happiness

The True Spirit of Easter (FGK – 14)

Today I’m sharing a letter from mom’s cousin Lawrence. I didn’t know him really besides from stories. He and his family moved back to Alberta in my junior high years (so about 82-84), but unfortunately Lawrence passed away in 1986. My mom adored Lawrence, every time she told a story about him she lit up, I think he was one of the boys who allowed mom to be a Tom-boy and play with them. In fact, when mom told her version of the Firecracker story , his name was mixed up in it – I just can’t remember if she was trying to impress him or if he helped egg her on.

Box 58, Cochrane, Alberta

14, April, 1954

Dear Marg

Gosh this sure has been a busy day. In fact, it has been a busy week. We had tests sent out by the office, one on Social, one on Science, one on English and one on Math. I haven’t taken my science test yet and I don’t know what marks I have on my math test. I got 68% on English and 52% on Social Studies. My social was a little low and has been all year. I should have good marks on my math though. The test, although very long was seemingly easy.

It gives me test anxiety just to post his grades. Report card time was always a nail biter for me as my grades were usually less stellar than one would have wanted. Grades are an odd thing, when we are in school they are one of the most important things in our lives, when we are living our lives, they are pretty much forgotten.

I don’t know whether or not I told you that the grades one to five were doing an enterprise on Indians. Well, they are. We had a big celebration today. Everyone was dressed up with fancy Indian costumes and we even had make up to make us look like Indians. I borrowed a fancy outfit from the Indians worth about $175.00. It was beautifully beaded. O’Brien took our pictures and if they turn out all right I will send you some.

Say in my last letter I told you that pen pals letters were flowing in a constant stream, well today I got another. She is a girl from New Zealand who seems to be very interesting. Her birthday is on the very same date as Dave’s, May 27. She lives on a dairy farm where they milk 97 cows! She sent pictures and everything. However she stated that her mother had passed away about a week before she wrote. I’m sure sorry.

We are having our house painted at the present time. We are having our men working away on that.

Will you be home for Easter? I hope you will be. I might get to see you for the second time in two years! At the moment I haven’t to say more except to wish you a very happy Easter Marg. May you feel the true spirit of Easter.

As ever, Lawrence

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Aunt Nan goes to the stampede (FGK-13)

Mom used to talk fondly about her adopted grandparents who lived down the hill. She told me how she used to love going down and being spoiled rotten before they had grandchildren of their own. In my childhood, one of those grandchildren, then grown up, used to be so tolerant of me as I was constantly drawn to the creek and would come and help me out when I got myself caught up doing stupid things with my horse. Never once was I scolded, I was just helped out of my mess and sent on my way.

My dear Margie,

Although I don’t write very often I think of you a lot, especially last week. I hope you didn’t miss going to the Stampede. We went on Monday and I was bored all afternoon. I thought it wasn’t as good as usual and decided I wasn’t going again. The evening performance wasn’t as good as usual but I enjoyed the chuck wagon races, but I gut just as much and perhaps more over the radio the remainder of the week.

The exhibits were just the same old thing and the Midway was as smelly and noisy as ever.

I hope next year you will be able to be one of the crowd. I’m so glad you are progressing so well.

We are all complaining of the heat now. We are never satisfied are we?

We had Jean home two weeks ago and it rained each day. she didn’t even get to the ranch.

Uncle Jack is going out tomorrow, taking out a married couple. I guess having will be in full swing in a few days.

It doesn’t seem possible you’ve been in Hospital a year, but I guess it has been long to you, however the next one will pass more quickly.

Heaps of love from Aunt Nan.

Maybe the Stampede wasn’t all that that year, but I think perhaps Aunt Nan was trying to make mom feel better about missing out.

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A Letter from Aunt Ruth (FGK-12)

I was almost taken out by a bad cannoli Sunday night, so I skipped yesterday, but it gave me time to think about this time capsule I’ve discovered. I feel so blessed that it fell into my lap at this moment in time, it’s precisely what I need right now.

Today I’m sharing a letter from Aunt Ruth. She was my grandma’s sister, a fantastic artist, and mom always spoke so highly of her.

Dear Margie

Well how are you today? Fine I hope. We are all pretty good here. It’s trying to rain outside this morning so I’m afraid my clothes on the line are not going to get dried out very much. This rain will wash everything off though, the grass and flowers are just simply covered with dust.

