Thursday, 4 June 2015

Childhood and Scarcity

I grew up in a house with no inside toilet, bathtub, or shower.  We had an outhouse near the barn and I probably had a potty when I was little. I didn't have a bedroom of my own. I slept with my mom and dad in their bed for the first couple of years. I remember falling asleep on two chairs while waiting for my mother to take me to bed.  She was working in the kitchen, cleaning up or whatever moms do and I woke up and she wasn't there, so I went looking for her. I was only four or five years old so I went to a neighbours' in my bare feet, crying  that I didn't know where my mom was.  She brought me back home and we found my mother out in the barn milking the cow!

I remember how great it was when we moved upstairs and out of the basement. There was no roof at first, just the stars above and when it rained my brother and dad put sheets of wood over our heads for protection.  I also vaguely remember a flood in our basement when the water was two to three feet high. Everything was ruined as we still had our kitchen and eating area downstairs.  We had no insurance, I'm sure of that.

We didn't have a wall telephone until I was about eight years old. A party line at that, shared with a few other families. We had one large standing radio in our living room. The music that was broadcast was usually western, which I called cowboy music. I didn't really get into music until the 1950's. We listened to stories on the radio and soaps like the Guiding Light and Ma Perkins, and of course, the news!

My clothes were mostly homemade by my mother and then when I was in my teens, my sister would make one or two outfits for me to wear to school. I  only had two pairs of shoes - play shoes and Sunday shoes, and a pair of winter boots with liners in them.

We had a dog, just a mongrel type, that was always tied up in the yard to guard the property.  Once I had thrown a cookie to him but he couldn't quite reach it, so as I bent down to get it for him, he bit me on the face. I guess my mom just cleaned the gash as best she could, but it left a scar on my face.

Poverty is what we grew up with. The war from 1940-1945 was finally over. Prior to that, things were rationed ~ especially meat, sugar, and gas.

One of the reasons my parents chose to settle in rural Burlington was so they could grow their own food, have a cow, and raise some chickens to survive. My mom sold the chickens once they were grown to make a little extra money. I remember how cute the little chicks were when they arrived in boxes, but it wasn't too nice when it was time for them to go to the market.

My mom also grew raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc., for ourselves and the extras to be picked up by wholesale trucks to be taken to the Toronto market. It was very nice when mom would get a cheque the following week or month. She did all of this work herself, Dad would plough the field with the help of our one horse called Nelly.  When I got old enough, I had to help pick the fruits and vegetables before I was allowed to go play. I would hop on my bike and meet my friends at Lake Ontario. My favourite spots were called "The Rocks"and "The Wall", which is at the foot of Brant Street in Burlington.

The railway tracks at the end of my street, Cumberland Avenue, were used as a walkway to the closest bus stop. The stop was called Fisher's Corner, in Freelton. It was about a mile from our house. My mother would leave home to go shopping via this route. I would sit at the window and watch her disappear and feel so sad. I didn't know why I couldn't go too. Not having much conception of time, I watched and watched, hoping for her to return any minute. Hours would go by, and then I would see her form trudging down the tracks with her bags. Hopefully, there would be something nice for me! I was less than seven years old then and no one to look after me. My sister Josie who was ten years older than I, was away working and Ralph was gone to the Navy.  So I just stayed home by myself. I survived and didn't get into any mischief that I recall.

I mentioned that my brother Ralph was in the Navy. It was around this time that we received the bad news that he was badly burned in an explosion on the boat. The boat was on a maneuver in the Fraser River in British Columbia, during the floods of 1948.  He was a stoker onboard and he said he smelled fumes below deck, but was ordered to do his job, which was to stoke the fire.  He followed orders and after that there was an explosion.  He was thrown overboard and suffered second and third degree burns to his face and hands. He received treatment in Vancouver and spent some time in recovery in the Shaughnessy Hospital. While recuperating, he sent me a silver locket for my eighth birthday. I was too young to really understand all the events that led up to the disaster he was involved in. My parents were notified, my mother took it especially hard. Another event that may have contributed to her depression.

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