happiness

Gee I’m mad! I’m boiling! (FGK 82)

Auntie Sheila’s letters are some of my favourite – she is so open and honest in them. I really appreciate how vulnerable and real she is when she writes. Because of that I’ve chosen not to post some of them, they are clearly private conversations happening between sisters but it has given me a lot of insight into who she was and what a really loving and remarkable lady she was.

Based on this letter I’m also understanding how it is that she received that award that Grandma spoke of in her autobiography. You can tell she takes her schooling seriously, it seems all she does is study – well and perhaps buy shoes. I can relate to the shoe purchases much more than the studying although I’ve spent the last couple of years studying more than I ever have before.

Nurse’s Residence

CGH Calgary

21 Aug 1956

Dear Marg

Well I bet you thought I’d forgotten you, hey! I’ve been meaning to get up every night this week but never quite made it.

Gee I’m mad!! I’m boiling!! We have to stay in here and study all day from 8am to 3:30pm! On a beautiful day like this! We’re supposed to be supervised but nobody is supervising us and everybody’s talking like mad. It’s just a waste of time.

Oh by the way I hear you went on a big date last night or rather you were supposed to go. Was the show – good?

Marg and I went to see the “High and Mighty” last night, sure was good. There was a big banquet and dance at Penley’s thurs night that all the kids went to except me. Maurice “had to study” so-o-o Kathy said I could go with a friend of one of her boyfriends but I didn’t like her boyfriend so-o-o. I stayed home and studied. Guess it was pretty good. I phoned home Wednesday. Well they didn’t have any news so I stayed in and studied some more, about a quarter to ten Maurice phoned and we went out until ten thirty. He was up to the library at tech all night.

Went over to the Macmillan’s for supper on Tuesday night. Uncle Frank and Aunt Georgie picked me up half way there- I was walking. Apparently ______ and Ken are staying in town for a few days. Marilyn and I drove all over town looking for _____ for canning. She’s buying them second hand. I guess she’s getting married at the end of October this time. Honestly that girl. She’s got more ______(I really wish I could make out this word lol).

Went to a baseball game between the Holy and us on Monday. We lost 18-11 but later we won two games so now we’ve got the cup.

Well I must start studying. I think I’ll get a pair of shoes before I go home. Am going on the bus.

See ya next week maybe

Love

Sheila

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Nosy Old Women (FGK 81)

This letter was written by my great aunt, who was the mother of twins. A while ago I mentioned a story in our family history book where the mom would lasso one of the twins to a fence so the other would play close by- this was that mom. Imaging trying to do that now? Back then it was probably the safest way she could watch her kids and also get her work done. The life of a mom, always trying to find balance between chores/work and kids. I guess according to this I also am a bad scholar, exams send my anxiety through the roof (and I honestly don’t think they should be the only way that students prove what they have learned).

(Postmarked December 12, 1952)

RR2

Calgary

Wednesday

Dear Margie

Here I am at last. I have sure been slipping up and down- say it anyway you like it feels anyway.

I hear you are getting along quite nicely which I am very glad to hear.

I saw your mother at Uncle Clarence’s Monday night, there was a Stockman’s meeting and you know we nosy old women – we had to trot along too.

Harvey had a hockey practice Tuesday nite and he is going to another this Friday nite and then he will know if he is on the team for the winter. He says his name is – it should be Wills, Callen or Longeway and then it would be easy sliding for him. I don’t think that I would like any of those names, the one I got sounds better, how about you?

Clarence is busy on his exams this week. He says that they haven’t changed since he last wrote and that he doesn’t like them any better so I’m afraid he will make a poor scholar.

Harvey is busy hauling grain to town, he makes two trips a day, so he is kind of tired at nite and likes to lay down and sleep.

Harry was here today, he was going to work on the garage and put in another door for us, so I also got him to put up boards for my drapes, believe it or not I have my drapes now. I sure have to get that room painted – the curtains sure show it up. But not till spring I guess. Everyone is too busy now and after Christmas it will be too cold, so I’ll wait.

Well Margie, keep the good work up and I’ll try to write a little quicker next time.

Love

Auntie Marg

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A Dreary Winter Day (FGK 80)

What better way to get back to the letters than one from Mrs. Barkley, she is always a ray of sunshine for me- even when describing a dreary winter day. This letter was sent to the Junior Red Cross Hospital and then forwarded home to the ranch. I assume it must have been one of the times when mom was in and out of the hospital. At this point it had been about 4.5 years since she contracted the polio virus, and she would have been 15.

