Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bio #23 - Elkwater Lake

This lake is about thirty miles east of Medicine Hat. It used to be quiet and a nice place to visit. Lots of folks from town had a summer house there and one family we knew did. They were called "Tyler" and they had three children our age. We were all invited to spend a weekend with them, so Mr. Tyler took our family out in his car. It was a bit crowded with seven in it, but it was fun. It was an open touring car, and we whizzed along to the lake. The grasshoppers were bad that year, and they were flying in and out of the car. Poor Mary was in a state, as she was scared of the things. But we got to the lake and joined the rest of the Tylers, Mrs., Fred, Elsie, Vera, and Grace. Oh! They had four kids, not three. Four things stand out in my mind and they were mice, berries, sleeping four in a bed, and Mary falling in the lake while trying to get into a row boat. She was soaked and scared.

The mice came out of the wood box (it was a wood burning stove) at night, and ran all over us. As we slept four in a bed on the floor, on a spare mattress, it was fun but crowded.

Grace and I were the same age, so paired off, and went picking berries. I remember we didn't have anything to put them in but our pockets. My dress had V shaped ones, and when we got back, I had a purple stream of juice from each pocket. Grace was wet too. Mom wasn't too please as I only had one dress with me.

Most people, women especially, would shriek at the thought of mice running across their bodies at night, but I experienced this, too. I was staying at Storm Mountain Lodge, a collection of rustic log cabins in Banff National Park in 1971, very charming but full of mice, which scampered about the cabin at night with impunity, even racing across the bed. Believe it or not, I got used to it.

The lake is part of Cypress Hills Provincial Park, which features boating, swimming, hiking, bicycle trails, and has a Lodge, for which I've created a link so you, dear readers, can see what it looks like today. Cypress Hills is an oasis of hills and trees on the otherwise flat prairie.

Elkwater Lake by Canada-Photos.com 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bio #22 - The Undertaker

Mr. Knott was one of the undertakers in town. He was a good friend to Dad and Mom. He gave Dad part-time work when Dad was short of cash. The only time it bothered him was when he had to help lift a man's body onto the table. The man had been killed by a train, and as Dad took his feet to lift the corpse, his fingers disappeared into a cut in the foot. I guess he went home sick that day. Mom sometimes got a lift home from town in Mr. Knott's hearse (they lived west of us,) but he always let her out past our house, so it wouldn't look like we had had a death in the family. They had a beautiful water fountain in their front garden.
Photo of hearse in 1930 by Harold Lacadie, Archivist
As humans, we fear and abhor death and all its accountrements; therefore, undertakers, or funeral directors as they are now euphemistically known, inspire awe in us because of their comfort with death. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bio #21 - Radios, Scissors and a Naughty Child


I was eight years old (1921) when I heard my first radio program. We lived on Third Street then, and on Second Street, near us, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson lived. He was an old man who had a leather and harness business and he liked children. This radio was long and narrow with a lot of dials. One day he asked Charlie and me over to listen. We were amazed to hear music and talking, coming into our ears through these ear-phones. They were funny and heavy. We had a radio of our own in 1931, a Deforest-Crossley, that didn't have ear-phones.
This radio fits Letty's description.

Naughty Letty - Scissors

I was the world's worst kid if I got hold of a pair of scissors. When Charlie was still a baby I cut off his eyelashes and eyebrows. I had traded dolls with a friend, Irene, and cut the arms off, and the doll's shirt.  I had to give my best doll to Irene (I don't remember this; Mom told me.)  Mom was forever spanking me, and trying to keep scissors out of reach. Once we were visiting at Aunt Mary Gallagher's and I guess I found scissors, and cut a big hole in her bedspread and a twelve inch square out of her curtain for doll's clothes. Poor Mom, U guess I was a terror. So I guess I was meant to be a seamstress, long before I really was. Aunt Mary was my Godmother. Bet she felt short-changed.

Naughty Letty- Running Away

What do two kids aged three and five find fascinating about running off, or as we put it, "we only went for a walk?" Twice we went on our own, but sometimes we took other kids with us. A big CPR Canadian Pacific Railway) policeman found us part way across the Saskatchewan River, on the train bridge, no less! Also a man found us sitting on the edge of the railway station, right where the trains came in. He lifted us back against the fence and the police took us home.
This is the CPR bridge across the South Saskatchewan River.
Charlie was four when he got a tricycle and he was so happy. One day, we decided to go for a walk and took Archie and Edna Smith and Laurie Nicholson with us. We headed for the coulee with the new tricycle. We were all missing when Dad came home for his supper, so he was in no mood to fool around. We were oblivious to time or anything else, we were lugging that tricycle farther along down the hill. Meantime, Dad had trailed us and picked up a switch. He made Charlie and me push that thing to the top and all the way home, Every time we stopped, Dad would switch our legs and after that, believe me, we never "took a walk" unless we were with Mom or Dad. The Smith kids said they didn't like Mr. Laws, and Laurie never got a spanking. But we sure did. I remembered this trip. So you can see I was no angel.

