In 1796, United Empire Loyalists Joseph Baker and Molly Stevens left their birthplace, Petersham Massachusetts, to make a new home at Dunham, Canada East. Twenty-one years later, Isaac Wallace and Mary Scholick left Alston Moor in northern England, to exchange the life of a mining town for that of a pioneer farm north of Granby. In 1904, their great-granddaughter Winifred Wallace was born on that farm.
This is the story of her childhood, on a dairy farm before the day of tractors or electricity, in an Eastern Townships in transition from English to French.
When various members of the family began to show interest in knowing more about their ancestors, I started looking through files and old albums, to see what I could find for them. When I came to the old red velvet album, that always sat on the shelf of the central table in our livingroom (sadly shabby now, but it was once quite gorgeous) I spent a long time looking at the dear old faces. How sad it seemed that my family should never know them as anything but names in a Family Tree. Then and there I began writing a few notes that I hoped might bring them to life a little. But bit by bit, as I kept writing, my own memories kept creeping in, till finally I gave up trying to confine them, and let my memory wander at will.
I won't say that this is a typical farm child's diary. My family were much better educated and better read than most farming people I knew, except the much wealthier ones in Abbotsford, and Mother was very strict (reflecting her father's training) in teaching us careful speech and good manners. How useful that was to prove for at least two of us, you can imagine, when, for instance, George became a professor, and later, head of the electrical engineering department at McGill. And who would have dreamed that the skinny little girl in denim overalls, who milked cows and fed pigs (and even, on occasion, shovelled manure!) would marry a man who was to become Vice-President of Research in a great paper-mill, an active 33° Mason, District Deputy Grand Master in his local lodge, Vice President of the Canada-wide Masonic Benevolent Scy., and Chancellor of Brock University? You can imagine the sort of people I have had to meet, and sometimes entertain or be entertained by, which would include two Governors-General and their wives (one, Roland Michener, whom I liked so much), the Bailiff (otherwise President) of Guernsey (the most amusing dinner partner I ever had), and I was once even at a luncheon at which Prince Philip was the guest speaker. Then, of course, there were the people at the head of the group to which the Ontario Paper Co. belonged.
All these experiences were very interesting, as were all our travels, east and west. But, except for the presence of my wonderful husband, I hold few of them so dear as those days of wandering in our lovely old woods, gathering berries and flowers to bring home to Mother, and sitting at the happy family table, while Dad meditatively smoked his pipe, and we all listened to Mother read aloud. She had a very catholic taste in literature; one winter she read us all the plays of Shakespeare, another most of the books of Joseph Lincoln! Coming from near the area which Lincoln described, she could do the accent to perfection, and had us all but falling off our chairs, we laughed so hard, even Dad.
But now I must leave the little girl in overalls at that happy table, and go back to our early roots.
The first member of the Wallace family of whom I could find any record is a Thomas Wallace, of whom nothing seems to be known except that he was supposed to be the owner of an estate in Scotland. Next came his son William, who had at least three sons, Thomas, Joseph and William. About this Thomas, however, we know quite a bit more. He was born in Alston Moor, Cumberland, married to Jane Heatherington, and at Tynehead, Cumberland they produced the famous family triplets, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As their mother did not have enough milk for all three, the strongest, Abraham, was farmed out to a wet nurse. Perhaps conditions in her home were not as sanitary; at any rate, he did not survive.
Our story really begins with Isaac, my great-grandfather, who with his wife and baby son Thomas came to Canada in 1817, and settled near Abbotsford (today called St.Paul d'Abbotsford). Not long after they had settled in, a fire destroyed their house and all their belongings, except one bureau which is now in the museum at Knowlton. Isaac's father, hearing of the fire, and fearing that the young family might be in need and too proud to ask for help, came to Canada himself in 1819, with his other son Jacob, his brother William and William's wife and family. Since Thomas' wife is not buried with him in the Abbotsford cemetery, I presume he was a widower when he came. Thomas would have been fifty-six at the time. Isaac was, surprisingly enough, an educated man. In an age when most common people were illiterate, he owned a number of books in Greek and Latin, inscribed with his name in a fine Spencerian script. (My mother, who had, sadly, no respect for antiques, must have thrown them out when we left the old homestead, but I can remember seeing them as a child.)
Books and music were always a tradition in our family. One neighbour was heard to comment on "those queer Wallaces who would sit all evening just reading books". When visiting members of the family did just that, we would say that we had had "a real Wallace visit". We had a melodion (a small reed organ) for many years, and the year Dad paid off the last debt on the farm, in 1903, the first thing my parents did to celebrate was to buy a piano, which Margaret still has.
About his grandmother Mary, my father told me only one thing that I can remember. An early Women's Libber, apparently, she liked to smoke, in private, and he remembered her best puffing meditatively on an immaculately white clay pipe. How I wish I had persuaded him to tell me more tales of those early days. I do not even know at what time the family moved to Milton East (so named because it was east of Abbotsford Mountain, it is St.Cécile de Milton today), a few miles from Abbotsford. The area was all English at that time; the community built a sturdy brick church and had a resident Anglican minister from England. In later years, as the French and Irish Catholics took over the district, the church was served by the minister from Abbotsford - in my day the Rev.Mr. Horsey, who baptised me. (Later, it was Rev.Miller.)
In the earlier days, the Bishop came to our church once each year and, as Dad was the warden and Mother led the church choir, he often stayed, or at least had a meal, at our house. There was a high-backed old upholstered rocking-chair that was known as "Bishop Bond's chair" because he always sat in it and said how comfortable it was. Bishop Farthing, the only one I remember, always went straight back to Abbotsford. I remember once refusing to shake hands with him; the family thought it was shyness, but actually it was because I knew I should offer him my right hand, and I couldn't remember which hand that was! I must have been very young, for after I had learned to write I would have known, and I could read or write anything I could understand long before I was six.
This precocity (born no doubt of boredom - I had no other children to play with) was occasionally embarrassing to my elders. On one occasion, at an age when proper children were supposed to believe that babies were found under cabbage plants, I announced to a table full of guests that, when I had a baby, I was going to have Scopolamine "because it wouldn't hurt so much". (There had been a long article on "twilight sleep" in the last issue of the Ladies Home Journal.) Generally though, we were pretty casual about things like that in the country; animals refuse to be modest.
Dad did occasionally talk about his parents. Grandfather Thomas was apparently a cheerful extrovert, with a quick temper. The children soon learned that if they angered him, the important thing to do was to stay out of his sight till he had time to cool off. If they could manage to do that, he would probably forget or forgive whatever had annoyed him. Grandmother Hannah was a quiet, reserved and sensitive woman, who took her husband's occasional angry words very much to heart, and never seemed, so Dad said, to understand that they were just the expression of a momentary annoyance, not really meant seriously. Grandfather would be quite surprised to find her still upset, long after he had forgotten the whole incident. Grandfather seems to have been quite a progressive farmer for his day: we were the first family in the neighbourhood to have such things as a mowing machine and a horse-drawn rake.
Our house was quite large, though doubtless not as big as I remember it, having left it at age six. The main part of the house had a good-sized diningroom and parlour, with a heating stove named Mars (with a helmeted and bearded head of the warrior god in nickel on the door and a hearth just right for warming cold little feet) set into the wall between so that it warmed both rooms. There was a wood box in front of it with an upholstered cover. I can remember Dad sitting on the box with his back against the wall and his feet up on the hearth, with front open to increase the warmth. Hooked rugs made from ravelled worn-out knitted clothes made a cozy spot on each side for a little girl to lie and listen to Mother play the piano while she and the others sang. Songs in those days were long, with many verses and a chorus. I loved the sad ones, especially "The Sands of Dee", and would weep quietly as Mother sang "And all alone ... went she". "The Dying Nun" was another tragic song I liked. But Mother had funny ones too: "Schooldays", "Over the Garden Wall", "Two is Company" and many more.
I don't know where Dad got his collection of slightly ribald Irish songs, which Mother wasn't sure she approved of: "Killiloo" and "McSorley's Most Beautiful Twins", and one that ended "'Twas a relic of ould dacency/ Was the hat me feyther wore".
It was the custom in the old days never to turn a traveller from the door, and once, when my sister Margaret was just four, a couple came and asked to stay the night because the wife was not well. She must have had scarlet fever, for, a few days later, Margaret came down with it and very nearly died. She kept asking "Papa please sing Killiloo", and my poor father sat by the hour singing the silly song, with his heart almost breaking. For years afterwards, he couldn't bear to even hear it.
But I was describing the old house. At one end of the parlour was a big bay window, with white lace curtains, where I used to play house. Across the rest of the front of the house was a wide veranda, with a hammock at the left-hand end, sheltered by a latticework for privacy. Once, the hammock had been hung back against the wall because of rain. It just touched the floor that way, and I crept inside the fold and went to sleep, where no one could see me. Mother and Dad were in town, and my brothers and sister were out for hours frantically hunting the farm for me, till I finally woke up and wandered out, surprised at all the excitement I had caused. Behind the two front rooms were two bedrooms, a large one papered with daisies, and a small one papered with roses. Usually my parents slept in the large room, and the smallest child in the smaller one. Next to the large bedroom door was the door down cellar, and next to that, the door to the steep stairway that went upstairs. Here there were two ordinary bedrooms on the right, in one of which Margaret and I slept, and on the other side a sort of long dormitory, whose walls did not quite go to the ceiling; you could climb up on a bed and peek over. Fred and George slept there.
To the right of the diningroom there was a very big kitchen, and, opening off that, at the rear of the house, a long pantry where Mother did all her cooking, and, to the left, a washroom where the washing was done in warm weather. The door at the right hand end of the kitchen opened on an entry, where the stairs went up to the big attic over the kitchen, on the left, and a loft with bins for potatoes etc. and a cupboard for maple sugar, on the right. This was over the woodshed.
The attic would have been an antique dealer's dream. Its walls were hung with things like wooden yokes, candle moulds, and snowshoes, and there were big black iron kettles and all sizes of stone jugs, and heavy old quilts, so heavy they were rarely used, made out of homespun woolen material. I remember one, in black and red log cabin pattern, chiefly because in the course of some childhood illness I was sick all over it, and Mother was in despair wondering how she would ever get it clean.
At the end of the veranda were wide stone steps leading down to a cellar with an earth floor, a cool dank cavern on even the hottest day. Here were many long racks from floor to ceiling, made of wooden strips about half an inch apart, where in early days the milk was set out in shiny tin pans to cool till the cream could be skimmed off to make butter and cheese. In my day, the milk was sold to a cheese factory in the village, and the skimmer and the old stone churn were used only in mid-winter, when so many of the cows were dry that it was not worthwhile to drive such a small quantity of milk to town. Then, Mother would make some butter herself, and we would help churn, and admire the pretty patterns she made on the butter with the old wooden moulds.
Across the road from the house were the barns, but I was not encouraged to go in there alone, so I do not remember them too well. The cow barn had a passage down the center, and the cows faced inwards on both sides; it was rather frightening to walk between those two rows of horned heads, tossing and mooing at me, as cows so often will at a child. In the horse barn, one came in right behind the horses, and I had a wholesome respect for those powerful back legs. So I was not tempted to go in often.
