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from the pages of an old diary – entertainment

with 6 comments

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” [1956] with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong on May 28, 1957, and a “A Man Called Peter” [1955] 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”  [1939]  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.



slide show


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


and grandson

him in a Shear Tip

apple crate


pull, turn, push and click

and the cardboard sticks

and sticks

and sticks



© Jane Tims  2012


Written by jane tims

February 20, 2012 at 7:07 am

from the pages of an old diary – visiting

with 6 comments

One of the most obvious activities in my great-aunt’s diaries is ‘visiting’.  Almost every day brought visitors and visits to family or friends. 

In 1957, there are only 30 days when my great-aunt did not either visit or receive visitors and several of these were when extremely stormy weather kept everyone inside.

Visits often involved food.  On February 6, 1957, my great-aunt wrote the following: ‘I had I. and M. to tea. pot [potato] scallop, cold ham, tomatoes, pickles and jelly. coffee rolls. dough-nuts, lemon sq.  [squares] and fruit.’  Wow!

Many of the visits were between family members.  I love to see entries about visits with my grandmother and my uncle and aunt.  They lived in Dartmouth but often came to ‘the old home place’ for weekends.  My great-aunt had a definite opinion about their tendency to stay at the old home instead of with her.  On April 19, 1957, she writes ‘K. and J.  came this p.m. up to their own house and stayed all night.  was too cold and damp to stay in’.

Other visits she recorded were from my own family.  We lived in Alberta and almost every summer we came to Nova Scotia to visit Mom’s and Dad’s families (see posts under the category ‘on my grandfather’s farm’).  In 1957, she records our leaving for Medicine Hat, when I was three years old (August 25, 1957).  Once, when I was a teenager, we visited her and she gave me the bracelet shown in the drawing below.  It has a motif of oak leaves and acorns and I cherish it still.

Other visits were with friends.  Some of the visits had to do with watching T.V. at other people’s houses. After May 7, 1957, when my great-aunt and great-uncle got their own T.V., people would come to her house to watch! 



curtains, freshly pressed

                -response to a diary entry for October 2, 1957


Wed  nice fine. I did a big wash.

washed – my kitchen curtains did them up.

Katie M. here all p.m

–          A.M.W.



               fine day says Katie hard to say goodbye to September.

I rock and nod, beyond

her shoulder, curtains, freshly pressed

hung this morning

               cold, yesterday. more like November.

light plaits shadow

green window glass, re-imagined

               last May seems a minute ago.  at the Festival.  that girl with the blue dress

               should have won.

first autumn days

and an open casement

breeze busy at the curtain’s edge

               time flies. almost four years now since he died.

the white fabric looks well

against varnished wood

               we missed you at Red Cross. numbers are down.

blue sky and oak trees, bare of leaves

twigs slash rectangles of window


I rock and ask her

did you know?

last evening, L. had a son

8 pounds, 3 ounces



© Jane Tims  2012

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

February 17, 2012 at 6:53 am

from the pages of an old diary – community

with 4 comments

It is obvious from my great-aunt’s diaries, her community activities were as important to her as any other aspect of her work.  This work was about people… about spending time with her friends and pursuing the idea of ‘many hands make light work’.  She also had specific skills to contribute to the community.  She loved to bake, sew, quilt and visit.

She belonged to three community groups:

  • the  Women’s Missionary Society (W.M.S.) –  met on Tuesdays (about 23 women)
  • the Red Cross – met on Fridays (about 9 women)
  • the Xmas Club – met once per month (about 10 women)

The Red Cross worked on specific projects, for example a baby layette for a new mother, or a quilt for a family in need.  The Red Cross had a room, perhaps in the Presbyterian church (on March 27, 1957 my great-aunt wrote, ‘ … I went to A.C.’s funeral up at our church. then went down to R.C. room and quilted for a while…’).   She often mentions ‘binding’ a quilt at home as part of her contribution.  The clubs also made quilts to raise money (a ‘square’ could be bought for $.10, April 12, 1957), and held rummage sales (June 1 and June 8, 1957).  

The W.M.S. was associated with the Presbyterian Church and had a program each week.  My great-aunt mentions preparing the ‘lesson’ with another woman.   The group worked with the Red Cross to make quilts for charity (Dec. 3, 1954), and sent flowers to funerals (Nov. 18, 1954).  They also interacted with the CGIT group (Canadian Girls in Training), a church-based program for girls 11-17 (April 2, 1957).  I remember attending CGIT when I was in Junior High and according to the Internet, it continues today.   When she writes about the W.M.S., my aunt always writes the ‘S’ as a dollar sign ($), suggesting she associated the group with money.  She does not do this for her references to the R.H.S. [Regional High School)! 

The Xmas (Christmas) Club met once a month at a member’s home.  They held a summer picnic (July 22, 1954 and July 17, 1957) and a Christmas Dinner in early December where they exchanged presents (Dec. 6, 1954 and Dec. 2, 1957). 

My great-aunt was also interested in the administrative side of these groups.  She made note of how many attended and who missed each meeting, as well as attendance at community events and how much money was made.

