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Life Story

Joan Howes Barnes ~ Life Review

[Nancy] was required to take a Capstone class in order to graduate from CSULB and was required to interview an older adult. So I took my mom out to dinner and this interview was the results.  I think it is quite lovely.

PART 1:  Joan Howes Barnes – her story

This interview with my mother was held over one evening, April 18, 2014.  She talked freely and was easy to take notes from. If she refers to “you” she is referring to me, Nancy Ellen Young (maiden name Barnes). It was a wonderful experience.

What is your name, age and current living situation? Joan Howes Barnes, age 86.  I live in my own home in Santa Ana, California with my son Steve.  I have lived there since January 1968.  I moved from Missoula, Montana with my husband Don and my two children, Nancy, five and Steve, three. 

When did you or your family come to this country? I came to the United States in 1959, after marrying my husband, Donald Raymond Barnes, as a registered alien. I became an American citizen in 1967 as witnessed by my 3 year old son and 5 year old daughter.

Where and when were you born?

I was born October 16, 1927 in Ridgeway, Ontario, Canada.

Where were your parents born and what is your memory of your parents?

My mother, Alice Maude Barrett, was born September 3, 1901 in Wilks-barre, Pennsylvania.  My dad, Alonzo Howes, was born November 18, 1988 in rural Ontario [Canada] on a farm.  I am not quite sure how my parents met (I often thought why didn’t I ask more questions). Mother was working in Buffalo across the Niagara River from Ontario and their paths must have crossed.  She and [her sister] Auntie Ray were in the “big city” working.  Auntie Ray was a nanny for the DuPont family.  Can’t think of the family mother worked for but it was another very well known family.  That’s probably where mother acquired her taste for nice things.

What are your roots?

My ancestry is Irish, Scottish and English – Dad was Scottish and Irish, Mother, English.  The Barretts we traced back to 1461 in England.  William Barrett married Joan Baret (spelled differently). I think that is interesting.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

My earliest memory was being on my tricycle outside our house in Ridgeway. It was a Craftsman style house – I remember that house so well – 2 story, 3-4 bedrooms – one room being the play room. One room was the guest room.  When I had measles I was in that room in the dark. Mother brought food, toast cut in special shapes because I was sick. They had to be careful of my eyesight, which was why I was kept in the dark.  I think I was around 5-9 years old.

What was your community like as you were growing up?

What was my community like growing up – hmmm I don’t really remember.  I do remember kindergarten and my kindergarten teacher, Miss Teschke.  She was MEAN! One day I was late getting to school. I innocently walked in. She had me hold out my hand and she rapped my fingers with a ruler. I didn’t realize I had done anything wrong.

We moved from Ridgeway to Allenford when I was in 5th grade.  I went to a little country school. Grades 1-4 and 5-8 downstairs, 9-10, 11-12 upstairs.

What was your family structure, brothers and sisters?

Our family structure was mom, dad and me – we were a tight group. My closest cousins were in Buffalo, New York. I also had Canadian cousins that were nearby. Dad’s sister, Aunt Alice had a son Leslie that was my age. He was in the Navy in WWII, got married, had a child. He died young of alcoholism, very sad.

Did you have any assigned household chores, etc.?

I didn’t really have any assigned household chores. Mother stayed at home, Father was a timekeeper for Law Construction Company based in Toronto. He had jobs in various places.

What was your education?

Canadian schools were setup – kindergarten through Grade 13 where Grade 13 was your first year of college. In Allenford, through Grade 12 – there were nine people in my class. In Owensound, Grade 13 there were 60. I took a year of C-Special (Commercial) where I learned typing, shorthand and accounting. I really liked it. I was given an aptitude test and tested highest. I graduated at the top of my class and got an award. I received a certificate after Grade 12 and another after Grade 13.

I made such good friends.  Can you imagine coming from a little country school in to that. Girls kind of adopted and took me under their wing.  I really up to then lived a very sheltered life.  In Owensound, I met my first Jewish, Catholic girls.

When did you leave home and what were you doing at the time?

