A few years ago a dear old friend of mine (in years not age haha) gifted me a picture she’d found of the “old house” here. The “old house” is the one by the barn that my great grandparents built, and the house that we moved into when we returned home.
It’s cool because not only does this picture look exactly like the “old house”, it actually IS the old house.
I wasn’t sure where to hang it and have tried a few different spots in different rooms. Then today I was looking at the Braeside house where my Grandpa Ramsay lived (you may remember the story my Grandpa Ramsay told, you can find it Here) and realized that these two pictures belong together.
The house where my great-grandparents Copithorne lived, where my grandpa was raised, and the house where my grandpa, and great grandma Ramsay lived with my great-great grandparents in Ontario. And they should be hanging here in the house my grandparents built – our home.
I feel so much gratitude towards this friend who found this picture for me, made a special trip to meet me to give it to me, and who generally has just been a great person to have in my life. We met 21 years ago when we were expecting our now adult sons and have stayed in touch throughout the years.
I found this shoved in a bookcase in Dad’s office, aka my bedroom, aka Grandma’s bedroom. I have no recollection of having given her this book – I was 13 at the time – but I’m so glad I did. I’ve always been interested in our history, probably the reason why I have this ever so useful history degree. Anyway, this is kind of interesting and I had no idea, besides being from Ontario, of any of this history.
I figure Dad must have put this all together but I’m not sure when. It certainly wasn’t 1984 because he was clearly on the internet, but it also wasn’t 2014 because he used MapQuest (although my parents loved MapQuest). Either way, I’m glad he did it. It looks like he’s put together some of her relatives. I really knew nothing about Grandma’s lineage, so it is really cool for me to read a bit about about where she came from.
September 27th, 1984
Melissa gave Grandma a “Grandma Remembers” book for her 76th birthday and Grandma wrote in response:
September 27th 1984
Thank you Melissa Ramsay for this thoughtful and flattering book for my birthday. For me, the title should be “Grandma Forgets”. Is it because I’m now 76 years old? I don’t think so. I’ve always been mentally lazy – a dreamer. I will do my best to fill it with facts.
My parents were both the youngest in their family and each family had nine children,. My mother lost her mother when she was two years old and was raised by her maiden aunt, Miss Betsy Thompson, and her bachelor brother Uncle William Thompson who lived with their widowed mother on a farm out at Westmeath near Pembroke Ontario. My mother had very fond memories of her grandmother being very loving and kind to her and her little brother Thomas who also lived there.
Her grandmother was a pioneer and lived there when the Indians were still unfriendly. Her grandmother was very popular for her skills in setting broken arms or legs and helping sick people. Her grandfather helped the Rideau Canal in “Ottawa” when it was still called “Bytown.”
Aunt Betsy used to tel her she could remember when they would put a few sacks of wheat in canoes and take it down to the Ottawa River to mill to grind it into flour. Aunt Betsy remembered as a small child being terrified of the forest fires when they would go to the river for safety sake.
My Great Aunt Betsy was a popular member of the Ladies Aid in the local church. I remember seeing a very beautiful hanging lamp above her organ which the church group had given her; it had a beautiful flowered globe with prisms hanging around it and a coal lamp under it. The organ was very beautiful too and she left it to me when she died. It is now in the Pembroke museum. Uncle William Thompson gave my mother a beautiful piano when she got married and your aunt Sheila Burger has it now Melissa.
My Mother’s father went to New Westminster British Columbia when it was called Port Moody. He went there int eh 1870s thinking it would be the terminal for the CP Railway and would become a big sea-port city, but Vancouver became that. He bought many lots in Port Moody and was preparing to reunite his family there in a home he built but he got sick and died there. I have a letter which he wrote to Great Aunt Betsy saying he bought a piano for Mattie (my mother) and there was a piano teacher there to continue her lessons but of course that never came about. You could perhaps someday try and find his grave in the oldest graveyard in New Westminster, BC.
My mother’s mother “Margaret Ruth Sullivan” was also from near Pembroke and her relatives ware still living there. There is a placebo n the Ottawa River called “Sullivan’s Point”, named after her people. My spelling is terrible Melissa, check it and correct it.
My mother’s youngest brother was a reporter on the first steamship to sail Lake Superior and it was caught in a bad storm and all aboard were lost. Another of there brothers was drowned when the ship he was on went down coming from the gold mines in Alaska in the early days.
Today is the first of an on and off series I’ll call “who are the people in these photos?” Usually Grandma was really good about writing on the back of photos, but I’ve got a bunch that are unmarked. So – anyone who remembers and knows who these people are, please let me know!! This envelope of photos was in with her hospital letters, but the ones that are dated are from the late 50s, and I think when she was in Florida finishing high school.
