Wednesday, September 7, 2011


         The family moved to a village near Montreal, called Nitro.  In many ways it resembled sleepy little Frensham, and the family was happy there, despite the hard life of near poverty.  Allan worked at night stoking furnaces, and attended classes at McGill during the day.  He graduated with a degree in English Literature about the same time as the Korean Crisis. By then another boy had been added to the brood. Perhaps because of his growing family he rejoined the army.
         We were moved to CFB Petawawa  (then called Camp Petawawa) where we lived for three years.  It was an idyllic place to be a child.  Mother was always happiest when she received letters from Korea.  Always they began with “Beloved” and ended with “Your adoring Pete.”
         Dad was typical of a career officer who has seen too much war – stern and undemonstrative with we children, but always loving with Mother.  He grumbled about the amount of food we ate, and we were dressed in second-hand or hand-me-downs for the most part.  There never seemed to be enough money.  Only now does it occur to me that he may have been supporting someone besides his family, or perhaps paying someone off.  We’ll never know, now. 
         And so our family grew, to finally include two girls and five boys.  We moved many times, never really putting down roots.  We older children left home as we reached adulthood.  Eventually our parents retired to Vancouver Island.
         Mother died first.  Dad moved to an apartment in Victoria, were he enjoyed life beside the ocean, as well as being close to the children who had also chosen to live on the coast, as well as s favourite grand-daughter and her boys.  Too soon it seemed his health started deteriorating.  Living with family members became problematic, and so he moved to an assisted living facility. 
         It seemed like a pleasant enough place, but that is where the real trouble began.  Because of his deafness he relied on his computer to communicate.  He began to receive amorous e-mails!  Why do you ignore me?  We were so close once.  You said you loved me.  I have followed you all over Canada.
          We were rather tickled about this, but Dad’s reaction was grim.  He answered none of the messages, and became reclusive, drinking heavily.  He only ventured out with his walker to cross a busy street for more booze, or if a family member was with him.  He began to fall and injure himself.  Our upright, soldierly father was becoming a problem.
         Dad was eventually admitted to a veteran’s care home.  Now sober, he became courtly and cheerful again.  One day he shared with the family the story of his postwar fling with the red-haired nurse.  It seemed she had been the resident in the assisted living facility who had sent him those desperate e-mails.  We’ll never know how she had found our father in Victoria, or how many other times she found him as he moved around the country.  We never learned how long the affair had actually lasted.  Had it caused his moodiness, or his drinking?
         When Dad died a woman we did not recognize attended the funeral.  She used a walker, and left immediately after the service.  As my sister said, “If she catches up with him in the afterlife, where mother has already taken up residence, Dad will have a lot of explaining to do!”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
         And so the life that began this story has produced a living legacy.  Scottish on one hand, English on the other, many of our generation and the one following us, bear the family names that recall their long-ago owners.  And now two of the great-grandchildren have brought their Scottish and English great-grandmothers to mind, in the persons of Sinclair and Eileen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New beginnings (con't)

         The time in Toronto comes to an end when the family is moves to Montreal, where Grandmother Sinclair runs a boarding house.  It is another strange place for Eileen and the children, but is much roomier.  There are several difficulties.  Allan, Grandmother’s baby, went off to the war without her permission, and his mother is still angry about it, six years later.  He not only surprised her with his wife and children, but the fact that she is an english bitch makes her instantly dislike her new daughter-in-law. She is kind to the children and buys them new clothes, but is very hard on her namesake.  Jean is not a meek child, and stands up to her grandmother.  Some part of her admires the child’s spunk, but she does not allow backtalk, and little Jean is often in trouble.  Eileen tries to keep the children in order, but it is difficult.  Grandmother screams when she finds little Allan on the kitchen floor trying to mix cocoa and corn syrup together.  The piercing screams bring Eileen running, only to be told, “You bitch!  Look what your fucking bastard is doing.”  Eileen cries as she cleans up the mess. 
         The children become very, very familiar with parks.
         One night Allan and Eileen have a long, private talk in their bedroom, next to that of the children.  Grandmother and her namesake both lie awake for a long time, listening to the sounds of crying and shouting.  They hear Allan saying “Sorry, sorry” over and over.  It is about some nurse that came over on the same ship with him.
         The next morning Eileen doesn’t come down to breakfast, and Allan is left to deal with the children.  He is very quiet.  Eileen finally appears, but her eyes are red and she seems angry.  She silently deals with the baby, and doesn’t even look at her husband.
Grandmother is the only happy one.  She is in the best mood the children have ever seen her in.
         Eileen takes the children into their bedroom and tells then they are going back to England with her.  Jean is so happy she doesn’t realize mother isn’t happy about this.  Grandmother goes out and comes home with an envelope, silently giving it to Eileen.  Inside is some money and tickets.  Eileen opens it and starts to cry again.  She goes to the room she shares with Allan.
         Now it is he who is angry with Grandmother.  He and Eileen have a long private talk.  Later, when the children are asleep, they go out on their own.  When the children wake up their parents are packing up.  Now it is Grandmother who has red eyes.  She refuses to say good-bye when they leave.
         Not long after that they get the news that Grandmother is dead, of a massive heart attack.  Allan’s brother and sisters come from the United States for the funeral and burial, on Mount Royal.
She leaves little Jean her bible, covered in black morocco leather, with gold-edged pages as thin as tissue.  On the flyleaf, in beautiful old-fashioned handwriting were the words, “To my Jeannie, always beloved, from your Angus.”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Beginnings

