Margaret Taylor has led an extraordinary life, travelling across the country as a mother of three young children, raising money on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in a time when it was frowned upon for women to do such a thing, and keeping track of it all through the written word.
Along the way – and dating all the way back to when she was a child – she took notice of her surroundings and put pen to paper.
Now, those writings have made their way into print as her official memoir, Sunsets and Breezes: A Memoir of Life as I Found it. It’s available for loan at Gale Presbyterian Church in Elmira, which she attends.
“I really had never thought of writing a book, although I was writing and writing and writing and that seemed to be part of my makeup, was writing and observing, since I was a child,” Taylor said.
She travelled across Canada in 1959 for the Ewart College campaign, one of the most successful campaigns in the church’s history, to raise the $600,000 required to build and furnish a new building that would act as a training school for female missionaries.
She’ll gladly tell you it was a very unusual life to choose, but also incredibly exciting.
At 30 years of age, she had three young children at home, as well as the job of stopping at 21 cities across Canada to meet with various groups and explain to them the need for this new building.
“That was the time when women weren’t doing certain things. So really, the important people in the church even, they were not used to a woman doing anything. And so I started out that trip with negative reactions and because the comments ‘well that’s not going to work, that campaign, because look who’s in charge of it.’ There was that feeling about women and that continued all the time that the building was being built.”
Despite the many snags along the way, within three years of launching the campaign, the building and all its furnishings were paid for.
But her tendency to write, came much earlier in life. While recovering from the measles and the mumps, she would tuck herself away in her father’s study, the perfect place to be with a warm woodstove and plenty of paper for her to write on.
“I didn’t have many toys because this was the Dirty Thirties, but I could write. I wasn’t writing marvelous things at that point but I think learned through a pencil,” she said of growing up during the Depression.
The idea to publish her writings came when her son, Ken, was visiting three years ago. She had put together 100 pages of tightly typed information, which he started to read. When he was done, he said he could see it as a book. As a historian, he committed his first year of retirement to putting the book together.
They spent many hours on the phone piecing it together and she says she’s so pleased with how it turned out.
“It’s quite marvelous that it happened.”
She received an award for the book in the historical memories category last year at the General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church of Canada. She also has two honourary doctorates for her work in relation for the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
Her fascination with writing began while on the farm as a child. She started writing down what she saw for the purpose of remembering because there were so many new sights.
She’s been journaling for many decades.
When she finished her first complete year of journaling she sent it to a few publishers. However, they weren’t printing much at the time, so it never was published. But Marks and Spencer was putting together diaries and address books. They asked her if they could use some of her writing in those, which they did. Each month has an excerpt from her journal of what she saw that month.
She notes she’s also always been “a quote person.”
“My children, when they left me to go to university, you always wish you could give them advice of different kinds, but they don’t like that very much. So I developed the habit of every week I would type a quote on a little card and I’d send one to each of the children.”
She also would send them once a week for a year to people going through a tough time or ministers starting at a church.
While the book is not for sale, she also has a loaner copy at Parkwood Retirement Residence in Waterloo too where she lives. She and her husband moved to Elmira when she was in her 60’s and stayed for 29 years before she moved to Waterloo.
She says reception has been positive from those who’ve read her memoir.
With her eyesight not as strong as in previous years, she’s taken to recording her stories verbally because she says she still has more stories left in her.
She encourages other people to start writing by finding the beauty in their daily travels, and to keep their writing.
She was inspired after reading A Walk Through The Year by Edwin Way Teale. The book details a man who lived in the country and went out every day to see his property, came back and wrote about it.
“After I read that book I felt ashamed of myself because he had written about things that are there and I had never seen it, I’d never noticed them. I decided then, it was a powerful decision because it lasts a long time, that I would be more observant and every day I wrote down something that I had seen or felt or heard that was beautiful. And the more I did it the easier it was.”