Archive for February 2012
In her diaries, my great-aunt wrote about her own health, as well as the health of others. She was a nurse, trained at McLean Hospital in Boston, so her interest in health is not surprising. Her diary entries are filled with her visits to the sick. She often brought either ginger ale or ice cream with her when she visited, and these must have soothed many a sore throat and helped to get needed fluids into the ill person.
In May of 1955, a flu went through the community. Through the diary entries, you can follow as different people become ill. On May 6, 1955, my great-aunt came down with the flu, probably contracted as she visted the sick. She was in bed for eleven days. In those days, the doctor made house calls and he came twice to see her.
flu in the community – 1955
-response to a diary entry for May 16, 1955 and entries for the previous two weeks
Mon cloudy cold. Katie M.
came in P.M. brought ice-cream [and] gin [ginger] ale.
I am feeling better. I cleaned up-stairs
some. R.C. called too at noon.
took Madge ginger ale
took Mrs. B. ice-cream
combed her hair, made her bed
should stay away
but ginger is good for what ails you
and ice-cream soothes the throat
I’m a trained nurse
chills, fever 103
Doctor saw me twice
nine days, in bed
I hear comings and goings downstairs
most won’t come up, or stay
afraid of flu
better today, out of bed
puttered around upstairs
brought me ice-cream and ginger ale
a little gossip
remedies for the flu
© Jane Tims 2012
Among the events recorded in my great-aunt’s diaries were holidays.
Here are some of the activities she recorded for those special days in 1957:
New Year’s Day (Jan. 1, 1957) – they had her brother’s family to dinner.
Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 1957) – she sent her grand-daughter in Saint John a Valentine.
Easter (April 21, 1957) – they went to the Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow to see the ‘3000 Easter lilies’ on display. She also sent a box of gifts to her grand-daughter.
Canada Day (called Dominion Day before 1982) July 1, 1957 – not mentioned in her diaries.
Halloween (Oct. 31, 1957) – ‘seven children for Halloween’ Interesting … our modern conversations about Halloween are often to compare the numbers of children who came trick-or-treating!
Thanksgiving – the day before, she ‘did some cooking for Thanksgiving’ (Oct. 12, 1957) and on Sunday, she had her sister (my grandmother) and my uncle for a chicken dinner.
Christmas – my great-aunt belonged to an ‘Xmas Club’. They had their Christmas Dinner together (Dec. 2 , 1957) and exchanged gifts. My great-aunt’s gifts in 1957 were a pair of pillow cases and a pair of gloves.
Part of Christmas meant sending parcels to family and friends. In 1957, my great-aunt mailed Christmas parcels to her son’s family in Saint John on December 14, 1957 and to others on December 11 and 16.
On Christmas Day, they went to her brother’s house for Christmas Dinner.
On December 29, 1957, they went to see the Christmas pageant. There were also other community events, since on December 24, 1954, they went to see the community Christmas tree.
She makes no mention of Christmas decorations in her own home, but I still have a few of the ornaments from her tree.
New Year’s Day 1957
-response to a diary entry for January 1, 1957
Tues nice day, quite cold. C.
D. D. also K. J. here to
N. Years dinner. had a chicken sponge
cake for dessert. strawberry vanilla ice cream
we went for a drive after C.s left.
new year, basket in the hall closet
empty, mending and darning
done, seven to dinner, everyone
satisfied, sponge cake and ice-cream
no worries about tomorrow, predicted
storms, the need to stay well,
catches in clothing and worn
heels, arm sore from beating eggs
my New Year’s resolutions:
a beater that runs on electricity
no more blue socks darned with red
the chicken was tasty
colourful with carrots
© Jane Tims 2012
space: edge of the St. John River in winter
beautiful: mature silver maple trees and their shadows on the snow
We went for a drive last weekend, along the St. John River. Above the ice, the river is covered in snow, a broad white plain edged by very old and very rugged silver maple trees.
In spite of a harsh environment, these trees endure. Each spring and fall, they are flooded. They are scoured by ice and subject to the eroding forces of the river. They are always at risk from people searching for a supply of firewood. A friend tells me these huge trees are usually suckers, grown from the base after the original tree was harvested.
And yet they grow old, a part of the hardwood floodplain forest. On a sunny day, they lean over the snow-covered river and spread their shadows across its surface. They have the beauty of their symmetry, solidity, grace, and fortitude.
