It was Summer and I was home for the holidays. Mother and Mabel were upstairs dressing for another tea. Mabel was taking particular pains with her appearance since she had been asked to sing at the affair. I looked outside at the threatening clouds j ust as the two came down the stairs.
Turning to Mother I said, "It looks as if we are going to have a terrible storm. I don't think I've ever seen the sky so black!"
Mother glanced out as she buttoned her gloves.
"It does look stormy," she agreed, "but we should arrive there before it breaks."
Just then Bill, the coachman, drove up in the victoria. The two women gathered up their parasols and went down the front steps to the waiting coach.
"I think we are in for a very bad storm, Mrs. Sutton," Bill said as he handed Mother in.
"Yes, I feel it in the air," she said, looking up at the lowering sky, "but we don't have too far to go."
Bill handed Mabel up the coach step, then mounted to the driver's seat and off they drove, leaving me at home to look after young Bernard.
Very soon after they left, the storm broke. I took Bernard down into the basement where we watched through a window. Hail stones the size of hens' eggs dropped from the sky, severing branches from tree trunks. Falling limbs littered the roadway in front of our house. The wind roared in a fury of sound. Windows broke. The house trembled.
"Is it the end of the world, Patty?" Bernard quavered plaintively.
I felt that it might well be, and suddenly wished that I had told Father that I wanted to become a Roman Catholic. Although Bernard and I were frightened, we were quite safe, but I felt a real concern for Mother and Mabel somewhere out there...
After leaving Poplar Crescent, the greys pulled the victoria along at a fast clip, crossed the bridge and began weaving through the streets on the west side. Just as they drew level with one of the many new excavations being dug for future buildings, the storm broke in all its fury. Gale force winds lifted people where they stood on the street. The horses reared and plunged in panic and Bill was powerless to hold them In control. They broke into panic with a new clap of thunder, and hurtled into the open excava tion, tossing passengers, coachman and victoria through the air. As Mabel flew aloft; she saw a man entwined around a telephone pole and heard him scream, "My God, it's going to blow me away!"
All was mayhem in the earthy pit as the horses plunged this way and that, whinnying in terror. The two women crawled out of the way of the crashing victoria, while Bill tried everything in his power to calm the crazed animals. When at length they responded to his voice and stood quietly, trembling throughout their large bodies, the wind continued to whirl and roar above them.
During a lull in the storm Bill climbed the embankment and found a telephone which was miraculously in order. Amid the confusion and noise, my father misunderstood the message and thought Mother had been seriously hurt. Like a man demented he arrived on the scene, adding unlimited confusion to the chaos, until he had assured himself many times over that Mother was in one piece. The two men finally managed to right the overturned carriage, led the now-quiet horses out, and a shaken foursome trotted back towards horns.
"Thank God you're alive!" my father kept saying, over and over, looking at Mother as if to constantly reassure himself. Mabel told me later rather ruefully that she might have been dead for all the notice he took of her!
"Yes, and thank God you are alive too, and that we are all safe," Mother patted his hand absently as she searched among her clothing and into the corners of the carriage seat.
"What IS the matter?" demanded Father. "What are you searching for?"
"My transformation," Mother moaned softly. "Where is my hair-piece?"
"For goodness sake, forget about it!" snapped Father. "You are alive and that's all I care about!"
"Yes," said Mother meekly, "but what if someone finds it?" Months later, when one of the boys would answer a knock at the door, they would rush to Mother saying, "It's Mrs.-- and guess what she brought! Your transformation!"
Mother would blush like a schoolgirl and say, "Tell her I really don't want it," and the boys would rock with gales of laughter.
The damage in Saskatoon was negligable compared to Regina's where the tornado ripped the fronts off buildings along an entire street. Two men in a boat were lifted from the river and deposited - boat and all - five miles inland on the bald prairie!
After the storm, I decided that the tine had come to tell my father about my decision to join the Roman Catholic Church. I had already had a talk with Mother who said, "If you sincerely feel that joining the Catholic faith will help you become a better person, then I cannot object, Patty. Be sure you tell your father when you have quite made up your mind."