Sunday – 15th (Envelope says Jan 16,1956)

Dear Margie:-

You sure can’t complain about not being out in the Sunshine! Isn’t it just the dreariest winter!

How are you progressing? I hope really well and that your time in there is getting short.

I took our tree down on Wednesday and such a mess. It seemed to shed so much this year. I think it may have been because it was so full of frost when it was cut. Of course I haven’t taken the cards down yet. I like to enjoy them for a month or so.

Mr. Barkley and I had hoped to go to Lethbridge this week but the weather took care of that. I guess they had no snow there but suppose they have some now. It is getting quite deep in the fields now. Just about up to the men’s knees.

Did you know they made a tape recording of the Cantanta(?) Friday evening? Also the trip! We hope to have a record of it.

I guess I better retire. Hope you are well. All are well here thank goodness

Best Wishes,

The Barkleys

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In Grandma’s Words part 17 (FGK 79)

This is the end of the story in Grandma’s memory book. It ends kind of abruptly and I wonder if whomever has the original copy (if it’s still around) has more of her story. I’m kind of bummed – I wasn’t ready to be done already. But I have lots more letters, and I found an old audio reel that I was able to get moved to digital format that apparently has several people talking on it. One of my aunts in Ontario also gifted me a tape recorded by Grandpa Ramsay describing his childhood home which I am very much looking forward to hearing (I had it converted to digital format as well). Grandpa used to send tapes out all the time, and I’m hopeful that I can find some of those and transcribe those stories as well, he was quite a remarkable man with a fascinating story of his own.

I couldn’t help but think I neglected my family in the years from 1952 to 1958 as I devoted so much time and energy for Margi. Sheila and Marshall were wonderfully loyal to my course and of course Percy was the powerhouse behind it all. Without him we certainly would be a sorry lot.

Training for your RN is definitely not the easiest career to choose and with all the tension there was in our home at that theme, I often wonder how Sheila ever made it. But she is made of good stuff and they tell me she’s a good nurse. The Student’s Association of the Calgary General Hospital presented ten gold pins to student nurses in recognition of outstanding student activities such as sick and visiting communities and in the effective speaking club. Out of her class of 76 students, Sheila received this gold pin as well as nine classmates. We were very proud of her when she graduated with her RN in 1956. She then nursed in the Vulcan Hospital being a country girl at heart. She met and later married Ted Burger of Arrowwood in 1957 and has lived on a grain farm in that district ever since.

One fall I had to be in Florida with Margi just at threshing time and Sheila took time out from her nurses training school and came out and cooked for all that gang. Her friend Lois Toone came and helped her on her days free from the nursing school. They did a splendid job of cooking and had fun doing it. Sheila’s letter to me describing it provided me with many a laugh. Here is an essay Sheila wrote when in our little JP school. It describes our hay crew so well <perhaps whomever has the original copy of Grandma’s story has this essay, but it wasn’t included here>.

Seeing old photos of mom standing like this always amazes me. The balance it must have taken for her to stand there without her crutches is astounding. She lost her back and stomach muscles, the ones in her right leg, and most of the ones in her left leg. I often think it was just her strong will that kept her upright.
So many days were spent on this carport doing different things. Here I am with four of my cousins and the two kids who lived next door. Lots of fun was had here, and I’m sure we all wore the adults out!
Grandma, my sister, and another one of the greatest dogs of all time – good old Buster
Home
It looks like they were riding in a parade Grandpa was on Toots and Grandma on Captain.
Log walking in Sidney BC is a longstanding family tradition. Grandma, Dad, my sister and I did this together for years, and I now do it with my kids when we go out there.
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In Grandma’s Words part 16 (FGK 78)

And finally we have the story of how Grandma’s kitchen came to be in her own words. I absolutely love this description. I have to say I smile every time I look at the photo of Grandma in front of the fireplace as she’s accompanied by the best dog of all time, my old friend Kayla. I don’t know how Kayla managed to get into Grandma’s memory book but I love that she’s there. I miss that dog.

I have so many memories of lying on that old red leather couch, surrounded by the overpowering smell of geraniums and reading old Archie comics. It was one of my all time favourite places to hang out when I was a kid. Although the geranium smell made me swear I would never ever have those flowers in my house, I religiously plant them in the flowerbed in the verandah just off the kitchen because that’s what was always there and anything else seems wrong. They just fit.