My favourite place to play was the orchard, behind the house, with a pretty little grove at the end of it. I had a sandpile and a teeterboard (we called it a see-saw) which was just a long board put across the fence. Several of the trees were low enough so that I could climb them. Sometimes my sister would take me down to sail boats in the brook which wandered across one of our fields and into the woods. We called it the "Babbling Brook" from something we had read. The older children have wonderful memories of the games they played in those woods, but I was too young to have played with them, as Fred was 14, George 12, and Margaret 8, when I was born. I really don't remember them as children at all. The boys built a very nice tree house in a big maple that stood all alone in one of our fields. Margaret managed to get me up there once, and then could not get me down again! I did wish I had been big enough to get up there myself, for it was a delightful place.
However, the English people were all gradually leaving the district. My brother George, still a teenager, taught the little school one year. My sister went to Granby, and boarded with our cousins the Willards, so she could continue her schooling. We were the last family left in the church. And Mother and Dad still had two pre-school children. Fred, after taking a course at a business college, had gone into the Bank of Ottawa, and was working in Lachute. And George had no interest in farming. There seemed no answer but to sell the old place and move to Granby.
No one really realized at first what a blow this was to Dad. After all, he had been born in Milton and lived there for nearly fifty years. As he said to me once, "I feel that I'm letting all my ancestors down, leaving the place they homesteaded out of the forest". His father's name was carved, by someone with stonecutter's skill, on a rock in one of the fields. But I remember Mother crying when taking leave of our old horse Jack. She was devoted to him and he to her. No matter where he was in the place, when Mother came out he would come running over and nuzzle her. He was really old and Mother couldn't bear to send him to the knackers, so my brother George had to take him out in the swamp and shoot him.
The worst mistake they made was moving into town. We rented a house on City Avenue. It had a small barn at the back, with a space overhead for hay, where we could keep the one horse we did not sell, a young gelding named Jimmy, and one carriage and one sleigh. It was right next door to Arthur Wallace's livery stable (he was my father's first cousin), so there was no objection from the neighbours. Dad went to work in the cigar factory run by Bruce Payne (whose brother was married to Dad's sister Minnie; his daughter Peggy later married my brother Reg). Dad had never worked for anyone else - he told me once that one reason he stayed a farmer was so he could be his own boss - and he had never worked in such confined quarters. Not surprisingly, he had a mental breakdown. I was too little to know what it was all about, and was away in school most of the time, but of course I felt the tension.
Mother persuaded Dad to buy another farm, on a ridge two miles from town, and when even that did not help, the doctor suggested he go away completely for a time. Uncle Ed, Mother's brother, came up and took him home with him to Mittineague (now West Springfield) where Mother and her brothers were born. Uncle Ed was a carpenter and builder, and unmarried then. Dad stayed with him while Mother and the older boys somehow managed to get us moved to the Ridge farm, which George ran.
Mother was very brave about the whole thing; it must have been pretty frightening for a woman just coming into change of life, and four children still dependent on her. Only once did her control give way. The first night, she was giving little Reg a bath in a big china wash bowl on the table, when he somehow managed to upset the bowl. It broke, and cut his hand quite badly. Mother broke down completely and lay on her bed crying, which terrified me more than Reg's screams. But Fred, who was always good with children, dried the little fellow off, bandaged his cut, and got him into bed, while the others cleaned up the mess. And finally we were all bedded down in our new home.
The next accident might well have been a real tragedy. Fred had gone back to work, but was coming for the weekend. Mother was sleeping in the big downstairs bedroom, which opened off the diningroom and had a window that looked out on the front porch. Next to her bedroom door was a door down to the cellar, and next to that the door to the front hall leading to the front door. Fred arrived late at night, but Mother awoke when he started along the veranda to the door. She ran to let him in - he was always her favourite child - and being still unfamiliar with the house, opened the cellar door instead of the hall door. She pitched straight down the steep staircase and was only saved from bashing her brains out on the stone wall a few feet from the bottom step by a pile of big cartons full of excelsior and papers in which our dishes had been packed. She somehow escaped with nothing more than a badly bruised leg and thigh.
After such a beginning in our new home, we had nowhere to go but up. Mother had been writing cheerful letters to Dad, telling him all about the place, and about all the work they were doing and planning. Dad said he was reading one of these letters one day when he suddenly said to himself "Well, with all this to be done, what on earth am I doing here?". He said it was just as if a big black cloud had suddenly rolled away. He packed and came home on the next train, not stopping to write. I happened to be in the yard the morning he walked in with his suitcase. Mother heard the shout I gave, and ran out. I can still hear her voice as she cried "Archie!" and flew into his arms.
With Dad on the job, things were soon running smoothly, and George was able to leave for MacDonald College, where he had enrolled in the agriculture course - I suppose assuming he might have to run the farm. But after a year, he decided it was not what he really wanted to do, and as Dad was now fine, and Aunt Eliza, who was helping to finance his studies, was willing to let him change, he went to McGill the next year and studied Electrical Engineering. (He eventually became chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering during the Duplessis years, and was appointed Professor Emeritus in 1962, the year my son John graduated.)
So far I have not said anything about my mother's family. The Bakers were of United Empire Loyalist stock who settled in Dunham, about 12 miles or so from Granby. The first one of whom we have any record is my great-great grandfather Joseph Baker. He had eleven children, my great grandfather Joseph being the tenth. Mother was very fond of her grandfather, who was still alive when she came to live in Dunham. After his death, she was asked what she would like to have as a memento of him. She asked for one of his dining room chairs, and was given three, which I still have. They were made of maple from his own property, some curly, some birds-eye. One of these at one time became badly burned somehow, and when Mother had it refinished it came out absolutely beautiful, in a clear natural colour, all its lovely grain showing. When, years later, I took them to be re-caned, the finisher, being a purist, refinished it the same dull colour as the untouched ones. No doubt it matched the others better that way, and looked more authentically antique, but I never forgave him!
I've never quite followed the story of the eldest son Henry, the firstborn of Joseph by his first wife Catharine Brown. He was at one time a high school principal, and apparently a musician, for the museum in Knowlton lists an old melodion there as having been played by him. He was married three times. His first wife Hannah Taylor had no children, and probably died quite young. By his second wife Emily Rykert he had one daughter, Emily. As he seems to have been hard up at this time, and had no one to care for the child when his wife died (he apparently did not keep in touch with his family in Dunham, being too proud to let them know how hard up he was, so Mother said) he gave her up for adoption to a well-to-do family in Gananoque. Many years later, for some reason, he became convinced that he had been wrong in promising never to tell the child he was her father, so he arrived at the door, shabby and old, and introduced himself to Emily, who had not even known she was adopted. She went into hysterics and would have nothing to do with him - I think she was in her late teens at the time - and Grandfather was very indignant at her unfilial response, but Mother always thought it was rather understandable.
Emily never made the slightest effort to get in touch with the family, then or later, which was rather a pity, as she and Mother were not too far apart in age and actually resembled each other a good deal. I've always wondered if the old hurt still rankled years later, for I had one, not very happy, experience with her. Her younger daughter Leila Gibson was about my age and went to St.Helen's, a private school in Dunham. My cousins there, Diana and Clara Watson, thought it a pity that we should not know each other, so they invited me for a visit and had Leila over to meet me. We took to each other immediately, and saw quite a bit of each other the week that I was there. She was a pretty girl, but unfortunately quite deaf - in these days she would have a hearing aid no doubt. But because I had a naturally rather loud clear voice and had been taught to enunciate clearly, she could understand me quite well, which was naturally a plus in my favour.
We corresponded quite regularly after that, and when the school year was up my cousins, with the best of intentions, suggested that her parents, who had a car, should pick me up when they came to collect Leila and take me home with them for a visit. Leila was delighted with the idea, and of course I was thrilled, never having done any travelling. Mother was not enthusiastic, I could see; she felt that the Gibsons looked down on her for not being as wealthy as they were, but she would not refuse me. The Gibsons then wrote that, for some reason, they could not drive all the way to Granby to get me, but if I would take the train to Farnham, they would pick me up at the station. I was fourteen, so this posed no problem. Only, when I got there, there was no one to meet me, and my cousins, at whose house the Gibsons were staying, had no phone. Finally, after waiting a couple of hours, I phoned Fred (we did not have a phone at home ourselves) and asked what I should do. He said I should wait till the last train for Granby came in, and if they had not shown up by then I should come back on it.
You can imagine my anguish when I finally had to do just that. (They had just been doodling about having tea, apparently, and when my cousins reminded them that it was past train time, they merely said negligently "Oh, she'll wait".) The long walk home from the Granby station, lugging the heavy suitcase I had so happily packed, is something I shall never forget. And then they had the nerve to write and say I should have waited for them! Mother showed me her answer, and it was as icily polite as I have ever known her to be.
At the time, I only thought of my own disappointment, but since then I have thought that they could not have been very kind people, for I'm sure Leila was just as disappointed as I was - her deafness had made her a very lonely child. She wrote to me occasionally after that, but died when she was still quite young. I never made any further effort to get in touch with the family. Someone told me that the son Cedric never married, but I don't know anything about the older daughter, Laura.
Grandfather married a third time, a young girl born in West Shefford (today called Bromont) of an Irish family, Caroline Wooley; they had four children, Mother being the oldest. How soon after that Grandfather became a complete invalid I don't know, but Mother always spoke about him as being at home and not working. She said he had "water on the knee". Poor young Caroline had to go to work in a factory to support the family, and considering the long hours they worked in those days, all the work there must have been at home, and four children born two years apart, it is not surprising that the youngest died, and that Grandmother herself developed tuberculosis and died when Mother was about 12. She seems to have been a happy sort of young thing, who used to sing around the house and annoy her serious older husband by getting the giggles when he was laying down the law, and she dearly loved her little ones.
But most of Mother's stories of her childhood were sad. Grandfather seems to have been very anxious that the children should not acquire the slovenly speech of their poor neighbourhood in Mittineague, and was very strict with them. Somehow, they managed to find a few pennies to buy books - Mother had all of Charles Dickens and Walter Scott, besides many lesser known writers, even if they were in paperback editions. The neighbours were kind, but not very congenial. Mother told of making bread when she was so little that she had to stand on a chair to reach the counter. Once, she said, Grandmother had no mitts for little Henry, so she made him a nice pair out of oilcloth from a worn-out tablecloth. He went off with them very proudly, but children are so unkind; they laughed at his unusual mitts and he would never wear them again. Another time she went on an outing with her school class but had to stay outside the museum they were visiting, because she was the only one who did not have a dime for the entrance fee.
Two years after Caroline's death, Grandfather died also, still never (and this I find shocking) having got in touch with his family at home or providing for the care of his children in any way. Henry and Ed were adopted, as was often done in those days, by families needing a boy to work. Ed was fairly lucky; the family who took him were reasonably kind to him, and he learned a trade; he became a carpenter and builder.
But poor little Henry did not fare so well, and of course was younger - he was only eight. He grew up a very unhappy and embittered man, although judging by his picture he was quite handsome. To make matters worse, he lost an eye in an industrial accident. For years he did not correspond with Mother or Ed and no one knew where he was, or even if he was alive. Finally, many years later - I don't know just when, as I had left home by that time - he suddenly turned up on our doorstep. But Mother said afterwards that she really wished he hadn't, for he was so bitter, especially on account of the money he should have inherited from Aunt Eliza, and so unhappy, that she was sorry to have to remember him that way. She never saw him again, but they did correspond, and when he died, a few years later, he left her his few poor belongings.
