Friday, July 31, 2015

Blog #37 - The Manchester Shipper

The "Manchester Shipper," Letty's ship in 1944
The captain of our ship was a crusty old fellow, who had been at sea all his life, from fourteen years old. Our lounge was small, so there was no room for a lot of activities. We knitted, sewed, played cards, and read books. We were allowed on the one deck only, as there was gunnery practice all the time, sailors painting the ship from stem to stern, and flag signals run up on the high rigging for the rest of the convoy (because ours was the flag ship.) The little corvettes that kept watch, bobbed around the convoy day and night, to warn us of submarines. (U-boats.) The men who sailed these little ships were a hardy lot, and saved many lives and ships. They must have been very uncomfortable as they bobbed around like corks, and these men were all volunteers.

Letty's convoy was part of the HX series of convoys. Click here for details. You'll learn how convoys were created, based on the type of ships and their speed. Fascinating; I had no idea.

First thing I did when we found our cabin was to have a bath. It was the last one I had for two weeks as we crossed the ocean. In our cabin, which had room to sleep six, were two young women, a baby of seven months, and me. The one single girl was going over to be married, and was of German parents. Her name was Alfreda Friemark, rather pretty, but bold. I wonder how she got along. The other lady and baby were headed for Manchester. So we had three empty upper births. We ate in two lots of twenty-three and that, some days, was a real accomplishment. The sea was so rough at times, the plates slid along the table, and it was almost impossible to eat soup, or drink tea, even with a rail around the tables.

Two nights out from Halifax we were told to put our warmest clothes on, and had to stand in the passage for two hours. We had two husky seamen with us, and a steward, who were muffled up to the eyebrows, and there was no sound of engines running. At about 11 pm a bell rang and we were told we could go to bed, and the ship was moving again. I never undressed at night again, and slept with my fur coat on. The only things I left off were my shoes, but kept them handy.

Our ship could do 19 knots, but because we had all manner of ships in the convoy, we could only do 6 knots, because of an old banana ship that could only do 6.

Some nights were very dark, some were bright moonlight. These it seemed were dangerous, and later we learned why: we were a sitting target for the enemy. We were also told the night we stood in the halls, the convoy going the other way had lost three ships, and ours had picked up a raft from it. Oh, it was hectic! Then as we zigged and zagged across the sea, fog came down and hid everything. By this time I had lost a lot of faith in ever reaching England, and Ronnie. For two weeks we rode all over the Atlantic, and finally a cry went up, "Land ahead!" The next day we had to wait in line, to go up the sea lanes to Liverpool.

The pilot ship came and led us up to the submarine nets that guarded the harbour. A small boat on each half pulled the nets apart, so we went in, then they closed behind. us. The harbour of Liverpool was a mess of half-sunken ships. How we got safely into port I don't know, but we finally got moored along the quay. It took an hour to get off the ship and into a huge shed, where, with all our luggage, we were locked in from 7 pm to 11 pm. This was the customs shed, partly wrecked from bombs, and some of the roof was missing. After the customs were through with us, we were taken by bus to a nice reception center, after a light meal of sandwiches, cookies, and tea, we were taken upstairs to bed. Every bed had a hot water bottle in it, marvellous, and I cried myself to sleep with relief, to think I had finally got safely to England in wartime, after a trip of twenty-three days. It was Hallowe'en night in Canada.
Liverpool harbor after the 1941 bombing blitz



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blog #36 - Leaving on a Convoy - 1944

Finally word came that we were to board the train for Halifax, and this was a special train of two hundred wives and kids. We got to Halifax about noon next day and were taken to the Sailors Center for our lunch. This was a queue-up-and-serve-yourself center. You should have heard the wolf whistles and calls as al of us girls lined up for lunch. The police stationed in the dining room told the men to settle down, and they did.

All I had to eat was toast, tea and an orange, as I had been told not to eat fatty food to go on board. Some of the girls ate bacon and eggs and pie etc., and some of them were very sick a day later. The Atlantic in October can be very rough. I have never been seasick, but I was a bit dizzy all the way over, and so sleepy.