As I said before, her life was very lonely, taking grades 9 and 10 at home. I wrote all over America trying to find a school without steps into it and in a warm climate. Nowadays they do build one-story schools in this country. I was finally successful and found a private school in Daytona Beach, Florida. This was built by a former headmaster who had been injured and had to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair.
Margi and I flew down to enrol her and make arrangements for her to board at the home of one of the teachers. I also arranged for her to have her physiotherapy after school with a very fine physiotherapist, Mrs. Franks, who became a good friend of ours. While there, I celebrated my birthday and the teachers’s wife where Margi boarded had a small dinner parry for me. Just as we were starting our meal, someone banged and pounded on their door and shouted to them. Mrs Rich went to the door and there stood a neighbour with his arms full of things that looked like huge pineapples. He kept shouting “It’s blooming, it’s blooming, come and see it.” Mrs Rich promised him we’d be right over after dinner. It was a rare night blooming Agave or Century Plant and only blooms about once every hundred years. Mrs Rich put one of the huge buds in the centre of the table and before the meal was over it had opened out and filled the room with perfume. It was all very interesting to me, especially the unusual fauna. Guava grew along their back fence and they just looked exactly like lemons but you eat them skin and all and they make delicious jelly. The huge old trees around the school were heavy with silver moss and mistletoe.
Interesting too was the beautiful home across the street where Betesta lived and Cuba was in such turmoil then. Margi took her Grade 11 and 12 there and we had many interesting trips down there. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1958. What excitement that was and so beautiful. That was the year the girls were all wearing crinolines and fluffy dresses that suited their southern accents so well. They had two or three different affairs, all very exciting. One was a big lawn party at the headmaster’s home with the honour students in the receiving line. It was all a very happy and proud moment for me as I listened to the praise of Margi and saw them place a bronze plaque with her achievements inscribed on it in a place of honour in the school. She also gave a very good talk in her valedictory address. I took her to the Bahamas to celebrate before we returned home.
I love Grandma’s Kitchen (obviously) and I really appreciate all the thought and love that went into building this room. It truly is the heart of this home. I also love that the photo of Grandma standing by her fireplace includes the best dog and by best friend ever – Kayla. When I was away, especially when times were tough, thinking about this room that I love to much was what got me through. This room is filled with memories of all of the people I love, and I feel incredibly blessed that I am making new ones with my family.
Harry used to send Margi comic books regularly and Slim sent her flowers. And all through her stay in the hospital the J.P. School sent her a weekly newsletter. In the fall of 1955 she was able to come home to live with us again. Percy built a physiotherapy table in her bedroom and we fixed up all the pulleys and sandbags, weights, etc. I went in and learned how to give her physiotherapy and took schooling by correspondence. It was a lonely life for a young teenager. Both Sheila and Marshall were gone to town. She still had great difficulty climbing steps and had one or two nasty falls on the three steps down to our kitchen. We decided then to tear this lean-to 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 have 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. 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 fries, and a roast in the oven?
One wall of my new kitchen is of knotty pine and has a fireplace with built in china cupboards on each side, a television set and two easy chairs. The cooking area has knotty pine cupboards. Natural wood adds warmth to a room. The southwest corner is all windows which look out on a panoramic view of the Jumping Pound Valley into the wide range of the Rockies. This area is an indoor garden of flowers because we seem to have nine 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 trade it for any modern one, even an Ultra Ray. There was one small window – about three feet by two feet in the south wall which I didn’t like in it so I designed a stained glass one which portrayed our wildflowers, our friendly wild birds, and of course our source of existence – cow and calf on pasture. This adds colour and conversation to the room. My kitchen table seats twelve comfortably but of course often more. Adjoining is a very efficient mud room and extra bathroom.
I worked hard in 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 Margi her physiotherapy which consisted of 38 exercises with resistance and each one 15 times. This I did twice a day. Margi also caught the mumps that summer to add to the confusion. We heard of more modern treatment and equipment for polio in Warm Springs, Georgia, and the USA President Roosevelt built this wonderful place. Percy and Sheila and Margi and I flew down there to see if there was any way we could improve her condition. It was quite an experience for us. We landed in Atlanta, Georgia, and the moist heat really hits you. We rented a car and drove the 70 miles through the pine forests, peach and pecan orchards, to the beautiful spot called the “Georgia Warm Springs Foundation”. She got much better braces there – more modern, lighter and stronger metal. We took her there many times after that.