Copyright Jane Tims 2012
My great-aunt’s diary often records her activities as part of her Red Cross group. In the years from 1954 to 1957, and beyond, this group of 4 to 9 women met every Friday to work together on a community project. They worked quickly. On September 17, 1957 they put on two crib quilts and finished them by October 1, 1957 (three meetings).
Sometimes they worked on a layette for a new mother and her baby (February 8, 1957). Most often, they worked on a quilt (for example, March 22, 1957), doing the piecing and quilting as a group. In addition, my great-aunt often took a quilt home ‘to bind’ (for example, March 29, 1957).
Sometimes the group made money for a local cause by selling quilt ‘squares’. On April 12, 1957, my great-aunt wrote: ‘…we took a quilt out. we are going to make one to sell. money for hosp [hospital]. to work on its 10¢ a name.’ The next evening, she called at a neighbour’s house and sold 5 squares. On May 3, 1957, she wrote, ‘…we worked on our quilt blocks – working the names. I took three blocks home.’
More often they made a quilt for someone in the community. On February 8, 1957, she wrote, ‘I took a quilt up to Mrs. C. from R. Cross.’
In 1954, the group worked on a ‘flower garden quilt’, and the story of the quilt can be followed in the diary.
The first step was to piece the quilt. My great-aunt worked on this stage at home, from March 15, 1954 to March 23, 1954, sometimes with a friend. On March 19, she even missed the Red Cross meeting to work on the quilt. On March 23, she wrote, ‘I worked on R.C. flower garden quilt all day. J.B. here in eve. we finished it. ready to be quilted. very pretty quilt…’
The group began quilting the flower garden quilt on June 4, and finished it at a meeting three weeks later (June 25, 1954). My great-aunt brought the quilted quilt home to bind and had help with the binding from another woman (June 28, 1954). On July 12, 1954, she wrote, ‘J. [and] M.D. called to see the flower garden quilt.’ Unfortunately, there is no record of who received the finished quilt.
The ‘flower garden’ is a well-known heritage quilt pattern. It is made up of many hexagonal pieces, laid out in a pattern of concentric circles. I have two quilts made by my grandmother (my great-aunt’s sister) and one of these is a flower garden quilt. The quilt is well-named since the final pattern resembles a garden full of bright and colourful flowers. The individual pieces in my grandmother’s quilt are from diverse fabrics, likely recycled from remnants and old clothes.
In 1957, the women made another flower garden quilt. My great-aunt must have loved working on it, since on March 27, she records going down to the Red Cross rooms after a funeral and working on the quilt by herself. On March 29, 1957, she wrote, ‘…I went to R.C. brought home the hosp. [hospital] flower garden quilt to bind.’ She finished the binding on April 3.
Women still make quilts today, of course, either alone or as a group. I have made lots of lap-sized quilts, best for me due to my short interest span!
Have you ever made a quilt and did you work alone or with others?
© Jane Tims 2012
Letter writing has become an orphan communication in our world of emails and Facebook and Tweets. But in the past, when these forms of communication did not yet exist, and long-distance phone calls were so expensive they were only used for emergencies, people kept in touch by letter.
My Mom and I wrote to one another regularly for 30 years, even after I had my ‘family calling telephone plan’. I still have all her letters and looking at her handwriting makes me feel near to her. Her words, the beautiful way she formed her letters, and the stories they tell, are concrete evidence of her life and interests and her love for her family.
My great-aunt’s diaries show she also considered letters to be an important part of her daily life. In her diaries, letters received and written were an activity she recorded regularly. The mail arrived twice per day in the community where she lived and her diaries tell they went for the mail daily.
Letters from her son or daughter-in-law were recorded with tangible joy. She wrote to them regularly, approximately three times per month, and they wrote as regularly to her. She records her letters as, ‘I wrote to St. John today’ (she is referring to the place where they lived, Saint John, New Brunswick).
During World War II, letters from her son had taken on a particular importance since they signalled he was alive and well.
In 1957, perhaps the favourite letter received was from her little grand-daughter: on November 26, 1957, she wrote, ‘had a letter from b. a.’
The poem below was inspired by that letter, although I do not have the letter itself and the account is from my head.
letter from her grand-daughter
she watches for your
letter, your definite
hand, the dog-eared page
of a book begun, unfinished
creases in paper once folded
as if an envelope could
revive the creak in the upstairs hall
re-clatter the spoon in an empty
jar of jam, jangle the telephone
the trouble is, of course,
you grew, learned numbers
the difference between
‘b’ and ‘d’,developed your signature
went to war
of course, all that
made possible this envelope, addressed
to Grabma, the stamp
licked on sideways, sweet stick-men
and baby words in pencil
from the page
© Jane Tims 2012
One of the themes included in my great-aunt’s diaries is entertainment, to balance all the housework and community work.
