October 14, 2011

On this very special day in 1930...

Day 287 of Vintage 365


It was a cold morning, whatever remnants of the short-lived summer may have lingered into fall had already disappeared and another seemingly endless winter was beginning to burrow into the once thriving town of Dawson.

In the dim oil lamp light a petite French woman by the name of Marie Lefebvre readied herself to give birth to her ninth and final child. Seven girls and one son had proceeded this babe's birth. Seventeen years of bringing life into the world had taken their toil on the mother's body, but deep inside her soul she was content and eager to meet the little she'd been carrying beneath her apron for three-quarters of a year.

Far away "down south", the world was abuzz with talk and stories of the economic crisis, fortunes lost, families forced to abandon them homes, jobless men trekking the country, desperate for any scrap of work. Up in the Yukon though, in their small hamlet of the north, there was still stability in 1930.

This town, once wild with the glint and fever of cold, had slowed rapidly over the decades since crazy rush of '98 that brought her husband, Charles, north on foot over the gruelling Chilkoot Trail, a thousand pounds of provisions (as mandated by the Mounties) lugged over the treacherous incline, pack load by exhausting pack load, on his strong back.

He was a good man, her Charles Burkhard. With his wavy brown hair, statuesque height, strong - but kind - features, and worker's hands, he lead the large family well, provided for his children, was sweet to her. Though more than twenty years her senior, his face - for all the toil it'd seen - was young, and few noticed the age gap between them.

At 34 years old, she wasn't ancient by any means, but she sensed, in that way mothers inherently do, that this would be her last child, so she took extra care to hold onto the memory of each moment, as the contractions grew stronger, closer, and her breath became heavier.

The birth was a straightforward one, easy and - as much as such things can be - pleasant. Not to anyone's surprise, the child was a girl. Quiet and calm, she cried immediately, nestled against her mother's breast, and slept soundly as the arctic winds waltzed against the wooden walls of the small home above the bakery that the family owned, before it fleeted off to howl through the towering mountains nearby.

Looking down on her tiny infant, Marie pondered a name - something French, perhaps, in a nod to her Quebec linage. Bernice, yes, Bernice. She liked the way it matched the "B" of the family's surname, and that it had a charmingly feminine ring to it.

On this day, 81 years ago precisely, in the snow-locked land of the Yukon,  Bernice Schill (née Burkhard), my maternal grandma was born to loving, hard working parents. She would grow up to be a wife and mother herself, live in three provinces and two continents, deal with tremendous heartache (including the passing of her only son), battle chronic illness, and yet, never lose that sweet, kind disposition her mother saw in her instantly.


{My grandma, Bernice Schill, looking so summery and lovely, in an photo taken circa 1950.}

Though it's been a very long time she she last set foot in Dawson - a lifetime ago, really - she still has the spirit of the north in her veins, going strong as her father as he set out from his home in Nebraska for the prospect of gold in the far-flung promise land of the Yukon.

She, my grandma (who has always, adorably, spelled her chosen grandmotherly moniker as "Grannie"), is a venerable, beautiful, wise, tenacious, caring, amazing woman, and on this day, I celebrate every moment of her fascinating life, and each gift and blessing she has bestowed on mine.

From the bottom of my heart, and all of my love, happiest 81st Birthday, Grannie!


  1. What an absolutely lovely post, Jessica. You write beautifully, really creating a scene I could picture vividly.

    A very happy birthday to your wonderful Grannie. Hope her day is beautiful and abundantly blessed!!

    Sadly, I no longer have any grandmothers. I lost them both back in 1996, one in April, one in December. They were precious to me, just as yours is to you.

    By the way, I found it interesting that you said she sensed it would be her last child, so she savored the moments. I had always planned to have 4 or 5 children, and I never dreamed that #2 would be my last. If I had known I wouldn't carry or birth another child, I would have savored the moments of even that difficult labor more.

    By the way, I forgot to tell you, your post about the gorgeous winter coat...I snagged it for my Pinterest yesterday.

    I can easily see that your blog is going to be one of my favorites. I am going to try to find the time to go back and read some of your back posts...after all, I can't get enough of the vintage life.


  2. Dear Jessica,
    This beautiful post is such a wonderful tribute to your "Grannie". You write so beautifully and paint such an intimate picture of a special moment in time. Your Grannie must be so proud to have such a caring and thoughtful granddaughter.

    It's so good to have you back, I hope that the break that you took helped to restore you.