After our lunch, an launch was at the pier; there was lots of security, all ships a grey color, and twenty of us at a time were taken to different ships. There was a huge ship anchored near, and I thought "That ought to be a good one to sail in." But we passed by, and stopped by a small ship, climbed a metal ladder up the side and went on board. I was so scared and wondered how such a small ship could cross that big ocean. There we were on the "Manchester Shipper" which was one year old, very fast and modern. She had room for seventy passengers, but only took forty-six because she was short two lifeboats. About 5 pm we were moving , and next morning we were out to sea. Seventy two ships in a convoy, the second largest to leave Canada, and we were the flag ship. (Letty told me that the convoy could only travel at six knots because that was the best speed of a banana boat in the convoy.) Later, we learned that she was a merchant ship and carried aeroplane engines, and spam. Tomorrow, Mindy, I'll tell you of life on board, and the trip across.
1940s Canadian War Brides in their ship. (Not Letty's ship.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bio #35 - On Her Way to England 1944

The train left Medicine Hat on October 9th, 1944, and I headed for England and Ron. I didn't realize just how tired I was until we, fifty war brides, got to Winnipeg, nor did I really realize the dimension of what lay ahead, until then. I was sorry for Dad, and happy for Ron and me, life seemed so mixed up.
Medicine Hat Railway station as Letty would have known it
At Thunder Bay, Ron's auntie met the train and we visited for twenty minutes, until I had to board again. She loaded me up with fruit and candy, and a lovely card from all her four children. Her husband was away at the war too, and auntie had her hands full.

From there, the ride around the Great Lakes to Montreal was very interesting, and I thought we were to board our ship there. But no such luck. There are one or two things in Montreal that should interest you. First we were all taken to a bank, to have our money changed into British pounds, shillings, and pence, which took about two hours for fifty of us. I wore a money belt under my clothes, so I soon located a washroom, where I safely stored what I had. Just before I left home, Dad had given me a cheque to help us in our new home. We all assembled in a room at the bank, and the man helping us gave us a talk on British currency. He was rather nice, and when buses arrived to take us to "Stanley House," he wished us a happy life in Britain. "Stanley House" was a large old stately home that had been turned into a reception center for war brides to live in until they were sent to join certain ships from Halifax, or New York, USA, to go across the Atlantic Ocean.

Normal stay at Stanley House was two days; we were stuck there for four and a half days. This was no hardship for me, but Ron was worried, as it threw our supposed plans haywire. He and I made a plan so he would know when I left Canada, via Halifax or New York. We had family friends living in New York by the name of Bates. The cable I finally sent said "Not visiting Mrs. Bates." That way, he knew I was leaving from Halifax. (due to censorship she could not cable the departure date or location of the convoy lest the enemy find out.) I also had a school friend who was married and lived in Montreal, so I paid her two visits. She was so glad to see me, and she had a nice husband and two lovely tiny children.
War Brides in Halifax, 1940s
In Stanley House there was a housekeeper, two cooks, and a nurse. The doors were locked at 11 pm. There were six sets of bunk beds to each bedroom. Those without children slept on the top ed while those with little ones had lower bunks and a crib beside it for baby. Some mothers had two or three, and those without were asked to help the others, so I always had some little boy or girl to share. We went on walks to a playground nearby. Some of the less motherly took advantage, and got heck for it when they came in after 11 pm. There was one little boy who thought I was his Mom, Wally Hinson, he was cute, but his Mom was a drinker. I often wonder where all those people went.

Letty told me that some of the women went on wild shopping sprees, spending their husbands' pay cheques with abandon, prior to the voyage.

Research about Stanley House reveals it was owned by Lord Stanley, of Stanley Cup fame. It is currently an art and meeting center. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bio #34 -A Wrenching Departure

Letty describes the wait for passage to England to join her new husband, Ron.

