Muriel Aikens was born on March 13, 1905 on the Aikens homestead just east of Millet. She was the youngest of 7 children; her siblings were Ethel, Sarah, Hazel, Olive, Percy, and Clarence. She attended Millet School and the Millet United Church. Membership in the school’s girl’s basketball team, the church choir and the Canadian Girls In Training provided activities outside her daily farm chores such as milking and feeding cows, gardening, berry picking, raising and butchering chickens, preserving meat and produce, cooking, baking, haying, stoking, and housework. Following her schooling, Muriel worked in Cohen’s General Store as a clerk. She also learned to drive a car – a feat not accomplished by many young women at that time.
Threshing crews arrived each fall. Cooking 3 hearty meals and 2 lunches a day fell to Muriel as other family members helped in the fields. The routine farm and household chores had to be done as well. She spent a whole summer cooking for a road crew that were building the Calgary-Edmonton Trail that ran past the homestead. She received $5.00 for her summer’s work.
Muriel married John Angus Smith, the only son of John and Elsie Smith, on October 24, 1935 in Millet United Church. John was posted to Handel, Saskatchewan with the Imperial Bank of Canada. John left the bank a few months after they were married. They moved back to Millet and established a home and trucking business in 1936. The bought a small house and property from John Maine, which they built onto 3 times to accommodate the family of 4 children. Money was scarce and John often said Muriel’s money management skills helped them survived.
Chopping wood, stove pipe cleaning, pumping and carrying water, laundry, gardening, berry-picking, canning, cooking, baking, hand elping John cut up sides of beef for wrapping and storing in Moen’s Meat Locker were seasonal duties. Washed laundry was hung outside during both the summer and winter. It was a belief that hanging laundry out in the winter to freeze “purified” it and that it made the whites whiter. Amenities such as electricity, running water, indoor plumbing and natural gas for heating and cooking gradually eased the daily workloads.
A radio brought much pleasure. “Soap stories” such as Ma Perkins and Peppers Young’s Family were weekly afternoon entertainment while chores were performed. The morning program favourite was The Happy Gang while Don Messer’s Jubilee and Eventide enriched the evening listening. Magazines were shared with other families. Copies of The Star Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post, The National Geographic, Life and the Reader’s Digest provided information and entertainment. Many household effects and much footwear and clothing were purchased through the Eaton and Simpson’s mail order catalogues.
Frequent trips to Wetaskiwin and occasional trips to Edmonton provided opportunities for shopping and moviegoing. Sunday trips to Pigeon Lake after church were the highlight of the summers. These trips were made in John’s truck with the children riding in the box at the back.
Muriel was a representative for Fairfield’s and Sons Wool Blanket Manufacturing Co. Community members would collect clean woolen scraps and bring them to her. The scraps were weighed and an order form was filled out for various types of new woollen blankets. These blankets' prices were reduced due to the exchange of woolen scraps. Muriel then boxed the scraps and sent them by Canadian Pacific Rail to Winnipeg. She received a small commission for her work – usually in the form of new blankets. She had to ensure the scraps were pure wool and did so by a “match test”, as wool does not ignite like cotton, linen or rayon.
The protestant work ethic dictated that hands should not be idle; therefore Muriel did sewing, knitting, braiding rag rugs, hooking wool rugs and dyeing materials for these rugs to fill her spare time. While living on a farm and performing all her chores, Muriel and the family coped with the daily challenges of caring for Alan, their youngest son, who had Down’s syndrome. At the time not much was known about the condition and there were no support services or health insurance. His illnesses were am emotional, physical and financial drain on resources. Fortunately Muriel’s family members provided invaluable assistance.
A lifelong member of the Millet United Church, Muriel joined the Ladies Aid and the choir. She was active in fundraising and providing physical and emotional support to members. She provided home baking and invitations to dinner to people alone during the holiday seasons.
The family acquired a variety of pets over the years. Nurturing them always fell to Muriel. A piglet found in a gopher hole was brought home, wrapped in a blanket, kept on the open oven door of the wood and coal stove and fed sips of milk and baby pabulum until it died. A chameleon, brought home from the Edmonton Exhibition, was caged and fed insects for several months until it too died. The family always had a least one dog. As they aged and became feeble, it came to Muriel to purchase chloroform from the local druggist and “put them to sleep.”
Family was always Muriel’s main priority. She entertained numerous family gatherings throughout the years, providing large meals and accommodations. Seven grandchildren have fond memories spent on the Millet acreage.
John died suddenly in 1975. Muriel assumed the responsibilities of paying taxes and insurances, looking after rental properties, maintaining the home and car and caring for her youngest son on her own. She remained in her home until her death in 1983. John and Muriel are buried in the Millet Cemetery.