How parenting has changed! Today, if anyone found children wandering unsupervised on a railroad bridge, the parents would be charged with neglect. And I fail to understand how it could have been so difficult to keep scissors out of the hands of a five-year-old.
On the other hand, the freedom to wander is something I experienced to a lesser extent when I was a child, and it is something precious today's North American kids at the very least, have had taken from them.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bio #20 - The Old Barn

Years ago there were no tractors or "cats," (heavy machinery), so things had to be moved by horses and men, along with beams and steel rollers four feet long. There was a sort of body or framework the horses were hitched do. There were usually eight horses, and it was a special skill the lot of these men (the wranglers who handled the horses) had. The big beams had to roll on the rollers to make any progress and on the level, it was quite easy. As soon as the rollers slid out the back, the men would carry them to the front, and set them in place, to continue rolling. Big two story houses were all moved in this fashion, so were small stores and barns.

Now when we moved to Third Street, there was a good sized barn behind the house. Dad left it there for a year or more, and then Nicholsons wanted to buy it. They had a dairy farm and they wanted a cow in town too, so Dad sold the barn. We lived on a hill, so you can imagine how hard it was to move it. Up or down, there was this hill, about 35 degree slant. We were really excited the day the men came to move it, but Mom made us all stay inside, to keep out of the way. I had my nose glued to the windows all that time. One poor horse must have been uncomfortable as he kept lifting one leg and putting it one side and then over the other side of this twelve inch beam. I felt might sorry for him and it bothered me a lot. I can still see it.
Moving a house in Australia; similar to the process Letty describes
We used to play in that barn and Dad put a swing in there for us. Good job none of us smoked. After it was moved away, Dad enlarged the garden, and there was one patch where all he planted went yellow. He guessed there was a gas leak, and the Gas Company dug it up. It turned out it was a bad one, and he also said it was a wonder the old barn wasn't blown to smithereens long ago. So we were a lucky lot I think.

We also had a chicken house on the land, Dad made into a workshop. He fixed it up nice and spent many hours there.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bio #19 - Socials and Dances

Mom and Dad belonged to the Moose Lodge and had a great time in the winter going to square dances. Dad played the violin, and Mom danced. At Christmas time it was very special. First there was a big Christmas dinner, Santa came and gave all the kids gifts, then there was a program for all, and when the last dish was done, back in the big, big kitchen (those ladies always worked so hard, it seems,) the square dancing started. It is the best kind of dancing I know.

When the kitchen was clear, all the tables in it were pushed together, and on top there were blankets, and the small babies were put here to sleep. Underneath the tables were put the bigger kids, maybe up to six or seven years old, to sleep when they got tired. Many a time I've slept there with the rest of our kids till the adults had finished dancing, then we were woken up and had to walk or were carried home. Those were the days, but we were tired.

Video of Square Dancing

Square dancing is less popular among younger generations, but for decades, it ruled the country and small town dance halls. The link takes you to a video showing a square dance (you have to wait for the ad, sorry about that.) There are many steps and movements, such as "circle left," "circle right," "do-si-do," "aleman left," and so on, and there is a caller, who tells them what to do and when to do it. The voice you hear is that of the caller. Typically there would be twenty or so squares of eight dancers in each. There are huge square dance conventions and competitions around Canada and the United States. I tried some square dancing in high school and loved it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bio #18 - Pets

We always had at least one cat. There was Whiskers, Spot, and Ginger. Our only dog was a rat-tailed retriever, and he was something else. When I was about eight, Dad came home one suppertime from work and said to Eddie to feel in his coat pocket. There was a little brown curly dog. Of course we were delighted. One of the negro porters, Mr. Mortimer, had several. They are a good breed of dog with children, and Dad got one of them. Of course he had to have a name, so Dad named him Bandy, after the only pet he had down East. (in Ontario) Gosh he was cute, dark brown and about seven inches long, but he was lousy (had lice.) So Mom and Dad cleaned him up good and we had a real companion for nine years. Being a retriever, he could swim like a fish, and as he grew - we were only two blocks from the river - he came home lots of times soaking wet. He had been swimming.
Letty with her cat, Ginger, 1930s
Irish Water Spaniel, I think this is likely the breed of dog Letty describes.
Mom always felt safe when Bandy was around, and Dad at work nights. Especially during the early thirties when there were so many people out of work, and always some man knocking on the back door, for something to eat. Mom never turned any of them away without a double sandwich, but the old dog laid inside the kitchen.