We had just moved into the house at 6 Long Avenue, so to have something to remember him by, she used the money to buy the kitchen cabinet which always stood on the short wall next to the cellar stairs. It was a great boon, and more appreciated than many much more expensive articles might have been, for that kitchen was lamentably short of cupboard and counter space. I remember my George once happily turning its flour sifter till the bowl overflowed all over the counter. And all the children in the neighbourhood, especially the grandchildren, knew that Mother kept cookies in the lower right hand drawer for the asking. I was so happy when Grace took the old cabinet and used it, first as a baby's dressing table and later as a sewing center. It is nice to think that poor old Uncle Henry, who never had any family of his own to give things to, should have left us something which has been of so much use for so many years.
Mother, being old enough to work at fourteen, went to live with her mother's sister (who also lived in Mittineague) and got a job in a paper factory. The factory made fine paper from rags, and a holdover from that made Mother very fussy about the way we handled books. Not even our childrens' books were allowed to be laid face down, scribbled in, or dogeared, an early training that stood me in good stead when I married Charlie! The one thing the little girl wanted desperately was to save enough money to buy a gravestone for her mother and, by means of who knows what sacrifices, she finally accumulated forty dollars, a big sum in those days. Her aunt's husband offered to take the money and buy a stone for her; it seems almost too bad to be true that he simply pocketed the money, and Grandmother's grave, wherever it is, is unmarked to this day.
However, things were to look up for little Stella. She had evidently been brought up to go to church regularly, and as it happened, her Sunday school teacher was the daughter of the owner of the paper mill. She was obviously surprised to find an educated and well brought up girl among the poor mill workers' children she was teaching, became curious about her, and finally got hold of the address of some of the Dunham relatives. They were shocked to hear of their brother's little daughter living in what they imagined as a den of iniquity, and sent for her at once, although Aunt Harriet worried considerably about what the introduction of a child from such surroundings might have on her innocent family. As a matter of fact, Mother said that the mill workers were very protective where she was concerned, and even watched their tongues when she was about. She was as innocent as a lamb, and learned all the "facts of life" in a not too desireable way from the Watson children!
Aunt Harriet, two years younger than Grandfather, had married an Englishman, Edmund Watson, who was a widower with four children: Fred, Will, Diana and Clara. They subsequently had one child of their own, Benjamin. Diana and Mother were close friends from the start, and "Cousin Di", as we always called her, was considered one of our closest relatives, although actually she was not related at all. She became my sister Margaret's godmother, and helped her out often with gifts when they were much needed. Before Mother was married, Uncle Edmund sent Diana to England to stay with his sister Penelope, so Cousin Clara was Mother's bridesmaid. Uncle Ed got Diana, or his sister, to send out a tea set as his wedding present for Mother, the set with the blue rims starred with daisies.
Uncle Edmund had considerable contempt for all things "colonial", and did not trust the local school board to educate his children, so he had a tutor sent out who had studied at Oxford, and whom the children called "Uncle Tom", although I do not think he was related to the family, at least not that closely. [40 years later: Thomas H.G. Watson was the brother of Edmund. He was indeed an uncle to the Watson children.] So Mother studied with him too. Later she was sent to school in Granby for a time. Whether this was just to have an official High School diploma or whether it was like a teachers' college I am not sure, but I rather think the former. Dad was there at the same time, but it was a large school and he would have been in a much higher class, being five years older, so I don't think they knew each other then. The old school was still standing when I was a child, a big gray clapboard building on Dufferin St., but by that time it had been taken over by the Society of St.Vincent de Paul and the school I attended was the only Protestant school in the city.
After Mother graduated, she looked for a job as a teacher, and was offered one in Milton. It was a tiny one-room school; my older brothers and sister went there too, later on. I did not, as Mother taught me at home, so my only appearance there was the Christmas I was six, when the teacher, assisted by Mother, decided to put on a Christmas Entertainment. Mother played the organ, which had been borrowed from the church, and I took part in a drill with all the others, singing "We'll Wave our Holly Branches", which we all did, vigorously. As Reg had just been born the April before, I recited a poem which began "Hang up the baby's stocking/ Be sure you don't forget/ Dear little darling brother/ Has never seen Christmas yet". Very touching, no doubt; I hope I did it well!
Dad had also graduated as a teacher, and was an excellent scholar, but the first school he applied to for a position turned him down. The principal told him bluntly that he was too good looking, that all the older female students would be falling in love with him. Dad, a very shy man, was horrified at the idea, and gave up all thoughts of teaching. As the rest of the family had all left home by this time, he decided to stay at home and take over the family farm. He was the youngest child, so his parents were well on in years and quite glad, when he married, to retire to a home in Granby. They died not too long after my brother George was born, so Fred was the only one who could remember them at all. My old school chum Muriel Irwin's mother told me once that they used to attend the same church, and people who did not know Grandmother used to call her "the stately old lady".
In those days, the teachers had to be boarded by someone in the community, and it happened that Mother boarded with Dad's brother George and his family. Dad began to find more and more excuses to visit his brother, who lived only a few minute's walk away. What he mostly admired about Mother, he told me once, was her vigour. A rather quiet reserved man (my brother George told me once that he could have passed as an elderly Oxford don) he watched my mother ploughing through the snowdrifts, with a face rosy from her exertions and her dark eyes snapping, and decided she was just what he needed to balance his own passivity.
Unfortunately, Mother had fallen desperately in love with her first cousin, her mother's nephew, in whose home in Shefford she had been a visitor the summer before. They might have flouted the taboo against cousins marrying, had not a woman in Shefford, whom they knew well, married her first cousin a few years before and proceeded to have two blind babies. This was too much for Mother, who was intensely maternal, so she and her cousin weepingly bade each other a lasting goodbye. As if this was not handicap enough, Mother had been brought up by Aunt Harriet to think of sex as something "not nice" that wives must endure. (It was Aunt Harriet who, seeing Mother once at the country fair admiring some magnificent stallions - she was always a horse lover - drew her away, whispering "Come away, dear, those are the gentlemen horses".)
Mother admired Dad very much, both for his looks and his mind, and of course he was quite a catch; the family were rather big frogs in that small puddle. So she accepted him, but with two strikes against them, they never did have a very happy sex life, I gather. Being born a town girl, she must have had many other difficult adjustments to make, marrying a dairy farmer still living on the old homestead where his grandfather had settled many years before. Also Mother, who had all the vigour and ambition that Dad lacked, and loved company, whereas he was happiest sitting quietly smoking his corncob pipe and reading or meditating, used to get very impatient with him. Unfortunately it was not in his nature to blow up and give her a good calling down when she was unreasonable, which only made her more so.
Margaret was of much the same nature as Dad, and Mother often made her life miserable too, I fear. I was never the type to be bullied, and gave her as good as she sent if she started to criticise me, so we got along just fine! Nevertheless, in her own way Mother loved Dad, and was so devastated without him that she went downhill rapidly after he died, and died herself little over a year later.
Mother's favourite in the family was Fred, who was much more like her than any of the rest of us, although he looked much more like Dad, especially in his later years after he got his teeth fixed. (When he was young, his teeth met so poorly that he could not shut his mouth completely.) Fred developed a bad case of Bright's Disease the year that Mother was expecting Reg, and stayed at home for a year. It was a blessing in disguise, for being the sort of person who could never sit still and be idle, and not being allowed to do any of the heavy outside work, he took up cooking, which Mother never enjoyed, and soon became an excellent chef, turning out bread, pies and doughnuts that I still remember. That, and his company, saw her through a bad time, for she had not planned this last baby, being then forty-three; in fact she did not realize for some time that she was pregnant, thinking it was only "change of life", as we called it then. By this time the heavy work of a farmhouse of that day, and the loneliness when all our English neighbours moved away, had pretty well got her down. She did get some fun, I think, out of teaching me that winter, for I learned quickly and easily and enjoyed the lessons, being no doubt somewhat lonely myself. The only children I ever saw were my cousins the Willards. Cousin Edgar was Dad's first cousin, and got his wife the same way that Dad did, by marrying the new teacher.
Cousin Effie was a dear, and she and Mother were great friends. They had five children, much the same age as we were, and we always celebrated holidays and birthdays together. Edgar's sisters were also frequent visitors; Mother especially loved Cousin Carrie. The story went that Carrie really cared for their hired man and he for her, but the fact that he was a hired man, French, and also drank too much on occasion, made it quite unthinkable that she should marry him. But he worked for her for years, and neither ever married. Carrie also had the care of her retarded sister, Edith, till she died. After that, Carrie sold the farm and moved to town with one of her other sisters, and it was when she, and Cousin Effie too, left that Mother began insisting that we must move too.
When my older siblings talk about home and their childhood, they think of the old Milton home. But for Reg and myself, home and childhood mean the farm on the Ridge. (We called it "the Boyd place", after the family we bought it from.) I can still faintly remember the old place, especially the sugar bush and the delights of sugar-on-snow and scraping out the big pan in which the sugar had been made with a smooth wooden paddle - as good as having a four-foot square icing dish to lick! But the Boyd place was a wonderful place to play. Behind the house and barn an orchard sloped all the way down to a swamp which we named the "Slough of Despond" (we had a wonderfully illustrated copy of Pilgrim's Progress which we knew almost by heart). When we had crossed this, usually by polevaulting from hummock to hummock, we came to a long and narrow strip of pasture, where the first wild strawberries always ripened, and then up into the woods, where there were two huge rocks, each the size of a house. One had quite a large cave in it, where someone had cut out slabs of rock, no doubt for building purposes. With Reg's chums, we would roast potatoes in a square hole that looked like a fireplace, or play cowboys and Indians over the rocks. There was a spring of lovely clear water there, and beside it a wild apple tree which was a thing of beauty in the spring, though the apples were small, wormy and sour.
We knew where the first hepaticas grew, and the trailing evergreen vines which used to decorate the house at Christmas, and the wild gooseberries that were too tough to chew so you pierced the skin with a sharp eye-tooth and squeezed the sweet pulp into your mouth, and the first wild strawberries; we used to hunt the whole pasture over to find enough to make a strawberry shortcake for Dad's birthday every June 17.
There were two big clearings in the woods which had been logged over just long enough ago to be full of wild raspberry bushes, and many people from Granby used to come to pick there. They never asked permission, but as there were plenty for us as well, no one ever said anything to them. I can never hear a "Poor Canada" bird, as we called them, without feeling the hot sun on my back and tasting the sweet wild berries as I happily filled my pail. Later, we had a big plot of cultivated raspberries and strawberries, but they never tasted as delicious as the wild ones.
We had two horses at this time; Jimmy, whom we brought with us, and Charlie, whom the Boyds left behind. The latter was, I think, the stupidest horse I ever encountered. We never drove him except in a team with steady old Jimmy, but even then you could not always count on him. Once he ran away with George, who was bringing the team back from the lower field, leaving the plough behind for further work. I happened to be in the orchard, and saw them racing up the road, with George perspiring behind them. "What's the hurry?" I called, surprised. "Shut up!" said my usually very polite brother, through clenched teeth. Luckily, Charlie, hungry for his lunch, turned in at our driveway. George was aware that he was not terribly good with horses, and was alarmed when, one day, he had to drive the team up the steep hill to the upper barn floor with a big load of hay. So he decided to lead them up instead of driving them, and stationed me on the load with a pitchfork to hold at Charlie's rear, in case he decided to back up unexpectedly. It never occurred to me to refuse my big brother, but I'll admit to being terrified! The hill, which was very high, turned a complete right angle at the top, and dropped off in a steep slope on all sides, which were littered with all the discards the Boyd family had dumped there for years. If Charlie had decided to go straight ahead, or back up - well, I think I had reason to be afraid! Luckily, for once he behaved himself, and we arrived safely in the barn. But I've often wished I had a picture of that scene.