As days rolled into months, I was beginning to wonder if I would get away before Christmas. My boxes and suitcases were ready, and I was quite surprised on October 5th 1943, to get a telegram saying I had to be ready to leave on October 9th. Four days notice, and if I didn't go then, I might have to wait for another year. Oh dear! What a flap I was in. First I had to find a housekeeper for my father, and I got a Mrs. Elliott, whom we knew. She was so nice, and I believe she stayed until my brother Ed came home from the war. I owed a lot to Mrs. Elliott.

The next day Pearl Maynard, who was my bridesmaid, took a stroke, while she and I were at Dorothy Crane's house. It was awful, and I stayed with her while Dorothy got a doctor. She had to go to the hospital, but died next morning at 9 a.m. She was only 29 years old, and had an enlarged liver, and other problems. She was such a nice person, and had had a tough life. Mr. Maynard, Dorothy and I went to pick her coffin. It was a sad day. I just couldn't go to her funeral, as I had so much to see to.

Walter Laws, Letty's father and my Grandfather. Sadly I never met him.

That night in bed, I wrote a long letter to my father, because I couldn't bear to say to him all I felt, it would have made it harder for both of us. He was a real friend, as well as a good father, and inside I knew I would never see him again, and I never did. He died of a heart attack 4 years later in 1947, while he lived with Ed and Margret.(Letty's brother and sister-in-law)

Letty wrote this farewell note to her father and pasted it in a photograph album containing his obituary:

"Walter Laws:

My father was a good dad and good friend to us children. He went out of his way to do for us, worked very hard, with a good attitude. That makes a big difference to a child. He wanted to be a doctor but with a Grade 4 education, it was out of the question. He was a dandy nurse and really took it to heart, if any of us were sick.

He was a keen carpenter and rebuilt our home. He and Mom got on well and he helped her raise us kids.

You were very special, Dad.
         -Letty"


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bio #33 - Marriages and Changes

My sister Mary met Ken Tinkler, and they went dancing a lot. She and Ken got married in November 1942. Their son, Skippy, was born next year. Mary and Ken live in Durham, England, on a farm. The house is 250 years old.
From the left, Walter Laws, Letty, Mary, and Ken 1942 (happier times)
Long after Letty wrote this, Ken passed away, and Mary and Skippy returned to Canada, where she and Letty had their first very happy reunion in fifty years. Skippy died unexpectedly at the age of fifty, and Mary passed away in the early 1990s, not long afterwards.  Mary's story was not a happy one. Her husband carried on an affair with another woman for years, and left a third of his estate to his mistress. Skippy abused his mother and was a chronic alcoholic. So in the end, the "spoiled princess" of Letty's childhood memory, her older sister, had the worst life of the four siblings.

The same week Mary and Ken got married in Medicine Hat, my brother Charlie married Ruth McKinnon of Pictou County, Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, Ontario. They live on Vancouver Island and raise Morgan horses. They have a lovely place on thirty acres, at Shawnigan Lake.
Charlie and Ruth dressed for a formal event, 1950s.
Ruth died in the 1990s and Charlie died in the early 2000s. They sold their acreage about ten years before they died, and had their horses euthanized and buried on the property, which I never understood.

The next September Ron and I got engaged, and I looked after Dad. The following May, we got married, at St. Barnabas Church, and lived with Dad till the next January, when Ron was posted back to England. I got ready to go too, but I didn't go until the next October. Meanwhile I sewed to keep busy, and looked after my father. I really dreaded the day when I had to leave him. The boys were at the war, Mary was married, and everything seemed to land in my lap.
From left, Ron, Letty, Pearl Maynard, and Fred Dickinson, May 2, 1943
Letty's sister, Mary had already gone to England to live with her husband's family, which is why she, Letty, had to care for her aging widowed father, as well as prepare to travel to England on short notice, to live with her new husband.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bio #32 - Letty Meets Her Future Husband

The RAF (Royal Air Force) had an SFTS (Service Flying Training School, part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan of World War II) station in Medicine Hat, one among many in Canada. There were several thousand posted in our town, and their base had the greatest number of flying hours recorded in Canada. Jessie Andrews, a close family friend, worked in the money order wicket at the post office, and most of the lads took out savings accounts at the post office. She asked some of these airmen from England to come in for a meal. Sometimes she asked Dad and me up for an evening too. The volunteers for dish washing were great, and I got to meet new people. In 1941 I met Ron for the first time, thought how nice and considerate her was, but very quiet.

