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Raising a Family

Tom and Mary Wood farmed in Mentmore for eight years. In 1918 they moved to 2-14-17 in Cordova, the farm that became the family home until they retired early in the 1950s.

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The Wood family home (2-14-17) in Cordova district, Manitoba

Before her first wedding anniversary she gave birth to her first son, Arnold Austin Wood. Three more sons, Cecil, Johnny and Arthur, followed in quick succession. Then, in July 1920 she gave birth to twins: George and Gladys, my mother. They arrived prematurely and were born on the farm.

Grandma was very ill afterward, unable to leave her bed for nearly four months. The doctor warned her that another pregnancy could cost her her life and that she should have no more children. He advised an abortion if she got pregnant again. He gave no information about preventing a pregnancy (something that would have been illegal at the time.) Perhaps the doctor assumed she would simply abstain from marital relations. So just a year and a half later, Muriel was born and the doctor warned again that any pregnancy would be very high risk.

It appeared that Grandma had given serious thought to an abortion, but having no means of acquiring good information, thought it should be done fairly late rather than as early as possible in the pregancy. She delayed too long. The following year, armed with better information, she did terminate a pregnancy. She was also told she would likely not have another child for several years, and this also proved to be the case. Her last child, Lucille, was born in 1930. Grandma was now 41 years old.

The Wood family, 1923Only Grandma's oldest (Grace) and youngest (Lucille) daughters are not in this photo.L toR

The Wood family, 1923
Only Grandma’s oldest (Grace) and youngest (Lucille) daughters are not in this photo.
Back row L to R: Cecil, Grandma, Johnny, Arnold, Granddad, Arthur. Standing in front L to R: Gladys, Muriel, George

However, she did participate in raising still one more child: her granddaughter Rosanne, who was born in January 1942. Muriel had been working away from home and had returned, unmarried and pregnant and (perhaps because of her mother’s experience) determined to keep her child. Muriel and Rosanne lived on the farm for eight or nine years until Muriel married a farmer from Invermay, Saskatchewan and they moved there.

Hear the pennies dropping!

Thoughts of Sunday School and Sunday School songs brings to mind two amusing stories.

I said in my last post that my favorite hymn was This is my Father’s world.  Near the beginning there is a line which reads “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.”

At five years of age, the word “sphere” was unknown to me. I learned a few years later that it referred to a ball shape (which gave me the impression of planets singing as they rolled their way around the sun). But it was not until I was in university and reading Dante that I learned about the Ptolemaic cosmology and discovered the true meaning of the phrase, “music of the spheres”.

All that was in the future though.  As a five-year-old, trying to make some sense of the line, I fastened on the vague auditory similarity of “sphere” and “fairy” and decided it referred to fairy rings.  So for sometime, whenever we sang that hymn, I would visualize a natural setting in which fairies danced and sang.  Sometimes that still seems more appropriate than the intended meaning.

Hexenringe, fairy ring,fairy circle

Fairy ring,fairy circle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other story concerns my sister, though she doesn’t recall it herself.

Pennies in those days were important currency for young children.  They were almost the only coins we got to handle ourselves, and nine times out of ten, they were spent on penny candy.  It was one of the few purchasing decisions we were given and I well remember the intense calculation as to whether to get blackballs (3 for a penny) or spend the whole coin on a single licorice twizzler or candy cane.  It took immense self-discipline to save up the five pennies it would take to purchase a chocolate bar.

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The other use for pennies was as Sunday School collection, a fact alluded to in the best-known children’s offertory hymn of the time.  As the plate was passed around we sang it with gusto!

Hear the pennies dropping. Listen as they fall.
Every one for Jesus, he shall have them all.
Dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping
Hear the pennies fall!
Every one for Jesus.  He shall have them all!

Any way, the story goes that Nadine, then about three, listened in horror, clutched her pennies and protested “No, not all.  He can’t have them all.”

I don’t know if the story is true or not.  Like my walking backward into water story, it seems to be a free-floating meme that attaches itself to whoever is handy.  In this case, exactly the same story appears in my uncle’s family memoir, Pancake Ranch, but the young protestor is my Aunt Lucille and the time is a decade earlier, in the 1930s.

