Influence a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they shall not depart from it...
Mabel doesn’t like change. She is the first to admit it. “Look at my house, everything is just as it has always been,” she says while gesturing around her living room. She’s right. Her living room is impeccably kept, everything in its place, but very little has changed in twenty years. This consistency is a defining characteristic of who Mabel is. She is faithful, dependable, and above all, loyal.
There aren’t too many mothers in Prince Edward County who don’t know who Mabel is. Mornings spent in a circle, drinking coffee and watching their babies or toddlers play with the many cars, baby-dolls, blocks, play kitchen, or tool benches while conversations about life created connections and friendships. It was a chance to get out of the house for the morning and seek a reprieve from the four walls of their homes, put on real clothes, and interact with big people. There are likely only a few children raised in Prince Edward County who didn’t attend playgroup with Mabel through Prince Edward Child Care Services (now known as The Hub). Mabel was such an integral part of the morning playgroup where she would always have a fun craft planned for the kids, some interactive music, or a different way to explore the world like the water table or the sand table. Mabel had such a natural ease with all of the children who came into her care. She can make them listen with a firm voice, she can make them smile with her joyful enthusiasm, she can capture their attention with a fun game, and she captures their heart with her laugh. She loves each and every single child she has met over the thirty years she has worked for The Hub. She doesn’t always remember their names, and as they have grown she doesn’t always recognize their faces, but she loved each and every one of those children just the same.
Mabel grew up in Prince Edward County. She was the third of six children. She has four sisters and one brother, all of whom were raised on a farm in Picton by George and Beatrice Reynolds. She had a good life, not an easy life she adds, but a good childhood. They didn’t have much growing up, but they had free range to play. Her father, George Reynolds, passed away six years ago. She recalled telling him just before he passed, “You know Dad, we used to swing on the rope between the seed drill and the hay mount.” She was sitting across from me on the sofa in her living room, smiling. “What are you telling me this now for?” he asked her. “Because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
As children, they were taught to work hard. While they might not have had very much, anything they did want they were encouraged to work for it. There was always work to do on the farm. To this day that has instilled in her a strong work ethic. Her parents were very good to them she said, but they never handed anything to their children without expecting them to work for it.
Mabel attended an eight-grade, one-room schoolhouse growing up. As she got older she attended Yorksville, and then in her final year of elementary school she attended Pinecrest. “I hated school!” Mabel told me. “Until I got to high school.” She never really expanded as to why.
Mabel got married young. She was twenty years old when she married her first husband. They moved away from Picton to Brantford and had one daughter. She explains that when you’re young and a new mother you make mistakes. Her marriage broke down after only a few years she states matter-of-factly. You could tell that at one time this had been a very painful time in her life, but time and experience help one grow beyond that pain “I know what happened, it was both of our faults and I don’t blame him,” she says. When the marriage broke up Mabel wanted to come back home to Picton, but now she was coming home as a single mother.
She didn’t know exactly what she was going to do. During the eighties in Picton, being a single mother wasn’t an easy situation, and there weren’t many opportunities to support herself. She felt like her mistakes might always follow her and she needed to learn from them and grow from them so she could provide the best life for her daughter.
She started attending her family’s church again in order to develop a support system for her and her daughter. To provide for herself she cleaned houses and became a caregiver for other people’s children. She hated cleaning other people’s houses, but it was honest hard work and she came by it easily. It was caring for other people’s children that brought her the most joy and a sense of purpose. The Pastor’s wife at church, Joyce Beaudrie, really took notice of how good and patient Mabel was with all of the young ones. Joyce encouraged Mabel to help with the children at church. Joyce’s mentorship and interest in Mabel became very important to her. She returned to Picton feeling a sense of hurt and shame, unsure of who she was, and feeling discouraged. Because of Joyce, she was able to recognize her value. She felt needed and appreciated. It was a healing relationship for her and gave her much-needed confidence.
