This letter from Aunt Ruth has no year on it, and was sitting without an envelope so I am not sure when she sent it. Apparently my grandparents were headed off on a trip of some sort. It’s clearly fall time, but not so dry that they can’t have a big bonfire (gosh it’s dry here now).
Well I guess your Mom and Dad will be on their way by this time. I do hope they are having better weather there than us. We had snow, rain and hail and sunshine yesterday – talk about variety. We sure get it, no fooling. It all ended up being a lovely evening and the scouts went up to the very top of the big hill and had a bonfire and wiener roast, it sure looked pretty from down here. I bet you could have seen it too from your windows Margie if they had been facing this way.
Gord is in the scouts now and went proudly off with all with Marshall’s scout suit on, it just fits him perfectly, he is very lucky to get it as they are quite expensive to buy new.
Your Aunt Lottie, Olive and Aileen and myself, Lloyd and Pat of course all went up to Banff to Johnson’s Canyon on Tuesday of this week. The trees are lovely up there now all in their autumn colours but it was rather a chilly day. I seem to be putting so many “sures” in the note this morning, have a one track mind I guess.
How is Janet getting along? Fine I hope, remember me to her Margie.
The school bus does not come in from the north now as well the kids go that school out there, but the Kerfoots and the Curtins still come in from Grand Valley. We have six teachers here, so there are still plenty of teachers and pupils for the size of the school. There was talk of bringing in a class or two of the Indians but it didn’t come to pass so far.
Tomorrow we start Sunday School again, last Sunday was rally day. Mr Thompson spoke very nicely, we do enjoy his sermons so much. Have you got your Sunday school papers from Central Church Margie? It will be nice for you to have them to read every week. We are going to miss Marilyn as she played the piano in Sunday School all the time. Maybe Donna Desjardins will play for us now.
We were in the drug store last night and I picked up these little toys as I thought you might have a little fun fooling the folks with the kitty’s meow, they would not know where it comes from. And the other thing reminded me of someone getting their exercises, it wouldn’t be you would it?
So bye for now Margie and when you get time and feel like it drop me a line. I do enjoy hearing from you but feel you have so many to write to that I don’t mind if you miss me.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Has anyone ever had a well behaved Shetland? My sister’s Peanuts was considered to be a good one, but it really was only in comparison to how incredibly naughty and evil my Tango was. Why did we all have Shetland ponies??
Margaret, my last child was born in Oct 1940. We let Sheila name her, she was so thrilled to have a baby sister, so she said “I like Margaret Bateman, let’s call her Margaret”. She was a dear little baby, had long dark hair when she was born and always was very lively. I lay in the hospital listening to the battle of Bristol on the radio and wondered if it was right to bring a child into such a world.
One fall a cattle buyer who bought our steers, gave Marshall a Shetland pony when he was about four years old. I have never liked Shetland ponies, but Marshall was very happy and wanted to be on it all the time. One fine afternoon when I decided to ride across the creek to get the milk cows in, I let Marshall ride his pony and come with me. My horse stopped halfway across the creek to have a drink and I looked back to see how Marshall was doing. Clarence was building a fence nearby. The Shetland had stopped at the edge of a deep pool to have a drink too, and I could see both Marshall and the saddle were slowly sliding over its head. I called to Clarence just about the time Marshall plopped head first into the cold water. The dumb Shetland sat on the bank like a dog sits down and it had the saddle on its head like a hat. Clarence and I both headed to the rescue but things happened too fast for us. Marshall no sooner hit the water then he bounced out again and was on a howling rage. It all looked so comical, Clarence and I just went into helpless laughter which made Marshall furious. He walked home in a huff and we were so weak from laughing at that crazy looking pony we could hardly get the saddle off.
Later that pony ran away with Sheila one day and threw her onto a big rock and broke her elbow. My father had sold his farm and rented an apartment in Calgary. While Sheila was in the hospital with her broken arm – it had to be broken a second time to get it right – my dad visited her every day and read stories to her. He also helped Percy cut crop a few times when help was scarce. He loved the children dearly and always called Margie “Peggie”. The last day he visited us, in Nov 1942, Marshall and Margi clung to his legs and begged him to stay but he had two companions with him and returned to town. That night he died of a heart attack.
