One evening in the days before Christmas 1970, a St. John’s woman and her two daughters — ages two and three — walked into a Christmas party attended by social workers.
Over the music and cheery voices of partygoers, the woman yelled, “I don’t want them anymore!” She let go of the children’s hands.
The music stopped. The party came to an abrupt end.
The woman and the children’s grandmother, who had accompanied them there, walked out and left the children behind.
Jacqueline Young, now 50 and living in Ontario, was the three-year-old girl.
“That was our first night in care,” Young said. “Our mother had left us alone in the apartment to go Christmas shopping or something. Our father — my parents were separated — showed up at the apartment and took our older sister (Diane, aged five) out to go Christmas shopping and left us there by ourselves, and he told us to hide under the bed.
“When my mother came home with my grandmother and discovered that Diane was missing, they took us to a big building with a dance going on, and the music stopped because Mom was yelling for them to take us, that she didn’t want us anymore.”
Young’s mother and grandmother moved to Ontario.
All three girls ended up in foster care.
“We did not have a good experience. We were three frightened little girls,” Young said about being moved around to various foster homes. “We never really knew where we were going to end up. When I got my disclosure documents recently, I learned (social workers) were going to separate us because it was difficult finding foster placement for the three of us together. They were going to keep me and my younger sister, Gladys, together, and because Diane was older, they would send her to another home. But my younger sister and I were quite depressed, so they had to keep us three together.”
Young’s memories of being with her birth mother include beatings. Unfortunately, the girls suffered beatings at some foster homes, as well.
“When some foster parents would leave my sisters and I outside in the cold, I would bang on the door to be let in,” Young said. “I’d be told that I would get a beating if they opened the door. I’d continue to bang on the door and, sure enough, we received physical punishment.
“I learned not to care and that beatings only hurt for a little while. And I didn’t have a lot of faith in social workers. I had a lot of fear whenever a social worker showed up, no matter what home we were in, because I was afraid of where we would end up next.”
Young said that through disclosure documents, she and her sisters were surprised to learn that their father had, in fact, fought to get them back.
“He couldn’t because he has mental health issues,” Young said. “It was outlined in the disclosure and social workers’ hearts were broken because of it. It was our mother who didn’t want us and she would only come back into the picture when she found out that Dad was making another attempt at getting us back.
“I finally tracked him down three years ago in Holyrood and I wanted to apologize to him because we always thought he was the bad one and didn’t want us. So, it was such a blessing to find him and have a relationship with him. I call him now all the time and have visited him there.”
In the 1970s, however, social workers had great difficulty keeping the three sisters together in one foster home. A social worker then thought of Vera and Kevin Stone on Bell Island, and sent the profiles of the girls to Vera.
Vera Stone, unable to have children of her own, already had three children in her care at the time.
“Send them over,” she said to the social worker.
The day in 1976 when Young and her sisters arrived at Vera Stone’s home is the day their lives changed, Young said.
“We ended up going over to Bell Island and we thought it’d be the same, people coming to pinch our cheeks, people dressed up and overreacting,” Young said. “When we got there, she was just sitting at the table with her hair in rollers, and a pair of underwear holding it all in place. She didn’t even get up from the table. She said, ‘Come on in, I wasn’t expecting you guys today. I thought it was going to be tomorrow.’
“She just had this beautiful smile on her face and I felt so at home there. She was’t pretentious.”
The Stones owned a dairy farm near the lighthouse on Bell Island, which made for long and hard-working days.
Vera Stone would be up each day at 4 a.m., and get the house warmed up and breakfast on the table for her husband, who then went to the barn to milk the cows.
“All this milk would be brought up in buckets and Mom Stone would strain the milk, put it in bottles and put it in the cooler,” Young said. “Then she’d get us up for school and get our breakfast, and then we’d be home at lunchtime and she would feed us all again, and then the milk run would start again.
“In the evening it was our homework. I never saw that woman relax during the days.”
There was never a complaint, never a raised voice and always time for each child, Young said.
“She wasn’t a child psychologist, but she knew instinctively what children needed,” Young said. “She knew children more than what anybody could imagine. She knew what each person feared, what made them happy, knew how to bring them out of sadness. It was just amazing.
“Children, some of them with bad issues, came to the house and immediately felt at home.”
One of Young’s favourite memories is when the school on Bell Island had her name written down as “Jackie” and she was being made fun of by classmates because they said she had a boy’s name. Some called her Jackie Gleason, Young recalls with a laugh.
Vera Stone would have none of that. She told Young to go to the secretary at the school and tell her to change her name to Jacqueline on everything because that is what her name was.
“She stood up for us,” Young said. “She taught me respect for myself and for others.”
After all the children were grown and moved on, Vera and Kevin Stone ended up leaving Bell Island because Vera developed Alzheimer’s disease. The couple moved to Ontario and lived out their final years in a seniors’ home there, always contacted and visited by the children she fostered and loved.
Nearly 200 children had passed through their home on Bell Island over the years.
Vera Stone died in 2012 at age 86.
Young said it’s ironic that Alzheimer’s disease is what Young developed after all the wonderful memories she left them with.
In 2008, Vera Stone, then age 78, became one of the winners of the national “Today’s Parent, For Kids Sake Awards” after being nominated by Young’s sister, Gladys Stephens.
It included a trip to Toronto for the award and a donation of $2,500 to a charity of choice, which for Vera was the Wabana Boys and Girls Club.
“She was mortified at Gladys for nominating her,” Young recalled. “She had to come up here for a dinner in her honour and then Gladys told her she had to appear on CTV’s Canada AM the next morning.
Vera Stone, however, had no intention of going before the cameras on national television.
“No Gladys, I’m not going on no TV,” she said.
On the nomination form, Gladys noted that when she was 18 and leaving Bell Island to move to Toronto, Vera just waved and made her promise to stay in touch. Gladys was a little put out. After 10 years with her, she said, she thought that such a goodbye would be a little more emotional.
Kevin Stone drove Gladys to the ferry, but the ferry ended up not being able to run that day because ice had moved into the tickle. They drove back home, she said, and found Vera crying in her bedroom.
“She just couldn’t cry in front of people,” Gladys said.
Young and her husband, who is also from Bell Island, have decided to move back to Bell Island in April.
One of the things Young wanted to have was Vera and Kevin Stone’s phone number, the number she knew so well and always connected her to “home.”
At first she was told by Bell Aliant the number wasn’t available, but they eventually were able to provide it to her.
“When my family calls me now they will be calling the same number that we all called for Mom Stone,” Young said. “It’s just another memory of her and what she did, and so she never fades away.”
Young said she believes it’s important that foster parents who gave so much to the children in their care be recognized for it.
“We ended up in a dream home and I think there are others like her,” Young said. “I think it’s something that should be highlighted.”