In the Great Depression before WWII, my older sisters and I grew up happy, secure and free in the wake of WWI. Buying toys, eating out, paying for vacations and wearing store-bought clothes were fantasies but we had real fun. Fortunately, our parents never told us what awful things happened in a war that was very personal for us.
The Car, the Hammock and the Girls
Henry Ford’s Model A had no trunk. When we went on summer vacation, Father stuffed our things into his hammock and roped it onto the back of the car. It had seen active duty when he served as a gunner on a minesweeper with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1917-18. We girls wore sturdy cotton dresses our British war bride mother made on her sewing machine.
Father took vacation in July so he and Mother could help Uncle Roy and my father’s sister, Clara, on their farm. Or else, we swapped houses and jobs with another minister who was taking a month’s vacation at the same time. Some years we were country kids, farming and walking barefoot to a cousin’s Lake Simcoe cottage. Other years we assumed the role of another family, playing with boys’ toys, finding friends and bathing in strange waters. One thing for sure, every place had two trees the right distance apart for stringing up the hammock so we could roll and toss and romp.
Playing with the Past
At home, a favorite plaything was Father’s bosun’s whistle, perfect for street-gang games of Cops ‘n Robbers. On rainy days we pored through the exotic coins, stamps and postcards collected from other parts of the world.
Mother, who in 1927 took the transatlantic plunge Father had proposed, sewed dresses for our school musical, Babes in Toyland. When we wore our ‘mechanical doll’ dresses (middle and right above) it was our cue to start marching like toy soldiers.
Most fun of all was the parrot Father picked up in Mexico on the 1919 postwar expedition to escort the HMCS Stadacona from Halifax, NS to Victoria, B.C. When we visited Aunt Mabel’s home in Cookstown, Polly obligingly performed for us. She kept repeating “Polly want a cracker” and calling for “Mabel” or whistling for the dog, “Towser”. We giggled and imitated the way her voice went up an octave on the second syllable of each name. Her beautiful, multi-coloured feathers fell to the floor of her cage, ready to be retrieved and recycled as writing quills and hair ornaments.
What We Had to Remember
Christmastime on Grandma Kell’s farm was sobering, with black and white pictures of companies of uniformed soldiers lining the walls. Uncle Clifton wore an eye patch but had a big heart for his nieces. He pulled himself off the couch, hitched Dobbin to the cutter and took us around the farm for a ride over the glistening snow. Enid tried to make his headache go away by patting him on the head but it wouldn’t.
We got the message that war was the worst thing in the world. Good men like Uncle Clifton and Father had fought in Vimy Ridge and the North Sea so we could have happy, peaceful lives and we did. They made sacrifices. Our role in the family and society was never to forget.
Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon, Goodreads or my website.
Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!
I’ll be at Britton’s Glebe, 846 Bank St., Ottawa on Sat., Aug. 9, 2014, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to honor the WWI 100th anniversary. Please drop in if you would like to chat and pick up a signed copy of my book.