Ron Evans skating, 1941
The next time we saw him was at Christmas, and as these lads were all nuts about learning to skate, Jessie suggested I take them to Grey's rink. After an hour of skating, falling, and sliding all over the ice, we went back to Jessie's for hot drinks and sandwiches. It was fun, but I felt sorry for some of them; they took some shocking spills. But really, after three winters, some got to be good at skating. I went several times with them but the one I liked the best was Ron, but he never said much. He seemed very lonely, and later, I realized why - no family. After the snow melted and spring came, Ron and I took lots of walks, went .22 shooting, shows, and just talked. I knew then I loved him.
Letty skating, 1941

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bio #31 - Letty's late Adolescence and Early Adult Years

Letty's writings change gears here, from anecdotes and tidbits, to a chronological recollection of her late teen and adult years, including meeting her husband and all that came after her marriage.

School was a happy time for me until I was in Grade 10, when at the beginning of that term I had to have my appendix out. So much time I missed, I couldn't make it up and lost interest in school. I was 16 then, and went on to get my Grade 11, then I didn't go any more. My folks felt sorry.

Shortly after that I took up sewing in earnest, and really liked it and kept busy. My Mom showed me all she could and we got along so well. Later, I worked in the tailor shop, for Wally Robinson, for two years. Here also I learned a lot and it was such different sewing, doing mostly men't clothes. It is more satisfying to work with heavier material, mostly woolen.

Charlie left home at eighteen years to join the navy. His first leave home was six years later. My, but he was so mature, we hardly knew him. He was home for two weeks only.
Charlie Laws, age ~18. A passport photo?
Eddie left home at twenty. He was in the army before he got posted to Ontario. We didn't see him for a year, when he came home in 1939, October, because I was ill. After that he didn't come back till he was invalided out from the war, minus his right arm. He and Dad "batched" until Ed married Margret, then she kept house for them.
Eddie, Letty, and their father, Walter. ~1938
Mary taught music and had about thirty five pupils. She also was relief organist at St. Barnabas Church in Medicine Hat.
Mary, Eddie, and their mother, Annie ~1935
In June 1940, my mother died of cancer. She was in hospital only nine days and was gone. We missed her very much, and as the boys were involved in the war, they were unable to come home. After the funeral, I kept house for Mary, Dad and myself. Some of Mom's friends were very good to us, and the boys wrote as often as they could. I felt very sorry for my brothers.
(I recall Letty telling me that her mother died because of a surgical mistake which resulted in peritonitis, which explains the quick death. The doctor told her father that he could sue the hospital, but he said that would not bring his wife back, so the hospital just cancelled his bill.)

Two years after Mom's death, Dad retired from the post office, which pleased him. One of the men phoned me to see if it was fine with me, if they all came and had a surprise party in his honor. Naturally I said yes, and got busy baking. When they all came in, loaded with sandwiches, cake, beer, and cheese, Dad was so shocked. We had lots of music, as there were some who played, and lots of laughs. I made coffee and tea, then they presented Dad with a solid leather Gladstone bag, and a cheque. He just didn't know what to say, he was near tears. so I thanked them all. About midnight the party broke up, so he thanked them before they left.

The new case spurred Dad on to have a holiday, so he took the train to Victoria, BC, to visit Charlie and Ruth for a whole month. He had a very nice holiday and when he got home, he painted and fixed up all that needed doing. Next the back garden came under the hammer, so that left him little to do. One day he came in and said he has a job, morning at J.E. Davies plant, sorting nuts and bolts. Mr. Davies and Dad had lived in the same town in Ontario and had remained good friends all those years.