I can see my Great-aunt Eliza, who always spent the summers with us, sitting patiently hulling big milk pans full of wild strawberries. Aunt Harriet had several sisters, whom Mother always spoke of collectively as "the aunts", and who lived near her in Dunham. I gather their house was a sort of refuge for little Stella, and she especially loved Aunt Eliza. Eliza had a heart condition of some sort and could never do any heavy work, but was invaluable at such tasks as mending. She must have returned Mother's affection, for she always came as soon as the weather was warm enough and stayed till it became cold. Our house was not very warm in winter, for we had only a wood furnace.
Before leaving the aunts, mention should be made of one who was to have quite an influence on my life, though I saw her only once, as she died when I was five. This was Aunt Alice, the handsomest of the sisters, who married a wealthy man of Dutch descent from one of the old Brooklyn families, Charles Schenck. She had no children, and when Mother wrote to her that she was expecting me, Aunt Alice said that if I happened to be a girl, she would like me to be named after her and would like to be my godmother. Mother took me once to Dunham when Aunt Alice was visiting there. At five, naturally, I do not remember too much but I do remember that I had a new coat of deep blue velvet (probably made from a family discard) with a wide collar of real lace, and that Aunt Alice showed me what a bannister was for (we had none at home) and I remember walking up and down the stairs there, my hand carefully placed on the bannister as she showed me. She also taught me to scrape a banana before eating it, telling me that the part under the skin was the indigestible part of the fruit - and I still do it!
But the most important thing she did for me was to leave me five thousand dollars when she died, in trust till I was twenty-one, by which time it had doubled. Most of the interest from this I gave to Mother as long as she lived, to make up for the loss of Aunt Eliza's bequest, that had been looked after by Uncle Ed. He put it all into an unwise railway stock and the company went bankrupt. He never let on, but kept on paying Mother and Aunt Harriet the interest out of his own poor wages. Everything had to be settled up eventually, of course. My brother George was the executor - he said it was awful, Uncle Ed just sat down and cried. George was quite young and very fond of Uncle Ed, who used to be very good to the kids. Mother said she couldn't blame him, he'd just done the best he knew, but Ed knew how badly they needed the money at that stage. I always thought he paid it all back though, that time when he took Dad when he had the nervous breakdown and kept him down there till he recovered. I never felt that Uncle Ed owed us anything, after that. Eventually Aunt Alice's money served as a down payment on the first house I owned. And when Ted died, and the house, being insured, was completely paid for, this enabled me to pay half of the cost of the house in St. Catharines where I lived more than fifty years.
Because I had this money from Aunt Alice, Aunt Eliza did not leave me any money in her will. She explained this to me before she died so that I should not feel hurt, and as a consolation left me the little writing desk that I still use daily, and some small items like a napkin ring or two and a sterling silver thimble. The desk was one Aunt Eliza bought for her own use and kept in the big downstairs bedroom at the Ridge farm. It never occurred to me till long afterwards how good it was of Mother and Dad to give up their big comfortable downstairs bedroom every summer and sleep in a much hotter one upstairs. Aunt Eliza was not supposed to climb stairs, though she must have done so in Dunham, since I do not remember any downstairs bedroom there. Mother loved that desk so much - she used it herself during the winter - that I never could bring myself to take it away from her, so it sat in a corner of the livingroom at 6 Long Avenue as long as Mother lived.
Aunt Eliza was fairly well off and used to try to give Mother a few things for the house, but Mother was so proud that Aunt Eliza had to resort to all sorts of stratagems to get her to accept them. It was fairly easy to justify a new mattress for the bed, since she used it herself. Most of the beds upstairs had corn-husk mattresses. When you were making your bed you reached inside the ticking and fluffed up the husks, evening them out so there were no lumps. Once a year, on a warm summer day, the husks were emptied out onto a sheet and left in the sun to air. I don't know how she persuaded Mother to accept the glass-fronted china cabinet. But I do remember that she gave me a new sewing machine, a Singer treadle, with private instructions that I was not to really consider it mine or to take it away. Aunt Eliza taught me how to sew, and as no one but Mother could use her ancient machine inherited from her mother (if anyone else touched it, it promptly stopped working), her giving me a machine I could use was quite logical, but of course she really meant it for Mother.
I have had cause to be very grateful to Eliza for teaching me how to sew. Mother was an excellent seamstress and had looked forward to teaching her daughters. Unluckily she had to start on Margaret. Mother was very quick, very handy, and very impatient. Margaret was, like Dad, a slow-moving person, not particularly handy at that age, and Mother's impatience and criticism made her ten times as clumsy as she would normally have been. (In later years she learned to sew very well, but at her own speed.) Margaret soon hated the sewing lessons and this was probably fairly obvious after a while. So Mother gave up in despair and never even tried to teach me. I don't know when I should ever have learned if Aunt Eliza had not taken me on. I really liked to sew and Aunt Eliza was patience itself, so I remember piecing a whole quilt before I was ten. I was very proud of it, not realising that someone else had done most of the work - cutting, laying out, sewing the strips together, binding, and quilting it. I never made another, though, while Margaret eventually made dozens of them, including a beautiful Dresden Plate that she made for me after she was eighty.
I liked making doll clothes, especially hats, and, finding a big box in the shed chamber full of flowers and feathers from discarded hats, I carefully pilfered what I needed to dress up my millinery. Years later I confessed this to Mother and her eyes filled with tears. "I kept all those trimmings for years", she said, "hoping that one of you girls would take an interest in doing something with them." And here all those years I carefully hid all my creations in the playroom Reg and I had built at the top of the carriage house (when I was dying to show them off to someone), for fear that I would be forbidden to take any more materials from that box!
The shed chamber was a wonderful place to play. Our house on the Ridge was like two houses joined together in a T shape. The front section was parallel with the road, with a narrow veranda across the front. In the center was the front door, which led into a narrow hall with hooks on either side for hanging up outside clothing. The stairs led up to the right, on the left was a door to the parlour which ran the length of the section, and straight ahead was the door to the diningroom, off which was the downstairs bedroom. All were good sized rooms, and above them were four bedrooms with slanting ceilings. A door directly opposite the hall door led to the kitchen, which would today be considered also a family room. As it occupied the full width of the back section of the house, and as the ceiling was white and the walls papered in white with a blue pattern, it was very light. Unlike the front rooms it had a ceiling so low even I could touch it, which made it cozy in winter but rather hot in summer.
The kitchen was divided in half by the stove which projected half way across it. The kitchen stove was the center of the Boyd place for the cold part of the year. The oven door was closed when you wanted to bake, but the rest of the time it was left open to warm the kitchen, normally the only really warm room in the house. There was no such thing as a thermostat, of course, but there was a damper on the chimney that was opened for more warmth, closed for less. The firebox also had a door; we had no electricity for a toaster, so you opened this door, took a fork and your bread and stood it up leaning against a grating on the front and toasted your bread that way. It worked well, except when Margaret got absent-minded thinking one of her dreams, and it would burn! In the left hand corner of the kitchen was a sink with a pump, and on the back wall a dish cupboard and counter with a cupboard below, which had a device for holding a whole barrel of flour so it could be swung out at a touch. Along the left hand wall when we moved in was a huge bathtub. This was removed to the part of the shed chamber that became my playhouse, and, as it had a plywood cover it made a useful counter. The space it had occupied was used for a fine counter and cupboard unit built by Fred, who was very good with tools. The other half of the room was the family room: a couch along one side, a table and chairs for six between the windows, which were always full of blooming geraniums, and in the corner by the diningroom door was a small table with magazines and books, over it a hanging rack for the weekly newspaper, The Family Herald and Weekly Star.
At the far end of the woodshed, two steps led to a narrow passage to the outhouse. This structure projected far enough beyond the house that the tank beneath it could be dragged out regularly and loaded onto an old stone-boat. This our quietest old horse then dragged to a remote corner of the corn field, where it was emptied between the rows, washed in the nearest ditch and duly returned to its proper position beneath the two holes above (one large, one small). Mother had long ago been taught the old country proverb: "What can't be cured - must be endured." But she always added to it her own cheerful corollary: "However, it may often be improved surprisingly by dint of a lively imagination and lots of hard work." So one day, having just painted the big kitchen her favourite shade of gray-blue (which she always mixed herself), she took some sandpaper and the remaining paint, set off to the outhouse, and soon had woodwork and door, even the floor and steps of the passageway, the same cool and pleasant blue. The ceiling and window frame she painted white, and the latter was framed with dainty white-dotted curtains, tied back to allow free entry of a breeze from the garden on summer days. (The window was set modestly high to ensure privacy.) The walls were papered with the last of the kitchen wallpaper, white with pretty nosegays of blue and yellow flowers. A neat homemade braided rug, a picture or two from an old calendar and a rack containing magazines and last season's Eaton's catalogue completed the decor. I was very proud of Mother's artistry, and rarely protested having to scrub the seats and floors every Saturday. I also had to fill the two white covered pails, one with sawdust for "number one", the other with ashes from the kitchen stove for "number two". A small shovel hung above the pails, and we were taught to use it regularly to avoid unpleasant odours. In summer, I would also gather a big bunch of southernwood from Mother's herb garden to hang on a hook in the corner, where it filled the little room with a pungent and delightful fragrance. Both Mother and I felt our labours had been amply rewarded when a young school friend, who had been invited to spend the night, said enthusiastically, after her first journey across the wood shed, "Oh, Mrs. Wallace, I think you have the prettiest privy in the whole world!"
Mother had the old wooden plank floors replaced with hardwood in the kitchen, diningroom, and bathroom. The bathroom was over the kitchen, and had formerly been the hired man's bedroom. Mother had a doorway cut from it into my bedroom, a hardwood floor put down (Mother had no love for the wide painted boards so popular with modern renovators), cupboards put in under the slanting roof, and a chest between them under the window which made a delightful window seat. I spent many happy hours there with the highly moral books of my childhood: the Elsie Dinsmore series (borrowed from my friend Geraldine Purdy, who had a whole set), the Maggie and Bessie series (I always identified more with harum-scarum Maggie than with angelic little Bessie, I'm afraid!), the Katy books and all the Louisa Alcott and L.M.Montgomery books, not to mention Mrs.Mead with her "noble" heroines.
The only bathroom equipment was a large white claw-footed tub which had to be filled up with pails of hot water from the kitchen, laboriously hauled up the back stairs. But at least it ran out by itself, down a pipe into the kitchen sink and from thence into the garden to water Mother's iris. And thanks to the kitchen stovepipe passing through it, the room was cozy and warm. I used it as both dressing room and study all winter. The rest of the space above the kitchen and woodshed was unfinished storage space, except the part I used (in summer only, as it was unheated) as my playroom. Here I had a big doll's house, the little red desk and chair that Fred made for me (that has served all my children and grandchildren too), and other treasures.
As I grew older, though, I felt the need of more privacy, since this area was completely open to anyone coming up to the chamber, especially Mother, who was apt to find me too many jobs if I was so readily available. So Reg and I, finding a pile of old boards left behind by the previous owners, hauled them precariously by rope and pulley to the top of the big carriage house and laid a floor with them across the large joist beams. We nailed them securely in place, nailed a few boards across the uprights below to serve as a ladder, and then started looking for furnishings. An old horse blanket served as a carpet to keep such things as marbles from disappearing down between the cracks. Two rugs, hand hooked from ravelled wool (doubtless from worn-out garments) by some ancestor, were found in the chamber, where we figured anything so discarded was fair game. All the toys came up too, and piles of old magazines, mostly Ladies Home Journal and the Women's Home Companion.
