Memoir honours mother’s complexity, journey from Jamaica to England to Saskatchewan

Wallace wrote for family first, also so others can see their stories reflected in books

“I hope for readers to connect and relate to my mom, myself, and our lived experiences as described in the book,” Jennifer Wallace says of Miss G and Me: A daughter’s memoir of her mother in a collection of anecdotes, journals, poetry, and personal essays – her book about her mother, Ruth Williamson MacLeod.

Wallace contrasts her own story to that of her mother: “At 16, I was in Grade 11, excited to get my driver’s licence, and looking forward to my final year of high school.

“At 16, Mom was teaching kindergarten by day and writing her Jamaican Local Examinations by night. She had no idea that the following year she would be living in England,” where she trained to be a nurse.

The book lovingly shows a young Ruth growing up in Jamaica, training in England, and then making a life in Saskatchewan. She worked, married, and raised her children in a time when biracial families were rare, and maintaining connections with her Jamaican family was not easy. Ruth proved herself to be a wise and capable nurse, a generous community member, and a loving and supportive wife and mother.

Wallace, who still lives in Saskatoon, says she wrote the book for her family first and for the public second.

“It was for my family to see a glimpse into complexities that make up my mom, and to have a record for our family history. I wrote this book for the public because women like myself and my mom need to see ourselves reflected in books: women who are professionals, women who are immigrants, women of colour, and biracial women have stories to tell. The readers in the greater public can also see that their own stories of growing up have similar themes and commonalities.”

Although Miss G and Me is about Ruth, who was also known as Miss G (a childhood nickname based on her father’s name, George), Wallace included some of her own viewpoints and the impact her mother had on her. “That is why I added and Me to the book title,” she says. “There are many of my own perspectives and experiences in the pages of Miss G and Me.”

Jennifer S. Wallace
Jennifer S. Wallace

Wallace first attempted to write her mother’s story more than 20 years ago. It was a Mother’s Day gift, but she hadn’t collaborated with her mother on it and “hadn’t done a lot of editing.”

Wallace says, “She wasn’t too keen on the short book, and after she read it, it was put away.”

Wallace took up the manuscript again, and it received third place in the John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Creative Non-Fiction in 2020 with the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.

The new, later version was much more warmly received. “This time round when I asked Mom about writing the book, I think she felt like the timing was right,” says Wallace. “We had experienced much more in life as mother and daughter. I also had a deeper, richer understanding of and appreciation for her. I think she felt like she could trust me with telling her stories. She knew I would do the necessary research and do my best to get things right.

“I am very grateful for her faith in me.”