We had a picnic on Olive’s birthday and took some snaps and at last we have our camera adjusted properly so they aren’t too bad. Aileen is holding Lloyd on her knee and Pat is standing up in front. The men and Gordie were all playing horseshoes so I didn’t get them in, however you will be able to see the two wee ones. The one of Gordie holding Lloyd isn’t too bad is it? Also Marion Beatly and her little brother isn’t too bad either. Also, Marion says she wishes she had her hair curled.

Yesterday we all went up to the Brooks place, it’s almost 17 miles west up past Helen McDonald’s road away in the bush. My I did enjoy the drive and it’s just like a park about there. I’ll try and give you a little bird’s eye view of it. They took us all through each of their homes and they were so neat and clean and nicely furnished. They all burn sawdust up there as you know they make their living with a saw mill.

Aunt Ruth’s birds eye view for mom

Well Margie, Dorthy and Bill Anderson are being married on Wednesday so things are pretty busy in town these days. Aileen had a shower for Dorthy in the hall and she really did get a nice lot of things. They are having a dance in the hall after the wedding for everyone who wants to go so think we may go.

Your mother tells me you have last week’s Star weekly so I won’t bother to mail it to you. What do you think of Edith’s picture on the front page? I think she is much better looking than that don’t you?

As luck would have it, this article fell out of a bag of newspaper clippings a couple of weeks ago. I believe it’s what Aunt Ruth is referring to. It was published in the Herald July 8, 1953. Mom would have been in hospital 11 months by this time.

We still don’t know whether they are going to open the schools on Sept. 1st. There seems to be so much Polio around.

All the kids have the horseshoe craze around here now and so far Gordie is the champion but he gets more practice because he plays with the men up at Claude’s. Even the girls are trying it. We also have a tennis court kind of lined up out here and they play ping pong rules.

Sure be glad when you can come in and see us again Margie.

I hear you have had Wes P____ up there to see you, you really do get to see all the celebrities.

I couldn’t make out his full name, but he must have been a local celebrity.

Well Margie dear, I must go now and if you still want the Star weekly Aug 22 we will send it along if you drop me a card to let me know.

Lots of love from us all and especially from me

Aunt Ruth.

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Long Distance Parenting (FGK- 11)

The second part of this letter from Grandma to mom. This is September 1952, mom had been in the hospital for about 3 weeks. I love how Grandma includes mom in daily life at the ranch, describing things so well that even I feel that I am there. And the gentle reminder to mom about her compresses and ensuring that her caregivers remember to be gentle and attentive to her needs, so subtly done in a way that probably was soothing to mom.

Tues Morning.

The men all took lunches today and they are going to finish the haying, it is a lonely morning. Marsh and Ken just ran the binder so Marsh is always getting after poor Slim for being so slow with the haying. Delores and the kids were just in, Delores wanted some certo to make jam with.

We haven’t heard a word about how the Cochrane Rodeo went, everything is sure quiet here. I told Sheila she better jump in the car after diner and got up and spend the afternoon with Anne and Rosie. Sheila is sure lonesome for you and everyone is finding life dull. I daren’t even think about this empty house after the kids go in to school. However, I am lucky I can see you twice a week and I can look forward to the day you can come home. But you will find it terribly lonely here after being in there. There is so much going on in there all the time and someone around you all the time. I think that whole hospital has an air of happiness about it except sometimes Mrs. Hope looks worried and distressed. I think she is overworked don’t you? Well, I must get busy, I’ll write some more after a while – cherio xxxx

When mom was sick and had started her chemo, she talked a lot about looking for the silver lining in everything. I see those words here too. I would be more likely to be devastated that I could only see my 11 year old twice a week, but Grandma makes it sound like it’s the icing on her cake (and for those of you who remember, Grandma made the BEST icing). If I was Mrs. Hope I’d be worried and distressed looking after so many sick children too, but Grandma doesn’t dwell on that, instead she shines a light on the happiness of the hospital. Words are important, they can change how we perceive a situation, and Grandma seems to always look for the lining.

2pm

Dear Margie:

Do you miss Mrs. Powers very much? Every time the nurse brings the compresses be sure to remind them to be careful how they place those sandbags against your ankle or leg. Keep on telling them ‘cause they are so rushed they are apt to become careless and it is really important.