Sometimes he had a fight, or he went on digging binges. He got some bark into the front foot one time, from digging I suppose, and he laid on the floor for days - lick-lick-lick. It finally came out and was over one inch long.

Dad and Mr. Gaffney, who also had a dog like Bandy, would go duck hunting in the fall, two dogs, two guns, and two men and a car. Mom hated these trips to Lake Newell, because it meant cleaning ducks. I don't blame her. All that buckshot to remove. They can let all ducks live as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bio #17 - Birthdays, Christmas, and Hallowe'en

I never once had a birthday party, nor my brothers or sister when we were young. With four children you couldn't give to all or to just one, it was just too expensive. Instead, we had a Christmas party, and these were fun. Mom being an excellent baker, we had lots of goodies only seen at Christmas.
We put on a birthday party for Letty when she turned 90 and again at 100.
When I see Christmas cards with the old-fashioned red sleigh, it makes me think of my childhood. We had many a ride in one, behind a blanket-covered horse. He would snort and breathe out clouds of steam. Oh it was fun, with a blanket or buffalo robe over us and a few hot bricks for our feet. The harness had bells on and it was a great way to get around, as there were no snow ploughs to clear the streets.
About the right era. Photo from Bentley Historical Museum

We had hand sleighs Dad made us. The fastest in town. Some folks had bobsleds, actually four sets of runners and one big board bolted to join them together. Ours was about five feet long. Some were eight feet and a lot of people could ride together. The last one on usually got bumped off, but it was a smashing way to ride.

The church young people had fun on the big sleigh-rides. About twenty of us paid 10 cents each for the driver and he had a big flat dray and horses. He took us out fro an hour all over the place. We would snowball each other, ride a way and have a good time. Up hill we walked, then down hill we rode. After a hot drink and eats we went home. I must have been on a dozen of these rides. We got very wet, but it sure was fun.

Mom's brother Fred came once to visit us at Christmas. He was a tease. He took Charlie into the pantry once and said he was going to pull out all his teeth with a pair of pliers. The rest of us kids were scared to death and there was such a yelling and pounding came from that pantry. I was only 6 so I was scared. Then the pair of them came out grinning. He helped us open Christmas parcels, and we had to untie every knot. Parcels in brown paper took a long time. I still have one of his regimental maple leaves off his army uniform, from the First World War.

Dad never enjoyed any childhood and he said if he ever had a family they at least would have one. And we did. Take Hallowe'en. He was the biggest toad in the puddle, and we loved it when he came with us some years. I remember one year, he went and showed us one trick. We never hurt anyone, but this had them guessing. I think it was like this: we had a long spool of thread, a tack or thumbtack, and a cake of resin. Fasten the thread to a window frame with the tack, reel out your thread, and hide over the fence, off the property anyway, tighten the thread and rub the resin along about two feet of it at your end. It sounds just like a dozen cats having a fight. The back door would fly open and lights go on, and not a thing would the people see. A couple of times at each house was all we did, but it was fun to see the looks on their faces. Things went along fine till Dad sprained his knee, then he gave up going with us.

1920s, children in Halloween costumes, location unknown.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bio #16 - Visits Good and Bad

Farm Visit 1922

Only four times did I ever visit a farm. The first when I and Mary were 9 and 11 years old. Aunt Norma and Uncle Jim Coulter (not real relations) and their two children, Ken and Valida, had a farm out near Seven Persons. (a small town near Medicine Hat) It was a dried out, mosquito ridden place, and the only redeeming thing was a small creek on the place. I didn't care for it there, and it was the only time in my life I had to eat sour bread.

Farm Visit - Dirty Thirties

The second time I was grown up and was invited to a country wedding in Saskatchewan. It was fun, but the mosquitoes were terrible. The horses died by the dozen from sleeping sickness caused by the mosquitoes. I've seen horses so covered by them, they were grey from head to tail. I saw one horse lying on its side, banging its head up and down on the barn floor, before they put a bullet through its head. Poor animals, it was a bad year, 1935.
horse with viral encephalitis

In England, the farms are much smaller, more compact, but I like them. My sister and her husband, Ken Tinkler, lived on the farm in County Durham. Linda and Bob saw it when they were tiny, and again since they are grown up. It is a nice farm with a 10 room stone house, 260 years old, on it.