In addition to her clubs, my great-aunt also did personal charity work, taking ginger ale to sick people on many occasions, making rolls and squares for various teas and meetings, and hemming sheets for the hospital (May 28, 1957).  She was also a good neighbor, sharing a buttercup root with a friend, for example (May 19, 1954).  It is noticable from the diaries that community members helped one another to get around, giving each other ‘lifts’.  For example, she writes, ‘R. took M., M., [and] I down to Xmas Club… B. came for us.’   

Another important weekly activity was going to church.  My great-aunt and great-uncle attended church regularly, and sometimes went to other community churches for special occasions.  At Easter in 1957, they drove to the Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow to see the 3000 white Easter lilies on display.  She also attended the World Day of Prayer services (May 5, 1954, and May 8, 1957) and ‘read a piece’.

Reading my great-aunt’s diaries, I am left with an image of her place within the small community where she lived and the importance of the daily interactions among people.  These interactions were the community life-blood, enabling people to keep communication going, to support community economies and to keep the population healthy and supported.

Compared to this, how do we contribute to our communities today?  




reckoning the day

                -respose to a diary entry for March 28, 1957

Thurs  cold snow flurries. I finished cleaning kitchen. hemmed 4 sheets for hosp.  I. G. here got my blue dress to fix.  Mrs. C. called got sheets. H. B. here for Red Cross money.  S. M. house burned.   

–          A.M.W.

they wait to collect

your phial of tears

chill at the doorstep

outside the heat dome

where snowflakes sizzle

a moment before they melt

twisted metal hangers, closet a shell

lined with ashes, empty of dresses

quilts and bed-sheets blackened, edges

hemmed in charcoal

kitchen the worst, paint curled

against metal, china charred

crockery smashed, the tines of forks

splayed every way

pattern on linoleum

scoured clean beneath layers

of flammable wax



©  Jane Tims  2012

from the pages of an old diary – technology

with 12 comments

The 1950’s were changing times.  Families in North America were experiencing a post-war boom and the first influx of new technology.  My great-aunt records some of this change in her diary. 

Here are some of the entries for 1957:

Jan. 3              ‘car wouldn’t start’

Feb. 23           ‘I got my electric egg beater to-day’

March 10        ‘went over to A.J. in evening to see T.V.’  

                          (her diary has several references to going to friend’s homes to watch T.V.)

May 1             ‘Electric men here from Pictou grounding the telephone. 

                          will be safe from lightning.’

May 7           ‘… our T.V. came to Drug store through Simpson’s. $269.95′

May 11           ‘ B. [and] A. set the T.V. up.  K., J. [and] I went to Forbes [a store] 

                           they stayed til after 11 to see T.V.’   –  after this, friends come regularly to watch

                          ‘the fights’ (Aug. 3, 1957) or ‘wrestling’ (Sept. 21, 1957)

Aug 31           ‘…car not working…’

Sept. 3             ‘…took the car to a garage.’

Sept. 4              ‘…car not working…’

Sept.5             ‘…Dad [her husband] took car up to L.S. to fix…’

Oct. 13           ‘…Our T.V. went on the blink’  ( after this she has several entries where her nephew,

                           my uncle, drops in to fix the T.V., for example Oct. 20, 1957)

Oct. 27           ‘…were home alone all eve. listening to T.V.’  

                            (note the used of the word ‘listening’ – they had listened to the radio)


A couple of entries for 1954 caught my eye:

Jan 4.                ‘…lights were out a lot in eve.’

Aug. 16             ‘Did a big wash. wringer not working right…’

Sept. 27            ‘… did a small wash by hand…’

Oct. 4                 ‘… S.M. came in eve [and] put new roller in washer.’


Today, our innovations come fast and furious.  I sometimes wonder what the next really ‘new’ technology will be and how my great-aunt would have recorded it in her diary.

What are your technology milestones?


Copyright  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

February 13, 2012 at 6:37 am

from the pages of an old diary – ironing day

with 8 comments

Do people iron anymore?  In these days of permanent press and busy scheduling, who even has an iron?

Until my husband retired last year, I ironed a shirt for him every work day for 30 years.  They were permanent press shirts, too, but no one could ever remember to retrieve the shirt from the dryer when it could be hung up without wrinkles.  And so, I ironed.

Most people grimace when I tell them this, but I found it an enjoyable task.  It was soothing work, with the warmth of the iron, the cool of the fabric, the rhythmic slide of the iron back and forth, and the ironing of each part of the shirt, always in the same order. 

Ironing wasn’t always so easy.  On our hearth are two flat irons and a stand, the ones my Mom’s family used for ironing when she was a little girl and they had no electrcity.  Each flat iron could be fitted with a handle, and irons were exchanged as the first iron cooled and had to be replaced with the hot iron on the wood stove.  Inattention would be rewarded by a neat triangle of burn on the ironed linens.