I should be baking a pie for tomorrow lunch but it’s hard not to write to you, you are so near and dear to me, I miss you terribly, but writing is next best to talking to you only i don’t get answers to all my questions.

I think Sheila must have gone up to Annies. You would have come in and said goodbye etc, but Sheila is so silent sometimes, I long for your company.

I had such a laugh about the comment regarding my aunt. At this time, she would have been about 17, and for some reason it made me deliciously happy to read that she was a normal teenager – holding the surly silence of a teen and escaping over to her aunt’s for a visit without saying anything (Aunt Annie lived in the old house, so she was just across the yard – definitely within yelling distance).

Dad came in for dinner time to say they broke the bailer just when they only had about 3 acres left to do. He doesn’t know whether he can fix it himself or not.

I am making buns so I must stop writing soon again. I sure have a stack of mending I should do too.

And she says that it would be boring at home. Grandma sounds like she never stopped except to sleep, or maybe to write to mom. And while they weren’t having constant parties, I can assure you that they all had a more active social life with people who really mattered to them than I do now.

I notice Rex out snooping around the bailer in front of the garage while Dad is working on it. He is sure getting big and rough now. He wants me to play with him like you did and he nearly knocks me over. I noticed Lady and her colt down on the flat across the creek this morning. You could see quite a change in the country now. We have had two severe frosts and everything is turning brown fast. The peas all froze in the garden, we only had one feed of string beans. It just seems as though school should be starting, it is in the air I guess.

Well I must get to work again I guess, the frig is melting and will need cleaning this afternoon too. Will write more later – love mom

Wed. Morning

Dear Margie – I was too tired to write more last night and I am a rush to get in and shop this morning before the stores close. I am sure looking forward to seeing you. Will write more to you tonight.

Lots and lots of love dear

Mother xxxxxx

I am so grateful I found these letters, I feel like Grandma and Mom’s stories are coming alive in this kitchen.

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Crazy driving, constant hope, and tea time (FGK-9)

Based on the timeline given in the previous post, which you can find Here, mom had been in the hospital for 3 weeks when Grandma wrote this letter:

September 1st 1952

Dearest Margie:

I have thought of you constantly all day but you won’t get a letter today from me, there just seemed no way to get one in to you. Dad and Slim and I came home from Calgary right after seeing you yesterday and we met a car right by the slough at Edges and it side-swiped us and burst our rear bumper. Boy! Was Dad ever mad. It was a car from our oil well and they were coming so fast we were really frightened so Dad pulled as far into the ditch as he dared to. We met the same car one Sunday when you were in Isolation and it nearly put us in the ditch that time too, and it tossed a rock up that hit our windshield and put another crack in it. We told him about it too and in no uncertain terms. His car was badly dented and scratched though. We had a miserable little cup of tea with cheese and crackers when we got home, then Dad did the chickens while I got a bit of supper and Slim helped the Ecklund’s milk. Then we got ready and went to church – picked Sheila and Marshall up first at Aunt Ruths.

I loved this story. I can imagine grandma and grandpa in this moment, but I also think of all the times white knuckling it in the passenger seat while grandma drove us somewhere. Or of my favourite driving story about her occurred probably in the early 80s. She was driving home to the ranch from Cochrane on the 1A when a car started following closely behind her. She sped up, the car sped up. She slowed down, they slowed down. Finally she hit the pedal to the medal and shot out of there only to see flashing lights in her rear view mirror. When the officer came to her window what he got was a lot of trouble “How dare you scare an old lady like that, what were you thinking following me?” She got an apology instead of a ticket.

And, there’s the little comment “we had a miserable little cup of tea with cheese and crackers when we got home” which may sound like it was no big deal, but knowing grandma it was a BIG deal. Teatime was something you didn’t mess with in this house, and there was usually something sweet. I remember when Grandma was in her 80s she fell and broke her arm. I was in emergency with her while they were doing X-rays and assessing her. The doctors and staff were quite concerned about her break, but Grandma was livid because it was tea time and what she really needed was a cup of tea. I remember her trying to explain to the doctor that if he’d just stop and leave her be for a minute so she could go out and get a cup of tea, everything would be just fine. They wouldn’t let her go, but I ran out and got her one, and it really did seem to make things better for her. In fact, in my family growing up, and now with my own family, whenever anything even remotely stressful happens, the first thing we do is make tea.