Pancake Ranch

Sunday School

Neepawa United Church, 2010Photo credit: Jeanette Greaves

Neepawa United Church, 2010
Photo credit: Jeannette Greaves

Neepawa United Church was the place where Nadine and I first attended Sunday School, though the 2010 picture above is probably not what it looked like in 1946.

Personally, I took to Sunday School like a duck to water.  Probably because I loved to sing.  And I loved all the common Sunday School hymns of the time: Jesus Loves Me, God Sees the little sparrow fall, When he cometh and I am so glad (How I loved to belt out the chorus on that one!)

But my truly favorite hymn was This is my Father’s world.  Our children’s version did not include the third verse, which I learned only many years later. Perhaps the line “Although the wrong seems oft so strong..” was deemed unsuitable for the young.  Here is the way I learned it.

This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
he shines in all that’s fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.

These words were often my personal meditation as I sat under a tree or beside a stream.  And certainly every time I felt the wind blowing through the grass.

It was also at Neepawa United Sunday School that I had my own first moment of ephemeral glory—along with the boy who lived next door to us.  It was a Hallowe’en party and our mothers decided to create an Indian chief and Indian princess costume set for us.  And we won first prize for the best couples’ costume.

Swimming

~~ by Nadine Faye House

When we moved into Neepawa it was to the corner of Brown Ave. and Ellen St. which was only a block from the court house/town hall on Hamilton Street.

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The fountain is barely visible at the far left of the picture.

Gail and I used to go paddling in the fountain located there. Our signal to return home was the noon whistle that sounded to let all the work places know that it was dinner time (yes dinner not lunch).

One day while all the people were headed home for dinner, I decided that I did not want to walk home in my wet bathing suit so promptly took it off and headed home naked. I’m not sure but think this happened when I was about three.

Neepawa

Neepawa is the first home of which I have actual personal memories, not just passed on stories—though the memories are fragmented and hazy.  I do remember the big yellow quarantine sign on the front door when Nadine and I came down with measles.

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Something like this but for measles.

I remember my father bringing a huge block of ice, grasped in gigantic tongs, to put in the icebox in the kitchen.

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The exterior of our icebox was similar to A,
but had a larger compartment, not just a drawer, for the ice.

I remember our swing on the tree in the front yard.

These snapshots were taken in July 1947 on or near Nadine’s 3rd birthday.
I had turned 5 in April.

I remember my first Hallowe’en party.
And my first piano recital.

But there are still stories as well.  I will let Nadine tell the first, as it involves her.

A brief stay in Winnipeg

In Winnipeg we made our home at 72 Hindley Avenue in the St. Vital area.

Hindley ave

We stayed only a few months, leaving again not long after my fourth birthday in April 1946.

family at Hindley ave

I love this picture because it is one of the few that includes my father along with the rest of us.  It was taken on the steps of 72 Hindley Avenue.

And here I am on my fourth birthday.

fourth birthday

And again, with Mum and Nadine.

Winnipeg, Spring 1946

Our next home was in Neepawa, Manitoba.

Leaving the Farm

It was late fall 1945 that we left my first home.  I have conflicting stories as to why.  According to Uncle Cecil, he offered to sell the farm to my father.  Dad was keen, but, says Uncle Cecil “Gladys was not.”  I didn’t hear this version until Uncle Arthur published Pancake Ranch, a collection of writings by himself and his siblings.

Nadine & Cecil, Sept. 1945

Nadine with Uncle Cecil, September 1945

What I heard from my mother is that Uncle Cecil misread a comment of hers.  The Brunskill farm was the most distant stop from the school on the school bus route.  I would be the first child on in the morning and the last off in the evening.  She was concerned it would be a long day for me.  But, as she recalls, she did not intend this concern to stand in the way of acquiring ownership of the farm.

Myself with Mum & Dad

Myself with Mum & Dad

There is no way of knowing now just why things fell out as they did.  Mum had been born on a farm, raised on a farm, knew farm life well.  Dad had lived on a farm since he was twelve.  Except for the excursion to Hamilton in 1941 (see Almost an Ontarian) they had known no other life.  So it was a big decision to leave. Our immediate destination was Winnipeg. And although we soon left the big city, we never returned to a farm.

Dad bringing in wood for the stove

Dad bringing in wood for the stove