The bear stories!! I can’t imagine how scary it would have been to be the girl, and how funny it would have been to be Uncle Clarence. A couple of years ago in the fall we thought we saw something weird dart out of our yard. My girl offered to go over and look in the snow to see what tracks were there. As she had boots and I only had shoes I agreed. She grabbed Bear her dog and I stood on the driveway and watched them go across the yard. She stopped by the crabapple tree beside the cottage for a very long time and just stood there. Finally I yelled at her to keep moving and look at the damn tracks or come inside but I didn’t want to stand there all day. She looked, didn’t see much of anything and came back inside. Bear the dog stayed outside and barked at that crabapple tree for a good 45 minutes. Finally I went outside to tell him to shut up, and in that small moment where I distracted him, a huge cinnamon coloured bear dropped off the cottage roof, down the tree where the girl had been standing and took off out of the yard. There is never a dull moment out here!
Annie decided to take a business course in Calgary and do secretarial work in there. She continued to keep the big house as her country residence and as we were in a very small house, Clarence slept over there but otherwise lived with us.
One day, Percy’s brother George rode upon a fresh kill, the carcass of a yearling. George was used to the ways of the wild and he very carefully concealed a huge bear trap in a natural windfall of logs. He succeeded in trapping him and shooting the monster dead at first shot. He was a seven foot, seven hundred lb male grizzly.
Talking about bears, Percy nearly shot Clarence one thinking he was a bear. I had a girl working for me who had lived all her life on the prairies. She hated trees and got the creeps when she had to walk under one. Of course the boys delighted in spinning tall terrifying yarns to her and this evening she had waked down to visit a girl at Jack Copithorne’s. It was almost dark when she hurried home and Clarence and another boy put fur robes over themselves and hid under some brush about half way down the hill and jumped out behind her. Percy and I were sitting quietly in the kitchen when she hit the back door. If it had been more fragile she would have come right through the door. We were very concerned when we saw her white face and when she finally was able to speak we had our own doubts about it being a bear, but we hadn’t been told about the trick. Percy grabbed his shot gun and went out and shot it off in the air anyway, just to satisfy everyone. I guess those two boys never dusted up the hill so fast in all their life, expecting maybe another shot.
We finally dug a ditch to Annie’s house and got the water in in 1938. Just a cold tap in the kitchen and a slop bucket beside the sink for a year of so. Then we dug a septic tank east of the house and put in bathroom fixtures and hot and cold water. That lightened the work a lot but we were still very very crowded, especially at meal time. Finally the men had time to dismantle an old house in the area and build a lean to over the kitchen door where we put a big table and used it as a dining room, down three steps from the kitchen.
About then we got a battery set radio. It was wonderful to get the world news every day but becoming very disturbing to hear it. Then one day in the fall of 1939 the news that we were all dreading to hear, came over the air. We were at war! It really shook us, more than we ever expected it to. The happy care-free talk at mealtime was changed a lot. The whole outlook of our operation as a ranch changed…
A day in Grandma’s life is exhausting, they sure worked hard. But honestly – ironing diapers!!! I remember mom complaining bitterly about washing out diapers in the toilet, and although I try to be more eco friendly, I have to admit I was pretty happy to just throw diapers in the trash.
We now have the story of how Aunt Gertie joined the community before she joined the family. I loved the story of our great grandfather Richard giving Auntie Sheila sweet treats. When my boy was born, I kept him off sugar for so long and was so careful. Then his first Christmas, when he was about 6 months, my dad took him on his knee – in the dining room here at grandma’s – and very gleefully put a gigantic spoon of Grandma’s Christmas sauce in his mouth. So that was the end of that. What a great way to start out with sugar though – that sauce is mad good.
Shortly before we were married, Percy gave me a fine big black saddle horse named Spades. He was part Arabian and very gentle. I loved to go out riding with the gang when they were working the cattle. Annie rode a very beautiful spirited bay hunter and she certainly was a good rider. Percy’s dad always had a string of coyote hounds following him and occasionally they would go after a poor little rabbit that crossed our path.
