"Here is a letter from your mother, Patricia," said Sister handing me an envelope. It was nearing the end of June 1913.
Mother's letter said that Father had decided that a holiday at the seaside would be good for everyone, so Mother, Mabel, Buzzy, Ray and Bernard were leaving almost at once. I was to come home at the end of term, meet Fred there, and we would travel together to Vancouver, cross over to Victoria, and then go another five miles out to Cadboro Bay where Father had rented a cottage for the entire summer. To be allowed to travel alone - practically! Fred was only a year older and didn't really count. What an experience!
That my father must have spoken to Fred of the seriousness of his duties as escort became obvious to me as our trip got under way. Fred carried the wallet containing all our money for the entire trip. He sat in his corner seat with each baggage check weighing him down visibly with responsibility. He was a careful Jailer, never letting me out of his sight for a minute. We had to line up two full coach lengths away from the diner and wait for as long as two hours for each meal.
I became bored with the flat familiar prairie scene, and looked around for some diversion. A most attractive young man sat in the seat across the aisle. He was traveling alone and whiled away some of the time by eating from a box of chocolates which he kept on his knee. He noticed my friendly glance and longing look toward the box from which the contents were gradually disappearing. I spoke, and he appeared glad enough to have a little innocent conversation. Fred, in his corner, glared at me for my boldness. When the young man got up to go to the dining-car, he dropped the remainder of his chocolates in my lap and said, "I'm sure you can finish these."
I was delighted. Fred was furious.
"How do you know they haven't been doped?" he stormed. "You can't keep them, Patty. You MUST give them back. Father made me promise to take good care of you," and with a knowing nod he said mysteriously, "You have to be careful of girls."
When the nice young man came back to his seat, I had to return his gift. I had never before felt so shamed and humiliated. But there sat Fred, glaring at me from his position of authority, and I had to stammer my inability to accept his gift. I then retreated to my seat, hoping that the floor would open up and swallow me - or better still, Fred! Each minute became an eternity as I sat in my corner, looking out the window, unseeingly. I dare not look across the aisle for fear I might die on the spot from embarrass ment! Our train vent through an interminably long tunnel. The coaches filled with smoke and the lights went out. I sat there, glad that the darkness vas covering the sight of my burning cheeks. All at once I felt a slap across my face like the sting of a bullet. Just then, we emerged into daylight.
"Fred, do you know what happened to me?" I appealed. "Someone slapped my face! Just look at the mark!"
My brother looked complaisant as he nodded his head sagely and said, "It must have been someone in this car!"
He turned his head casually and his eyes rested for a long time on the figure of the pleasant young fellow in the seat opposite. Then I knew it had been Fred!
Plotting revenge, I finally hit upon something which I was sure Fred could not dispute, gold medalist though he was at Nutana Collegiate. This was hardly surprising, since I had just invented the plot.
"Fred," I said innocently some time later, "did you know there are TIGERS in the woods around Victoria? Mabel wrote and told me all about them. Do you think you'll be able to go on a tiger hunt while we're there?"
My brother was completely taken in. He spent a good deal of tine for the remainder of the trip planning his part in a variety of danger-fraught situations Involving gigantic striped tigers and Hero Fred to the Death-Defying Rescue!
We had to change trains in Regina. All the passengers took advantage of the stop to stretch their legs and have a bite to eat. Fred and I found a kiosk where we bought a snack and some postcards which we filled out on the spot and promptly mailed. Time was passing unnoticed and the 'All Aboard!' came before we knew it. We dashed off to the new train when suddenly Fred stopped, frozen in his tracks. The wallet! Where was it? He patted his pockets frantically and then sprinted back madly toward the kiosk, I was one stride behind. All our money! Fear mounted as we neared the booth. Would it still be there? Directly back to the spot we tore. There it was! Thank goodness! Fred snatched the wallet in an eager hand, and off we pelted again just as the train was beginning to move away from the platform.
A subdued two-some found seats silently, and sat for a long time pondering the awful possibilities of being stranded in Regina with no money...
In the early hours of a crystal-clear morning I awoke in my bunk to look out the train window and see why we had stopped. There before my eyes, was the entire panorama of Banff I looked up in amazement at the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
"Fred!" I called down to the sleeping form in the bunk below. "Wake up and look out!"
From the curtained aperture across the aisle came an irritated female voice, "Shh! be quiet!" followed by mutterings about the inconsideration of some people's children.