There sure wasn’t many at church, only 24 counting the minster, and he preached a good sermon too. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ed took the kids for a drive while we were in to see you. They were sure scared of his driving but enjoyed it otherwise. I think they went up to where the Cochrane Rodeo was to be held. We came straight home from church, I felt kind of sick – headache etc. But woke up feeling fine today. It is nearly 10 pm now so I’m really tired. We did a big washing today. Just after we got the lunches put up and got started with the washing. Uncle Clarence and Donnie came long. They stayed drinking coffee for hours. Donnie didn’t get into much mischief though, just let the hose on my washing machine down once and let the water run out it a while before Sheila caught him.

Dad was away measuring hay and Clarence just left and we cleared the table when Dad brought Dave Bryant and Mr. Fox in for coffee and they stayed until 15 to 12 o’clock. Then we really had to hustle and didn’t affect anyone only Dad for dinner but Rose (Reese??) and Slim came in too. However we finally got through washing and doing dishes and I wrote 11 thank-you letters and cards for you while Sheila ironed clothes.

I phoned Mrs. Hope today to see how you are and she said you are just getting along fine without Mrs. Powers. I was pleased to hear that, and Mrs. Hope was very nice, she explained why you had to have the penicillin etc. She said your kidneys needed it, your innards get so sluggish when you are so inactive and the penicillin is just a precaution, she thinks you won’t need much of it ‘cause she said you are rally doing exceptionally well now. I hope you get a little sleep now int he day time too. You must be very tired of all that mess of compresses but try and stand it for a little longer, it will be worth it to be cured.

I thought it was really sweet how Grandma explained to mom what the nurse (I assume?) told her about mom’s health. Mom was only 11 and all alone in the hospital and it probably meant a lot to know that her mom was checking up on how she was, and then to have her mom explain to her what was going on.

It will be worth it to be cured. Forceful hope is a what I see throughout these letters. Words are powerful, and whenever Grandma talks about mom getting better, she never allows for anything but constant hope and positive thinking about how that’s going to happen.

I am terribly tired tonight so I must go to bed now, I’ll write you some more tomorrow and I’ll be in to see you on Wednesday. Lots of love Dear – Mom xxx

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1952 – A timeline (FGK-8)

I have a letter written by Grandma to Mom in the isolation hospital dated September 1, 1952 that is 5 pages long. I’ll share parts of it as we move ahead, but at the end of her letter, Grandma included a timeline of the days before Mom was admitted into the isolation hospital and told her that she could stick it her diary if she’d like.

Throughout this project I want to be as culturally sensitive as possible while remaining historically accurate. I am including the more outdated term “Indian” although we now generally use the term First Nations. The stories I was always told were that Grandma and Grandpa built and maintained good relationships with our Morley neighbours to the west and I want to honour that. But our terminology has changed and I think my grandparents would also want to be respectful and culturally sensitive.

1952

July – Friday 25th – a young neighbour took sick

Saturday 26th – show in Cochrane

Sunday 27th – we went to church

Monday 28th – we went to Cochrane, you stayed in

Tuesday 29th —-

Wednesday 30th – took Indians to town (Cochrane) and brought you home – tired. You went to bed for your supper

July 31st – Went to show in Calgary with Dad

August 2nd – Saturday – went to show in Cochrane

3rd picnic at Morley. 4th —— 5th ——-

August 6 – Wednesday night – took Vera over to Margs – you were feeling sick – Sheila made you lie on chesterfield and covered you with the green rug.

August 7th – you ate a good breakfast – the last I cooked for you – toast eggs etc. But you stayed in bed all day and felt pretty miserable. was very sick at night.

August 8. Went in to Dr. and was very sick – went to Isolation Hospital

The timeline has never been very clear for me, I found this quite interesting to see how the last couple of weeks went for mom before she was admitted to hospital. How scary it must have been, and how the virus seemed to be a roll of the dice as to who was going to be sick and who would remain healthy.