We decided then to tear off and build a new kitchen, level with the rest of the house. And build up the earth to be level with the back door and widen all our doors so that a wheelchair could get around easily.

At this age in my life I had enough experience to really know what I wanted in a kitchen, and I got it. Small kitchens were the style then but to me and our way of life the kitchen always seemed to be the heart of the home. I compare a good kitchen in a home to a good woman. And in my way of thinking a good woman is the most important person in the world. Like a good woman, a kitchen should be efficient and beautiful and always have a pleasant fragrance surrounding it. What is more alluring than the aroma of fresh baked bread, hot pies, and a roast in the oven?

One wall of my new kitchen is of knotted pine and has a fireplace with built in china cupboards on each side. The cooking area has knotted pine cupboards. Natural wood adds warmth to a room. The south west corner is all windows which look out on a panoramic view of the Jumping Pound valley up to the wide range of Rockies. This area is an indoor garden of flowers because we seem to have 9 months of winter in this country. It also holds our old red leather covered chesterfield. My range is a beautiful old fashioned one Percy bought me many years ago and I wouldn’t have it for any modern one even an Ultra Ray. There was one small window, about 3ft by 2 ft off the south wall which I didn’t like so I designed a stained glass one which portrayed our wildflowers and friendly wild birds and of course our source of existence – a cow and calf on pasture. This adds colour and conversation to the room.

I spend time every day looking at this stained glass window, it has always brought me a feeling of peace. I was told that Grandpa informed Grandma that the window was missing a bluebird and so he drew one in the top left hand corner. You can kind of see how the artwork of the bluebird is different from the rest of the window and that’s why.

My kitchen table seats twelve comfortably but of course often more. Adjoining is a very efficient mud room and extra bathroom. I worked hard for that kitchen.

The summer we built it I cooked for 18 men all summer in just a make shift kitchen. At the same time I gave Margie her physiotherapy which consisted of 38 exercises with resistance and each one 15 times. This I did twice a day. Margie also caught the mumps that summer.

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In Grandma’s Words part 15 (FGK 77)

I don’t know whose life sounds more exhausting – the men moving cattle from the ranch here in Jumping Pound to Grand Valley, or Grandma cooking like a fiend and delivering hot food to them twice. Her homemade doughnuts were legendary. “I don’t believe you can sit still, you either go ahead or slip back” wise words Grandma.

But we were becoming a bit cramped. In 1951 we heard that Mr. Chas Mathews was wanting to sell his ranch in Grand Valley. Percy and I talked it over carefully. Should we sit still and lead a placid life or work like mad a few more years? I really don’t believe you can sit still, you either go ahead or slip back. We went immediately over to see the place. We bought it the next day.

Trailing cattle back and forth across the Bow river and by Cochrane to Grand Valley was no easy feat. It always seemed to be done when there was snow on the ground and was a long, cold ride. I used to time it so that I’d catch up to them just before they reached the river and I’d give them hot coffee and fresh hot donuts. Then I would race home and pop in the oven an individual chicken pie full of good vegetables for each rider, a dessert, and more hot coffee. I would meet them for the noon lunch just north of the railroad track where there was a good spot to hold the cattle. Sometimes the smell of the hot steel railroad track would panic the spookier cattle and they would have to scatter hay over the rails to get them across. The bridge across the Bow was another bad place, it didn’t take much to spook them.

I stopped making butter and took the cream and eggs to Swift’s in Calgary and often bought bread instead of baking it so often. We still had several steady men working for us and living in the bunk house. All though the years we made the most delicious homemade ice cream with the plentiful supply of cream the always had on hand. Sunday mornings the boys would take turns cranking the ice cream freezer. Every Sunday morning we had really good buttermilk pancakes for breakfast too, with mounds of them with Rogers syrup. When the roads were passable I would go to church in Cochrane taking the children to Sunday School and taught Sunday School many years.

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In Grandma’s Words part 14 (FGK-76)

The only stories I ever heard about Mr O’Brien were ones like how incredibly strict he was, being a military man and all, how one time he’d got really angry and thrown chalk across the room, and of course the firecracker story – which was of course more mom just responding to his flippant statement about putting a firecracker under someone than her deviously planning to light a firecracker under a classmate’s butt. But through the letters I’ve seen a much different man. From what I can see, he’s the one who organized the students to send those big class letters in for mom at the hospital. In the letters, the kids are describing doing such interesting things in their classes (growing plants, doing woodwork, and so many other activities). I have heard from many people what a big deal those JP Christmas concerts were. Hats off to Mr. O’Brien – he sounds like quite the man.