Although my father rarely attended services on Sunday, he considered himself a staunch member of the Church of England. Mother, her church work always very dear to her heart, drove to St. John's regularly. When I was home, it was always her special pride to have me with her in the Sutton pew.
I chose my time with care, My parent was always more relaxed and approachable after dinner. We had a particularly satisfying meal one evening and Father sat back in his chair afterwards, obviously in an expansive mood. Gathering my courage, I leaned over to speak to him.
"Father, I want to become a Roman Catholic."
His features tightened. His face suffused.
"Oh no you don't!" he thundered, bringing his fist down on the table with such force that the cutlery jumped and a glass of water tipped over, unnoticed. "You go out of this house if you do!"
Voice quivering, I said, "When I become twenty-one I can do as I wish!"
"You'll change your mind," he roared back at me.
"I never will!" "You had better!"
Father was enraged at what he considered rebellion and betrayal in his youngest daughter. He had accepted the fact that Mabel and Emmy had made the same choice after their convent experience in England but somehow it was different for me. He half rose from his chair with hand upraised as if to strike me. For a long moment his eyes blazed, then he levered his hand and I beat a hasty retrieval for the kitchen...
"I don't feel Just as chipper as I might," Father confided to Mother one evening.
Within the next few days he had developed a rash and with a sinking heart Mother sent for Dr. Crole.
Smallpox! As the doctor tacked the large coloured card on our front door, he said, "Mr. Button is now over his bout. He was very fortunate t' have had such a mild attack. There's no tellin 1 who'll be the next."
We waited for symptoms to develop. Mother was the next victim, to be followed almost immediately by Mabel. Both were desperately i11. Father than send them to the Pest House, Father hired a trained nurse.
Scaffolding was set up at the top of the stairs. Sheets soaked in formaldahyde barred the sick bay from Mary, our Irish cook, and from Fred and me. The three younger boys ware sent to stay with neighbours and Father moved to the Empire Hotel. I slept in the living-room, Fred in the dining-room, and Mary set up quarters at the back of the house saying, "Shure an' oi'm not afraid of it. Oi'll stay!" Mary had worked for a lord and lady in their castle In Ireland from the time she was fifteen. She often told Fred and me about the draughty old kitchen In the stone castle, as she mixed the lightest pastry In the world with her hands now crippled with arthritis.
"Shore an' it was an honour t' work fer His Lordship," she would say. "Ye couldn't work fer HIM without ye had a good character!" and she would punctuate her words with a single firm nod.
Each morning at nine Father appeared at the end of the walk on Poplar Crescent, arms filled with fruit, vine and flowers. He called op for a report on the night's progress to the nurse who answered from the upstairs window.
"Your daughter has pustules all over her face, Mr. Sutton. It would be a shame if that lovely skin of hers was pitted, so she has asked me to tie her hands so she won't scratch. I have done it because the poor girl is in and out of delirium so much that she isn't responsible," the nurse reported one morning.
"And my wife?" What about Mrs. Button?" demanded Father.
"Mrs Sutton is very ill too, but she hasn't the number of spots that Miss Mabel has."
Father left his morning offering on the front verandah and drove back to the Empire where he conducted another day's business. In the evening he would call at the house again for another report.
Fred and I quarreled and played chequers and quarreled and played cards and quarreled and read and quarreled. Mary Idolized Fred who took advantage by ordering anything and everything he fancied for his meals and became even more Insufferable than usual.
One day he casually announced, "I found some money in my wallet. I'm going out and buy some candy."
"You'll be arrested and put in jail for breaking quarantine!" I was horrified.
"You must stay here and see that I get back safely," he stated, the light of adventure radiating from his blue eyes. He climbed out the cellar window in the dusk of early evening and headed nonchalantly down the street, hands In pockets, and whistling under his breath, as If he had not a care in the world. I waited for him in an agony of suspense. As each person sauntered down the street I peered through the open window, but it was never Fred. When I was finally resigned to the fact that he had been arrested and was at that moment in jail, Fred came into view, carelessly swinging a paper bag. He hesitated for a moment out side the house, took one quick look up and down the street, and sprinted over the lawn to duck back into the cellar a moment later.