The only trouble was, the place was a bit dark for reading. The obvious answer was a window, so I took a small saw and set to work on one of the wide boards that formed the end wall. To my dismay, as soon as I had cut it in two, the whole board promptly fell out, having been expertly laid in place without nailing. This five-foot high gap was obviously too dangerous, especially as Reg was still fairly small. Nothing daunted, I took two pieces of board, unfortunately not weathered ones, and nailed them across the two pieces of planking, put the latter in place, then nailed the cleats to the next board on either side, on the outside. Mother's dismay the next time she approached the house from the north side and saw a large lopsided hole in the end of the carriage house, framed by two yellow boards of differing lengths set at peculiar angles above and below, and visible for at least a mile (the road sloped upwards for about that distance to the top of Sheridan's Hill) can well be imagined. However, as I pointed out, no one had ever told me not to do it, and apart from stern warnings to ask permission next time I was not punished. Too bad Fred was not at home at that time; he would doubtless have made a few improvements.
The new boards gradually weathered to the same shade as the rest and all was forgotten. But not by Reg and me, who passed many happy hours in the seclusion of our lofty hideaway. One of my happiest memories of that place was the year that a barn swallow built a nest up there and hatched out four ravenous babies. I am still amazed that she was not afraid of me and would let me come within a couple of feet of her. We admired the eggs and patted the chicks, which theoretically should have made her desert them, but did not seem to bother her. However, she did not return the next year and I can't say I blame her. Reg and I felt very sorry for city children, cooped up in a house with adults all the time. We had so many wonderful places to play.
The stable and hayloft were always available in rainy weather. There were all sorts of animals who accepted us patiently, even the fierce wild barn cats who hatched litters of kittens every year in an unused manger. Once I saw one of those cats leap from the ground about five feet to a window above the kittens' manger, with a rabbit bigger than she was. Unfortunately there was a nail sticking out of the window sill and the rabbit caught on it, so they just had to eat it where it hung. Another time I found a nest in the haymow where she had stashed away about four rats, all for some reason headless. One cat became very tame and used to sit beside me while I was milking, and open her mouth so I could squirt milk into it. I often think how very patient Dad always was with me, for it must have made a mess.
And he never objected to my using his tools, as long as I put them back, or to the number of nails and things that I went off with. I was always building things: a swing made of heavy chains which I cheerfully appropriated to hang on the tree in the back yard, a cozy seat in an old maple so I could read there in green seclusion while eating my favourite sweet apples, a wigwam of young cedar trees based on a model in "Two Little Savages" - I shall never forget how furious I was when some big boys from town, who used to cut across our pasture sometimes, smashed it all down. No one ever said I should not have cut down all those young trees, though we depended on our woodlot for the winter's fuel.
Children have a way of seeing only the desire of the moment and rarely think ahead far enough to consider the consequences of their acts, a fact I tried to remember when dealing with my own offspring. One night I decided it was so lovely outside it was a shame to spend it indoors. So I persuaded Reg, who generally followed me blindly, that it would be fun to sleep out under the big pine tree in front of our cave. We took some covers, sneaked out by the back door of the shed, made our way by moonlight to the Big Rock and cuddled up in the warm soft pine needles. But somehow it was hard to get to sleep; perhaps the ground was a bit hard or the mosquitos found us - I can't remember. Anyway Reg soon became unhappy and wanted to go home. When all my persuasion failed I finally gave in, and we started back. But as we left the cover of the woods, what was my dismay to see the swamp alight with lanterns - our absence had been discovered and the family were out searching for us. Till that moment it had never occurred to me that our parents might be alarmed and angry at finding us missing in the middle of the night!
Reg also remembers, painfully, a similar example of this blank spot in children's mentality. Having been given, after much coaxing, a small hatchet for his birthday, he went out looking, naturally, for something to chop. The first things he came across were the gleaming patent-leather-covered shafts of our best buggy, which Dad had given Mother because riding in a bumpy carriage made her ill. This one had deep springs and bicycle-type wheels with rubber tires; really handsome and very comfortable. What possessed Reg to chop off the shafts, to this day he can not imagine; he was old enough to know better. He says that he never felt any resentment about the licking he got, being quite aware he richly deserved it. The same was true of the time he opened the slide in the big oat-bin (set near the bottom for the convenience of whoever was feeding the hens who lived in the same room), and let a great heap of oats run out all over the hen house floor. It was such fun watching the oats pour out, he said.
On the other hand, I did feel resentful (I don't now!) when I was punished for a wonderful game I dreamed up. We were always acting out stories and I had the bright idea of playing "Lettice, Lettice, let down your hair/ That I may climb without a stair" by letting my long hair hang out of my bedroom window and mix with the woodbine that covered the house, while Reg climbed up to my window. Unluckily he was a little too heavy for the vine; it snapped off at the bottom, promptly died all over the house and took several years to recover. The vine, especially when it turned a deep red in the fall, was one of the most attractive things about our house, and Mother, who took great pride in her home and worked hard to keep it looking nice, was simply furious. My chief peeve was that I got the hairbrush and Reg did not. It is worth remembering that children have no sense of age making any difference; that I at twelve might have been expected to have more sense than Reg at six did not occur to me, nor did the fact that Mother knew very well who was the only one to think of wild ideas like that. In self defense I must say that it never occurred to me that the stalk, which was over an inch in diameter, could break, nor that the whole vine depended on that one root. But even I could see how dreadful it looked when it all died.
One thing I have perhaps not stressed so far is the amount of fun we had as a family. Perhaps our pleasures would seem very simple to a later generation, for we had of course no TV; not even a radio, till George gave Mother a little crystal set with earphones that he made at McGill after he came home from the war. Mother was starved for good music - we had little except what we made, very amateurishly, for ourselves. We all, except George and Fred, played the piano. George, however, played the violin, and Fred, who had quite a good voice, loved to sing. I was very proud when I got sufficiently advanced to play George's accompaniments; Fred's wife Myrtle used to play his. Mother always played for the church, in Milton, and she had simplified versions of music from many of the great operas - in fact, that was my first introduction to opera. The Family Herald and Weekly Star used to publish songs that their readers wrote in and requested. Mother frugally cut these out and mounted them in an old book. She also had hymn books, including a Moody and Sankey, whose hymns we belted out with great enthusiasm when we were young. In later years I used to play them for Reg and his friends - "Pull for the Shore", "Only an Armour Bearer", etc., and they would sing for as long as I would play. Dad did not read a note of music, but he could play the old dances till everyone in the house was tapping his toes, and in Milton, I believe, he used to play for the community square dances. He also knew many old songs, especially those of Stephen Foster, and civil war songs like "Tenting in the old camp ground". We could not stand too near him when we sang. Not knowing one key from another, he had, he said, to hear himself, or he couldn't play.
Once someone tried to sell Mother a gramophone, and left it with us, for her to try. It was a high thing that you had to wind up, but was considered quite advanced back then, because it didn't have a horn, like the one my friend Geraldine's family had. If the salesman had been wise enough to inquire what kind of music Mother liked, and had left her some classical records, she might well have weakened and bought it, but all he left was a number of "funny" vaudeville songs. Reg and I had great fun learning them, especially one that ended in a cat and dog fight, which we rendered very realistically, we thought. But Mother firmly refused to buy the thing, strange to say.
Christmas was of course a major event with us. It was strictly a family affair; we entertained at New Year's (in Milton, always the Willards) but Christmas was just ourselves, especially after the family began leaving home, and some only came home at that time, during the winter at least. Reg and I scoured the woods, which we knew so well, for evergreen vines and a tree, which was so fresh cut that we were never afraid of fire from the candles. But we never really believed Christmas had come till Dad came home with a long goose neck, complete with the head, hanging from the pocket of his old raccoon coat. Mother found that all of us were too excited to eat a decent breakfast, till she began serving us oyster stew! Christmas was the only time that the Granby butchers sold oysters, which they dipped with a ladle out of a big barrel into a small cardboard container. (They also sold "oyster crackers", little square puffs like tiny sofa cushions, which I especially loved.) On the great day, Dad would come down and light the fire. We had to stay in bed till the house was warm, and then get completely dressed, as we had never heard of dressing gowns. How long it seemed to take till the magic moment when Dad would call us down. Then we all joined hands and danced around the tree, singing. To a modern child, it would appear a very plain, unexciting tree, no doubt. But to us, it was Fairyland!
We usually had only one major gift. The other things would be small toys, or practical presents, like mitts or handkerchiefs. But for me there was always a book, and everyone had his own bag of mixed candies and nuts. The joy of reading a new book, and eating candies which one didn't have to share (as one always had to, with birthday boxes) is one of my most delightful memories. Two others come back to me - the Christmas Mother made me a whole set of the loveliest doll furniture. She got the patterns from the Ladies' Home Journal. The pieces of furniture were made from double sheets of cardboard, each half covered with a pretty cotton (with a very small floral pattern), then sewed together. When all the parts were done, and decorated - bureau drawers simulated with outline stitch in pink, and "handles" of small round brass buttons, for example - they were assembled and top-stitched together. A tremendous amount of work, as I discovered, when I tried to make some for my own girls. Not satisfied with that, she made a most realistic mattress, tufted like my own, blankets edged with blanket-stitch, pillows with cases that could be taken off, and a pretty spread of damask edged with a riffle of lace. I have never seen anything prettier in an expensive craft store. The other Christmas gift that impressed me was an "Eaton's Beauty" doll, which I knew, from having seen it in the catalogue, had cost a whole dollar. I was tremendously impressed - imagine my parents caring enough about me to spend a whole dollar on a toy I wanted! And Mother had dressed it in an exact copy of a dress of my sister's - white striped with green, with a sailor collar and a four-in-hand tie that really untied, and which I had to learn how to tie myself. Small gifts usually included a "tin whistle", and Reg and I would spend hours trying to find tunes we could play - not so easy, as they had only one octave - doh to doh' - and no accidentals. ("There's no place like Home" was one of the best and easiest pieces, I remember. Very appropriate.)
The next great day was my birthday. As it was in July, it was usually a picnic. And what a picnic! To begin with, we always went to a place where we could bathe. (Since there was no water near us, none of us could swim.) In the early days, we went to Roxton Pond, a very small lake about eight miles away. Later, when Margaret had a boy friend with a Model-T Ford, we went to Brome Lake, near Knowlton, which was much bigger and had a real beach. At first, we girls wore just our nightgowns. But later, Margaret had a fine navy-blue bathing suit, with a tunic and short sleeves, a sailor collar, very full bloomers, and long black stockings. For the picnic, Mother always brought jars of sugared wild strawberries, a two-layered birthday cake with chocolate icing and candles, and an almost unheard of treat, a whole freezer full of her own home-made ice-cream. (Of course there were also sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs and potato salad, but who remembers those?) I always vowed that this year, I really would try not to eat too much, so I would not feel sick on the ride home. But somehow, I never quite made it! However, the food was worth the discomfort.