The farmhouse in Durham was so ancient it had no refrigerator, and only a wood-burning stove when I was there in 1970. My Uncle Ken's aunt, who owned the place, refused to allow any new-fangled contraptions in HER house, even though my Aunt Mary did all the work. It was not a happy place.

1963- A Golden Years Romance

When Jessie Andrews (one of Letty's best friends) retired from the post office in Medicine Hat, she went back to south Manitoba and married her old sweetheart, Jock Armitage. So some years ago we went to visit them. He was 81 and Jessie about 67. They made a great couple and we had such a nice visit with them. We met a 94 year old lady who knew my Grandmother and Mother, and we saw and took snaps of the old house they had at Manitou. It was still in good shape. Jock had an old 1929 Model A Ford that he took Dad and Bobby riding in. It was some car. Also on this holiday we met an old lady of 102 years. She showed us some of the forty cushion tops she had made that year. She was so interesting. Since then Jock has died, but Jessie still lives in Altamont. She is near ninety and we still correspond, as she is the one who first introduced Ron and me. So she is special, and always will be.
My Great-Grandmother and Grandmother's house in Manitou, Manitoba, 1963.

Jessie and Jock Armitage and Jock's old Model A. In the background is my father's first car, a British Ford Zephyr. 1963.

Letty's farm experiences ensured that when a farmer once proposed marriage to her, she turned him down. 
I recall the visit with Jock and Jessie quite well. I was fourteen at the time, a most unattractive age. Bob was twelve; Letty would have been forty-nine. My great-grandmother's old house was in pristine condition in the 1960s. She lived there from 1900 to 1906. I wonder if the house still exists?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bio #15 - The Doctor's Office

We had a nice old doctor, Dr. Boyd. He lived near us and had a pretty wife and two children, Norma and her brother. I can't think of his name. Oh! It was Wallace. His office was downtown in a scary building, all stairs and doors with numbers on the doors. If we had to go there for anything he let us look at his books and glass cases full of shiny steel tools. If we were sick with anything contagious the house was quarantined and the Health Officer nailed a big cardboard sign on the door, in some loud color that said Measles- Keep Out and they meant it. So with four kids we quite often had a sign on our door. The longest time was for scarlet fever my brother had. Nowadays they don't bother.

I recall a building similar to the one Mom describes. My first dentist's office was in the old Calgary Herald building, a relic from the 1920s, I believe. It had carved gargoyles on the outside of the perimeter of the building, up high above the first storey windows. That was intimidating before I even crossed the threshold. Inside, the floors were of a white marble shot through with black. We walked up one flight of stairs, but the stairs were so old that the marble was worn from all the foot traffic, and I had to concentrate to avoid slipping off the steps. The railings were dark wood. Each door had lettering in gold paint, a frosted window, and a round doorknob. The whole building echoed with footsteps and voices - definitely creepy, and the smell of chemicals always had my stomach doing flip-flops. (Our dentist's name was Dr. Baden-Powell, a relative of the famous Baden-Powell who founded the world-wide Boy Scouts movement.)

Mother was writing this in the mid-1970s. So much has happened since then in health care. Some parents refuse to vaccinate their children, based on a long-since debunked story that vaccines can cause autism. Since I caught measles, rubella, chicken pox, mumps, and scarlet fever, I know how awful those illnesses are and can't imagine anyone wanting to put their child at risk. Quarantines have been re-instated where measles has erupted again. Foolish parents.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bio #14 - Hazards of Natural Gas Wells

Alberta is famous for its gas wells (natural gas) and there used to be several in Medicine Hat that were still partly above ground. One of these was in Central Park, in the far right hand corner of the park, two blocks from our house. The children's paddling pool was in the same area, and this certain day I was in the water playing when this gas well blew its top. There was no fire, which was lucky, but the noise terrified all us kids and we ran home. Whatever was in that well besides gas I don't know, but we were all covered from head to toe with black specks like pepper. It took a bit of washing to get rid of it. 

On Crescent Heights, years later, one blew its top and caught fire. It was like a big roman candle and the noise was awful. It was days before it was put out.

