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Family First and Always: Benita & Hilary

Speaking to Benita Black and her eldest daughter Hilary is like a breath of fresh air. They’re light-hearted with an easy-going relationship that comes off more like sisters than mother and daughter. Benita beams when Hilary talks and can’t help injecting her excitement into the conversation.  

“She has three jobs, you know,” Benita playfully interrupts as Hilary’s talking. Hilary smiles and confesses that on top of being a land-use planner for the provincial government, she also works at a gym on the weekends and at as a server at Budweiser Stage. 

As hectic as that schedule sounds, Hilary still managed to find time to attend Helen Nugent’s apple pie-making workshop with her mother. While that may sound surprising, once you understand the importance they place on family, it all starts making sense. 

Tell me about your relationship growing up? Was Benita strict? 

Hilary: Compared to my other friends, yes. 

Benita: She had to set the table, she had to empty the dishwasher. When there were chores you had to do them. 

Hilary: The value of growing up with mom was having people around us and having that strong community of people from various different places. Whether that be from the neighbourhood or from school or swimming lessons. It taught you the value of offering help when you can help and accepting help when you were in that position. 

Do you have siblings?  

Hilary: Two sisters and a brother. We grew up at Broadview and Danforth. We had that same community for many many years. 

How often are all of you together?

Benita: I see my extended family quite a bit. I see my mom twice a week. Every week I have my family for dinner, so my brother, his kids, my kids, some nieces and nephews. 

Hilary: Most recently my family was all together in June. It’s hard when everyone has their own schedule and their own lives. How much time they can take off and the price of plane tickets impacts how often we’re able to see each other.  

Benita: Two of my kids live out in BC so I’m not seeing them often. 

Family seems like it’s so important for you. Where did that come from? 

Benita: My parents did that. I grew up seeing my cousins every Sunday after church. My mom and her brothers talk a lot. My mom has four brothers, she speaks to two of them every single day. The other two phone her twice a week. My cousins were always like that, my siblings were always like that. My kids think that’s what you’re supposed to do. 

Hilary: We’re comfortable with each other. My mom’s cousin’s kids, I consider them my cousins. I could maybe not talk to them for six months to a year and when I see them again it’s not awkward. It’s not weird. 

Did you know your mom’s been going to these workshops? 

Hilary: Yeah, she talks about it a lot. She likes them a lot. She learns these new skills and she brings things home.

What’s attractive about these workshops? 

Benita: My sister is coming to visit. My sister and her husband live in Australia. They’re coming for a month. Before that, I’m speaking to a group of people at a women’s retreat. That’s happening at a summer camp that I used to be involved with when my kids were younger. I have to work out how I’m going to tell my story for that. 

What kind of plans do you have over the next few months? 

Benita: My sister is coming to visit. My sister and her husband live in Australia. They’re coming for a month. Before that, I’m speaking to a group of people at a women’s retreat. That’s happening at a summer camp that I used to be involved with when my kids were younger. I have to work out how I’m going to tell my story for that. 

Is there anything you want to do in the next year that you haven’t had the chance to do yet? 

Benita: I’m always cooking up a business plan.  

Hilary: I think she should do some sort of business. A business that ties in other things that she’s interested in. Like life long learning, helping other moms. It has to be with other people. I think it would be more meaningful for her. 

Benita: A business that’s doing something that connects other people. I think that there’s a lot of young adults, older teens, a lot of those kids get lost. I think there’s a gap for young adults from shared knowledge from upper generations that some parents are completely falling down on. Because they don’t know the right conversation to have with their kids so they tell them to act like an adult. I don’t know what that would look like, but something where the older teens are helping someone younger than them. I also have an idea around cooking. Like teaching twelve-year-olds how to cook meals. Come to my place and I’ll teach you how to make a cheese sauce and we make mac and cheese that you take home. Now you’ve cooked dinner. It’s empowering.    

Were you always this people-oriented? 

Benita: Probably. I come from a bigger family. I’ve got three siblings. I had people around me a lot. You can learn how to be appreciative of what you have. If you’re in a position to give, you have to give.  

It’s refreshing to hear these kinds of values still exist. Benita has an infectious, caring energy. One that can only come from a mother who is proud of the family she helped form. She’s the backbone of her own community — her daughters and son, her mother and siblings and all her cousins. It’s family first and always. 

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