How fantastic is this first photo? I know I’ve seen it in other publications, and probably read the story behind it, but I’d forgotten until my uncle told it again at Christmas. Margy Buckley – the only person left standing during the 1918 flu pandemic. There she is out feeding cows and looking more stylish than I will look at any point today.
Today marks 4 years since mom passed. I started sharing these stories last year in the hopes that I would get to understand her better, to know who she really was. I’m not sure I found what I was originally looking for, but this process has helped me in ways I never could have imagined. I was still feeling pretty broken in my own life from the challenges of recent years and I was seeking guidance and support, although I didn’t know that at the time. I think I have a better understanding of the strength and courage the entire family had to get through what they were faced with . Polio didn’t just impact mom, but her entire family. And the faith Grandma carried, the grace and humility she showed in her letters and memories have left me with gratitude for the incredibly strong line of women that I come from. The letters helped me see how Grandma was held steady by her faith in God during what must have been an unbelievably challenging time. It’s one thing reading the letters on this side of history – knowing that mom survived and knowing how things turned out. But at the time…. There would have been no way to know, no guarantees, and everything was just blind faith. As someone who really struggles with trusting that God has my back even when I can’t see it – this has been very comforting.
Look at how dressed up Grandma and Grandpa got to go visit mom at the hospital! And the garden in the background!! I remember as a kid playing with the snapdragons in this flower garden. It’s gone now, and there’s a deck near here – but I really miss the flowers growing along the side of the house. Grandma really had a green thumb.
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.
Then by 1947 to the 50s, Margi became quite a good little rider and Clarence gave her a black saddle mare to ride to school if she would let him have Buck for his small fry to start on. Marshall had bought a beautiful little thoroughbred from Laurie Johnson named “Daphne” and Sheila had a fine looking thoroughbred named “Sleepy”. Sheila went to Mount Royal College in 1950. In the spring of 1952 Margi’s mare had a colt so she often rode Daphne to school, and what a lively ride that was as Daphne dearly loved to run. Lorraine Kumlin started Jumping Pound School in 1951 and she tried to ride a very mean horse which no one could ride, and she was just a tiny tot just starting school. Clarence let her ride faithful old Buck. One morning Buck died of a heart attack right at the school gate. Everyone felt they had lost a loyal friend, especially Lorraine and Margi.
All that summer of ‘52 Margi would be sitting on the top of the corral at 6am to see her mare and cute little colt when the men ran the horses in for the haying job. She put in a long day without rest after that. In August she spent a few days in Cochrane with my sister and was very active in there, trying to learn to ride Gordon’s bike. There was no way you could make her take a rest even though we warned her about the epidemic of polio that was raging through the country at that time and she was intelligent enough to be very concerned about it. Then on August 22, 1952 she became very ill and I was almost certain before the night had passed that she had polio. There seemed so little I could do, the doctor said to wait until morning and then bring her in. I have always been thankful to both my parents for the sound religious training they gave me, especially my mother. It gave me strength to bear that night and the severe test of my faith in the following years. Little quotations from the Bible kept coming to my rescue: “Have faith as a grain of mustard seed”, “God can move mountains”, “Lo, I am with you always”, and through it all “Thy will not mine be done”. That quotation took all my strength and faith to believe in, believing in a loving Father who would not willingly hurt His child. And I had to keep Margi’s faith strong too, through these years. Perhaps my greatest strength came from knowing we had the prayers of all our community and friends and relatives everywhere, backing us up and again another quotation “Where one or two are gathered in my name”. How thankful I am now to each one of you because this story does have a happy ending.
I wish mom had written about her time in the hospital, but I think the whole thing was so traumatic for her that she didn’t even want to talk about her experiences. It certainly was a taboo subject in our house, so much so that it took 70 years – including 3 after mom passed away before these experiences could be discussed. I’m assuming Aunt Annie baked mom dog shaped cookies, not that she had some poor pup whose ears she would chomp on during challenging emotional times, but one never knows haha…
6th Nov. 1952
My dear Margie,
I do hope you’ll feel like eating these cookies and that it is all right for you to have them. I thought you could at least chew the dog’s ear off when you feel a little blue and let down. It might give you great satisfaction. I am sure the pup won’t mind.
I hear you have Mrs. Brown for a nurse. I think she would be very lovely to have around when a fellow isn’t just up to scratch. Please give her my kindest regards. We used to bowl in the same league but she could bowl just about twice as good as I could.
Wee Clarence David is creeping all over the place. You’ll see a big change in him from the time you saw him last spring. He likes getting into my cupboards and he just loves tearing up the papers and magazines around the place.
You’ll be able to write a book about your experience in the hospital when you get home. I am sure you’ll be having lots of different experiences and meeting new people. Nobody will be able to tell you anything you don’t know about the hospital. I am looking forward to hearing all about it.
I guess I had better close for now.
With love and good eating, Aunt Annie
Everything about this letter cracks me up. I love that they had a meeting and made a motion to write a thank you letter, I love even more that this appears to actually be the thank you letter. I’ve never heard of the Woodland Club, and this is the first time it has come up in these letters. Anyone?
At a meeting of the Woodland Club on March 21st, the following motion was unanimously passed: moved by Lynn, seconded by Raymond, that we send a note of thanks to Margie Copithorne for the lovely box of chocolates sent to use on Valentine’s Day. The motion was carried with hearty applause.
Sec. John Sibbald
Pres. Jim Bateman
I really wish we had mom’s letter back to this man, and kind of wish that he’d sent more letters – he sounds like quite the character. The first letter was more of a note, written on a torn green piece of paper. For perspective on time, 1908 was the year my grandma was born, and my grandpa would have been 9 at the time.
I wonder if you are related to a Copithorne family who I knew in 1908-1910.
They lived in the Jumping Pound just north of Bateman’s Post Office. I was working for Mr. Byron at the time. He lived just south of the Post Office. I drove the mail occasionally between Jumping Pound and Calgary.
I expect since oil came the ranching country has changed.
Let me know re the family.
Very truly yours
Leo L Piercy
I was in Holy Cross Hospital Calgary about 1911
This is his second letter, presumably in response to the one mom wrote to him.
My dear Margaret
It was nice of you to answer my letter in such an interesting manner. Jumping Pound indeed must have changed sine I knew it. I drove the mail at times for Bateman – with horses of course. One day he gave me a team of broncs. Try as I would, I reached Calgary ahead of schedule. The Post Office refused to accept the mail. My horses wouldn’t stand. I drove to the Pacific livery barn on 8th ave and 4th (?), could attract no one’s attention so had to unhitch myself and put the horses in. I did not take long, but on my return my precious mail bags were gone. I was distraught, in panic, expecting to be sent across the line.
Just before mail time, a man sauntered up with “are you looking for mail bags? They are under the pile of hay.” The joke was on me. Best wishes for a speedy recovery
Leo L Piercy