         “I want to stay with you, Nanny,”  Jean whispered to her grandmother, the morning the family left to take ship to Canada.
“I know, love, I know,” Nanny replied, “but we can’t have everything we want.”
         Jeannie knew then that there was no going back, so she did the only thing in her power, when the time came to board the bus.  She had the biggest tantrum she knew how to throw.  It took two people to wrestle her onto the bus and into her seat.  It took quite a while for her sobs to become hiccups.  Her mother Eileen promises they will see Nanny again.  Jeannie doesn’t understand a lot about time and distance, and she has to hope that means it will be soon.
         After a long while they arrive at the shipyards.  The Aquitania has been boarding for a while, but there is still a long line of women with children and babies, as well as many soldiers in uniform waiting in line.  They are all going to Canada, Eileen explains, and Daddy will be coming along later.  She is far too busy to explain Canada and later to her daughter. 
         The little girls hold hands, and Jeannie clings to her mother’s skirt with her free hand.  Finally they climb the long gangplank and are on the ship.  The baby is crying for his dinner, so while Eileen tries to feed him and settle into the cabin they share with three other war brides and their children, Jean and Mary slip out of their cabin.  Little Mary confuses the soldiers in uniform with her Daddy, unaware the women and children are forbidden to mix with the soldiers.  Her sister’s influence is the only thing that keeps her from getting too friendly with any of the men who are nice to her.
         The seven day trip is a long one for some of the young women, who become bored and foolhardy, are caught with soldiers.  The other mothers call the women tarts, a term Jeannie doesn’t understand at all.  She likes tarts very much!  When the ship arrives in Halifax the women who were in the lifeboats with the soldiers are not allowed to go ashore to meet their new husbands and families.  They cry and cry, for they are being sent back to England, and are being called “undesirable aliens”.  Jeannie wishes her Mum had gone in a lifeboat with a soldier, so they could go home. 
         When they are finally on the dock, a kind Red Cross lady gives them all something to eat.  Eileen is also given a pile of clean nappies for Allan.  The lady is very kind and encouraging, putting them on the train that will take them to Toronto.  They are to stay with Nanny’s sister, their Aunt Daisy and her husband, Uncle Fred.
They are met at union Station and taken to a small duplex.  Because it is half a house, Jeannie takes it into her head that Nanny’s house must also be near, because she lives in half a house as well.  Mum takes the children on many walks to the park, because the little house is very crowded for three adults and four children. 
         People on the street smile at the way the children talk, but Eileen becomes embarrassed when she uses the wrong words.  A lorry is now a truck, shops are stores, hair grips become bobby pins and bangers are now sausages.  Between her pronunciation problems, sorting out the strange new money and being in a huge busy city, she is often upset.  Toronto is so different from slow little Frensham, with the one-story school she attended, the ancient church across the road, and the pond with the swans.  She misses her mother and the villagers she has known all her life.  And most of all she misses her husband.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving on . . .

To my faithful readers -
This ends the story of Grandmother James.  When my sister and I visited Frensham a few years ago we wanted to, but were unable, to visit her gravesite.  Now we move on to the conclusion of this family story, and it will be posted over the next several days.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On My Own