I have to admit that reading this made me tear up a little. Honestly, most of the letters are painfully beautiful to read. But here, as Grandma was laying out the last bit of time that they had with mom when things were “normal”, it just made me so sad for Grandma. Much as mom never complained about things, I never once heard grandma say a bad word about anything that happened during this time. But as a mom it must have been absolutely heart wrenching.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of this letter from Grandma to mom.

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Driving and Stanford (FGK- 7)

Dad and Grandma talk about how mom got licensed to drive. Mom had to use her left leg to drive as she had no controlled mobility with her right. The sheer determination of mom and my grandparents for her to have as normal a life as possible is amazing.

Then she wanted to get a job and she took – a friend of ours who had a home oil company said we need a girl – a receptionist – at the front of the office and we’d love to have her there. And we thought, well she could live at home if she could drive a car and go in. And so she tried to take, she took drivers lessons, the whole course. And then the night before she was to have her final test the gentleman phoned me and said that she’d done very well but they couldn’t possibly recommend her to drive. And I was feeling quite furious. To let her take the whole course and then not let her have her test. And he said well we’ll test her, but I want to tell you that I doubt that she’ll pass the test. And so Margie was just furious. So she went in early in the morning for her test and she said I’ll put him through the windshield when he tells me to stop (haha). And show him. And so she did, and she got her license to drive.

And we got her a nice car and she worked as a receptionist and also she took a business course. And typing.

Dad: is that where she learned shorthand?

Grandma: I don’t know that she knows shorthand

Dad: no she does

G: that’s where she learned it then

My memory -I’m getting too old. I should have done this a long time ago. anyway she got that and it has helped her all her life having that business course. It was to one side kind of.

Then when she completed that business course, while she was working there was when she took it. She decided she’d like to go away to university. And she wanted nothing but the best so she wrote to Stanford University in the America and put her application in there.

When I was a kid, like under the age of 12, we often had Pony Club on Wednesday nights which meant Dad (who was deathly allergic to horses) was still at work when we needed to get out to the ranch to catch and load horses, so it was mom who took us. She’d drive out in our old Jeep and wait for my sister and I while we caught our ponies and got them ready for the trailer. Together we’d line up the Jeep and trailer and I’d guide her back and hook it up. Once the horses were loaded, mom drove us to Pony Club where we’d get our horses ready for our lessons.

I remember driving through Cochrane, which only had the one 4 way stop at the time, and she’d start hitting the gas as we sped on the 1A towards the bottom of Cochrane Hill because if we weren’t going for broke before we started the climb, the poor Jeep could barely make it up the hill.

There are also stores of mom racing around Europe in the little car she got the semester she studied in France.

I can’t imagine how cross she would have been at the thought of not being able to pass her test, but I know the determination she would have brought to that exam. I mean, really, the best way to ensure mom would do something was to tell her she couldn’t – and clearly Grandma was the same way.

The tape ends with mom heading off to Stanford. It ends suddenly, and I remembered that my attempts to stop mom from coming over to see what was going on failed. She never found out about the interview, but dad never got to complete it either.

However, I have the letters still to go through. I wish I had mom’s responses – and maybe they’re hidden in a box here too, Grandma kept everything.

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Home for Christmas and School (FGK-6)

Grandma talks of how she went to the hospital asking if mom could come home for Christmas.

The physiotherapist who was there, worked on her, lifted her arms and worked on her, exercised her and everything. But for 2 Christmases I would go to the doctor who was in the hospital and ask him if I could have Margie come home for Christmas dinner, I’d get a nurse to come with me look after her, and bring her in an ambulance, do everything that he would recommend if she’d be allowed to come home for Christmas dinner. He said, well she might as well she’s not going to live anyway don’t you know. That’s two years we did that.

This is the second time Grandma mentions that she was told by a doctor that mom was going to die, and the second time Grandma says that she just went ahead and did what she believed was best for mom and for her health. I should add here that mom said to me several times when I was a kid how hard grandma and grandpa worked to establish a good relationship with the hospital staff. Aside from it being what they believed was the right thing to do, they believed that if everyone who worked there knew that mom was a loved somebody, that she had people who cared for her dearly and who were really invested in her getting better, that she’d get better care. Particularly since they were only able to go in and see her twice a week for an hour. Mom was still a kid, to leave her in the constant care of strangers took an immense amount of trust and faith. This is a lesson that was well taught in my family and that I’ve passed onto my kids with this same story. Be kind to those who are looking after somebody who you love because not only is it the right thing to do, but it helps your loved one be better cared for. It is a rule that has seldom failed me.