Turner Valley Oilfield, Alberta, in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives
Turner Valley is south of Calgary and west of Medicine Hat, and it was the first large oilfield found in Alberta. This scene would have been similar to Medicine Hat at the time of my mother's writings. Now, one shudders at the thought of a gas well beside a children's playground. Alberta is a world producer of oil and natural gas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bio #13 - Fires and Sidewalk Holes, 1920s


On a hot Saturday afternoon when I was about 6  (1919 ) , Phillip's (one of our near neighbours) chicken house went up in flames. My brother Charlie, Laurie Nicholson and I had been over there looking at the chickens, and so we got the credit for lighting the fire. I know we tried to put it out with a dipper and pail. We went to bed earlier than usual with a sore behind each, that night. I know I didn't have the matches, but I was the oldest.

A chicken coop after a fire. Ben Garver, Berkshire Eagle Photo.

Sidewalk Holes

Years ago the concrete sidewalks used to have good sized holes in them, where stones had come out. After a heavy rain these were full of dirty water, and Mary and I, and anyone else we could interest, would go barefoot, stick our big toe into the hole so the dirty water shot up our shins and made our legs flithy. Oh boy, did we get heck over this. We would go down the whole block doing this. Filthy little kids, eh? The cement is better now.

Image of concrete with a poor quality cement paste
Poor concrete is caused by a poor quality cement paste that has too high a water content, as per this example. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bio #12 - Doing Dishes and Trouble, 1920s

Mary had to wash and I had to dry dishes when we were big enough. Most girls hate this job and so did we. Sometimes we were monkeys, and it took ages to get finished. We had a piano stool with a seat that spun around, and spent lots of time spinning each other around until we were dizzy. This once, instead of dishes, we had a better idea: get the stool in the kitchen and play leap-frog over it. So we had a lot of fun, until my dress caught on the edge and I went over, spraining both wrists. So I had both arms in a sling, and I dare say we would have got a thrashing apiece, but I was crying already with pain. That was the end of leap-frog and dishes for me for a few days.

Fern Bissle Peat quilt block 
Old-fashioned piano stool with claw feet and a rotating seat.
I have no photographs from this era, but this charming quilt block illustrates the method of doing dishes in 1925, likely a little later than the episode my mother describes. It gives a good idea of the equipment and methods they used. I'm fairly sure the piano stool looked much like the image above. You can see the potential for disaster, playing leap-frog while wearing a dress.

Bio #11 -Geese (1930s)

It was the English custom to have goose for Christmas dinner, so we had goose till about 1932. Dad bought two each year and raised them all summer, through fall, till Christmas. One time, in the winter, before these stupid geese got to the table, Mom woke and heard a racket. The geese were out, honking, and headed for the coulee and freedom. So Dad had to go out at 6 a.m. and round up these two birds. They were heavy too, and he got them home and nailed the shed shut. Next day he cut the head off one, and as the following day was Christmas, Mom got it ready to cook. When we heard of it, we roared.

No supermarket poultry in those days. I recall my mother buying chickens that were not eviscerated. She had to clean out the internal organs, and often found an egg, fully formed, and edible. She never had to chop the head off a chicken, although our neighbors who had chickens did it regularly.
Domestic Geese

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bio #10 - Walks and Picking Berries

Without cars, you just walked. Often on a Sunday afternoon, all six of us set off and took along a blanket, a bag of sandwiches and a gallon jug of homemade lemonade. Dad nearly always carried the jug and cups and the rest of us shared the rest. As there was a coulee not more than half a mile from our place and trees for shade, we went there. May and June were usually the best months, but July sometimes too. But in Medicine Hat, July and August were hot, and the chances of walking on, or sitting beside, bull snakes or rattlers was a constant menace. The bulls killed the rattlers, but there were lots of them around. There was one coulee near the river called "Rattle Snake Coulee." I was only in there once, and that was after I was married. More of that later. ON walks through, we all had switches to switch the grass in front of us, as we walked along.

These were Prairie Rattlesnakes, venomous but shy, smaller than the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes of Arizona. Historically few bit humans, and today they still occupy land around Medicine Hat. The local community college teams are called "The Medicine Hat Rattlers."

This photo of children berry-picking in Kentucky, shows them with lard pails tied to their waists.
Most people like to pick berries. When I was about 11 or 12, I can remember the raspberries we picked, usually Mom and me. The pesky mosquitoes were always ready for a free meal, and there were no such things as jeans or slacks for females. So we rolled toilet paper around our legs and pulled our stockings up over. We never got our legs bitten, but our hands and faces got it. After picking about twenty quarts a morning for a two or three week period, we were immune to them. Most berries Mom canned or made jam. The rest we sold. I made quite a bit of pocket money this way. A quart sold for 35 cents, and I got a dime (10 cents) of that. Those days you could have a feast on a dime. Dad was a different berry picker and went after the wild ones, "Saskatoons" especially. Us kids went too, each with a lard pail tied around our waist and two hands free to pick. It sure was fun and Mom would can the berries. Once Dad was hidden from us by a bush, and all of a sudden he yelled and disappeared into a big hole. We all helped him get out, but it was a big surprise for him.