My first job I never had to apply for was as a guidance counselor at school, Owensound Collegiate.  I worked there a couple of years then I went out to stay with a friend in Toronto, I answered ads, went on interviews and got a job as a secretary to consulting engineers.  Then the girl I was staying with decided to get married, so I needed a new roommate – I met Wendy who came with her Auntie Nan to check me out before Wendy was allowed to be my roommate. My friend Barbara who was in external affairs came home on leave – I thought her job sounded pretty interesting so I found out what it entailed.  There was a competition for secretaries that covered all of Canada about twice a year:

  • A general knowledge test – not hard, an interesting test

  • An oral interview – three stern looking females asked strange questions

  • A test or shorthand and typing

A month went by and I passed with a pretty high score (but I had to retake the typing)

I thought that it was so neat because my first assignment was to Havana, Cuba to replace my friend Barbara.  What a coincidence replacing the girl who gave me the whole idea initially. My 20’s were the best times in my life, I think. I met wonderful people, so lucky. Marriage was not on my mind, I was planning on traveling a lot. I spent two and a half years in Havana then was sent back to Ottawa, Canada. Usually you are back a year or so before being sent out again, but within a month I was asked to go to Warsaw, Poland and I arrived there in March. Social live in Warsaw, an iron curtain country, was A B C (American, British and Canadian). The second night I was there we all went to the American club. It was there I met my future husband, Don, who was a Marine with the American Embassy. We started dating in July. Our first date was not something I was really interested in some kind of sporting track and field thing – I was bored to tears.

We were married in Geneva, Switzerland, March 11, 1959. We got a neat little apartment. Then back to the U.S. I had to wait in Canada, apply for a visa even though I was married to an American. We settled in Missoula, Montana where Don’s parents lived. After Don returned from a tour in Vietnam we moved to Santa Ana, California in January 1968.

What jobs did you and your spouse hold?


  • Secretary

  • Secretary to Ambassador/Havana, Cuba

  • Secretary to Vice Consulate

  • General Secretary

  • Secretary to Next Charge d’Affaire

  • Secretary to Registrar, University of Montana

…. After children

  • Office Manager/Contractors License Service

  • Freelance Office Support  (for daughter) at SR Clarke, GE Capital Services


He enlisted in the Marine Corp right out of high school, was sent to Korea, then was a Marine Guard at the American Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark then at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

After we were married and back in Missoula it was not a really good time for work.

He went back to the University, but wasn’t a very good student. He worked part time at Montgomery Ward (we got most of our household items there). Then we had a baby girl.

Finding work was not easy, he tried at being a car salesman - he was not a salesman

He joined the Marine Corps active reserve as a way to make a living. When in the Marine Corps Reserve he organized a monthly training trip to Seattle. He was sent to Vietnam, he volunteered. I remember the look on your grandmother’s face when I told her – she went white. I feel I should have kept on working, it was selfish of me to stay home with the kids.

Did you have children?

A daughter, Nancy Ellen in 1961, 6 lbs. 12 oz. and a son, Steven Charles in 1964, 7 lbs., 4 oz.I have beautiful children.  I spent five days in the hospital, so lovely. I didn’t have to do a thing, ate well.

Missoula did not have public kindergarten so while Dad was in Vietnam we enrolled you in a private kindergarten. In first grade, you were made to walk all the way to Washington school.

What interests and hobbies do you have?

Oh, reading is #1 always, to the exception of anything else, then gardening….I am not a hobby, crafty person.


What is the most important historical event you have lived through?

Gosh, there have been so many:

  • the first man in space

  • the moon walk

  • the Kennedy assassination – that most impacted me. You were a little over two and I was pregnant with Steve. I was feeding you when the news came on, it was such a total shock, such a terrible thing.

What changes have you seen that younger people today haven’t seen?

Ha ha – name ‘em:

  • a horse and buggy

  • gestetner stencils

  • a mimeograph

  • 1 horse open sleigh

  • all the good things

  • an icebox

What has been your most difficult loss?

The loss of my mother in 1976.