In 1929, Jack Copithorne and Dave Lawson combined their teams of horses and pulled Archie Arie’s(?) homestead house down to a spot between Nicoll’s and Jack’s to be used for a school house. All the children of the district were living in this neighbourhood at that time. The fall after we were married, 1932, the teacher Marg Erwin boarded with us and walked to this school. Marg was a city girl and found it very lonely at our place. She was extremely musical and we brought my mother’s piano out for her to play on. We enjoyed many musical evenings after that. Frank, Percy’s brother got married to Georgie McDougall in 1934 and lived on the XC ranch. That year Gertrude Flumerfelt came to teach and boarded with us until our Sheila was born in 1935. While Gertrude was here, my mother’s health deteriorated and she spent considerable time with us too. Sheila was a real pride and joy to everyone. The first baby girl to be born in the district for fifteen years and everyone made a great fuss over her and she was a darling. Percy’s dad used to hold her on his knee and give her little bits of food at mealtime. She sure started eating ice cream at an early age. By now my mother’s health was so poorly my dad rented a house in Cochrane no moved her in near the doctor. He was fortunate to get Mrs. EC Johnson, her dear friend to come and live with her and nurse her that year. She died when Sheila was only six months old.
When I was in Cochrane so much, Sheila came in close contact with my sister’s daughter Aileen, who was, unknown to us, just coming down with the whooping cough. Sheila caught the whooping cough and what a winter we had after that! Frank was in the hospital all winter and poor Georgie was alone with Richard who was only a tiny baby then. Sheila’s health was poor after that until she was two years old when we had to have her tonsils out.
Percy’s father died in April 1936, when Sheila was just a year old. It threw the whole responsibility of the ranch and family on Percy and Frank’s shoulders. Clarence was only fourteen years old. He seemed so young to lose his father after having lost his mother when only two years old. Annie carried on as usual that summer, cooking etc for the haying crew, for which I was very thankful. But it was a short haying season and by then when I took on the job of feeding the men, the poultry and dairy, I was expecting my second child. But I at last got a washing machine of my own and certainly needed it with all the men’s clothes to wash as well as our own. Sometimes there were as many as fifteen shirts to iron each week. The washing machine was run by a gas engine – a very temperamental one. I often gave up trying to get it started then in anger would give it a swift kick and it would start.
I churned once or twice a week and with the butter and eggs bought the groceries. Butter requires a lot of cold, cold water to wash all the buttermilk out of the butter and to make it firm. Then you add salt and work and work it in, then pat it into a mould so that the result weighs exactly one lb. My churn was a big wooden barrel, one that made about thirty lbs at a churning. We carried the water from a well on the other side of Annie’s house. It seemed like a quarter of a mile away. We had a big Windlass built out in the corral and butchered our beef there. Hung it up on the Windlass to clean and skin, about an hour’s work. Then after it hung in a cool place for ten days we would cut it up and put it into a brine and some into jars and cooked. I also canned chicken. I remember one time I starved the roosters etc and the other chickens to be butchered as usual the night before so that they would have empty crops and be easier to handle. Never thinking about the weed seeds in the bottom of the trough. The chickens ate them. I had forty beautifully jelled jars of chicken but when I opened them to use they smelt so strong of stink weed and tasted like it too, I nearly wept when I couldn’t use them.
As I said before, money was scarce and there was no hope of making our tiny kitchen larger. I loved my little kitchen when there were only the three of us, but that winter, trying to crowd four and sometimes six more people around our table and then squeeze between it and the stove was just impossible. I use admit we were a jolly crew and had many hearty laughs and jokes about it all.
That winter was a long one. Marshall was born in March and about that time Percy brought his cows home from Olds. He bought some of their hay they had for sale and when he got it home the cattle wouldn’t eat it. It was slough hay that they had cut on top of the ice and it didn’t even make good bedding. When driving them home from he stockyards in Cochrane, one old cow just played out about four miles south of Cochrane so he had to leave her there as it was getting late. Next morning she was standing at the gate at the home corral.