By now Sheila had graduated very successfully from Grade 12 and had her application accepted in the university to become a teacher but suddenly decided she would try the nursing profession instead. That Christmas, Percy and Marshall were both very sick in bed with the flu and Sheila was on night duty in the General Hospital. However, she wanted to come home for Christmas Day and we both wanted to see Margi for the few minutes they would allow us. It was a cold, snowy day and poor Sheila looked so grey from being on duty all night but we had to sit in the cold empty basement of the Red Cross Hospital for hours before they let us see Margi for a few fleeting moments. That was one of my worst Christmases.
While Sheila was still in Mount Royal, one weekend she brought a girlfriend home with her and they wanted to go to the Friday night dance in Cochrane. Percy and I were in such distress over Margi, we just didn’t feel like going dancing so we asked Slim if he would mind taking the kids in and looking after them. Marshall went too just for the fun though he didn’t like dancing. When they got there, Slim took his nice suede jacked off and Marshall’s coat and they locked them in the car before going into the hall. Slim was an excellent cop. I’d swear he could tell you how many fillings a motorist had in his teeth a mile away. That night he spotted a car driving around Cochrane without its lights on so he followed it on foot until he got all the particulars such as make, etc. By then it was time to go back to the hall and take the kids out for supper. But when he got back they were sitting in the car waiting for him. He wanted to know how they got into the car when he had locked it but they said it was open, he just thought he had locked it. Then people all around him began to complain of the same thing, purses and coats were missing. Marshall’s and Slim’s fine suede jackets were gone. Even our own family didn’t know he was a cop but Percy and I sure laughed and teased him about that. However, he went into the police in Cochrane next morning and told them who he was and gave them a good description of the car. Both garages in Cochrane had been robbed. They were able to catch the car in Banff, a stolen one from Saskatchewan and they caught the thieves.
Slim was a big fine looking man 6 feet 6 inches tall. Marshall was at the aggressive age. Sometimes he would come to the table defiantly, with his hair uncombed or his hands not too clean. I would ask him to spruce up a bit and he’d say “Oh, I’m all right.” Slim would just get up quietly and tuck Marshall under his arm and hold him under the laundry tap in the back kitchen. It didn’t have to happen very often. We had an equally as big and tall Swiss man working there then. One cold rainy morning Harry was late coming for breakfast. Finally he burst in the door just steaming with anger. He couldn’t find the milk cows and was out in the rain all that time looking for them. He lit on Slim and said “You sitting there all nice and dry! You should be out helping me!” He was quite right and Slim said so and would have gone, but Percy took Harry in the other room and told him all about Slim. From then on, Harry just idolized Slim and Percy knew where to find those cows. There’s a little pocket in the hill below the house where they often hid and strangers couldn’t find them.
Another emotional one – although I think that Grandma’s reaction at the hospital was completely appropriate. I’m glad that times have changed enough that we can show some of these emotions. I’ve never heard/read these details of mom’s illness and time in the hospital and while it’s incredibly painful to read I’m grateful to Grandma for writing it down. On a different note, the “favourite sauce” at Christmas must be what is now called “Grandma’s special sauce” (which sounds more like devilish than it is – the extremely high calorie delicious spoonfuls of goodness that we no longer have to put on gross pudding or disgusting fruitcake and instead smother our gingerbread cookies or panettone with the sauce).
By now Marshall was going to Mount Royal College too, and he and Sheila would bring their new friends out to visit. For Christmas I cooked our usual oyster soup, roast turkey, and Christmas pudding with our favourite sauce. It was a big dinner but Margi insisted on eating it like we did. But she wasn’t able to get it down. She soon was becoming dehydrated again. We bought a big rubber boat hoping to fill it with warm water and try to give her underwater therapy in her bedroom. The hospital didn’t have that facility at that time and it was supposed to be good for polio victims. But we couldn’t get it to work. I used to see pictures of Mahatma Ghandi and shudder at the sight he was so thin – but by now Margi was worse than that, she weighed only 56 pounds. Clarence came to see her and was almost ill with the shock of seeing her. Dr. Price came to see her and decided to put her in the Holy Cross for a while. We hired three special nurses and were able to visit her whenever we wanted. They gave her one or two blood transfusions that seemed to put new life into her. Dr Price brought many of his colleagues to see her and we decided she was able to be back in the Red Cross Hospital where they had special equipment for treating those with paralyzed limbs. This time one nurse, Miss Homer, took her in hand and just about hypnotized her into into eating a bit and keeping it down. Gradually she was successful, and by the following summer Margi was getting a little physiotherapy. By now she was so rigid that the agony of her physiotherapy just doesn’t bear thinking about. Miss Olsen, her physiotherapist set her goals ruthlessly and just persisted until Margi could lift her arms. She still cannot lift them very high but just being able to move them was wonderful.