So he worked there for about six months, then had to stop. He read a lot, smoked his pipe, and we got along fine. But quite often he was sick with his heart.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bio #30 - My Adolescence

Adolescence is a trying time for most people, and I was no exception. I believe that getting involved in sports and church were two of the best helpers I had. I waas in the choir at church, in "Young People's" and CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training - similar to Girl Guides but church affiliated.) We all skated, played baseball, put on plays and hiked miles. Anything going on at church was ok by me.

Our neighborhood was full of baseball hopefuls and we had hundreds of games on a vacant lot by our house. Seeing there were houses near, and sometimes a ball broke a window, it was just taken for granted that the whole bunch of us chipped in and got that particular window fixed.

Skating was the winter sport that pleased me most. Oh, I loved it! Charlie and Eddie played hockey, lacrosse and volleyball. Mary swam best of us four, there was a pool near home and come summer, we lived in it. We got my Dad in a time or two.

Letty skating. She was in her 20s in this photo.

The only photo I have of Letty as a teenager. She is the one on the wagon and she looks about 13.
And sports continues to be a favorite way for teens to keep busy and deal with their changing bodies and minds, although the casual pick-up games of Letty's day gave way long ago to organized sports with leagues, uniforms, and coaches. Which do you think is better?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bio #29 - Roads, Railroads and Caterpillars

I don't know just what year Medicine Hat had its first paved road, but I do know that the Trans-Canada Highway was a gravel one, all the way to Vancouver, in 1928. Mr. and Mrs. Yeo and Margaret went there by car, and it took them five days to get there. (Today it is a 17 hour drive from Medicine Hat to Vancouver.) I guess the dust was awful on the trip, which took them over the big bend too. (I used to babysit Margaret, she was only eight that year, and Mrs. Yeo brought me back my first pair of silk panties.)

An excellent booklet on the history of roads in British Columbia, states that it was impossible to cross the province by road in the 1920s. Therefore, it is certain that Letty's friends, the Yeos, had to travel through the northwestern United States for part of their journey. The dreaded "Big Bend" she mentions, followed the Columbia river high near its source, down to Revelstoke; it was replaced by the Rogers Pass when the Trans Canada Highway was completed in the 1960s.  Road travel in those days was not for the faint of heart.

A car driving on the Big Bend

If you follow the rail line from Golden to Revelstoke, that is approximately the route of the present Trans Canada Hwy

During the early 30s there was an over-abundance of some things, mostly pests, and one of the strangest was the fuzzy caterpillar. They seemed to come from everywhere and covered nearly everything outside the house. They were all sizes, some four inches long. Believe it or not, the trains were even stopped by the slimy masses. They had a peculiar smell and in the parks, you couldn't sit under the trees. Riverside Park was very bad.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bio #28 - Old Movies - 1928

Movies as we know them today never existed when we were kids. I must have been in my late teens when I saw my first movie, "The Singing Fool" it was called, with Al Jolson in it. We thought it was a marvel. Before that, there was no sound, just words printed at the bottom of each picture. And the pictures were all black and white, no color. Sometimes there was an orchestra in the pit, to play music to go with the action, and it was very thrilling. We knew two men who played in one theatre, Joe Leonard (violin) and Johnny Dickinson (flute.) The cost to get in was ten cents for kids up to sixteen years old, and twenty five cents for adults. If it was a wild west show, sometimes my brothers would sit through it three times. No-one seemed to mind this. Saturday afternoons were the only times we could go. Seems such a long time ago.

Al Jolson sings in "The Singing Fool"

Of course, by the time I was old enough to go to movies, they were an accepted part of life; however the experience was much different than it is now. There were no advertisements and no warnings to turn off your cell phone, since they didn't exist, but a matronly woman named Hannah Smith who later became my Grade 8 teacher, warned on the PA (public address) system of dire threats to anyone who acted up during the Saturday afternoon matinee, peopled mostly by kids and teens without parents.

Onscreen, as now, the feature attraction was the last thing to see, but patrons were not prevented from entering the theatre while the show was in progress, so if you arrived during the middle of the performance, you'd just sit through until you hit the same spot in the next showing.  Before the feature, we watched cartoons, a short film, often a nature clip, and the Movie-Tone News, which was always outdated since everyone had a radio by that time, and many families had televisions. I think we saw previews of coming movies, too. Eventually the feature played and we hunkered down with our popcorn. A few movies I recall seeing from my youth are Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap," and "Snow White," which terrified me.