What a feast we had that night! The illegality of our bounty made it taste doubly sweet. And how sick we were the following day! Occasionally neighbours had phoned the Health authorities to report that one or the other of us had been seen outdoors, breaking our quarantine. We had been highly Indignant in the past, the righteousness of our innocence lending credence to our denials, but very real fear of a similar report added to our already queasy stomachs this time.
"It's just like my History book says it was in the old Roman days when they had a disease," said Fred glumly, looking out the window. "They cried, 'Unclean! Unclean!" and everyone for miles around ran in the other direction!"
Mary was warmth personified. One day she took the lunch tray up to the curtain and called out to the nurse, "Here's some good old-fashioned gruel fer yer patients!"
The nurse was busy with one or other of her charges for the moment and told Mary to wait on her side of the barrier. But Mary had a mind of her own. She pushed back the sheet and carried her tray to Mother.
"How are ye, mum? Shure an oi'm not afraid of a little germ or two!"
Once the long quarantine was over and Mary, Fred and I had escaped the dread disease, we were sent to stay at the hotel with Mother and Mabel while the house was fumigated. Strong formaldehyde solution was applied throughout, and, the house was sealed on the outside with brown paper. Only the Health authorities were allowed to break the seal.
Once the house was opened again, Mary went back to get on with her interrupted housecleaning, while the rest of us remained at the Empire. After a week or so, Mother asked Fred to go to Poplar Crescent to see how Mary was progressing. No one had heard from her since her return.
Fred's prolonged knocking was finally answered by a wild- looking apparition. Mary's eyes were wide, her grey hair standing out in every direction as she peered cautiously around the front door.
"Hullo, Mary. I've cone to see how you're getting along with the housecleaning," Fred said, pushing the door open.
"Don't cum in here, laddie, or ye'll be auld before yer toime!" w ailed Mary, trying to push Fred back out the door. "Don't cum in," she pleaded. "Ye'll never be the soime agin if ye do!"
"I must come in, Mary. Why shouldn't I?" and into the house Fred marched.
"Don't cum in, Master Fred," Mary begged. "Ye'll never fergit what ye'll see in this house," and she rolled her eyes heavenwards with a bewitched air.
Convinced by now that he would find a corpse swinging from a ceiling beam, Fred proceeded through the living and dining-rooms, the spirit of adventure in a fourteen-year old boy driving him on in spite of the very real fear which he now felt. All seemed to be more or less in order throughout the lover rooms, but Mary certainly was far from finished with her housecleaning!
Fred started toward the stairs. That would be where the body was, he decided.
He became convinced of it when Mary made a grab for his coat and hung on, crying, "Please, Master Fred, don't be goin' up them stairs. Ye'll never fergit it if ye dol"
Positive now that the body was near at hand, Fred started upwards. He opened each door, looking up to the ceiling as he did so to find where the swinging corpse hung. Each room in turn failed to divulge it's gory secret. With a moaning sound, Mary shadowed him. Fred came back down the stairs and walked toward the kitchen.
"Master Fred, ye'll never be the soime agin if ye go in there!" Mary cried, her hysteria mounting as she clung to Fred's coat with her crooked arthritic fingers.
Fred opened the kitchen door. There on the table were the corpses - a whole line of them - and all empty! Mary had fortified herself liberally against any remaining germs with bottle after bottle from Father's wine cellar, and she had the DT's.
Back at the hotel, Fred told his tale.
Mother said, "Poor soul. Your father will take the doctor over to her."
Dr Crole and Father went back to the house and a contrite Mary confessed to tippling. Dr. Crole said the only treatment was to leave her to sober up, and the two men left her alone. By the next day Mary had vanished, leaving no clue as to her whereabouts, but taking a winter coat of Mother's in lieu of wages due. My parents tried in vain to find Mary. We all loved her dearly and wanted her back. But we never heard of her again.