T.V. was a new source of amusement. Before my great-aunt and great-uncle got their first T.V. on May 7, 1957, her diary includes many visits to friend’s houses to watch their televisions. For example on March 10, 1957, she watched a program at a friend’s home on the famous Anna Swan (Anna Haining Swan, 1846 – 1888, was born in Nova Scotia and grew to a height of 8 feet).
After they bought their own T.V. , my great-aunt recorded the names of friends and family who came in to watch T.V., often to see the fights (Sept. 28, 1957) or wrestling (Sept. 21, 1957) with her husband.
Other at-home entertainment, especially during winter, included playing cards (Feb. 28, 1957), bridge (March 2, 1957), or Chinese Checkers (Feb. 4, 1954).
Another pass-time was watching ‘slides’. These were 35 mm slides, taken with a camera, mounted in cardboard, and projected on a screen or on the wall. In our first house in Medicine Hat, my Dad installed a pull-down screen so we could project our vacation slides. I still have a rickety slide projector which invariably ‘sticks’ during each use, making for an annoying experience.
Several times a year, they went to the ‘show’. She records seeing “Anne of Green Gables” [various versions were available by 1955] on January 1, 1955, “High Society”  with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong on May 28, 1957, and a “A Man Called Peter”  on June 25, 1956. On July 2, 1956, she stayed home all day to read Catherine Marshall’s book A Man Called Peter (1951)! Other shows they saw included “Gone With the Wind”  with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh on March 22, 1955 ( ‘…was 55 [cents] beautiful scenery.’) and “White Christmas” (1954) with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen on March 6, 1956.
They also attended live shows from time to time. On June 25, 1957 she wrote about Don Messer and the Islanders giving their last performance before the summer. Don Messer was a band leader and fiddler with a popular television show called Don Messer’s Jubilee. The show was broadcast from CBC in Halifax, Nova Scotia from August 1957 to 1969.
They also attended community-based events: graduations, funerals, weddings, and baby showers. There were events on the ‘Festival grounds’ and ‘entertainment at church by the Men’s Club’.
The other form of entertainment was the ‘drive’. My great-aunt loved to go for drives and recorded trips to various communities in the region, to New Glasgow or Truro for shopping, or to River John (Aug. 28, 1957) or Wallace (Aug. 25, 1957). Sometimes, they bought lobster on these drives. Two or three times a year there would be a longer, over-night trip, to Saint John in New Brunswick to see her son’s family, or to Annapolis in Nova Scotia.
the fan whirrs
the bulb blares
and fingers burn
a turn, a click and a push
and there they are
three kids on a beach at Advocate
pull, turn, push and click
him in a Shear Tip
pull, turn, push and click
and the cardboard sticks
© Jane Tims 2012
Ice rinks are a part of all our lives in New Brunswick. My son did not play hockey, but I know from friends how demanding the pursuit of ice-time and practice can be.
My ice skating experiences have been a little tamer, but definitely part of the fun side of life.
When my son was young, we had a backyard ‘rink’ for a couple of years. Although we had fun pouring water and trying not to fall, my best memories are of skating with him on ‘Hoot-and-Hollow Pond’, the postage-stamp pond in our back woods.
In my teenaged years, my family had a big pond where the ice was only smooth enough for skating during a few winters. I called it ‘Singing Glass Pond’ because of the sound made when stones were skipped across the ice. I remember skating there with my Mom who always sang as she skated and the oldest of my brothers who could jump up and do a spin from a position of standing still!
When I was in grade school, our teachers took us to the public rink where I skated in endless circles next to the boards and learned to do a ‘toes-out circle’, my single figure-skating ‘move’ to this day. When they were young, I used to watch my two nieces figure skate and was amazed at their fluidity and skill.
Today my knees are arthritic and my balance is pitiful, so my skates are put away. But on the frozen marsh at the lake, I can still ‘skate’ with my boots and do a parody of a ‘toes-out circle’!
a string of light bulbs
along plywood walls
exposes gouges and splinters
collisions of small bodies
Charlie, caretaker, solidifies
light and water
lays down rainbows
and new ice
© Jane Tims 2001