This is not the usual tale of gossip or review or recommendation that I like to write about. However, I hope that, in reading this, you enjoy the tales of the life of a truly amazing woman. Enjoy the story of the life of Jo George, and think of the other unsung men and women who have helped to shape North America.
Jo was born Marion Brinson in Neath, Wales — near the city of Swansea — in 1923, the youngest child of Fred and Elizabeth Brinson. She was not yet five years old when her eldest brother, Sydney, moved to Canada to work as a farmhand, and was never privy to the letters filled with glowing reviews for the beauty of the woodlands of northern Saskatchewan, though she would be affected by their ability to sway her parents.
By 1929, the rest of the family had followed Sydney, including Marion’s eldest sister Elfreda, who broke off an engagement to begin a new life with her family near Turtleford, Saskatchewan. Marion celebrated her 6th birthday aboard the SS Pennland and came to Canada via the historical Pier 21 on April 21, 1929.
The family joined Sydney and settled in what is still known today as Brinson’s Coulee, a valley near the town of Turtleford, Saskatchewan. They would spend their first years in Canada enduring the Great Depression, withering drought, and bitterly cold winters, but would find opportunities for prosperity greater than anything that could have been hoped for in Neath.
Marion grew to be a strong child, learned how to use a firearm at a young age, and learned to stand up for herself. Nicknamed “Tagalong Jo” by her siblings, as the youngest, Marion was chosen for the least glamorous jobs when on outings with her siblings. Marion would join her brothers hunting in the forest in the coulee, and was usually tasked with carrying the .22 rifle and following behind her brothers, who occasionally forgot who was carrying the gun. She did ensure that her brother Alfred remembered, and shot him in the rear when she had had enough teasing. He died more than half a century later with the .22 bullet still in his bottom, though it never did stop him from teasing his family. Marion would be forever known as Jo.
Jo married Leslie George, and the two settled on a farm east of Livelong, Saskatchewan. Together, they would raise four children, and Jo would ensure that they grew to be as strong as her. Their family would be loud, stubborn, and occasionally a little combative, but always filled with love and inspired by the good examples of Jo and Les. Together, they would prosper for more than 50 years.
Jo and Les didn’t spend all of their time at the farm. In the early 1960’s, they would buy a lakefront lot on Turtle Lake and would build a cabin to serve as a refuge and place of peace for themselves and their family — a piece of land which today is still owned by their children and boasts many happy memories for their children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren.
Jo would giggle for years about an incident in which a small cat belonging to her youngest granddaughter chased a fully grown dog down the beach. She would teach her eldest granddaughter to cross stitch, and accidentally taught her how to swear when the needle went through a fingertip. She would ensure that her eldest grandson knew he needed a haircut (he never got one) and didn’t need an earring (he did get one). She was immensely proud of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
She sang for the pleasure of it, ensured that her grandchildren all knew that the dishes had to be washed before play could be resumed, and stressed the importance of getting up early and playing outside if the weather was good, the days with Jo were always fully utilized.
Life wasn’t always ideal though, as reality bares its ugly face in everyone’s life. One by one, Jo’s sisters, and eventually Jo herself, would be diagnosed with breast cancer. She did not come from a family of weak women though, and like her sisters, Jo would refuse to succumb to the cancer or it’s painful treatments. Like her sisters, she would beat cancer, however, she would also live long enough to see her second daughter be diagnosed with breast cancer as well. She would also see her daughter beat it. Mercifully, she would never know that her eldest daughter was diagnosed with the same cancer less than a week after her death.
Her later years would come with hardship and heartbreak. One by one, her brothers and sisters would pass away, in 1999, Les would succumb to cancer, and she would slowly grow more frail. Her mind began to slip, and when she could recognize it, she once lamented to her eldest daughter of being in such a state, asking “Why me?”. Her daughter replied that God has a plan, and as tired, lonely, and ready for rest as she was, it was not up to her to decide when it would happen. Irritated, Jo promised that she would have words with Him when she finally saw Him, and tell Him just what she thought of the whole situation.
In the end, Jo still did not go without a fight. On the 24th of November, her family was contacted by palliative care nurses to inform them that they needed to gather to say their goodbyes. Jo’s breathing had changed and she could no longer swallow, and her eldest daughter was warned that she may not make it to Saskatchewan in time to say goodbye. Despite her weakness and exhaustion, Jo held on for five long days before finally passing away in the early hours of November 30th, joining her brothers Fred, Alfred and Sydney and her sisters Freda, May and Elsie (who had died only months earlier) and her beloved husband Les.
Jo George may never have been famous in the way that we would recognize it, but her strength and her legacy is one that is repeated countless times over in North America, by thousands of unsung men and women who contribute to their families, neighborhoods and their jobs. Her legacy isn’t in Hollywood, or Broadway or Occupy Wall Street, it is in family, friends, and quiet independence. Her legacy is my family, and this is the story of my grandmother.