A clip from "The Parent Trap," where the two girls discover they are twins.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bio #27 - Haircuts and Silk Stockings

Haircuts

Until I was eight or nine, Mary and I had long hair and very thick. Anyway, we were allowed to get it cut. Mr. Cowan, the barber we went to, cut it and it cost us twenty-five cents each. We went to him for years, it seems, but he said mine was hard to cut, it was thick, and he would say, "Are you back again?" every time. His wife did the grown-up ladies' hair. They were nice people.

The first haircut would have been in 1921 or 22, the decade hair bobbing became a controversial craze.  Click here for an excellent article with plenty of photos and illustrations on hair bobbing. The Bobby pin was a result of hair bobbing- did you know?

Letty's hair thinned drastically in her adult years, and I remember it being thin when I was a little girl. She attributed it to pleurisy when she was a teen, but when my hair started thinning when I was in my forties, I realized it was just genetics.

Silk Stockings

When we were small, my sister and I wore fine tan ribbed stockings all week, but on Sunday we wore white. As we got older there was either fine lisle or pure silk. The latter were great for parties and dances, but one run and they were ruined. Then nylon ones were made (1938). They were sheer, transparent and shiny and were called glass nylons. I got a pair and guess how much they were, Five Dollars! My dad nearly had a pink fit, but it was my birthday, so he never said much. There was no such thing as pantyhose. These came much later and are one of the best inventions ever.

Lisle stockings. 
Silk Stockings advertisement
The New York Worlds Fair introduced Nylon Stockings to the women of the world.

It took Letty years to adopt panty-hose. She began wearing them just as younger women were ditching them in favour of no hosiery at all.  Of course, the first panty-hose were terrible; they slid down, bunched at your knees and ankles, and retained no shape, but getting rid of a girdle or garter belt was sufficient motivation for most women, including me, to try the new product.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bio #26 - The South Saskatchewan River, and The Ice House

We could see the South Saskatchewan River from our kitchen window. Before the three dams were built on the Bow River, the Saskatchewan was a mighty big river. In winter it froze over, sometimes to a depth of four feet or more. We often went skating on it, as far as Redcliff, seven miles away. It was fun. School kids, postmen, dogs and cats took a short cut over the ice, instead of using the bridge. In spring the ice broke up into huge chunks and the odd year, ice jams and flooding were the result. High water in June was awful some years, with chicken houses, dead cattle, chickens, trees and wood floating down in the high, dirty, swift water. It was scary.

But we learned to swim in it too. Mr. Tweed fenced a small part of it off, and taught lots of the neighborhood kids to swim. Later, when I was older, we swam across this river. We would start out to swim by the ice house, and when we finally made it to the other side, the current was strong and although I was a bit scared, I did it. Then after a rest, we walked a mile up along the other bank, for the swim back, and landed somewhere near the ice house again. Now, when I think about the risk we took I believe God was looking out for us.

The ice house was a big dark red building that housed the ice for the city to use in the summer. If you have never been in one you have missed something special.

Across the road lived the owner, who happened to be Japanese, Mr. and Mrs. Figitti, a boy, Keno, and a girl, Kussi. She was my age and a good friend. They were a clean, happy family and they sat on the floor to eat. They were a neat family and I was sorry when they moved away a few years later.

Mr. Figitti let Charlie and me watch them cutting and piling the ice, a layer of straw and a layer of ice, up to the ceiling. I don't know what was used to cut the ice from the river; big saws I guess, it was so thick. Four horses would pull a big flat sleigh onto the river, the men cut the ice and loaded it on the sleigh with some kind of a winch; then a tarpaulin was fastened to cover it, and it was hauled up the incline and stored away. One time when the ice was getting soft, a team, sleigh, and load sunk through. The driver jumped clear but the four horses drowned. It was a sad day. Mr. Williamson was the last man I remember working the ice and shortly after than, most people had refrigerators. So I don't know what happened to the cool old ice house.