Mr. O’Brien did so much for the children and the social life in the district it is difficult to tell you just how far reaching his influence really spread. He had been a Sargent major in the army, a scout master of many years experience, and had taken a course in dramatics. All these talents and experiences were put into action immediately and the students experienced the unexpected pleasure of discipline, responsibility, and a scope for their own creative originality.

The fame of the JP Christmas concerts was so widespread the Community Hall had crowds far beyond its seating capacity, standing room only. I remember one concert where one part of the program was a quadrille on the stage by the students to the tune of a current favourite of the time “Buttons and Bows”. The crowd just went hilarious, stomped their feet, clapped their hands, and sang their loudest. Another time he used an Alberta artist talent of a play taken from the book “Johnnie Chinook” a local story and it was a big success.

He formed a Red Cross society among the students. Made them elect their own president and other officers in the correct parliamentary procedure. All this besides their regular schoolwork. And for the first time the students learned how to enjoy well organized sports at recess.

Every so often the students would invite the parents to the school and entertain them by having them take part in spelling matches etc. We became involved in many of the students’ activities, especially helping with the concerts and enjoyed their social life so much.

The annual school picnic was an elaborate affair where presentations were made to students graduating etc. All the speeches and work was done by the students themselves. Mr O’Brien would just strand in the background. but the results of his guidance was made manifest in so many ways.

For a little one room rural school house the ultimate achievement of most of its graduates is quite impressive.

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In Grandma’s Words part 13 (FGK-75)

One of my most valued artifacts in this house is a buckskin jacket with beadwork sewn on it. I was told that years ago (waaaay before my time) one of the ladies on the reserve who Grandma was friends with wanted to go to a fancy function but she didn’t have a gown that was appropriate for it. Grandma gave her one of hers so that the woman would be able to go, and never thought much of it again. A while later the buckskin jacket was gifted to Grandma as a thank you for the gift of the gown, and the beads that were hand sewn onto it were taken off of said gown. I look at it daily and it serves me as a reminder of how important it is to live life with an open heart, to give freely, and to receive with gratitude. Again, I try to be sensitive to the words that are used. Grandma only every spoke respectfully of our Indigenous neighbours to the west of us, and so I stayed true to the words written because it was what was used at the time.

The jacket
The beadwork

Grandma’s Cheese Straw recipe! My kids grew up eating cheese straws, and they are one of my fondest memories of snack munching as a kid. I agree with her sentiment that it’s a very precious recipe.

All through the years we felt a close tie between us and our neighbours the Indians at Morley. We would contract fencing jobs to them all summer. In the fall they would often help us harvest. And later in November would often ride with the men to help round up stray cattle. I loved our Indian friends and felt I could always trust them. We looked forward to the First of July when they held their annual Stampede in the beautiful natural setting where they had built their corrals. What a magnificent picture to view. We would park our car on the hillside looking down into the corrals, and beyond them the big circle of teepees and tents and their children, cats, and dogs. And back of it all those Gissing blue foothills leading up to the Rockies. Where on earth could you find more beauty and activity? I always felt well entertained. My chickens were just nice fryers by July 1st and I always fried about four or five and along with a salad, cake, and sandwiches that would do us for the day.

My Harry Jacques, the jeweller from Calgary used to have a contest with a prize for the best dressed Indian baby. He very often asked me to be a judge and I wanted so badly to give first prize to everyone there, they were so cute and the beadwork on the buckskin was beautiful. Our kids just loved the first of July and the Morley Stampede.

We always tried to get to Banff or Vermillion crossing for a few days holiday and fishing just before haying. Once we went to Everett, Wash, USA and dug clams just as Percy did when he lived at the coast as a boy.

Family fun time
Family picnic at the ranch
As you can see from the caption “slave labour”. The running joke is that the CL on the brand stands for “Continuous Labour”.
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In Grandma’s Words part 12 (FGK 74)

No wonder mom always talked so highly of Lawrence, over and over I see where he’s been such a great friend to her. I remember dances at the Hall when I was a kid where it was family friendly until the “doors of hell opened” or something like that and then it was time for us kids to go home (similar to warnings I was given about going to the Cochrane Hotel – when I finally went I was quite disappointed to find it didn’t look anything like what I imagined hell to look like but was just an old fashioned bar with ugly vinyl chairs).