Years went on, what a long time she was in there. The teachers that taught the children in that hospital were really something. She was smart and got a good education. After many years in the hospital she came out of there.

Then we got correspondence from the government and we did 2 years here at home and it was so lonely. She was young too then, and sit and study here at home in a busy household here it was. It was pretty lonely for her to be studying off in her room, not seeing other people her age.

Percy had, before we brought her home, he built a lovely physiotherapy table in her bedroom and I found out she was taking oh I hope I can remember the times correctly, the number, it was so long ago, I wish I had done this then, written it down or something. but the arms, and the legs, I think each one 30 times or 15 minutes a time. I exercised them. And we had weights on pulleys and for weights we had old fashioned irons that i used before we got electricity things like that I used for weights on pulleys and she could do that with my help. She gradually kept up her strength in her arms and her legs and several different methods they taught me. I took a light physiotherapy course before we brought her home so that I could exercise her. And it was quite a complicated physiotherapy table Percy built, quite well done and I think it’s still upstairs in that garage and all the pulleys and weights I used were old pieces of hand irons, or horseshoes or anything for different weights. And she just worked so hard, twice a day each one was done 15 times. And quite a few exercises, I can’t remember them now I suppose Margie could.

Anyway, then she had to study her school work herself from the correspondence teacher and it was a lonely life because I was busy in the kitchen we had quite a crew of men to cook for. So she did alright though, she worked steady and hard at her schoolwork.

After a couple of years of keeping close touch with the doctors and Physio and that, Margie began to use crutches and get around a little bit in the house. We had, my kitchen was three steps below the rest of the dining room so that was a dangerous thing so we built a new kitchen that was level with the rest of the house then too so that was nice. So it was just getting a very lonely life for her I thought for her, and she did too but she never complained. And when winter came it was too dangerous for her getting around with her crutches and so I wondered (oh here she comes, she won’t approve of this… is she coming????) i wondered if I could find a school in a warmer climate not too far away from home, and I found a little school in Florida. Daytona Beach /Florida with no steps because she couldn’t go up steps with, she wasn’t far enough advanced with her crutches and exercises. And we found a little school with no steps and I found a place where she could board and she went 2 years then. In her high school. She graduated from grade 12 with honours from that little school. In fact they put a plaque up outside the school honouring her for the gallant attempts she made and how well she did. I was very proud of her. That was 2 years I think, might have been 3, but I think it was 2. And she got through grade 12.

A few things happened here. We get the story of how Grandma’s kitchen came to be. I have tried to imagine how the lean to kitchen looked for years, but I’ve never seen a photo of it, and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I was told that one time mom was walking on her crutches into the old kitchen and fell going down the stairs. Grandma said that was it and the new kitchen was built. She really maximized on that, as this kitchen is a beautiful big space, and the room in the house where family always seems to gather.

Secondly, grandma talks of finding a school in Florida for mom. When I heard this, I thought of how challenging that would be in modern times with the internet – ensuring that the school had all of the physical accommodations that mom needed, and that she was in a place where she would be well cared for. And then, in the 1950s, to send your kid away to school in Florida was like sending your kid to the moon now (well, not quite but almost).

Finally, there was a moment where Grandma thought she heard mom coming. This is when I realized that I’d been in the room while they interviewed, because I remembered being sent off to divert mom from coming over. Grandma was right, she would have been upset. The years were so full of pain and trauma for mom there was an unspoken agreement between us all that we would never speak of them. Honestly, I’ve struggled with how mom would feel about me speaking about it now, but a few things have happened recently that makes me think she’d be ok with it. Mom didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her, and she didn’t want to have to go back and sit in that pain (I wouldn’t either). But, mom, and her whole family, has this incredible story of courage and love and faith. and I consider it to be an incredible honour that I am telling that story for her.

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Day by day (FGK-5)

And so we are back to the time mom spent in the hospital. The timing here has been interesting because I’m listening to this tape while I’ve found all of the letters that were sent to mom while she was in the hospital.