Saskatoon Berries
I remember berry-picking as a child also. We had few raspberry bushes, but the nearby riverbank was full of Saskatoon bushes. Although they look much like blueberries, the taste is quite different and delicious. I have baked my share of Saskatoon pie and would love to have another some day.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bio #9 - Taffy Pulls

Lots of folks made their own candy and one of the fun ways was a Taffy Pull. Everyone in the family was included except Dad. He wanted no part of it, until it was ready to eat. I forget what it was made of, but at a certain stage we all greased our hands with butter (no such thing as margarine in those days,) and Mom gave us a handful of real hot goo. We had to ball it and then pull it. This we did several times, til it was a little cooler and we could pull it real good. Everyone was talking and yelling, trying not to drop it. It sure was fun, everybody reaching into the butter to make their hands slippery. You could pull and pull it as far as your hands would go apart, the more you pulled the lighter in color it was, you could twist it into shapes, and finally when it was cold, we laid our bit on the table and Mom cut it off into one inch pieces. Sometimes Ed's was sort of grey from dropping it and what not, but Mom didn't let on and cut it up too, but I don't think we ate his portion. We had different flavor and color each time. It was fun. I wonder if my brothers and sister remember these pulls?
The "hot ball of goo"

Pulling the taffy.
I did this with my own children a few times, and judging from the photos online, plenty of people still do. It's messy but plenty of fun, and the results are delicious.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Bio #8 - Frozen Fingers and Blizzards

Winter on the prairie can be a very beautiful thing to see, and then again it can be scary, and just plain hell. Dad always kept brandy in the winter.

Our winter clothes were thick and heavy and not always so warm. People nowadays have down-filled jackets, long warm pants, and fur coats. Only men and boys wore long pants when I was young. We girls wore long leg, long sleeve underwear, usually fleece-lined kind, bloomers, (also fleece-lined or wool knitted,) long brown stockings that fastened to a buttoned waist, with a dangly end, which fastened to the tops of your stockings. Awful invention, but we all wore them with long stocking.s Then came a sweater and skirt, or long sleeved dress, warm wool socks to the knees, then felt boots (mine were red) or moccasins. I liked these because you could slide real neat and you didn't have to clean them. Of course you had on a coat, hat or toque, scarf and two pair mitts.

Behind our stove in the kitchen for years I can remember a line we had there, about knee high from the floor. Every day that line was full of snow encrusted socks, mitts, and scarves. Poor Mom, the smell of wet wool must have got to her sometimes, when she thought winter would never end and the winter clothes could be put away, clean, in the big chest in the basement.

Frozen faces and fingers were common, but we survived. Sudden blizzards were the worst, and my Dad was out in all weathers, whether trains were hours or days late. Now I take my hat off to him and his endurance. He had to work shifts, and we were eight blocks from the railway station where he worked. As there were no buses, he walked (rode his bicycle in summer,) and if trains were more than an hour late he came home for a meal. As there were four to six trains a day, in winter it was very hard on him. During severe cold spells like this, when the cold fairly pulled the nails out of the wood in the house like rifle shots, I'd wake up t the smell of bran muffins cooking. It could be 3 a.m. and Mom would have something hot in the oven for him. They loved each other so much. I never got up only once, when I smelled baking at such a weird hour, but Mom gave me a buttered muffin and sent me back to bed, to hurry in where Mary was nice and warm.

