By Diana Penner
Stefania Chaba was born 102 years ago in the little village of Forest Lawn. She was number six of ten kids. Today she’s the only one left. Stefania who prefers to be called Sandy says as a child she was “a smart, pretty, good girl”. Each month, at her school, the smartest student with good attendance would be awarded a hard cover novel in the Bobbsey Twins Children’s Series. Sandy collected the prize regularly and before she was 12, she had earned the entire series. Perhaps ‘smart aleck’ could also describe Sandy, as she confesses to being an instigator. One week, she and her siblings were in bed with the measles, waiting under their white down-filled duvets for the doctor to come on a house call to check on their condition. Sandy, bored with having to be in bed for the week, ran outside to jump in the mud puddles – siblings in tow.
The doctor appeared down the road and the kids scurried back to bed, pulling the covers up to their noses to hide their muddy bodies. The doctor pulled back the bedding, revealing muddy, but well healed children, in soiled bedding. Despite the good ol’fashioned ‘licking’ mom gave each of them, right after the doctor left and all the scrubbing to get the sheets clean. It still makes Sandy grin as she remembers that day.
Back then it was common for families to do everything together. They had an outhouse with double seats … a big hole for the big folk and a small hole for the little ones. Every morning the kids raced to get the little seat out of fear of falling through the big hole. Sandy loved to cook and was often busy in the kitchen making a meal. Her cabbage rolls were a family favorite. Once in a while her parents would head to town on business, leaving the kids at home with directions to be good.
Sandy ‘being the smart one’ decided to use a big bag of lemons, to make a surprise lemon meringue pie, but it wouldn’t set, so she added cornstarch. Still it wouldn’t set, so more cornstarch. Still it wouldn’t thicken. She cooked it up anyways, only to find when she went to slice it, that it was rock hard. Sandy knew if her folks saw that she had wasted food, she would be in deep trouble. So, she tried to get rid of the evidence…but the kids wouldn’t eat it… the dog wouldn’t eat it… and the cat wouldn’t eat it. So, she decided to bury it, out of sight, in the haystack, in the barn. Sandy figures its likely still there today.
Sandy wanted to become a teacher, but there was no school for her after Grade 8. From Grade 9 onward it cost money to attend school and getting there meant a 3 mile walk each day. Instead, 13-year-old Sandy moved north to Wayne – a mining town, near Drumheller, Alberta. There she moved into her older sisters’ home to help look after her kids. Here, Sandy meets a miner named Harding Jensen and at 16 they are married and starting their family. Shortly after, Harding joins the Royal Canadian Army as WWII has begun.
It is 1939 and they move to Chilliwack where the military have set up a base at Cultis Lake for the soldiers and their families. Food was rationed. Each family would get a bottle of booze (which Sandy sold for $5.00) and a pound of butter each week with a packet of yellow coloring that you could mix in to make it look like margarine and a book of food coupons. In 1945, the war ends and Harding is doing odd jobs. Unfortunately, he passed away and Sandy and her two girls end up living on the west coast. She gets café training and waitresses and then later, works at ‘Dayton Dress Shop’ in Vancouver.
The girls are 12 and 9 when Sandy meets a Heavy-Duty Equipment Operator named Alex (Curly) Marnoch and they marry. Curly is often called to work up north so the family decide to join him. They buy a trailer and have it barged up the Douglas Channel, where Curly is hired to build the infrastructure of the new town site called Kitimat. Its 1952 and Sandy remembers Kitimat as one huge, huge mud-hole. Their trailer is one of many, set up in Anderson Creek, just north of the 285-foot Delta King Riverboat anchored on Hospital Beach for the several hundred workers who are building the town. Sandy and Curly work there for five years and then Curly is hired to work on a long strip of road connecting Terrace to Kitimat. They sell their trailer and move to Terrace. It takes two hours on a ‘cow-trail’ that winds its way through the forest.
Sandy begins work for Mrs. Hughes of Hugh’s Grocery Store. The owner enjoys Sandy’s sense of humor and work ethic and as she ages, she encourages Sandy to buy her store. In 1970, Sandy buys the store for $10000.00 and she renames it ‘Sandy’s Grocery’.
For the next 25 years, Sandy’s Grocery becomes the little go-to-corner-store on Kalum Street. She sells everything there. They have deep freezes full of ice cream novelties and meat and a whole counter full of penny candy and shelves and shelves of everything else. Sandy lives in the house connected to the store and keeps busy day after day serving the neighborhood. Eventually she and her granddaughter work there together and Alex passes away. With the introduction of bigger chain stores, Sandy retires. She closes the doors after two and a half decades and her little store is sold and unsuccessfully converted to a laundromat.
Today Sandy still lives independently in the same little house, cooking up home-made meals for her family and joking about her life experiences.