ELIZABETH BAY—It took a lot of fate along with a friendly smile and a wave to bring Molly and Martin Ainslie together, but once they linked hearts, the Elizabeth Bay couple forged a bond that has withstood all that fate could throw against them for the next 51 years and counting.
“Our family lived in Gros Cap west of Sault Ste. Marie, well actually about 20 minutes out in the country,” recalled Ms. Ainslie. “My friend had just got a job and she bought a car.” As any young teenager will tell you, having a friend with a car expands your horizons and opens up a world of possibilities.
“One afternoon we thought we might go to the stock car races, maybe meet some guys,” she laughed. So it was that four young women set out for the big city and an afternoon’s adventure.
Sitting in the stands, the quartet noted four handsome young men. “Marty was one of these four country guys sitting below,” she said. “I kinda liked him right away. I thought he was very, very nice—kinda shy. He was so quiet.” She adds that he pretty much remained that way over the next 50 years. “I’m the talkative one,” she laughes.
To this day, a half-century later, Ms. Ainslie still remembers what he was wearing that day. “He had this worn grey wool shirt and jeans on. I remember that he had a tear in his jeans and it was held together with a pin. How could you forget that?” she laughed. “It was so cute.”
“We had an in with the girls,” recalled Mr. Ainslie. “One of the guys worked with the father of one of the girls, so it kind of broke the ice.”
The young people hung out together for the day and then parted ways. That might have been the end of it except that fate again took a hand.
Mr. Ainslie, like many an Islander down through the years, had set out in the wide world to seek his fortune. The plan was to find a job, save some money, come back to Manitoulin and Elizabeth Bay where he was born and raised and buy a farm. “It was always my dream,” he said. But fate was to have other ideas.
He found a job in Sault Ste. Marie at the Algoma Steel Mill, got an apartment and did what many young men did when they get their first good paying job. The money wasn’t piling up quite as quick as originally envisioned, he realized at the time. Buying the Elizabeth Bay farm would take a little longer than he’d originally hoped.
Meanwhile, Ms. Ainslie had found herself a job as well. “There was this woman with six kids who was pregnant again,” she recalled. “She needed a babysitter to help out with things.” As it turned out, the woman lived on the same street as Mr. Ainslie.
So there she was, hauling a wagon full of pop bottles down to the local store with a string of young children stretched out behind her when fate once again stepped in.
“There he was, my handsome quiet country boy, sitting on a porch two houses down the street,” she said. “I smiled and waved at him.”
“I don’t think he recognized me. Did you recognize me?” she asked, turning to her husband during this interview. Mr. Ainslie laughed. “It’s been a long time,” he said. “Women remember these things,” laughs Mr. Ainslie undaunted. It took a few more waves, and a few more smiles, before he was coaxed into striking up a conversation, but there were plenty of opportunities on those warm summer days before the advent of air conditioning. “It was a small street,” she said. As it turns out, he did remember her. He was, in the vernacular of the time, quite a handsome catch. Handsome, tall and he had a pretty good job at the steel mill.
“He had this old truck,” recalled Ms. Ainslie. “It was a 1952 Ford,” agreed Mr. Ainslie.
“We got married in 1966,” said Mr. Ainslie. “We went out for a couple of years before that.”
They did all the things that couples in those days did, maybe even a bit more. Dances were a big thing in the day and there was always something going on. Ms. Ainslie enjoyed going out and Mr. Ainslie was quite willing to go along with her.
Both of them were country in their souls, so their dreams were pretty compatible. The days went by quickly. “He might be pretty quiet, but we would talk and talk and talk,” she said. The family was coming together and the future looked bright.
But fate once again came visiting.
“I had taken a job on the locks,” he recalled. “It was pretty good work and steady days, so I liked it a lot.” Not a bad idea with a baby daughter on board.
He worked there for six or seven years when one day he spotted a large tree limb overhanging the side of the lock that could cause some trouble. He climbed a ladder with a chainsaw to cut the offending limb down. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye. “The branch swung down and took the ladder out from under me,” said Mr. Ainslie. He woke up a paraplegic. There followed long months of recovery in the hospital.
For a while, Mr. Ainslie gave up hope. But fate has a funny way of throwing you plenty of curves.
“They told me to go to college and not to bother taking anything too complicated because I wasn’t going to have a long life,” he said. That was certainly the prevailing wisdom of the day. “But none of the health issues they told me about happened.” He was about 40 years old when he finally came to the realization that he was going to be around for quite some time.
The couple managed to get by, Ms. Ainslie worked in a Kresgie’s, retail and at the famous lunch counter too, went on to work in some other stores before going back to school to become a legal secretary. Mr. Ainslie had his pension from work and he started a small business doing small appliance and engine repairs. Their daughter grew up, became a school teacher and moved to Manitoulin Island to teach. That opened a door for the couple to finally realize their dream of moving back to Manitoulin Island and Elizabeth Bay.
“This place became available,” said Ms. Ainslie and we thought it was perfect.
Although she was Catholic, and Mr. Ainslie had long since began following her to church, the run into Gore Bay to go to church was daunting, especially with a small United Church just next door.
“Bloom where you are planted,” quipped Ms. Ainslie. The local congregation of Elizabeth Bay United Church (part of the Western Manitoulin Pastoral Charge) quickly adopted the couple and drew them into their bosom. “They built a ramp for me, everyone just couldn’t do enough for us,” said Mr. Ainslie.
The couple kept up their community activities in their new neighbourhood and swiftly were well integrated into the local scene.
But fate wasn’t done with the couple just yet.
“I went to the doctor for something else and I asked her about the lump on my neck,” said Mr. Ainslie. “She said ‘we need to get on that right away’.” It turned out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—cancer. “Luckily, it turned out to be a treatable kind,” he said. “It never goes away, but they can control it.”
Lucky, perhaps, but that luck came with a long round of chemotherapy and all that entails. Today, Mr. Ainslie, while still in a wheelchair, remains the picture of health nonetheless.
“We go to everything,” laughed Ms. Ainslie. “There are regular dinners at G. G.’s Restaurant in nearby Evansville, we love to go. We go to CountryFest, Bluegrass in the Country, we even went to the Robbie Burns Dinner (in Aundeck Omni Kaning last month).” Mr. Ainslie’s family were pioneer settlers in the Elizabeth Bay area and his family traces its roots back to ancestors who were neighbours and friends (even sometime subjects of his poetry) of the famed Scottish poet.
Ms. Ainslie is a big country music fan. Mr. Ainslie goes along. His great passion these days is his trapline. His four-wheeler provides him with the mobility he needs in the bush year-round.
“That’s the secret, I think,” said Ms. Ainslie. “We do a lot of things together, but we each have the things that we have ourselves, and sometimes we just go along with what the other one wants to do.” It’s a give-and-take that has sustained them for more than half a century through all kinds of weather.
“I think maybe people give up a little too easily these days,” said Mr. Ainslie whose life has taught him to hold fast to what is important in life and to never give up.
Together, the couple have sustained and supported each other for over half a century and they are still going strong providing an inspiration of the power of love, and demonstrating clearly where a bit of fate and a simple smile and a wave can lead to.