The rest of my story is not very exciting, but hard to tell in spots.  Len had left home, joined the British army and married a Swiss wife.  Their four children came and stayed with me for a few years while their father was overseas, and they attended the same village school Eileen and Len had.
Eileen and Allan were true to their word, and sent me the fare to visit them.  It was in a village called Nitro, near Montreal, where Allan was completing his university degree.  I am ashamed to admit I swiped a beautiful serving spoon from the ship’s buffet, since I had no extra money to buy Eileen a gift of any sort.  I stayed and visited all summer, such a happy time.  Their other grandmother had died, so I was left to be their only Granny.  Jean and I spent a lot of time together, and I taught her to knit.  That Christmas she sent me a scarf she had made, full of holes, but I wore it to remember her by.  On my last day in Canada Eileen lined the three children up and had them sing the sad “Now is the hour/when we must say goodbye/soon you’ll be sailing/ far, far away . . .”  I remember we all cried.  I still have the photo on my dresser that Eileen took, of me surrounded by the children, including little baby Alex, whose second name was Bruce, after my maiden name.  I never went back to Canada, although Eileen visited me a few times, especially when she and Allan spent three years in Germany.
The years went by so quickly!  Len grew up into a responsible man finally, and came to see me once in a while, although his father never visited once I was on my own.  Eventually he died, and I applied for his widow’s pension.  Imagine my horror when I got an official letter saying that Mrs. James had already received it!  I had suspected he kept a woman in London, but married her?  It was one of the worst moments of my life, believe me, but what could I do?
Luckily my pension and my garden saw me through until I was no longer able to get around.  I am quite comfortable here in this nursing home, and they take good care of us.  I get letters and cards from my children and grandchildren, and imagine them all out and about in the world, although none of them are in England.  I’m getting tired of talking about it all now, and I feel tired.  Would you see if someone could bring me a cuppa?  Thanks, love.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Leaving

I think I knew all along they planned to move to Canada,  Allan could finish his education and be close to his own mother.  They told me they would bring me over to visit, and if I liked it, they would be happy to have me come and live with them.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that, but I tried to put a good face on it all. 
The time came all too soon.  Allan would stay in London, awaiting orders to be shipped off, and Eileen and the children would leave on the Aquitania, a troop ship that had some room for the so-called ‘war brides’ and the Red Cross ladies who would look after them.  Eileen was to go to Toronto and stay with my sister Daisy and husband Fred until Allan joined them and moved them to his home in Montreal.  Eileen seemed excited about this new adventure, but little Jean, almost four now, moped and clung to me as much as she could.
At seven-thirty on their last day with me, I was in the kitchen, setting the round wooden table with my best rose-patterned china for the special breakfast I had used my last coupons on.
Thinking about the last few years and the changes they had brought, I couldn’t help but shake my head – Eileen had married so quickly, and the babies came so fast – three in four years.  And now they were leaving, probably forever.  I had always known she would marry, of course, but hoped it would be Joe, who lived only one house away.  I was brewing tea, and trying not to think about the lonely days ahead, when Edie Maidment from next door rapped on the door.  She had a little parcel of sweets for Eileen to give the children.  
“Chin up, old thing,” she told me, “At least the ruddy war’s over.  I’ll pop over this afternoon for a cuppa.”  As Edie slipped out the door, I could hear the girls getting up from bed, and turned to look at the stairs.  The girls were climbing down the steep stairs, being very careful, for there had been one or two falls.  Jean was scolding her sister for being slow.  “Come on, Wee!”  She left Mary to her own devices and came to me, burying her little face in my old blue-flowered apron.  She whispered, “Nanny, I want to stay with you.”  I could only hug her and say we can’t always have what we want. 
       As Eileen got the children seated, bibs tied on and breakfast started I could see she wanted to avoid talking with me, and I understood.  We got the children dressed and waiting by the gate for the bus that would take them to Portsmouth and their ship.  As they started to board Jean lost control and had a proper tantrum.  She had to be bodily carried to her seat, and I could hear her calling “Nanny, Nanny!” as the bus left.  I watched until the dust was completely cleared.  I would save my tears until bedtime.  At least the war was over, and I knew I should be glad.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Allan's War

         That son-in-law of mine!  Always getting into scrapes of one kind or another, and regaling us with his stories when on leave.  I never knew if his leaves were authorized or not, for often he came at night and left before dawn.  He simply couldn’t keep away from Eileen, who seemed to enjoy his visits as much as he did, from the sounds coming from her bedroom.
         It seems he was promoted and demoted several times, at one point being the youngest Warrant Officer in the Canadian army.  He was demoted once for driving his little infantry vehicle (I think it was called a Universal Carrier) into a tidal stream to clean it.  To his horror he discovered it gone, carried away by the tide.  He had numerous escapades with his Norton motorcycle, which he used on his night-time visits to Frensham.  On one occasion he collided with an army truck and was hospitalized for several days.
         He was chosen for officer’s training late in the war, and so missed D-Day, since he was on leave from Sandhurst.  When he was commissioned he was sent to Europe to join the Hussars, and commanded four armoured cars, leading the Allied troops to meet the enemy.  He lost all his new uniforms when an anti-tank shell passed right through the boxes carrying his clothes.  After a bit he received another set of uniforms.  He also lost these then an artillery shell exploded the trailer carrying them. 
         So Allan had his excitement during the war.   When V-E day was declared he came home on leave for a few weeks.  He applied to join the Canadian effort to defeat the Japanese, and on that day he came home to sit down with Eileen and plan their future.