Describe your retirement.

It was kind of strange, with your dad – as far as plans – they all revolved around golf and/or Montana.

What has your life been like in the last 10 years?

Well, I suppose the worst part was losing your Dad in 2011, but he had not been well for several years. It was not the happiest of times because he would not admit to not being well – and I resent that.

List what you are involved. in?

Well I keep in touch with people via mail and email.

What are you proud of?

My children.

What advice would you give the younger generation?

Well you know I think my main belief is not an organized religion, but the golden rule, “Do unto others…..”  If you can do that!

I think the idea of a group of men in Washington deciding what a women can or can’t do with her body is wrong!

How are you special?

I’m not. I grew up in a different climate, times change. I grew up in Canada, in a little village. No prejudice.

I don’t really feel like I’ve done a lot. I’ve produced two wonderful human beings and that’s about it.

What do you want to learn next?

Ha ha, I was thinking wouldn’t it be fun to learn another language. I think everyone should learn another language…..(laughing). I am so disappointed my children didn’t get taught Spanish as a second language. I think in all California schools Spanish should be taught as second language. When I was in Ottowa, there was a nunnery, I used to stop off to get French lessons from the nuns. Hmmm, but what language. I wish people would stop making words up….what is “vacay”, and they think they’re so cool

PART 2:  What I learned from the Life Review Interview Experience

The questions provided for the Life Review did, as Robert Butler’s writings predicted, liberate my mom to be able to reminisce about her childhood, teens and adulthood.

I just loved her vivid memories of her kindergarten teacher, recounting the experience in clear detail down to the name of the mean teacher.  I knew mostly how she met my dad, but did not know the details that lead up to it. How it was her social environment, her friend Barbara, who was with external affairs, who inspired my mom to participate in the secretarial competition.  It was her intelligence that helped her pass “with a pretty high score”.

My mom is 86, an extremely young 86. For years I didn’t know how old she was because she told me it was “none of my business”. I thought that she was same age as my friend’s parents who were actually at least ten years her junior. I think her life experiences along with her health and devotion to family keep her young.  She is in Erikson’s eighth stage. I don’t think she meets the criteria of the ninth stage as defined by Joan Erikson because she is not weakening physically to that extent.

My biopsychosocial observations of this life review interview and my perspective is that from a physical standpoint, my mom has always been fit, though never a big exercise buff, she has always looked fit and healthy. She quit smoking in the early 1990’s soon after I did.


Socially my mom is proud of her Canadian heritage and that she did not grow up with any predjudice as she feels is common here in the U.S.


It is interesting to note that the normal role of wife and mother of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s eras is not the roles of my mom or of her mother. Her mother was working before she was married and was 26 when my mom was born, an only child. My mom traveled and had a career before she was married at 32 and was 34 when I was born.


My mom’s mother and father were a loving and supportive family (she referred to them as “a tight group”) that gave her the emotional support that allowed her to attempt challenges like the secretarial contest which her mental capacity allowed her to pass and when she passed, had the confidence to strike out abroad to Havana, Cuba and Warsaw Poland. Not the typical 1950’s woman.


My mom has a keen mind. She is an avid reader, is usually in the middle of at least three or four books, reads two newspapers and does crossword puzzles daily. She is not afraid of technology, when she has a question, she googles it.

I always thought that my feeling/confidence/example that I could do whatever I dreamed to do was something I got from my dad. It wasn’t until writing up my mom’s life review that I realize that it actually came from my mother.




Achenbaum, W. (2014). Robert N. Butler, MD (January 21, 1927-July 4, 2010): Visionary leader. The Gerontologist, 54(1), 6.


Erikson, Erik H. The Life Cycle Completed, with new chapters on the ninth stage of development by Joan M. Erikson. Extended version. W.W. Norton, 1997.


Life Transitions and Life Completion. (n.d.). : Joan Erikson's 9th Stage of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from


Social Work Exam Review: Biopsychosocial History and Collateral Data. (n.d.). Social Work Exam Review: Biopsychosocial History and Collateral Data. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from

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