The Medicine Hat News had a recent story on the ice house Letty describes, with a photo. Click here to access.

Men harvesting ice in Medicine Hat. Courtesy Esplanade Archives

In an era when refrigerators and freezers are expected amenities in all homes, it is sobering to realize the work that went into providing cool temperatures before refrigeration existed. I recall travelling in Canada by train as a child, when the train's air-conditioning consisted of fans blowing across huge blocks of ice, which had to be replenished at certain stations. I can still see men, using an enormous pair of pincers, lugging the ice into the train.

Our first home in Canada had no refrigerator. I have a vague recollection of an ice-box and someone delivering a large block of ice. However, it was soon replaced by a natural gas refrigerator, which had only enough freezer space for a tray of ice cubes and a pint brick of ice cream. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bio #25 - Silk Trains and Apple Cider

Silk Trains

Silk trains were very special. They carried millions of dollars' worth of pure silk in skeins from Vancouver to Montreal. Very few stops were made on these trips and they would go through Medicine Hat at 90 miles an hour. The silk came from Japan and the trains were guarded. Dad used to tell us when a silk train was to go through and we would watch from the kitchen window to see it go by. All lines were cleared for them. One time one train was wrecked outside of town. I still have one of the silk skeins from that wreck. I don't know how Dad had it, but he did. There was supposed to be enough in one skein for a woven material dress.
I discovered a number of books written about the Silk Trains online.
I saw that skein of silk many times as a child, but somewhere long the way, it disappeared. The silk trains themselves disappeared in 1933, as nylon and other synthetics became available. Read more.

Apple Cider

Dad decided to re-roof the kitchen one summer, so I said I would help him. It was very hot weather, and Mom had some apple cider for us to drink. She had made it years before, and it had got sort of strong. I guess between the heat, the work and the cider, Dad and I were singing our heads off in no time. Mrs. Sproule, next door, came out to see what was going on. We were both half lit I think, but kept right on hammering. We didn't know life was so funny for the on-looker.

This might have been the only time my mother was ever drunk. She told me another story, once. Her mother made some kind of berry wine, and when it was ready, threw out the fermented berries in their back yard. A flock of sparrows found it, and next thing, the sparrows were staggering around, completely drunk, unable to fly. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Bio #24 - The Great Depression

This is a period in history in Canada and the USA many books have been written about. One of the best is "Dreams, Dust, and Depression," by Philip S. Long. It's so true.

One or two things I remember are people being hungry; vacant-faced men looking for work, Mom and Dad keeping other folks in food (Dad was lucky he had steady work,) and dust storms so bad you just couldn't see. Grasshoppers so bad they blotted out the sun, and ate everything in sight, even clothes on the line.

Things were pretty bad at that time and Dad couldn't meet the taxes, so we sold our home and moved to Third Street.

This was such a let-down to us, but mostly to Mom and Dad. The house was in a bad state of repair, and it took my Father and Mother, and Mr. Bates, who was a builder and a good friend, a long time to fix it up. Maybe this is when I learned about woods and tools and how to do some things with them. The boys were too small. However, Dad over the years made a nice home of it. But I can still see Mom sitting there, among all the furniture and packing cases, sobbing bitterly for a few minutes. Then she stood up and said, "Walter, we've got our hands full, but you can fix it up."

Then there were the hobos, men calling at the back door for food, and riding all over in the trains, looking for work. It was a very sad time, but I am glad I lived through it. It makes one appreciate a loaf of bread, I'll tell you.

Letty told me that her mother never refused to provide food to a hobo, but she always made them sit outside on the step, to eat. The Great Depression lasted from 1929 - 1939. Those who survived learned thrift. Their motto was "Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do." No wonder my parent's generation scoffed at the throw-away generation that followed them - with just cause.

The On to Ottawa Trek in 1935

Once verdant farms turned into deserts; drought combined with economic collapse drove most farmers from their land.