My Other Mother

I first met Barbara Harris when I was in my early 20s. I worked at JCPenney in the shoe department. She and her husband Earle had seven children. She was in the store often buying shoes for them.

One day as I fitted shoes on one of her kids, Barb asked me if I would have lunch with her at the American Café across the street. I was surprised, but I said sure. As we ate our sandwiches, she asked me if I would like to have a blind date. I was surprised, to say the least.

“It’s okay,” she said, “I’m a minister’s wife.”

She told me about a young man she knew who had said, “Barbara, find me a wife.” And that’s how I met Barb.

I had a couple of dates with the young man, but we really didn’t click. On the other hand, there definitely was a click with the Harris family. The oldest sibling, Grant, was married and gone from home, but the remaining six siblings were still at home, and they opened their arms to me and drew me in.

It was a difficult time in my life. I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I was still living at home with my mother. Her health was poor, and it was a pretty scary time for me as I had lost my father at the age of eight. I was a lost soul, and Barbara and her family seemed to sense my need.

Two of the sisters, Barbara Ann and Martha, were near my age, and we hung out together a lot. I often was invited to stay to dinner. There were so many nights, I rode my bicycle home with aching stomach muscles from all the laughing I did while sitting around their long kitchen table. In addition to being a Presbyterian minister, Earle taught English at LSSU. He was a master at the art of the pun. The kids all fed off him. The laughter was contagious and healing for me.

If it hadn’t been for Barbara and Earle and their family, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to start college. They gave me the encouragement I so desperately needed. I believe that many times people come into our lives when we need them. Barbara was my other mother. She and her family nurtured me toward a different life. Even after the older girls left Sault Ste. Marie, Barb and I maintained a friendship. We often had lunch together. She would walk down the hill and we’d meet at the American Café.

When Earle retired from teaching, they sold their home and bought a mobile home. It wasn’t long after that, they decided to move to Florida. I was profoundly sorry to see them go. We saw each other a few times, but they never moved back to the Sault.

I watched and listened in March as the Harris family, scattered across the country, coped with Barb’s last days. They set up a private Facebook page to give all of us daily reports. It meant a lot to me to be included in that group so I could offer whatever comfort and support to the family.

I have always been attracted to large families. It has seemed to me that it helps to divide the grief when a member is lost. My other mother died peacefully on April 3 and is now with her husband, Earle. The family agreed she had a good death.

We all should be so blessed.

Cris Roll


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