Friday, May 9, 2014


on her wedding day, in pink
Mom was born Tina Martha Doerksen, the second of two children to Isaac and Marie Doerksen. Her brother Peter (Pete) was two years older. They were small children when 29-year-old Isaac died on their acreage in Montana, to which they had moved from Minnesota. For a reason unknown to descendants, Grandma Doerksen moved to Saskatchewan where she met and married Abram Willems, a recent widower with six children. My mom was now a stepchild to Mr. Willems. Marie bore five more children to Abram and her hands and her life was full of responsibility. The initial Willems six had loved their birth mom and it was difficult to acquire affection for this stand-in mom. At age 17 Pete, left the farm and travelled back to Minnesota and distant family. Losing him hurt mom deeply. This was post WW1 and Pre-WW2 Prairie life, lean, meager, subsistence living. Mom managed to stay in school until grade 9 when she had to go to work, gardening, housecleaning, anything for a tiny stipend. She was a baptized believer, a churchgoer, a choir member, a good lady, very attractive with long dark hair. There were early family incidents, secrets about which she never spoke.

Ed Unruh noticed her when she was 19 and she agreed to marry him when she was 22. He was 26, a very good man, but he also was not a Christian. In the Mennonite community of Hepburn Sk., that relationship was forbidden. She could not be married in the church, and she could not wear a white gown. Those were the graceless cultural rules. Had anyone asked Ed why he was not a child of faith, they would have learned that he didn’t understand mercy and forgiveness. His parents were god-fearing people, and he saw his mother go daily into the barn, bow on her knees in prayer, and he concluded that he did not qualify and could not live up to such devotion. He liked jazz and dance music and an occasional cigarette and a bottle of beer.

But Dad loved his country Canada, and when war broke out, he enlisted in the RCAF, another dissident act in a pacifist community. And Mom gave him up for those war years as she nursed me. I saw him occasionally. She and I travelled with him to Gananoque for one of his postings but then he was shipped to White Horse, Alaska and mom and I were back in Hepburn. In post war years, mom and dad ran their own coffee shop and gas station, made the decision to move to Ontario and dad began working in factories. Mom bore Murray, five years my junior and much later Neale, eleven years younger than I. During those early years, my mother contributed to the family income by sewing clothes for others, costumes for the Ice Skating company, some house cleaning for others, and cooking special meals when commissioned. She developed this into a remarkable home-based catering business and was in demand by wealthy families to serve up delicious custom ordered dinners for many people. Part of her Christian service was head chef at Fair Havens Conference Grounds for many summers. Eventually Mom landed a role with Ontario Paper Mill Head Office to prepare lunches and coffee break snacks. She assembled her recipes to produce a cookbook for which Neale and I provided graphics, and she printed 1000 copies, all of them gone quickly.

During her primary working years the 117 pound young women became a hefty 185 with arms like Hulk Hogan, and then in retirement and following a drastic emergency surgery, she became petite once again. For some early years she questioned herself because she had married a non-Christian, but Dad at age 37 put his trust in Christ. All three of her sons grew up to become involved in Christian work. Her supreme surprise and satisfaction came from recognition of her leadership skills by other women and their investment of confidence by electing her to President of a Christian women’s organization. For several years she wrote monthly articles and marvelled that a grade nine grad could have accomplished this.
She lived until November 2007 when she was 88 years of age, her last years being difficult until her mind could not recognize her predicament any longer. She is in paradise now, as surely as when Jesus spoke to a convicted felon impaled beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” If true for him, then certainly for her.

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