Several significant things happened in Mabel’s life within the years that followed. She met a man, Dennis Pringle. He was a man who was also recovering from a life of hurt and mistakes, and they found a much-needed connection to one another. Mabel said she didn’t think there was a person who could love her so completely the way Dennis loves her. He saw her for who she was and he adored her. Even after 37 years of marriage, it’s plain to see how enamored he is with his wife. A sparkle in his eye shows up whenever he talks about her. And when they met, he was the perfect man for her and her daughter. He was everything she could have hoped for and together they built a beautiful life with each of their daughters. Around the same time, Dennis was taking on an associate Pastor role at First Baptist Church in Picton (the church located across the street from Giant Tiger). And in 1989, a new non-profit agency was opening up in town. Mary Stever, who Mabel worked for as a caregiver to Mary’s children, sat on the board for Prince Edward Child Care Services. The agency was searching for a young girl who could come and work part-time to run a drop-in playgroup during the week. Mary recommended Mabel for the job, saying “I know the perfect one.”
Working with the girls at Prince Edward Childcare Services (PECCS) was a very fulfilling role. The staff were like family. The agency was a safe place for her, which was important for Mabel. She loved getting up each morning, going to work and seeing the young children and their families.
Working for PECCS provided her with valuable skills and training she was able to transfer into her role as Dennis’s wife at First Baptist Church. She was now a Pastor’s wife like Joyce had been. She emulated the woman who had influenced and encouraged her in her younger days, and now she was able to merge her two worlds into something she could use to help her husband and the church they were a part of. She took over the children’s programming at First Baptist. She became one of the single most influential women in young lives in Picton throughout the nineties and early 2000’s. And she did it for the pure and selfless love of all of the children under her care. On Thursday nights she ran an outreach program out of the basement of First Baptist Church. The children who attended called it “Awesome Team”, and it became one more way she was able to influence many of the young children within the community. Many children who attended can easily recall the different songs she used to sing, and they can recall all of the actions as well. The excursions to the park, the ice cream treats, and even the fashion show she hosted were all wonderful additions to the memory of being a child in Prince Edward County.
The young moms who relied on Mabel to help with caring for their children on Sunday mornings or Thursday evenings can remember how she had the uncanny ability to get even the most defiant child to sit still and behave. And some of the young children she cared for come back and help her when they are old enough. Mabel has recruited children she used to teach to come and dress up as Mickey Mouse, Raggedy Anne & Andy, and other familiar childhood characters at The Hub when they ran weekend special events. Teenage girls who attended Sunday School with her join her in the nursery now and help her look after the young babies. Over the years she has taken her acquired skills and used them to train youth so they can be encouraged the way she was when she needed it most. She believes very strongly in giving back, and she has given of her time, her talent, and her affection to countless young people.
Mabel just celebrated her 30th anniversary working for The Hub. She reflected back on how many children she had seen and known over the course of her career. She says there are children she used to know years ago who now bring their own children to come and play at playgroup. She runs into people in Wal-Mart who ask her, “Do you remember me?” She admits that she doesn’t remember everyone, but they remember her. They remember the impact she had on their lives, and it has been the greatest blessing of her life. But Mabel is retiring this year. June 4th will be her last playgroup.
Mabel says she misses her family. Her daughters are both grown now. She and Dennis have two grandsons, and each of their grandsons has children of their own, making Mabel and Dennis Great-Grandparents. She is just as active a part of her great-grandchildren’s lives as much as she was ever a part of other children’s lives, if not more so. During the pandemic, they took on the role of full-time caregivers to three of their great-grandchildren so that the parents, who were essential workers, could continue working and not put their children at risk. But one of her daughters lives out West. Mabel had to cancel a trip last summer due to the pandemic, and so it has been 2 years since she has seen her daughter and her other grandchildren. Mabel says she is going to spend some time, hopefully, visiting her family and doing some things that are just for her. She has earned the opportunity to rest. “But,” she says, “I might be retiring, but I am not done.” She says she has plans. She plans on working toward a new goal, and unsurprisingly its to do with children.
Mabel has been such an influential force that has helped so many other mothers and fathers in this community. People of PEC honours Mabel as a Mother of PEC this year for Mother’s Day. She has dedicated her life to children, and there should be more people like her with such dedication and integrity.
If you were one of the many children who were influenced by Mabel, or if you are a parent that remembers Mabel’s influence, or if you have a fond memory of Mabel from over the course of her 30 year career, share it with her in the comments. People of PEC will ensure she reads each and every single one of them as she nears her retirement.