Claiming Emma

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1 Into Slavery collapsed

Emma Tuffnel had five sisters and two brothers. They lived in Ontario. When she was only two years old, her parents died. Emma and her brothers and sisters were given to other families to be slaves.

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Emma went to the Hawman family. Her life as a child was not happy. She had to work very hard all the time that she was growing up. She was not treated as part of the family, but harshly and without any love. She was like a Cinderella.

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But one of the sons of the family, Linc Hawman, saw more than a slave in Emma. Though he was only a teenager, and she just a small child, he felt compassion for her.

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When Linc grew to be a young man, he went away to work and learned how to make cabinets. He lived away from home for years, working for others while he learned. Emma was at home, still a slave, still less than a full person, still not precious or special in the eyes of anyone, only worth the work she performed day after day after day.

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Whenever Linc returned, Emma would be there. Serving. Working. Enduring. His compassion turned to love. And so he planned, quietly, secretly. And then would leave again.

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Finally, Linc was able to earn enough money to return home to claim her. Emma discovered that she had been special, precious to someone, all of this time. She discovered that, for years, she had been so much more than a slave – indeed, the centre of Linc’s every thought, every plan, with a love that was stronger than all of those hard years.

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She had never been, ‘just the slave.’

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They married when Emma was 18 years old, and Linc 32. After four years, when Linc and Emma had three little daughters, they moved to Arcola, Saskatchewan.

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Emma and Linc had a large family of 13 children. She continued to live a life of hard labour because Linc could not find work as a cabinet maker. He started to spend too much time at the beer parlour. Sometimes, some of the children would have to pick him up with the horse and wagon.

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One day, one of the daughters, Birdeen, asked her mother why she put up with her Dad getting drunk and making her do the work. Emma replied, with gentleness and gratitude, that the daughter was too young to understand what Linc had done for her. Emma continued to care for him, lovingly.

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Emma understood that it was her turn to save Linc. After a time, Emma’s patience and love changed him again. He stopped going to the beer parlour. He stopped drinking alcohol altogether. Linc once more became a loving father and grandfather, taking his children and grandchildren picking mushrooms by the pail full, and giving them shoulder rides.

And he was funny, said his granddaughter, Beth, “We all thought he was the funniest man we knew.”

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written and illustrated by Ed Britton