The other great day, for which I always saved any money I received for my birthday, was the county fair, in early autumn. The fairground had long narrow buildings for displays, and it was fun wandering through them. Some had animals of all kinds, beautiful horses, cows, sheep etc., and one had a ring for judging them, and awarding the prize ribbons. Another building had handwork of all kinds - quilts, embroidery, crochet, knitting, etc., another had the cooking competition. There were athletic competitions, a midway, sulky races, and candy and balloons for sale. I went with a girl chum, and it was very exciting!
On a farm in those days, there were four really important things you had to provide for, your taxes, your food, your warmth and your cleanliness. My father said that when he had paid the school fees, bought our school books, paid the taxes, and Mother had ordered our winter clothes from the Eaton's catalogue, then if he had $500 left in the bank, that would do us over the time our income stopped (when the cows went dry till they started up in the spring and the calves were weaned).
We canned everything as it came along, starting with horseradish and rhubarb - during the season Mother canned 8 quarts a day. In addition to picking all the stuff, you peeled it, prepared it, made syrup, sterilized the jars with the stove going full blast regardless of the weather, then filled the jars up and tested them to make sure none of them leaked. Occasionally they did, then we either used them right away or boiled them up again and put them in another jar. Gradually the cellar got to be completely full. The back cellar was separate from the furnace room and had an earth floor which kept the air moist. It was always quite cool - we kept mincemeat there, not cooked, just in a stone churn; I went down and got some whenever Mother wanted to make a pie, and I needn't tell you I stuck a couple of fingers in when I was younger. It must have been sterilized very well, of course there was a great deal of fat in it. We had three great bins of potatoes and a big shelf that ran across the bins for vegetables - turnips, cabbages, squash, pumpkins. Then we had barrels of apples, all kinds from early ones to the very last ones, Russets, that would last through till February at least (they were terribly wrinkled by then but they made good applesauce and pies), and a big box full of eggs. Eggs didn't keep well enough for the table, but they were used for cooking when, in the cold weather, the chickens would produce only enough for table use. We kept them in rock salt and pried them out one by one. There was also a big jar of pork, cut in strips like bacon and stored in brine, that we used for hearty breakfasts, supper if you didn't have any other meat on hand, and for the sawyers. Salt pork was one of the first things I learned to cook. You desalted it by boiling it on the stove then pouring the water off, rolled it in flour or cracker crumbs, fried it in some of its own fat, and served it with milk gravy made in the pan they were fried in, flecked with tiny bits of browned flour. We didn't have to worry about cholesterol in those days, we were far too active! In the summer time we sometimes had apple juice, but that we bought; we didn't have a cider press.
Dad always kept one special cow for the family milk, washed her very carefully before he milked her, and used a pail that mother had sterilised by boiling water in it on the stove. It was a domestic shortening pail, bright red, so when he hung it on a hook outside the barn door we could see it from the house fifty yards away, and know the milk was ready to bring up for breakfast. We always had fresh milk for breakfast on our cereal.
One of the biggest jobs the men had was providing us with warmth. They had to wait for winter to get any trees from the woods, for there were so many rocks there was no place where a wagon could drive in. When the snow got deep enough though, they could drive in a bobsled with one horse. Dad and one of the boys would cut down the number of trees they felt they would need, trim the branches off, then lug the trees down to the yard behind the barn, where they would stay piled up till the sawyers came around. Like the thrashers who came to thrash our oats, these men travelled in teams, bringing their own equipment, and one of the common sounds of early spring was the whine of the big circular saws, as they moved from one farm to another. When we had people like the sawyers come, we had to put them up overnight. Mother didn't like cooking for them because the peasant types in those days never took a bath. I've heard that some of them sewed their children into their long underwear in the fall and cut it off in spring. (I remember a hairdresser from Paris that I had in Montreal telling me that the same was true with the peasant people in his country, that people would even date things by it, as in "I think that was a week before I had my bath"!) Mother said later that when she was pregnant the worst job she had to do was to fry salt pork for them in the morning for breakfast. You had to have fried pork and fried potatoes for them because that was pretty well what they lived on at home. Anybody who had offered them porridge would simply not have been accepted, and they had a very simple way of enforcing their wishes. If you didn't provide the food they wanted, let them sit at your own table, and not object if they spit at the stove leg when they were chewing tobacco, the next year they were somehow or other too busy and didn't find time to come to your place. Dad, having lived there all his life and his parents before him, didn't have to learn that the hard way as some did. (Ever since, I've never found it possible to ask anyone who was working for me to eat in the kitchen.) The sawyers only cut the wood into chunks lengthwise; we used them like that for the furnace, but the wood for the kitchen stove all had to be split. Dad did that by hand with an axe, and filled the wood shed as high as you could reach. Every once in a while he would split some further into kindling. Whenever anyone came through the kitchen door, he automatically brought in a load of wood.
The biggest job we women had in the household was keeping clean. Taking a bath was a major effort. Some people today laugh at the idea of a Saturday night bath, but only those who don't know what we had to go through to take one in the early days. All we had to wash in was a laundry tub that was so small you could almost put your arms around it. You had to send everybody else out of the kitchen, which was the warmest room in the house, set up a couple of chairs next to the stove and put a blanket over them to cut drafts, lay out your fresh clothes or nightclothes on the oven door so they would be cozy and warm, put the tub in the little enclosure left right next to the heat coming out from the oven, sit down as best you could with your knees under your chin and take your bath. You couldn't be too leisurely about it! The rest of the week we took a sponge bath; even that was skimped on sometimes when there was ice frozen over the pitchers of water in winter! After we made the bathroom at the Boyd place it was easier, but we still had to carry the water up the stairs to the second floor.
After having cleaned ourselves, we had all the clothes to do. On a farm, clothes get very, very dirty, for children will play in swamps and work has to be done in the barn and places like that. Laundry in those days was a real labour of love, especially in the winter time when you had to bring it inside. In summer we did it in the summer kitchen which was also the wood shed. Dad had made Mother a long bench that was big enough to take three tubs, one washing and two rinses. Besides that there was another box that had a tub of bluing on it, everything white went into that as well. We had a wringer, but it was such hard rubber that you couldn't put a button through it or it would crack, and Mother didn't think it dried things really well, so she did it by hand. She must have had wrists like iron! We had sheets and pillow cases for a family of five, six in summer, just to start with, then our underwear and night things and all the household things such as dishtowels - and everything had to be spotless. You had to starch much of it - one of the first things I learned to do was to make starch with flour and water boiled on a stove, then put through a sieve for it was always a bit lumpy - it was mixed with the desired amount of water and each thing dipped in it. All our dresses were starched, and our aprons. Then everything had to be lugged out to long clotheslines in the small orchard just outside the door, and if it rained it was a major upset, for then you had to haul it all in, then hang it out again. The clotheslines were at the front of the property, visible from the road, so you had to be careful how you hung things. I remember one time Margaret hung Aunt Eliza's underpants on the line. Aunt Eliza used to always say she liked to have lots of "spring" in her underclothes - once she gave us a lovely silk taffeta petticoat and Mother made two out of it, one for me and one for Margaret. Anyway those pants were tremendous, they caught the wind and were billowing out like two great balloons. Aunt Eliza took one horrified look, cried "my goodness gracious!", flew out and hung them up inside a pillowcase. Then there was hardly anything that didn't have to be ironed. You stood by a great board two feet wide for the sheets, a smaller one narrowed at one end for dresses, then put your irons on the stove (with a blazing fire summer or no). If you got them too hot, and it happened very easily, you had to shove them to the back of the stove to cool, or everything got burned. You would walk over, fit the holder onto one of the irons, lift it up, lick your finger and touch it - if it spit, you knew it was hot enough - then you would test it carefully on the edge of the ironing board to be sure it wasn't too hot. If you have never ironed the cotton that dated from that era, you have no idea what ironing means! When it dried, it looked as if you'd scrunched it up in your hand and left it to dry that way. You had to stand and lean on the iron then. The ironing took a full day in between getting meals, looking after the children and so forth. Sometimes it even stretched into the night.
I learned how to iron early because I desperately wanted a pleated serge skirt. Every girl in my class had a pleated serge skirt. Mother, who had ironed them before, said I could have one only on condition that I would iron it. I wanted one badly enough so I did, putting it on the dress board, putting wet cloths on it and lugging those irons over to the ironing board. I remember my sister minded the heat a lot more than we did; she even set up the board in the dining room and walked with the irons all the way in there in the hottest weather.
The job I disliked the most was emptying the slops. You took a diaper pail with a cover on it upstairs, went into every bedroom and emptied the chamber pots. Once a week (Saturday of course) you had to wash them as well. One Saturday I brought all the chamber pots downstairs, washed them all with hot water and vinegar and finished them up with Bon-Ami - in hot weather they'd form a crust around them that you couldn't get off with cold water. It used to infuriate us, but visitors from the city believed that when you went to a country house you were supposed to go to the back door. (Maybe there were some people who preferred that, but we never used the back door ourselves unless we came with the carriage. We used the front door because we came to it first, and besides there were pegs there in the hall for hanging your clothes.) Anyway I was right in the middle of doing this job and up came a couple of people from town to see Mother, and me with a row of bowls the whole width of the back stairs! Oh dear, life's little embarrassments!
Spring housecleaning was a tremendous affair. We took down every curtain, washed them and the windows, then put the curtains up again. We emptied every drawer in the house and put fresh papers down inside. (I remember somebody saying that one must never make the mistake of using a newspaper for this because then there was a date so everyone could see how long it was since you'd cleaned it last! We usually used left-over wallpaper.) We discarded things we figured we no longer needed, that were outgrown or too ragged, and arranged everything again. This system had one big advantage - you got to know where everything in the house was. Things that had been missing for months would turn up somewhere in the back of one of these drawers. We had wall to wall carpeting in the livingroom that was tacked down. We took a tack puller, pulled all the tacks out, lugged it out to the clothesline, beat it with anything that was handy (I remember using an old tennis racquet on one occasion and another time someone using a child's baseball bat) till no more dust arose from it, aired it well, then brought it back and tacked it all down again.
Our favourite place to play was the sandpit. Imagine a private sand pile as big as the whole area of our house, with a pool in the center fed by little springs trickling out of the banks. There was a drainage ditch that flowed almost the whole length of our property, starting in the pasture swamp, crossing the big field where the sandpit was, emptying into the ditch that bordered the road, crossing under this through a culvert, then crossing the main field of our neighbours the Harts. The water was so pure that I used often to stop on my way home from school at the spot where it crossed the road and take a drink, having first eaten a few leaves of the mint that grew there conveniently, to give the drink a flavour and "coolth". I say it was pure because I presume it must have been, since I drank it for years with no ill effects. It was a delightful brook to play in; in early spring it was a ribbon of gold for its whole length because of the cowslips that grew there. Among these we found jelly-like clumps of frogs' eggs and carried them up to the pond in the sandpile, where they hatched out into fascinating tadpoles which tickled our toes as we waded. In the late fall the brook would sometimes overflow and make a big pond in the field, which would freeze into a fine skating rink.
Other times we skated in the sandpit and played hockey there with boys from town. I remember Mother being somewhat annoyed when, on one occasion, I got swatted across the face by a hockey stick but kept right on playing, and my nose bled all down the front of my school coat. To her suggestion that I might better have stopped playing and put some snow on my nose to stop the bleeding I objected, "But then the other team might have got a goal while I was off!". There are difficulties in bringing up a girl to be a proper lady when she plays all the time with boys.
