Meet My Quest Making Inspirations—
my mother and my aunt
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Making Inspirations
Jeannine (Levesque) Stewart
This past spring I knew that somehow and in some way I wanted to honor my mother whose birthday fell earlier this month. Although it has been 12 years since she died, I find myself checking in with her almost every day, sometimes just to chat, often to ask for her grace or her guidance and I must confess, to ask for her help in finding misplaced objects. People say I look very much like my mother. (Judge for yourself from the photo at the bottom of the page.) My mother died May 14, 1997, in the month of lilacs, her favorite flower.
August's Quest Maker interview strays from its question and answer format so that I can introduce you to the inspirations for Your Next Quest, my mother Lucille (on the right in the above photograph) and my Aunt Jeannine, her younger sister.
To her children, my mother was the best mom ever: loving, thoughtful, solicitous, giver of the best kisses and hugs and always, always, always there when we needed her. By the time my father retired from the Navy, she had moved our family more than nine times. Within a matter of weeks of each move, while my dad adjusted to a new command, my mother unpacked boxes, turned the new house into a home, learned her way around a strange neighborhood or base and settled the five of us in school.
While Lucille was reserved, her warmth shone through in her eyes and in her radiant smile. She could converse with anyone—friend or stranger, old or young—because she put everyone at ease. A consummate listener, she became the confidant of many. With a gregarious and fun-loving father, my mother’s gracious hospitality and her culinary prowess made our home the favored gathering spot for their friends.
The Levesques grew up poor in Montréal, where my mother lived until she married my father in 1950 and moved to the United States. So that her children could be educated at convent school, my Grandmaman had made many sacrifices. At school, my mother excelled and my aunt struggled. It wasn’t until Aunt Jeannine was a young adult that a doctor discovered she was partially deaf, probably since birth. When she was fitted with her first hearing aid, my aunt realized how much she had missed in the classroom, not because she wasn’t smart but because she couldn’t hear.
A bookworm, my mother taught herself English by reading books borrowed from the Bell Canada library by her own aunt, a telephone operator. Even with only one year of secretarial school and with English as her second language, my mother had no peer when it came to expressing herself in person or on paper. Widely read, she could hold her own in any conversation. Family and friends cherished the often humorous, always eloquent observations about events and people that she included in her letters and notes.
Aunt Jeannine learned English on her first job at Bell Canada, where she also met and married my Uncle Pat. (On visits, we children grew up hearing them move effortlessly between English and French and back again.)
Company policy in the early 1950’s dictated that my aunt quit her job when she became pregnant with my cousin Linda. Six months later the same thing happened to my mother here in the States, when she was pregnant with me. They had no choice. Both of them became stay-at-home moms because mothers didn’t have careers outside the home.
As we learned from Cheryl Young (June's Quest Maker), the circumstances of World War II gave many women a chance to follow their passions and launch careers in traditionally male fields. But when the men came home, those jobs disappeared and women were marginalized once again. The result? For many women of that generation, it meant dreams deferred, paths not taken, quests not begun.
With three children poised to start college in quick succession, Lucille was in her early 50’s when she held her first job outside the home since before I was born.
My aunt–an accomplished artist with a strong entrepreneurial streak–started working once my cousins were older, by tutoring children. When she was widowed nearly 30 years ago, she continued tutoring, then started and ran a successful nursery school, taught painting and sold her art at fairs, as well as on commission.
In the mid-1970’s, unlike our mothers who couldn’t afford college, the Meaghers and Stewarts came of age at a time when our parents could financially help those of us who wanted to go to college.
Unlike our mothers, we could choose to combine a career with marriage and raising a family. Unlike our mothers, we could even choose to work during a pregnancy. We had these choices because women in both countries had secured us the right to choose in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
When it came time for college, my mother persuaded me to get a degree that could provide the security she didn’t have when she was growing up. If I became a teacher, it would always be there to fall back on. And so I did.
That desire for security never left her. Instilled in me, it has often been in conflict with my desire to be my own boss that I inherited from my dad. Anytime I strayed from the conventional job path towards entrepreneurship while she was alive, my mother agonized and worried while my father encouraged me. Whenever I faced a choice between taking a risk and playing it safe, she guided me toward security. I know that it was her love and concern for my well-being that led her to be the naysayer to many of my dreams.
Now that my mother is on the other side, there has been a dramatic shift in her point of view. Now I feel her strong encouragement as I move forward on my own journey with all of its twists and turns in a way that she, despite her deep intelligence and immense talent, never had the confidence in herself to pursue. It pains me deeply that as close as we were, I didn’t know what dreams my mother had beyond being a wife and mother.
If my Aunt Jeannine were starting out today with her hearing problem diagnosed at the outset, she would be an entrepreneurial success. For many years, her indomitable spirit has been an inspiration to me. After my Uncle Pat died, undaunted by the thought of traveling alone, she’d make the long drive back and forth from Canada to the States to visit my mother or go on vacation solo.
Today, we women in our 40’s-60’s have something my mother, my aunt and many women from their generation didn’t have. Choice and the time to venture out on our own quests as we enter what for us is the prime and ripe time in our lives.
Yet I still see women our age being ladies in waiting on others, deferring their dreams so their loved ones can pursue theirs. The seeds for Your Next Quest came from asking myself how could I help change that.
What could I do that to help women claim their own realms? How could I inspire women to strike out on their own journeys? Heck, how could I inspire myself to be as indomitable as my aunt and make my own dreams happen?
Having inherited my mother’s love of words, it came to me. By interviewing women just like us who have declared that it’s their time and their turn. By featuring women making changes one story at a time, to inspire us to claim our own turn.
As I write each issue of Your Next Quest Chronicles, my mother guides me on my own journey and my aunt inspires me to be as indomitable as she is. How blessed I am!
My mother Lucille and I at a gala event in the mid-1980's.