The Copithornes are a large, closely knit family and our family turkey dinner parties usually had twenty or more sit down to a meal. We usually tried to do our entertaining like this in the winter before the calving time in April. The children were always included in these parties and often in the dances in the Community Hall. They learned to dance and mix freely with their elders, there didn’t seem to be such a generation gap then as now. No one enjoyed a square dance more than Margi when her cousin Lawrence would ask her up. They looked quite small in the circle but they certainly knew their dance.

The evening of our 20th wedding anniversary was a bitterly cold night and Clarence and Irene invited us and Kumlins over for dinner. We had completely forgotten it was our anniversary and Percy said we were crazy to think of going out over snowy roads on such a bad night. But Kumlins insisted we go with them. When we got there there as quite a crowd gathered waiting for us. The ladies usually head for the kitchen to help serve the meal, but they made Margery Buckley and myself sit in the living room with the men. Then they took us into the bedroom and draped old lace curtains over us like veils and gave us each nosegay bouquets made from cauliflower, onions, etc. When they led us back into the living room our husbands were standing up each wearing a boutonniere of onions and Irene’s dad Don Robertson wearing a collar backwards and a wild brocade black housecoat and he read off a very comical take off on the wedding ceremony They shook rice and confetti over us and presented each of us with a very lovely tea set. It was a party we’ll never forget.

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In Grandma’s Words part 11 (FGK 73)

Remember how I said I’d never seen a photo of the lean to kitchen? Apparently I just wasn’t paying attention, because there’s a photo of it here in today’s post. The sun porch still looks almost exactly like it does in this photo, and we use it every day.

It wasn’t long before we were issued a “ration book” for each one of us. Transient help would come to work with all the tabs sold out of their books and we would just have to cope it it somehow, but they weren’t very popular. In Feb 1940 I left Sheila and Marshall with my sister and Percy, and I took Aunt Ada and her bachelor brother Roy Wills on a motor trip to visit Aunt Lil in Palermo, California. We thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the wonderful Redwood forest. And visiting the old fort where the Russians had landed in 1872. The fort was standing in good condition because Redwood won’t burn nor decay.

Before I left, I taught Clarence how to bake apple pie. When we got home, the man who helped him batch said they just made steaks out of the whole half beef and had that and apple pie nearly every meal. And his pies were just about the best I’ve ever tasted, much better than mine, but I doubt if he has ever cooked one since. They were certainly glad to quit cooking.

We decided to turn our lean to eating area into a kitchen as it was three steps down from our tiny kitchen and the steps proved very awkward. Mr. Mervin Wallace, the carpenter, came out and he built that kitchen with loving care. I was so proud of it, it was beautiful and quite convenient but could have been larger. It was all white and blue with accents of red here and there. It had a long low window in the west and I made cottage style curtains out of white and blue polka dot material with a wide border of eyelet embroidery.

By now I had a gas Servel refrigerator. Mr Wallace also built me a sun porch for my house plants. From three thirty on in the afternoon I used to just about wear a hole in that window watching for the kids to come riding out of the bush in Nicoll’s field a mile or so west of us.

A Servel refrigerator

I would always have a dish of dessert of a bowl of soup waiting for them and would listen to them unload all of the problems of the day, then all was forgotten and the real enjoyment of the day would begging for them. Each one to his or her living, such as curling up with a good book to read or outside to play.

Grandma and her kids. I’m not going to comment on how my uncle’s got his tongue sticking out (see what I did there). Mom looks like the cat who just swallowed the canary, at least my aunt managed to pass off as normal for this one.

By now we had a Delco in the house – no more coal oil lamps and those frightening Coleman gas lamps. At first we had a gas engine to charge the sixteen-two volt batteries. Then we got a wind charger which worked fine when the wind blew. We were so glad to have just the lights, we never thought of complaining because there were no electric gadgets to be got on the 32 volts.

I didn’t know what a Delco was, so I looked it up. Here it is, complete with the “old time” kind of advertising. I want to be sarcastic and say “lucky, lucky wife”, but I”m realizing that it shouldn’t be sarcastic at all. Given how hard these women worked, anything that made their lives easier must have been a real blessing (same for the men).
A Delco
I’m not sure where this photo was taken, but it was stuck in with this story.
Just in case you feel like doing any baking…. grandma made some pretty fantastic doughnuts and gingerbread cookies (pro tip, the gingerbread cookies are fan-freaking-tastic when dipped in her Christmas sauce).
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