I did try to play with girls sometimes on my way home from school, but it seemed to me that all they wanted to do was to play house with dolls or talk about boys and clothes. There was no time for playing on the way to school, of course. I got up when Dad did (about half past five, earlier in the summer), and got dressed while he was getting the cows. That was often quite a while, for we had a long pasture, they might be at either end of it, and often the cow with a bell on it wasn't moving around, so he had to hunt for them. I would make the fire, start the porridge, and sometimes even have time to make it before the cows were ready to milk. I did 8-10 cows according to my account book, at half a cent each. Then I drove the milk to the butter factory, brought the whey back, took a sponge bath to get the smell of the manure off, changed into clean clothes, made my lunch for school, had my breakfast and walked (or bicycled according to the weather) to school a mile and a half. It sounds like one of those things parents are supposed to be always telling their children about! (When I was 14 we got a separator, so after that I turned it instead of driving the horse. It wasn't as interesting but it took less time on weekdays, so I didn't have to hurry so much. On Saturdays, its 32 disks had to be washed, though!) But actually I enjoyed the walk except when the snow got a little too deep. And even then I didn't mind if it was deep enough so I could put on snowshoes and go right over all the fences. We had no overshoes in those days, what you wore were long hand- knitted red stockings that went right on over your shoes, then you put on rubbers. They looked pretty!
The boys and I played baseball or hockey according to the season, or cowboys and Indians, or built forts and tree houses, or practised for sport days (in which girls in my day did not take part, at our school at least). I was quite surprised, when I went to Teachers' College, to find that, although like most of the country girls I had never had any gymnastic training, I could hold my own pretty well with the Montreal girls, and even won the cup for high jumping. This was partly due to the fact that, when on the day of the competition I found that the skirt of my tunic was knocking the bar off when I had actually cleared it, I blithely tucked the offending skirt into my black underpants and made it on the next try. I am sure that there were some very shocked faces among the lady profs, but I remember the Dean gave me a big grin as I passed him. But my success was largely due to the practise I'd had playing with Reg and his friends.
I studied piano with Murray Fisk, who lived opposite the school in Granby, for almost three years. He was also the person who got me reading serious books. One thing I never had a chance to learn at home, though, was to swim. There were no pools, and the river was narrow, had very steep slippery banks and a swift current. Even experienced swimmers did not try to swim there. However I learned to swim at least a length or two at Teachers' College and swam regularly at the YWCA in Montreal, so that while I never got to be a polished swimmer, I could amble along for as far as I ever wanted to go, passed my Bronze lifesaving and was all ready to take my Silver when I discovered I was pregnant with George. My doctor said "No swimming in pools, too much danger of infection". And I never got back to it.
I often think what a terrible amount of time any bright child wasted in our old school. No gym, no music except Moody and Sankey hymns at the morning assembly, no art, no school paper or yearbook to write for, no cooking or sewing or woodwork - what on earth did they do with us all day from nine to four? We had two classes in a room and we spent most of the time being hopelessly bored - I was always getting into trouble for reading books or drawing pictures or writing would-be comic poems.
Sometimes, at least, the trouble did not last long. On one occasion, when I was caught drawing after having finished all the assigned work, I was sent down to the principal, Mr. Adams. He looked at the drawings, and cleared his throat. "Ahem (pause), these are very creditable drawings, Miss Wallace. But shouldn't you be doing your assigned work when you are in class?" "But I've finished it all, sir", I replied. "Ahem (another pause), well, you could always be doing more studying. After all you want to be sure you get your year, don't you? What was your class placing last month?" "Second, sir." A longer pause ensued, ended by his assigning me some poetry to memorise - a whole verse! Another time, as punishment for talking, a teacher made me stay in and memorise a section of "Lady of the Lake". I thought this was great, I'd have someone actually willing to listen to me recite poetry for a change. (Dad quoted poetry by the hour at home; Mother had many books of poetry too.) But I made the mistake of getting carried away - I'd just got to where there was a tremendous battle, lost count and memorised an extra verse. She made me do arithmetic from then on.
We had assembly every morning. We marched up to the sound of one of the teachers playing the piano (for years she played the march from Chu Chin Chow) and sat down, the youngest in front, the older in back. There would be a prayer, a scripture reading, the singing of hymns which the principal always conducted (he had a good voice and knew it), and any special announcements. During the war we sang "God Save the King", "Keep the Home Fires Burning", "Tipperary", "K-K-K-Katie", and songs of that sort - I can still sing them to this day. On the last Friday of the month, we got out of class a half hour early and went up to the assembly hall to get our report cards. I remember we girls were always worried that our petticoats would fall down! We didn't have slips, and petticoats were fastened with just one button hole, like a skirt. I used to put a safety pin in mine the last Friday of the month. We marched up in order of our rank the past month, so the poor dummies came at the end. Each report card had on it your conduct, and mother used to say she could hardly wait to see the first report card of a year so she would know whether I'd got a good teacher or not. If I'd got a good teacher I'd have G or even VG (I didn't often get up to A which was the best); if I'd got a poor one it might get down to E. I remember a story of one boy who told his parents E was for Excellent and when his father said "I don't understand that, our neighbours' little girl who's always so good and gets such fine marks got A on hers", he said, "I hate to tell on her, Dad, but that stands for Awful"!
The little school library had almost nothing to read in it, only ancient encyclopedias, a set of Palmer Cox's Brownie books (donated by the author, who lived in Granby in Brownie Castle) and for some obscure reason a whole set of the works of Fenimore Cooper, which I waded through, although most of them were pretty dull. (The five "Leatherstocking Tales" were the best.) In later years I persuaded the principal to let us put on a Christmas Entertainment and to use the proceeds to buy some of the popular books of the day. As I seem to remember, our taste was not very highbrow, running mostly to such authors as Gene Stratton Porter and George Barr McCutcheon (Mr. Adams vetoed one of my choices, a western by Stewart Edward White, because one of the characters in it said "Damn!") but at least they were readable.
Part of my lack of interest in school was that I never made any congenial friends in the lower grades. I was two years younger than anyone else in the class, and small for my age, like my John. Also the other children lived in town near each other, so they could play together after school and even after supper, whereas I was limited to an hour after school, at most, and my parents didn't know theirs. Most of all, though, they just weren't interested in the things I was - music, art, reading, nature.
A wonderful change came, the year when the Abbotsford students joined our class. There was at that time quite a group of prosperous fruit farmers in that community, and they had an agreement among themselves not to sell their properties to the French. So they managed to keep up an English community long after the neighbouring districts, like ours in Milton, had ceased to function in English. Their school was small and only had classes to the end of grade IX. So the Abbotsford young people had to come to Granby for grades X and XI (which was Junior Matriculation) if they wanted to attend university, and most of them did. Suddenly I met all sorts of interesting young people, and was invited to all the parties, picnics, etc. in Abbotsford. What fun we had! Margery Fisk was my special friend, but whenever I was invited to stay with her, lots of the other young people would turn up too. We used to play tennis on Marge's old grass court, which was several feet too short, and had tree branches hanging rather too low over it (we had special rules which permitted us to take a shot over if we hit a branch), but no one minded. When it got too dark to play, we would go in, Marge or I would go to the piano to play any new music any of us had acquired, while everyone would sing along, and Marge's Dad would play the violin. Sometimes we would turn on their hand- made gramophone (with a big wooden horn that filled one corner of the diningroom ceiling, and no doubt prepared me for some of the Hi-Fi equipment that decorated the livingroom at 46 South Drive, years later!) and danced. Other times, if the group was small, we would put up the billiard table. Always, when Mrs. Fisk deemed it to be getting a bit late, she would come in with quantities of delicious food, which we consumed while discussing the latest books we'd read, or similar topics. We did not, as I remember, discuss world events much. Perhaps that was because, in 1919, the war was just over, and we had had our fill of the often gloomy news that we had been hearing for so long. Nor, being so well chaperoned, did we talk about sex. We girls had been brought up on the moral stories I have already described, and would have been shocked if anyone had introduced such a subject in mixed company, and so would our chaperons!
If I have lingered somewhat over this particularly happy period of my young life, it is because I think that the next generation, if they ever bother to wade through these reminiscences, will be most interested in the way we lived, played and had fun, back in those far-off days. However, in telling about these simple and inexpensive community amusements, I suddenly realize one thing - how easy it was to meet men in this sort of milieu, and not the doubtful strangers of a singles bar, but men you knew all about - you'd been to school with them, visited their sisters, been invited to dinner by their mothers, seen them at work and at play. So if one suddenly began inviting you out, walking you home from parties, bringing you Ganong's chocolates, and so on, you knew exactly where it would lead, if you let it - straight to matrimony. And you had a fair idea what you were getting. I had two serious beaus during this period, both very nice chaps, whom I actually considered, and eventually refused for reasons I would not have been aware of had I not known them so well.
Albert Whitney had a fine fruit farm with a very nice house on it, and, most tempting of all, a most beautiful brook that babbled its way from a spring high on the mountain, to flow right through the flower garden. I still don't know how I managed to resist that brook! Especially as Albert was a thoroughly nice chap, and very attractive to me physically. But I knew I could never be satisfied with someone whose only reading was the farm pages of the Weekly Star, important as they might be to his work, and who could not understand what on earth was the charm in classical music, or why I preferred to play it when I could just as well play the latest pop song.
Richard Horsey was another story. He was Marge's first cousin, and quite the handsomest man around - the kind of looks we used to call "collar-ad", because there was in every magazine and paper in those days an ad for Arrow collars, featuring men with sleek dark hair and perfect profiles. John Barrymore and Ivor Novello, among our most popular actors in those days, had "collar-ad" profiles. Richard was a McGill graduate, was well read, could move freely in our ever-recurring debates on "life, and what's it all about?", he had a good singing voice - well, what more could I ask? Frankly, what put me off was his mother! He was an only child, and his father (the minister I spoke of earlier) died when he was quite young. If he had tried to fight off her dominance, I could have forgiven him, but he had let himself become a perfect "Mamma's Boy". I felt that his wife would always have to take second place, and with my quick Irish temper, still not too well controlled (though I did try!), living in close contact with Mamma would have been an ordeal I was not prepared to face. Had I met her only on social occasions, I probably would have thought her charming, but having been a guest at the Fisks when she and Richard were there too, for a week at a time, I had no illusions about her, and knew there would be no hope of escaping her. I never told Richard why I refused him, and I'm sure both he and his mother must have wondered; he did seem like such a catch. But I've never been sorry!
I was only regretful for the fact that refusing a man meant losing him as a friend, and I had such happy memories of both; sleighing through a snowy woods by moonlight with Albert, hiking over the mountain, or canoeing in Lafontaine Park, with Richard, dancing with them at church socials and walking home under the big, dark over-arching trees. I suppose it is a sign of old age, but it does seem to me we had such fun courting in those days, when a boy didn't expect you to hop into bed with him on a first date - or any date, till the knot was tied - and holding hands in a movie was a big thrill.
I should not give the impression that my life before the advent of the Abbotsford gang was a sad affair. If I could not find the type of friends I wanted, I cheerfully made do with the best I could find. I especially remember Geraldine Purdy (whom we always called Gelly) and Muriel Irwin (a remote cousin). Both were farm girls, so we had that in common, and Gelly, a year older than I, almost always led her class. Gelly still writes to me occasionally (Muriel, alas, has been dead for some years), and reminds me how I used to be allowed to take old Jimmy and the second-best buggy, and the two of us would go off on expeditions.