There were three blizzards I clearly remember, that I was involved in. Most times we were safe at home. The first one I was about nine years old and I had set off for Sunday school, Sunday morning, with Ed. I don't know why just the two of us went, it must have been nice weather when we set off, but when we were to come home, one hour later, the storm was terrible. Mr. and Mrs. G. Oyum, who were both teachers and lived two blocks from us, got Ed and me home. Mr. Oyum carried Ed, who was 5, all the way. I hung onto Mr. O's coat belt and his wife hung onto  my other arm. Mom was very grateful to them both as Dad was at work. Every Christmas after that, he gave us our Christmas tree. Mr. O. was a mail clerk on the CPR and he could easily get trees when they were in the mountains at that time of year.
Old painting of a prairie blizzard
I was much older the second time, about 18 I'd say, and I had been going over about five blocks each morning, for a few days, to look after Mrs. Nicholson ("Nicky" we called her,) who had just got out of hospital three days earlier. I got there at 8 a.m. and came home at 5 pm. I didn't do much, just meals, and tidy up. It had been very cold and lots of snow, but this certain morning there was a white-out. My Mother didn't want me to go, but Nicky was alone so I bundled up extra well, took a cut-off broom handle with me, and set off. I knew the direction by heart and knew I'd get there. Besides it was a challenge. There was a big drift on the road and as I climbed up one side and met Jessie Andrews coming up the other side, she shouted "Go back, go back!" and I said "No, I'll be ok." She wouldn't go back either, as she worked in the money order wicket at the post office. Anyway, I found my way over the old Bassett homestead, and with my stick, I knew I was nearly there. I went to Nicky's back door (front door was all snow) and fell in. Then I started to bawl, must have been more scared than I thought. So Nicky phoned Mom (and she didn't expect me to show up) to say I was there 1 1/2 hours later, and there I stayed for three whole days, while the storm blew itself out. You never heard the world so still in your life. Nothing moved for days, it was lovely, and the only ones getting about were rabbits and birds. Then it warmed up and the snow thinned to normal.
Trying to dig out after a recent Canadian blizzard
The third time I was in southern Saskatchewan, on a farm, and if there had not been a strong wire between the end of the house and the outside toilet, several of us might have been lost. Three of the men on the Armstrong farm had gone into Maple Creek to sell pigs, and coming home (27 miles) the storm hit. Al had the only severe frostbite I've ever seen. In two days, after they got home, their whole faces were black and they were in misery. By the time they could shave, they had beards an inch long. Beards were out of style then. Lots of cattle perished that winter. So you can see that snow isn't all fun!

Having lived in Calgary until I was thirty, I too have experienced my share of blizzards. Despite all our modern technology, cars with heaters, and paved roads, people still die every year in the brutal Canadian winter. Here's a photo of a Danish explorer, who looks just like I've seen many people look, including myself, after being out in a blizzard for twenty minutes:
Dixie Dansercouer, The Advernture Blog

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bio #7 - What We Wore (1916-early 1920s)

In summer when we were kids, we had weekday or school clothes, and Sunday clothes. Mom was a wonderful sewer and she spent a lot of time at it. The only things she bought Mary and me were vests (undershirts,) socks and shoes. She made our hats too, and most of our brothers' clothes. School dresses were nearly all gingham or tartan, sometimes we wore a pinafore over the last two days of the school week (probably to hide the spills earlier in the week.) Our shoes were boots or oxfords or running shoes. I remember one pair of boots I had, black button (I still have the little black ebony button hook to do them up) with grey suede toes, heel and a band of grey around the top. These sure were special to me, and I liked Sundays when I could wear them with a grey coat I had, a white Sunday dress under it, and long white stockings. I thought I was the "cat's whiskers." My sister and I at this young age were dressed alike. I guess it was easier for Mom that way too.

Jupiter Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
The boys had little suits, stiff collars (sometimes) or soft, and bow ties. I can remember how proud I was to take Charlie to a special "do" at the school. He looked so handsome to me. The teacher I remember asked me if my Mother sewed.

Eddie was nearly always dressed with something red on. He was so tiny and the grass on the many vacant lots was long, and Mom could see him easier. He was cute and here are two things mad us laugh, and maybe you will enjoy them. He had a friend called "Danny McCartney" at the end of the next block. Danny's mother had bought them each an ice cream cone, and they were sitting back on their verandah eating:

Danny: Can your Dad ride a tryke?
Eddie:  S-u-u-r-e.
Danny: Can he ride it across the wires?
Eddie: S-u-u-r-e.
Danny: Gee whiz!

That little Danny got kicked on the head by their cow shortly after that, and was killed.

The other thing was another day, Eddie went up the street to visit a friend, "Mama Bates," (their whole family were our close friends,) and when he came home, Mom said to him, "Well, what did Mama Bates say to you today?" and Eddie said, "She say - she say, hello tinker!" He sure was a cute little guy, and many years later saved my life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bio #6 - Family Entertainment 1917 - late 1920s

