From left, Alderwood Retirement Centre residents Nora Normore, Teresa Bowen, Margaret Vickers, Alice Kavanagh, Betty Sutton, Verlie Winter and Kay Smith gather in a sitting room at the Witless Bay facility Tuesday, March 7, to talk about a video they made to mark International Women’s Day. Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nora Normore turned 103 in February, but she recalls many parts of her life like they just happened yesterday.

Like the time she worked for a publishing company in Ontario and was assigned to seek out the Dionne Quintuplets.

The famous siblings, born in a French-speaking Ontario town in 1934, were taken over as wards of the province not long after birth and controversially turned into a tourist attraction.

By the time Normore and her fellow researchers tried to track them down, they would have been in their 30s. One had already died.

They did manage to find the mother at her home in Quebec.

“We knocked on the door and this lady opened the door and she had a baby in her arms,” Normore told The Telegram Tuesday, March 7.

One of her colleagues spoke French and asked the mother who owned the baby.

“Me,” the woman replied.

‘Lots of sex’

Normore’s favourite story happened one Thursday in the mid-1960s when three young women came to the pharmacy on Bell Island where she was working the evening shift.

The three amigos, Normore called them.

“I heard the tap on the window, and I went over and I said, ‘Why are you tapping on the window?’” she recalls.

“They said, ‘We heard the Pill was out. We wants it. We wants it.’”

The contraceptives had just arrived that day. Normore took a container of 28 pills out of the vault to show them, but they weren’t allowed to touch. Besides, they’d have to see the doctor to get prescriptions.

They did, and went back some days later to fill them.

“When they all got their pills, they put their arms around one another and they danced over to the door saying, ‘Lots of sex and no babies!’”

Video stars

When Renee Houlihan first heard that story, she was inspired.

“For those women to erupt in joyous raucousness, that brought it home to me,” she said.

Houlihan is recreation director at Alderwood Retirement Centre in Witless Bay.

She’s found creative ways to keep the seniors there engaged by making videos about their various escapades.

She calls it a “Trojan horse in the weaponry against dementia.” They keep residents engaged and create camaraderie.

“We laugh, we sing, we dance, we do it all, and then watch the finished product, and that pulls us all in,” Houlihan said.

One year, she captured their pub crawl downtown. Last year, with help from singer-songwriter Con O’Brien, they chronicled the tale of the home’s resident rooster who went AWOL.

Houlihan knew the pharmacy story would be a perfect addition to a video to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

It would also make an important point: just because you’re older doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable perspectives on sex and women’s rights.

“(People) don’t want to talk about sex and seniors and birth control and seniors, but that’s ageist,” she said.

‘Mortal sin’

Of course, any discussion of birth control naturally veers toward religion, and Alice Kavanagh experienced that conflict first-hand.

After having 10 children, the Calvert native decided she should go on the Pill.

Her priest thought otherwise.

“He said it was a mortal sin,” said Kavanagh, 91.

She looks back on it with amusement now, but she went on to have five more children, and it wasn’t easy keeping all those mouths fed.

Her husband ran a sawmill, and she also went fishing with him over the span of 12 years.

To add insult to injury, the federal government initially wouldn’t pay her unemployment insurance when she stopped working.

“I talked to John Crosbie and he saw that I got my money,” she said.

To augment Kavanagh’s story for the video, Houlihan took her to nearby Kielly’s Rooster daycare so she could be swarmed by a brood of youngsters.

Brittle bones

Teresa Bowen says she doesn’t know if her mother would have taken birth control, but it’s a choice that should have at least been available to her.

Two of her brothers, Lawrence and Aiden, were born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic condition commonly known as brittle bone disease.

Bowen, 74, says all of her siblings have weak bones to some extent, but the two brothers had severely stunted limbs.

“It was a cruel condition. He couldn’t stretch out his legs. This is how his legs were, from the day he was born to the day he died,” she said, describing how one brother’s legs were curled up beneath him.

They both cried constantly as babies, and Bowen recalls a particularly poignant episode with the younger one.

“He cried and cried, and I remember distinctly one night, Dad went over to the stable and got some wool they had from the sheep and put it in a box, and lined the box with the sheep’s wool to put him into it to try to comfort him,” she said.

Bowen and her other siblings lived with the dread of knowing they could end up passing the condition on to their own children.

Fortunately, none have.

“When I became of age and I had children, I only had two,” she said. “Guaranteed, I took the Pill. I didn’t care if I went to hell or not.”

By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 09, 2023 at 05:37

This item reprinted with permission from   The Telegram   St. John's, Newfoundland
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