Fortunately Marshall was a healthy, happy baby because I was too busy to fuss much. I remember very foolishly ironing diapers for Sheila and everything had to be just so, but not so with Marshall. We baked eight or ten loaves of bread every other day – set it to rise overnight. I used those hard Royal yeast cakes. I even made my own soap for a while. There was su much fat after butchering and I had a good soap recipe. Poor Sheila must have been a bit neglected then too because once when she was only two years old, she was playing around the yard while I was churning in the basement. She tried to look through the window and both she and the window crashed to the cement floor. It was a long fall. Fortunately she was not cut by glass but did bite her tongue and lip badly.
I appreciate how much of today’s story involves the intricate description of food. I find when I’m describing places I’ve been or experiences I’ve had, it usually starts with “remember that time we went to Virginia Beach and our hotel was across from Ben and Jerry’s and we ate ice cream for breakfast”. Or “I really miss living in St. Lazare, the goat cheese sandwiches at Anise et Marjolaine were divine”. Basically I’m either eating, planning what to eat, or thinking about what I just ate. Grandma’s cake was one of my top favourite treats and I was delighted to find that the bakery in our grocery store in Quebec sold a very similar one (did I mention how great the food was when we lived in Quebec?)
The path down the hill to Uncle Jack’s (Kumlin’s now) may not be as well worn, but visiting with them still is something that I always enjoy. When I was a kid the path was used regularly as I’d take off on my pony for quiet rides along the creek by their place.
Percy was secretary for the hall for many, many years. Margy, his sister, got married later in the year to Jack C. Buckley of Springbank. I was immediately put on sandwich making committee for the hall dances. We would order twelve or fourteen sandwich loaves unsliced and slice them very thin. Two lbs butter warmed to soft consistency to spread easy. Ham bought then sliced very thin at the butcher shop and about four large tins of salmon mixed with a little homemade salad dressing. The sandwiches were really good but the cakes everyone brought to the dances were just scrumptious. A favourite was one Nan Copithorne used to make – a big plane white cake with white icing covered with toasted almonds. Everyone seemed to be such a good cook what a goal I had to set myself! It wasn’t easy, but before long I had mastered a few good recipes too. It was so nice having Archie McLean taking full charge of the kitchen and making such delicious coffee in the two big copper boilers. He also cleaned the hall and all for only five dollars a night.
Aunt Ada (Mrs Jimmie Nicoll) always wore a million dollar smile and she had the art of meeting everyone at the dances and making them feel especially welcome. It was nice always having a floor manager – announcing each dance etc. They always had one moonlight waltz and when the evening was over they would dance the to the song “Home Sweet Home” and everyone sang it. Usually the ladies wore big ball gowns even though it was the dirty 30s. Our hall was beautiful with dozens of Japanese lanterns and balloons hung from the ceiling. We had a pretty good orchestra too, but Percy played the violin and that meant I had to sit out a lot of dances.
Like Wordsworth’s description of Hiawatha’s friends “Straightway ran the path between them, never grew the grass upon it” <it’s actually Straight between them ran the pathway, Never grew the grass upon it”, but I googled and I’m betting Grandma wrote that from memory>, the path between me and Jack Copithorne’s and Nicoll’s was certainly well worn. We seemed to meet at least once a week for tea, and always walked, as it didn’t seem far. Aunt Ada was an exceptionally fine cook, her lemon jelly rolls and hot biscuits just make my mouth water to think of them. Nan Copithorne was always sewing and redecorating. I remember one time she decided to paint her long dining room in red and pink. We were all quite horrified, just couldn’t imagine anything pleasant about that combination. When she was finished she had us down for tea and were we ever surprised! It was beautiful! We learned that tones and shades made all the different effects. Nan’s homemade bread was superb. For tea in June she would often serve strawberries, rich yellow cream, fresh bread and fresh homemade butter.
But the laughter and gaiety of these gatherings out shone any food you could mention. Everyone had such a crew of young men working for them and everyone home a girl to help too and they were all like one big happy family. They just made their own fun to compensate for the hard work.