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Nellie's "Besetting Sin"

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Nellie's "Besetting Sin"

 Disastrous Slow Ox Race

 Nellie Defends Louis Riel

Wes McClung


Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West: My Own Story (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1935) 21-22.

Mother . . . tried to explain what it meant to be a Christian. She said, I would have to stop mocking people; for that was my besetting sin; though it was not so much my fault, she said, as it was the fault of older people who encouraged me and laughed at me. I knew who the older people were and I was sorry that I had drawn my father into another argument.

The only people I had ever mocked were mother's two aunts, who lived in Holland—two thin old ladies who owned the "instruments," who dressed in black silk made with tight bodies and full skirts, and wore mutches, and knit with flashing steel needles. They came to visit us once a year anyway and when that happened, father took to the barn. He always had peas to flail when the aunts came.

I loved to listen to them and get their stories, just as they told them, which was not always easy, for the aunts to save time talked at once. On account of the bad roads in Holland, they did not get out much, and when they did they talked without a pause. I sat near them, drinking in every word and they often said I was a nice quiet child. When I had gathered a good earful I made my way to the barn to tell my father, and with two bright straws for knitting-needles, I relayed what I could remember, and so well received was my recital, I often stayed out until I was nearly frozen. It was not only their words, but their peculiar accent that gave my recital merit. They had a queer droning way of speaking.

But now, having renounced the world, I knew I would have to give this up. I must not mock my mother's aunts! I hoped they would not come soon, not until I was stronger in the faith, for the pleasure of seeing my father lean on his flail and laugh until is eyes ran with tears, was hard to forego, and I knew so many of their stories now, it seemed too bad to waste them. There were times when I looked back, like the children of Israel, and longed for my degenerate days.

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