My great-aunt would have used an electric iron.  In her diary, during 1957, an entry like ‘did a big wash and hung it out’ occurs approximately every second week (she and her husband lived alone, so this was probably an effective and efficient approach).   In every case, the diary entry the following day says ‘did a big ironing’.  In 1957, she did her ‘big ironing’ 25 times, a major task in her round of housework.



ironing day


a wedding band wears thin

endless washing of dishes

scrubbing of floors

holding wrists, stroking arms

and heads


worn as wooden handles

on the flat irons by the stove

hand clasps and presses

back and forth, the lift to test the heat

to fit a hotter iron from the fire

to seal the press, prevent the burn


a molecule of gold, residue

on every task



©  Jane Tims  2012


Written by jane tims

February 10, 2012 at 6:39 am

from the pages of an old diary – spring cleaning

with 11 comments

My great-aunt’s diary shows she cleaned her house with regularity.  She had a big two-story house on the main street of the village, with a porch on the front.  On the main floor the rooms included a kitchen, pantry, storeroom, dining room, small front room and sitting room.   There was also a ‘little porch’ and a ‘little entry’ where the wood box was kept.  Upstairs she had the main bedroom, a ‘spare room’, a bathroom, and other rooms, joined by a hall and a ‘little hall’.    The house had a cellar, and an out-house.

Each year, she punctuated her regular cleaning with a vigorous bout of spring cleaning, beginning in late March and lasting through May.  She also did another round of ‘doing up curtains’ and ‘cleaning storm windows’ in October.  Her spring cleaning was methodical, involved a room or a couple of smaller rooms each day, and went from floor to ceiling.  Painting was included as part of the process. 

In 1957, the diary entries related to spring cleaning are: 

Mar 26             ‘cleaned my kitchen ceiling walls’

April 1             ‘I painted some in pantry… I washed dining room ceiling.’

April 2             ‘I painted some this a.m.’

April 3             ‘I finished painting the pantry.’

April 5             ‘I cleaned china closet. linen drawers.’ 

                              (I have one item from her linens, an embroidered table runner with her initial)

April 8             ‘I painted one rocking chair.’

April 15           ‘I cleaned the small front room.’

April 16           ‘I cleaned sitting-room.’

April 17           ‘I cleaned dining-room.’

April 18           ‘I did the dining room curtains up also the tidies in rooms. went over the house. ’

April 27           ‘we took the storm windows off cleaned windows on the out side. 

                               I also cleaned ½ store room.’

May 1               ‘I finished store-room cleaned bath room.’

May 6               ‘I did the spare room  washed curtains got them up. ’

May 7               ‘I wash[ed] my bedroom curtains this a.m did them up this eve.’

May 8               ‘I cleaned the back front rooms upstairs. washed ceilings did the floors.’

May 14             ‘cleaned the bathroom little hall’

May 15             ‘cleaned hall stairs.’

May 21             ‘I cleaned little porch.’

May 23             ‘I cleaned the cellar  

                               painted window sills upstairs windows wood-box down stairs in little entry.  

                               also cleaned out-house.’

House cleaned, she turned her attention to the garden.  On May 20, she wrote ‘I planted my glads dahlias.’  and on May 25, her husband made and painted a new flower box for her.





bits of cloud spellbound

by ceiling

they mesmerize

and float, dust appended

to spider’s web, thought appended

to tongue, nothing built on nothingness

rumours banished by a broom


© Jane Tims 2012

a linen table runner, embroidered with scalloped edges and her initial, made by my great-aunt

Written by jane tims

February 8, 2012 at 6:38 am

from the pages of an old diary – the weather

with 8 comments

For any given date, the first entry in my great-aunt’s diary is a note about the weather.  Weather was important to my great-aunt.  It dictated what could be done during the day, if a wash could be put on the line, if she could go out walking to visit family and friends, and if a fire had to be kept going.   

She described the weather in various ways:  ‘nice fine day’, not very cold’, ‘dark day’, ‘fine very cold’.  Sometimes it just says ‘nice day’. 

Bad weather was sometimes called a ‘dirty cold day’ (April 11, 1957). 

Some days were described in a bit of detail.  On September 23, 1957, she wrote, ‘fine in the morning very windy cloudy in late p.m.’    On March 20, 1957, she wrote ‘a big snow storm on   drifting and blowing.’  March 21, 1957, the first day of spring, says ‘roads all blocked still snowing some’.  

Christmas Day, December 25, 1957, was ‘quite cold, a few snowflurries’.

On November 26, 1957, it was so cold, she wrote ‘I washed, clothes froze before I could get them on the line’.

It might be interesting to compare the actual weather records for 1957 with the weather she recorded!



September storm

                -response to a diary entry for September 5, 1957


                                             Thurs. rained hard last nt [night] also thunder and lightning. 

                                             Dad took car up to L.S. to fix.  I made dough-nuts [and] 

                                             biscuits, did a small wash.  went up street.

                                                                                       –          A.M.W.


last night dismal, thunder wobbled

the windows, a leak

in the pantry, the rain in curtains

across the yard,  forked lightning

the clothes pole vulnerable

car would not start, the driveway in runnels

freezer and the day’s baking

at the mercy of indecisive




© Jane Tims  2012

socks and mittens knit by my grandmother (my great-aunt’s sister)

Copyright Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

February 6, 2012 at 6:38 am

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