About a year later when I went in to visit her one day there was an air of excitement in the room and when the other mothers left, they asked me to wait a few minutes. Then Miss Olsen came in and said “Well Margi, are you ready to show her?” Even when the patients couldn’t move the nurses always put a dress on them and noted lay on the bed nicely dressed. This day they had put a back brace on under Margi’s dress and Mis Olsen lifted her off the bed and Margi was able to stand up by leaning against the high bed. It was the first time I had seen her stand up for well over a year and the shock or surprise was just too much for me. I crumbled up and cried when I should have shown such happiness. I have never in all my life been so ashamed of myself. Everyone was embarrassed but I think the children understood, each one in there had endured so much and they were all such wonderful characters. Margi was able to sit in a wheelchair then and go down to therapy instead of on a stretcher. She was taking her schooling by correspondence with the help of a wonderful volunteer teacher Mrs John’s. That year (1954?) they fitted her with a leg brace which was the worst and she learned how to walk with crutches. I spent hours down in the physiotherapy room learning all I could about it and Miss Olsen often came out and spent weekends with us teaching me more.
I’ve mentioned that talking about Mom’s years in the hospital was pretty much a taboo subject in our home. Reading this and some of the letters, I can understand why it was – it must have been incredibly traumatic for Mom not to mention the rest of her family. I can not imagine leaving my sick child at the hospital and not being able to go visit them. Grandma’s strength and faith just continues to blow me away. I always knew she was a fantastic woman but the more I learn about how she handled herself during challenging times the more in awe I am. And Mom – the strength she must have had to pull herself through these years -she was only 11 when she went into hospital.
We took her in to see Dr. Price early in the morning and he had us take her to the Holy Cross Hospital where they took a spinal test to confirm our fears. Dr. Price took us into an office to tell us he was very concerned about us having to receive such shocking news. But somehow the full force of the tragedy hadn’t reached me yet. We had to take her to the Isolation Hospital and they wouldn’t let me go in with her but asked me to wait on the steps for a while. Then they brought me all her clothes and the full force of it hit me. I broke down. We were not allowed to visit her but to get first hand information we would go down to the door and talk to her nurse. It seemed every time we went down there they were wheeling in another victim from an ambulance. It was a terrible epidemic. The government put out a call for more lung machines and they didn’t have enough. Margi said she will always remember the terrible noise of those big machines all night and all day pumping air into the people around her whose lungs were paralyzed. Margi was fortunate that she could breathe but her arms, legs, back and some of her abdomen muscles were paralyzed. She lay on her back without moving for well over a year. I lost track of time somehow. The government sent to Australia where they were more used to a polio epidemic and asked for skilled people to come and help advise us. One nursing sister who had worked with Sister Kenny in Australia came to the hospital and asked for me to meet her. She put a sterile gown on me and let me go in and visit Margi for a few minutes, then she walked with me to the door. She said she had given Margi a thorough muscle test and that it wold be much better if Margi would die right now because her back was so bad she would never even be able to sit in a wheelchair. And her stomach muscles were so bad she couldn’t keep her food down and she was too sick to stand the hot-pack treatment. The hot packs were strips of wool blanked put in hot water, wrung out then wrapped around paralyzed limbs. That was a famous cure of Sister Kenny, it kept the limbs from becoming rigid. The constant odour of hot wool packs was anything but pleasant but that didn’t matter. I told her I just couldn’t accept defeat yet, I still had plenty of faith and hope and felt she would improve if we could get her out of there. The allotted time for her quarantine came and I was so pleased to think I could visit her now. But there was a lot I had to learn. I had never heard of a closed hospital until then. Our own doctors were not allowed in the Red Cross Crippled Children’s Hospital, only as a visitor and if the parent was unable to visit. They had more rules and regulations in that hospital than the most fiendish mind could ever think up. As I later often said – “God never made laws like they had, they were just too unnatural.” Another thing that made it so hard for so many polio victims was that the hospital just wasn’t geared for very sick people, the children they were used to were healthy lively, but deformed ones.
Margi didn’t improve, she was just rapidly fading away and couldn’t keep anything in her stomach. We were allowed to visit her for about a half hour on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday if it was convenient for the staff. Finally we went to one of their leading doctors and told them she was so ill. He was quite surprised and got on the phone to confirm what I had said and was quite upset to think nothing had been done to keep her from becoming dehydrated. He ordered an intravenous immediately. She just lay there for months like that then, they could hardly find a new spot to put the intravenous needle in. People often told me you go into that hospital to visit and come out counting your blessings and that’s certainly true. There were so may very sad cases there. Christmas was coming and Margi still couldn’t’ keep any food down nor move at all. I asked the doctor if he thought a change of scene might help her. We would get a hospital bed, a nurse, and bring her home in an ambulance for Christmas. He said “You might as well she’s not going to get any better.” We brought her home for Christmas and it was so good to have her with us.