On a dark and snowy night for many years to come, Mother would stand at a window, looking out, and say softly, "I wonder where poor Mary is tonight."...
Down Second Avenue came the annual circus parade. All the performers were dressed in exotic costumes and we were filled with excitement. There were the animals! Elephants marched down the street holding the tail of the preceding animal in each trunk.
"There's a baby one! Isn't he cute?"
"And there's the midget.' What a tiny person she is. Why didn't she grow, Mother?"
The boys disappeared from home for hours at a stretch. They carried water for the elephants In return for passes to the show, and felt richly rewarded for their hours of work.
Father was taking Buzzy, Ray, little Bernard and me to a performance 'under the big top' . We lined up with the crowd at the admission turnstile. Father paid his money and vas herding us through the narrow aisle beside the office when he was hailed by a woman. She was dressed in a flamboyant evening dress, blond hair-do, and she was holding her dress up In front to display shapely ankles and calves. Up to Father she minced.
"Would you doing doing up my dress for me, dear?" she asked, batting long eyelashes at him provocatively over her shoulder. Everyone around us stood still and watched. It was one of the rare times in my life I ever saw my father nonplussed. His face reddened.
Finally he stammered, "I haven't time I Besides, I have the children with me!" and he hurried us through the crowd leaving a tittering group of onlookers behind.
"Wasn't that awful of her?" I demanded, indignant at such boldness.
"Hush!" said Father, "that wasn't a woman. It was a man dressed up in women's clothes!"....
My brother Bert, his wife 'Big Emily' and their two children lived in their own house in Saskatoon. Bert had gone to sea when he was a boy. The crew had lived largely on 'hard tack* and to show Mother the staying quality of these stonelike biscuits he had written her name and address on one and sent it off to England through the mail! It had arrived intact. Hard tack biscuits ware often full of weavils and my father had been incensed, wanting to 'do something' about the conditions under which his son and his shipmates had to live.
Once the Boer War broke out, Bert had joined up. The brackish water issued to the troops had taken its toll on Bert's health. Even after coining to Canada he had suffered bouts of sickness from time to time.
One day in Saskatoon, Bert ate fresh strawberries and became deathly ill. Big Emily, now expecting their third child, sent for Dr Crole who diagnosed a faulty appendix and prepared to operate.
Mother went to the hospital to sit with Big Emily, and the two young children were sent to Poplar Crescent where Mabel took charge of them.
Dr Grole came out of the operating-room and sat down with the two women.
"Bert has been through a verra great deal for a lad of his age," he told them. "He hasna the strength left to fight wi'."
"But he is going to be alright, doctor, isn't he?"
"He's in a verra serious way," the kindly voice went on. "Ye see, his appendix had ruptured and peritonitis has set in. Ah've had t' cut away much of his intestine since it had turned black, probably as a result of bad water during the War. We'll just have t' wait and see now," and he gave each woman a gentle pat on the hand as he got up to leave.
Mother took Big Emily back to our house. Within two days Bert died. For the second time we went through the bereavement of one of our own.
Six months later, Big Emily had their third child. Father offered to help her in whatever she decided to do. Eventually she made up her mind to take her children and return to Folkstone where her father lived alone. She would keep house for him, and her children would again have a home of their own. Father paid their passage back to Britain and sent Emily money regularly for their support. We missed them all....
Saskatoon had been a Boom Town now for two years. Land exchanged hands for fabulous prices, only to be exchanged again for an even greater amount. Care and caution went before the wind as buyers lost all sense of values. British capital had been invested heavily in Saskatoon, and it was showing a handsome profit.
From a village served by a single railway in 1903, the city had grown into a railway hub with branch lines shooting off in various directions. In the past six years it had grown from a town of shacks to a city with modern utilities and noble buildings. Progress had escalated and showed every indication of continuing. It was an exciting place in which to be growing up!
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