children in Ireland and The Troubles made it much easier to leave home. Like generations of emigrants before us, we wanted something better for the children. We thought we’d get away from it all until things improved but we didn’t know the war would last 30 years. ”
Despite being happy to leave the daily strife behind, Gormley initially felt isolated in Pictou and yearned for news of Ireland.
“At home we’d become accustomed to constantly listening to the news to know who had been shot or killed and the location of the latest trouble. In Pictou we certainly didn’t get Irish news on a daily basis.”
She remembers an early shopping trip to a grocery store where customers in front of her were complaining fiercely about the wait at the check-out.
“Anytime we left west Belfast and went into town for shopping we had to line up outside the store and perhaps wait an hour or more, no matter if it was raining or bitter cold, to have our purses searched by the military before we could get into the store. Believe me, we didn’t dare complain. I came from that to a place where no one cared if you were Catholic or Protestant or went to any church at all.”
She also remembers marvelling the first time she heard of different churches working together on a community project.
“There was much that was new to me but I began to meet people, mostly through the children, and I found the people of Pictou to be very kind, very good people.”
As a child she watched friends and neigbours emigrating to Australia, knowing their families would never see them again.
“By the time we left Ireland travel had become much easier. We had many people come to visit in Pictou and we were able to get back home to see our families. Through the years I learned that my children, who grew up without an aunt or an uncle or a cousin anywhere near, had a need to know their family and the places they came from. They have made connections with their Irish relatives and isn’t it all so much easier with technology today?”
Gormley considers it her greatest blessing to have raised seven children in a peaceful community.
“If one of the kids was late home from school I had no worry they’d been blown up or taken off the street as happened to many in Belfast. As they grew up I was happy for them to travel. Two of them have lived in Ireland for a time and I have two living in London and one in India at the moment.”
One daughter, Mairead, spent eight years in Ireland before returning to Pictou with an Irish husband.
“Now isn’t that a great blessing, an Irish son-in-law! He’s from west Belfast so he knows all the streets I know, knows what happened when and where, and he misses the soda bread and the potato bread just as I do.”
Gormley cheered from afar as the Good Friday Peace Accord was reached in Northern Ireland in 1998, political prisoners were released from jail and all sides committed to peace.
“The Irish have been through some terrible times but it is a gorgeous country, a land of music and wonderful poetry. I love to visit there but Pictou is where I’m staying. I have eight grandchildren in Nova Scotia and I would never want to be without them.”
She will barely have left the store behind when she is scheduled for a hip replacement.
“I don’t know if anyone has ever been as excited about an operation but I can hardly wait. My only chance to see a bit of India is while my son is there so I’m very motivated for a good recovery.”
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org