My family had surprising confidence in me, now that I think of it. I couldn't have been more than ten when I began driving Jimmy to the butter factory with the morning's milk. I was so little then that I couldn't pull down the pipe that filled the milk cans with whey to take back for the pigs; whoever was nearest to me would come and pull it down for me. I remember one time Gelly and I visited a friend who lived out on the marsh road, now neatly paved, but then a narrow dirt road, with ditches that at that time of year (early spring) were about four feet deep in water and very wide. Coming home after dark, we were met by a wagon full of young drunks, who nearly forced us off the road. I got over as far as I dared, and prayed. They came so near that their hub caps crashed into ours. For once I had occasion to be grateful that Jimmy was such a stolid old beast. He stood firm, and quickly pulled us back onto the road again. I can't remember if I ever told Dad about that one.
I drove Jimmy all the time for farm work, of course. He had only one problem, he was terribly stubborn. When he wanted to run he ran, and if he didn't want to you practically had to spike him. The only time I ever knew him to really run was when I had one of these umbrellas that opened by themselves when you press a button, and I popped it up; Jimmy took off like a race horse and ran all the way home. One of the things I did every morning after milking at Granby was to drive the milk to the butter factory. The cart I drove was not a proper box at all, just a flat surface with four inch-high planks put across it to hold the cans in place. So there was nothing to help you in case of a real tip, but of course one wasn't expected to tip driving on a plain road. One morning I started forth as usual, and somehow or other the reins were crossed when I picked them up, so I pulled the wrong rein first. Well of course I noticed immediately when Jimmy turned his head towards town, so I changed them over and pulled it the other way. Well, would Jimmy change? No - I'd said I was going to town and he was going to town. Our driveway was narrow and ended in a stone wall across the main road, so you couldn't go ahead, only left or right - and Jimmy was bound he was going to go left. So he just kept right on walking with his head twisted around. I was getting desperate because we were going to be running into the stone wall, and gave a real yank. He just whirled around and tipped the whole cart sideways. I hooked my bare leg around one can, hung on for dear life and saved that one; the other one of course went out and the milk was all over the road. That was half our day's income, you realize, that I had on that wagon. Dad didn't scold me or anything, he just comforted me instead, Dad being Dad. But anyway I drove my one forlorn can on up to the factory. I never really trusted Jimmy after that!
A better day was the one when Gelly and I decided to drive to the top of Shefford Mountain, and picnic by the lake there. It was a beautiful day, and the son of the man who was in charge of the lake (where Granby got its drinking water) was out there fishing. He had a row-boat, and rowed us all around the lake. I knew him a little, as his father was a friend of Dad's, or of course he would not have asked us, in those days. His name was Albert Copeland, and he was a very nice-looking boy, so of course that made the adventure all the more exciting. I remember staying overnight at Gelly's on Hallowe'en, so we could go out trick-or-treating, and someone dared me to knock on the Principal's door. He was a very stern-looking man, who always marched, rather than walked, and always with a cane. All the little kids were terrified of him. But I was not inclined to be terrified of man or beast in those days, so I trotted boldly up and not only knocked, I waited for him to come to the door. To my astonishment, both he and his wife came to the door, and seemed so delighted that someone had finally come, they loaded me with candy. I hope it encouraged some of the others to follow, for when I got to know him, years later, I found he was rather a shy and kindly man. And I could not believe he was so short!
Another friend I remember with pity and regret was Frances Fogarty. When I first knew her, she was such a pretty little girl, with blue eyes and long blond curls. How I envied her those long blond curls; in every fairy story I ever read, the heroine, the fairy princess or whoever the most attractive female was always had blond curls, never straight and stringy brown hair like mine. But Frances was so friendly and so kind, my envy did not affect my liking for her, especially as she took pity on me, an outsider, and often chose me in games when I might otherwise have been left out. But in grade V, a tragedy struck; she developed epilepsy. Nowadays this might not be the complete tragedy it was then. At first they tried to keep her in school - she had been an excellent scholar - but then she began talking out loud, saying things that made no sense, and she had to be sent home. The strong medicines she was given to help control the seizures made her dull and forgetful, and blotched her lovely fair complexion. I often think what a terrible grief it must have been to her parents. Although she was no longer very interesting to play with, I could not forget what she had been like, and used to go in fairly often after school to see her. Mother encouraged me in this, and had her at our house sometimes for a visit. Frances knew when she was going to have a seizure, and all I had to do was to get her to lie down till it passed. Her mother was so grateful for someone who did not fear her "fits", and would help her to pass the long, lonely days, that even after Frances mercifully died, at age 21, she wrote to me for years. I suppose that today Frances would have been given medications that would have allowed her to lead an almost normal life.
We do not think often enough of the blessings of modern medicine. I remember seeing women with great goiters that hung down to their chests, and children terribly crippled from polio. Mentally retarded children, too, ignored or mercilessly teased by the other children, with no schools to go to where they could be helped to develop whatever potential they had. I remember the polio especially because it struck the daughter of our good neighbours, the Harts. Yvonne was twenty-one or two, attractive and full of fun, and newly engaged. She was fortunate really - the paralysis affected only one arm, but she had no use of it for the rest of her life. It hung like a dead weight, and she used to pin the sleeve to her dress to keep it in place. She told me once that she had tried to persuade her fiance not to marry her, as she felt she would be such a hindrance to him. That must have taken a lot of courage and self-denial. Luckily, he refused to be persuaded; they were happily married and had several children. She was very clever at overcoming her handicap; for instance, she would pin her sewing to a heavy pillow, so she could manage it with one hand. But she never did manage to do her hair stylishly (in those days, of course, it was very long and thick). She must have been very much relieved when it became the style to have our hair "bobbed".
As the years went by, of course, the little farm girl grew up. Till grade X, I had never done any work at school, I fear. My reading and spelling were always perfect, and my English marks were so high, thanks to my early training, that they made up for very poor marks in history and geography, which I loathed, as they seemed to be all memory work, and the books we used were very dull. But during the summer after grade IX, I happened to pick up our geography book, one rainy day, to see what we were going to study in the coming year. It happened to be South America, about which I knew absolutely nothing. Intrigued by this, I began reading, and found that studying by myself, at my own speed, could be fun. Encouraged, I also started on my history book, and had these two subjects pretty well mastered before school ever started. We also had algebra and geometry instead of arithmetic, which was new and challenging, and more advanced Latin. We were a small class - six or eight, I think - and all fairly keen, so the teachers let us proceed pretty well at our own pace. And I liked and respected both my teachers. From being the (I fear) terror of the class, I became a model student, and not only came second (Gelly still held her lead) but won the big Bank of Commerce silver medal, for my best eight subjects. (My sister, who also won this, said she gave it to her babies as a teething ring!)
By this time I was mature, and had my full growth, so the physical strain of my busy life had lessened considerably. In the last two years I was also working very hard at piano, with Murray Fisk, who became a good friend, as did his friend Nelson Moore. They were both much older than I, but we had fun together, going for long walks or bicycle rides, and holding deep discussions on philosophy and religion. They did make the boys of my own age seem very dull, and I did not encourage their company. Luckily Murray and Nelson were very responsible young men, and never made any unwelcome advances, no doubt realizing this would hardly be suitable. I was, after all, only fifteen!
One of my funniest recollections of Murray was the time he got very interested in church architecture, and persuaded me to bike about ten miles with him, to see a Catholic church which had been newly decorated, under the direction of the new priest. (Rumour had it that he was far better educated than such a little rural church would expect, and had probably been demoted for some run-in with the hierarchy.) It was a lovely day, but alas, we found the road had been newly graveled, and even, for some yards, flooded. It was a gruelling ride, and we were very thankful to arrive. But then a horrible thought occurred to me - I had no hat! For a woman to go into a church in those days without a hat would have been an insult. Frantically, we searched all our pockets - not even a handkerchief. Firmly I decided I was not, after all that effort, going to miss seeing the church. So I went over to a near-by house, where the family was, as French country people often would be, all sitting on the veranda. I politely asked them, in my very best French, if I could borrow an old hat, as I had heard of their beautiful church, and wanted to see it. They were delighted, and one girl rushed upstairs to bring me what was obviously her very best hat, of shiny black straw, decked with large bright red roses. After we had seen the church (and luckily, it was well worth the seeing; it was all done in what I called "Madonna blue" and white, with just touches of red and gold, quite unlike the usual garish decor), I returned the hat, and was lavish in my praise. Only when I saw how pleased and flattered they were did I realize that they did not feel, as English people often thought, that they were being robbed by the Church when they were persuaded to pay such heavy tithes out of their meager incomes. This was the one beautiful, magnificent thing in their rather dreary existence, and they owned it and were proud of it. We rode home by a smoother, if longer road. Murray told me, years later, "My one unforgettable memory of you is at that church in Milton, wearing someone's Sunday hat with the big red roses!"
The next year, I continued to work hard, and graduated eleventh in the province and at the head of my class, finally beating Gelly. I hope she forgave me; I was very disappointed myself. In the excitement of the final exams, I for once did not thoroughly check a paper, and left out a five-mark question that I knew perfectly. That five marks would have made me fifth, and tied me with my cousin Edith Baker, whom all my cousins were always praising for her brilliance. Another upset affected my graduation. My father's nephew Rupert and his wife had been visiting us, and asked Mother and Dad to ride back with them and see the beautiful countryside where they lived. At first they said it was impossible, but with my usual self-confidence I assured them that I and Reg (aged 12) could run the farm easily. It astonishes me a little that they actually agreed, finally, and took off, promising faithfully to be home on time for my graduation. We actually did manage, Reg and I, to milk all those cows, separate the milk, and have the cream ready for the carrier on time (though the first night, we did not allow enough time, and finished the milking about nine o'clock, by lantern light!) The next day, Margaret came up and stayed till our parents returned, getting all the meals and doing the other housework, which was a great relief. Tragedy struck, though, at the very end, when Mr. Adams arrived at my door to tell me that the graduation had to be put ahead a full day. In vain I pleaded that my parents would not be home till the appointed day. Some trustee, apparently, could not come that day, or something. So I made my valedictory speech and received my prize of $15 in gold pieces, with no one there but Margaret to cheer for me. The speech was funny, and went over well, and my friends rallied around with loud applause. But I'm afraid Mother's disappointment ruined her trip, when she heard the great day was all over. However, it was well written up in the Leader Mail, with my speech in full; I found a copy of the paper among her treasures, after she died, and I have it still.
As I graduated at 16, the Normal School would not accept me till the next year, so my friends all went on without me. Of course I was very upset about this at first, but actually, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was able to put in two or three hours daily on piano and theory, and for the first time, since Margaret was now married, and Reg was big enough to do more of the outdoor work, I took over helping Mother in the house. Learning to cook and get meals on, helping look after the grandchildren (as Fred's wife and Margaret each had babies the year before), washing and ironing a bit, working in the garden - this meant that unlike so many girls who are completely ignorant of what is involved in running a household or taking care of babies, I had a full year's experience under a good teacher. I also taught in the Sunday school, which was a help when I came to doing practical teaching at MacDonald College.
Next year I was not lonely at Mac, for my friend Muriel Irwin roomed with me, and Marge Fisk, who was taking Home Economics, was just around the corner. I also made two very congenial new friends, one, Laura Newman, who came second in our year (I was third) and Evelyn Symonds, who won the Art prize. So I thoroughly enjoyed my year, and the years of teaching in Montreal till I married.
But I still went back to the old farm every summer, till it was sold, and my parents moved into the town of Granby. And still in memory I can go back to the old home, and my beloved woods, and treasure my many happy memories.