Can you imagine living without slacks, bikinis, chewing gum, or lipstick and cigarettes? Well, we did. No radio or television either. But we never missed what we had never had. We had a gramophone that had been Grandma's with records 1/4" thick. Mom never let us play it when she was home, but if she and Dad went out of an evening to visit or to a dance, and Katherine Back came to babysit us, we could play it then. Katherine Beck was a nice jolly girl about nineteen, I guess, with red curly hair and freckles. She always made a batch of fudge and read us books or told ghost stories. We were always happy when she came for an evening, and for a number of years she was our only babysitter. Mom sold the old gramophone as it made her sad. We always seems to have a piano in the dining room. Mary was the oldest and had the first lessons. She was very good at it and after a few years, at 15, she had her first pupils, while still learning herself. She later got her A.T.C.M., "Solo Performers" and "Diploma" and taught about 35 pupils until she got married in 1942. I took piano for one year and was hopeless, so didn't go any more. Later at 10 years I took violin and really enjoyed it. I took it for seven years and between us we had lots of fun until in the late 30s and before World War II. Dad, Eddie and I played the violin (not perfectly, mind you,) Charlie was good on the piccolo, and Mary at the piano. Some friends of Mom and Dad used to come down. Mrs. Andrews, her daughter Jessie, and a man who taught flute and was a real pro player, Johnny Dickinson. So we all gathered together and played dozens and dozens of times, over the years, till it was time for us to go to bed. We went to sleep those nights to classical music, I loved it, and will always remember it.

Painting by Mabel Frances Layng, 1920
About the time we moved from 110-8th Street SE, we had a billiard table. Dad got it cheap off some man, so we all learned to play pool, snooker and billiards. Eddie was only three years old, but he had a little 3 foot long cue and a stool, and took his turn. This was at 92 - 3rd Street SE where we had moved in the February.

There is something funny I must tell you here, about Johnny Dickinson, who taught flute and piccolo. He was about four feet eleven inches tall, and very fat in the tummy. Sometimes I went along with Charlie to his lesson, and never once did we leave there without a chocolate bar each. He was an ex-player of one of the London, England symphony orchestras. He was marvelous on the flute. He was a bachelor, and Jessie Andrews and I were with him when he died of a stroke, at 70 years. He was jolly all the time and we liked him.

The scene Mom paints is charming, lively, brimming with music and laughter. She and my father encouraged music in my childhood home, too, and we would gather around the old piano and belt out choruses from "Messiah" at Christmas time, with a talented friend at the piano. My brother and I were more interested in guitars and rock music than classical. I, too, as a mother of three girls, encouraged live music in the home, accompanied by piano, or guitar or banjo, but technology had moved on, and they spent a lot of time listening to LP (long play) records. My grandchildren listen to music, but do not sing or play instruments. A beautiful tradition has died out.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bio #5 - Tales of My Mother's Basement

An example of an ancient gas furnace, likely similar to the one Letty describes
Now we go downstairs to the basement. Our bathroom was in the basement, and when Mary and I, or Dorothy (my cousin who stayed with us often) and I had a bath after supper, if we made too much noise or were too long, Mom would give us a scolding. The big white cast-iron bath was six feet long. You could just about swim in it. The toilet had a brown tank, white bowl, and brown wooden seat and lid, and made a loud scary noise when I pushed the button. Maybe I was just nervous, but I hated to go down to the toilet alone, past the furnace. That furnace was the best and newest out, but I was plum scared of it. Mary and I called it the "Octopus." It was shaped like a high wide iron tank, three or four feet wide, with pipes for warm air going to each room. These pipes were a foot in diameter. Sometimes we'd go down with Dad in the fall when he would light the gas ring in it for the winter, and watch him set it going The first poof and then a nice blue flame. Boy, it soon warmed up the house.

Also in the basement, Dad had a work bench, tool box, and lots of interesting tools, Tools fascinated me because you could make things with them. On the opposite side (west side) of the basement, there was a big wooden bin built, maybe eight feet long and three or four feet high, and part of the front was removable like a gate. I bet you wonder what this bin was for, and I will tell you. It's interesting because I have never seen one before or since. It was a potato bin, and herein lies a story. Over the bin was a small opening through the wall to the outdoors. All year, except in the fall, it was covered with a wooden cover. The three fall months it had a screen on. Only when we were filling the bin in September was it uncovered. So we could let the dug, dry potatoes pour in, down the shute that Dad made, into the bin. Sometimes, we kids would get fed up doing it the right way, and would stand back as far as we could and fire them in one at a time. As the hole in the wall was only about 8" x 16", and we owned the lot beside our house, and it was all in potatoes, you can imagine the temptation to pitch a few. We had lots of potatoes off that lot. Of course a few dozen got squashed on the side of the house, much to Dad's disgust.

It tells you how new an indoor bathroom was, to have it situated in an unfinished basement. My parents continued the tradition of planting potatoes and saving them for the winter. However, we had a wooden box for the, but no entry from outside the house, so we just carried them in baskets and dumped them.