Every letter and card has been kept in boxes and I’m pretty sure not looked at since mom left the hospital. But I remember her saying what a treasure they were to her while she was there as they were a steady contact to the outside world.

I actually found the hospital rules stapled together in a blue covered booklet titled Alberta Red Cross Crippled Children’s Hospital: Booklet for Parents

From the first page: The children who are patients at the hospital are those with orthopaedic disabilities whose parents cannot afford the prolonged hospitalization and medical care that serious orthopaedic disabilities demand; as well as those children with orthopaedic disabilities who cannot be adequately treated in any other hospital.

Grandma talks about when mom was transferred to the children’s hospital:

After a long long time, I can’t remember how long. She couldn’t move her arms or anything. they put her in the children’s hospital. I was allowed to see her for a half an hour twice a week.

Can you imagine? A half hour twice a week. The pamphlet says: Visiting hours are twice a week , from 2:30 to 3:30 pm each Wednesday and Sunday parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters over 16 years of age are admitted. Grandma wrote in a letter that she’d shown up 2 minutes late and had been turned away because rules are rules.

Below is the introductory letter that must have come with the blue rule book. When I read this stuff, I often wonder how my grandparents didn’t come completely undone. As a parent myself now I can’t even imagine how gut wrenching this process must have been.

Mom was always pretty strict about her routines, and I’m guessing it came from this time. What struck me though was the line “Your child will be dressed every day to give him a feeling of ordinary living”. I completely understand it, and support it as it was probably the best thing they could do, but it’s a bit surreal to imagine trying to feel like you were living an ordinary life in the hospital during this time.
From what I’ve gathered, mom was having a really hard time eating at this time. I loved that they included candy, with the understanding that it is a special treat. But I was raised in a house where we were taught that gum was gross and not really allowed in the house (I have the same rule now) so the idea of gum making people in the laundry room frantic was something I could relate to.

I thought it was interesting that there was an emphasis on building the whole child. Think of what formative years these are for kids, and how much would have been missed by being in the hospital. When I saw that they had a library with over 2000 books I immediately thought of mom. But, as grandma mentioned that mom couldn’t even move her arms when she was moved there it’s unlikely that she was able to read anything unless there was someone there to read to her.

Every effort is made to give your child a normal, full and satisfying life. At first I kind of brushed this off. But you know, mom did go on to live a full and satisfying life. As for normal, from grandma’s stories it doesn’t sound like mom was ever a “normal” child, but she did learn to embrace the new normal that had been given to her and absolutely made the best of it.

Bloom where you are planted is a staying that has guided me, and I think mom embodies this phrase.

The tape is almost over. I am guessing it’s been about 30 years since dad and grandma recorded it – which apparently is just enough time for me to have forgotten that I also was sitting in the kitchen when this interview took place.

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happiness

Horses, school, and firecrackers (FGKk-4)

When I was a kid and I heard stories about my mom and her siblings riding their horses to school I was so jealous. It didn’t matter how many times mom clearly explained to me that they rode up hill in -30C blizzards both ways, or that the school house was frozen solid in the morning, all I heard was “horses”. Now that I’m older and a little wiser I have a lot more appreciation for the cold winter mornings when dad drove me to school (although I have my own hardship stories of walking to school in freezing temperatures uphill both ways to share with my kids).

When it was time for mom to start school, Grandma said they were a bit nervous because mom hadn’t been riding much by that point (she was 5) but knowing that she had her older siblings to look out for her, and their wonderful old saddle horse Buck to babysit her she felt relatively secure about sending mom off.

One morning in the summer before mom started school they got her on Old Buck (I never heard him referred to as just “Buck”) so that mom could practice riding around the yard while Grandma sat in the sun porch and did some sewing. Mom was slowly getting more confident and at one point yelled at grandma to look out so she could watch her trot.

She rode right up to the window and was yelling about how she could ride. Somebody must have rode by or the horses walked out in the field by there, that was it. And old Buck, he shook himself and sneezed and then whinnied away. When he shook himself it nearly took Margie to the ground and she was terrified she hung on for dear life. He never moved but he was shaking his head and looking at the other horses and that almost discouraged her from riding. She didn’t get off, she kept on, she wasn’t quite so smart. And so she rode Buck to school when she was old enough to go to school with the other two kids. Right across the creek, up the hill, I forget how many gates they had to go through to get to school. Marshall was at an age where he was into things too.

And then she digresses into a couple of stories about my uncle chasing off magpies and having a nasty fall in the half frozen corral. Gosh I wish I had known them all as kids.

Like a typical sibling relationship, mom wanted to hang out with the older kids and the older kids wanted her to hang out with her own age group. But she made friends with a girl her age who, according to this story, struggled with arithmetic (I completely relate). Their teacher at the time was a man who had been a Sargent in the army and he was rather strict:

He was teaching grade 1 then, arithmetic and Margie got it quite easily and the other little girl could not do it. He had more patience, he just kept going over and over and over. Finally he lost his patience and Margie was sitting behind the little girl, and he finally lost his patience I don’t know what he said but he just threw his arms in the air and swung around to face the blackboard and threw the chalk at the blackboard. And just as he did that, Margie had swiped out of Marshall’s pockets a firecracker and some matches – she was only in grade 1. I didn’t know they had them even. And she lit it and threw it down on the floor just as he shouted that he gave up and he nearly jumped out of his skin. And after preaching about the bombs going off, the rest of the school were just terrified

Dad laughs

Just awful. Oh but Marshall he was so mad at Margie

Dad: wished he’d done it himself

Grandma: well he was mad because she’d swiped his …. they were precious (dad: his firecracker) yeah, and they weren’t supposed to have them. I forget all the details but that was he was mad about, but they were all shook up because at the school that was very loud. He had a hard time surviving after that I think but there was never a dull moment much when she was around.

I’ve heard both the firecracker and chalk throwing story before, but never from Grandma’s perspective. In mom’s story she said the teacher said “I should throw a firecracker under your chair to get you to work” and since she had them…. well… they kind of were put to use. The version of the chalk throwing story I got was that the chalk was aimed towards the class not the chalkboard, but no matter how this story is told it never ceases to make me laugh.

I remember mom telling me that if any one of the three of them did the least little thing “wrong” at school, as soon as the day was over there was a mass rush to bolt out of the classroom and be the first one home to tell grandma what had happened. The fear was that if you didn’t get your story out first, she wouldn’t believe it. But the one “riding to school story” that I’ve always had mad respect for was when my uncle tied his toboggan to his horse and took it to school so they could sled. Part of me has always thought that being on that toboggan would be the ride of a lifetime. And as someone who has been dragged in a a calving sled behind a quad by my uncle I still believe this to be true. Like I said, I sure wish I had known this trio when they were kids.

Then Marshall got a new horse. We went up to Johnson’s and he had some lovely horses, they had show horses and other kinds. And he picked a lovely little horse for Marshall, wasn’t too small. Marshall figured he needed a new horse. One day, I always watched out the window and could see them from the time they emerged from the bush out in the field, and then they followed the road down to the gate -they had a lot of gates. Margie had persuaded Marshall to let her try riding that horse of his and after riding Old Buck she hadn’t practiced handling a horse too much because Buck knew what to do more than she did. I looked out the window thinking it was just about time they were coming out of the bush about a mile away. And this black streak came out of the bush and headed way off over to the corner where the gate was to get through. And I was frightened, I wondered what in the world had happened, wondered if they were dragging a stirrup of something. Margie had persuaded Marshall to let her ride his horse and the horse knew he had somebody pretty green and he just had a real good run after standing tied to a tree all day that was just what he wanted to do. It was horrifying watching it. I could see the whole show from my window. No wonder my hair is getting white.

The kids could tell more stories about that little school there. But it was good training in its own way. You learned a great many things that you wouldn’t learn in the city schools. All through Margie’s life she went through the good things so vigorously. She would be very tired at night.

The story changes now to to the time when things changed out here forever. I’ve really enjoyed the “before polio” stories, I feel like it’s given me a stronger sense of mom’s adventurous side before she got sick. I haven’t listened to any more of the tape, so what happens next will be a surprise to me as well, but I know that we are in the polio stage of things.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as sad and traumatizing these years are that are coming ahead in mom’s story, they also are ones of faith, strength, grace, and courage. It took a lot, not just for mom but for her entire family to decide that she was going to learn to thrive in extremely adverse circumstances. It’s a story of hardship and pain, but it’s also a story of love and faith.

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