We sat in the observation car for most of the daylight hours, overawed by mountains of incredible size which completely encircled us. I found myself leaning away from the nearest one in case it should topple over on me! The air was snapping clear. Cataracts of water spilled hundreds of feet downwards spreading a bridal veil of spray at their bases.
Two huge engines puffed and strained the train up the steep grades. On the way down, gravel fell on us in the open car and we had to go inside. Fir trees grew in dense profusion up to the tree line, then the mountains lifted their bare faces from green collars and rose heavenward, capped in bleached snow. The little mountain stations were freshly painted, each a little paradise lending its perfection to the colourful picture. Vivid splashes from gardens surrounded each stationhouse where the stationmaster's wife - or he himself perhaps - had planted the most vivid flowers available.
Thunder echoed and re-echoed from mountain to mountain to mountain as a summer storm enacted its part in the pageant. Flashes of lightning stabbed at the undulating bands of colour in the massive grey structures. As we perched on The Great Divide, we seemed to be truly atop the whole world. Nature's timelessness was brought home to me as our little train was dwarfed to ridicule. I was humbled for perhaps the first time in my life as I saw man's insignificance compared to the stature of Nature's might.
At length we reached our destination, greeted the family and looked around. The garden gate of our honeysuckle-covered cottage opened onto the beach. The garden itself was a wonderland of colour. A boysenberry hedge enclosed the property, and everywhere we saw evidence of the owner's attempts at experimental cross-breeding. Apples, Pears, Plums, Peaches - the orchard was laden with treasures of unspeakable wonder to the eyes of prairie children, and it all belonged to us the whole season!
Flowers of every known variety bloomed in profusion, so that as soon as one blaze died, another - equally beautiful - burst forth in its place. I remember stroking the velvet petals of flame-on-white carnations with reverence. Roses of every hue, from moss to cabbage, gave off perfume of which we had never dreamed. Huge trees separated each beach cottage from its neighbour.
A large greenhouse behind the building housed special potted plants and tomatoes. These were picked green when they became large enough, and ware placed on a ledge to ripen. Each of us was permitted to pick his own at random. Inevitably, rivalry resulted between us. Fred had his own place for the ripening fruit, Buzzy had his, Say and I each had ours. We kept pepper and salt hidden in the greenhouse, so the moment one tomato was ripe - or almost ripe - it was devoured on the spot by the picker.
Ice cold though the ocean was, Mother couldn't keep us out, nor did she try. By experimentation, we discovered that it took one hour to creep into the water, inch by inch, until we reached submerging-point. After three hours of water-play we were so numb that we were unable to feel pinches - our own test of having had enough for one day. By the end of our first week we agreed jointly that the 'one hour creep' took far too long, and that the only sensible thing to do, was run in and get the initial shock over in a hurry.
One afternoon a group of formally dressed women from the neighbouring cottages arrived at our door. Mother invited them in for a cup of tea, wondering at the purpose of this visitation. Obviously they had something specific in mind.
We four children found a spot where we could see and hear perfectly, unnoticed. The spokeswoman for the group finally got to the point. They realized, she stated, that we were unfamiliar with the ocean and its ways. Did we, for instance, know that these were Arctic waters, driven directly from that land of ice and snow by a fast current?
"Mrs Sutton, your children will be crippled with arthritis if you persist in allowing them to play in this freezing water," she concluded.
Mother said she really didn't expect to be around in future years when this might happen, whereupon the delegation, one by one, solemnly shook her hand and departed....
The steamer from Vancouver to Victoria passed by the mouth of Cadboro Bay, about a mile out from shore. Huge guiding log-booms sheltered in the Bay during storms. And the tides! They were a source of constant fascination to us. I discovered that phosphorous would glow inside a felt hat left overnight on the beach!
Fred, that Man of Science, decided to make a boat. He discovered a log which had broken off from a boom and had floated in to shore in front of our cottage. Day after day he worked, burning and chipping at his log boat. When it was finished, he made a paddle. Then he, Buzzy and Ray decided to go to sea in their new craft and catch the swell from the steamer which passed the mouth of the Bay daily. Fred could swim - barely - while Buzzy had always contented himself with paddling at the water's edge, and Ray at six really didn't care much for the water at all.
I watched the boys embark in their boat which looked ever more flimsy as I stood alone on the shore. Soon the three-some was pitching and tossing on the waves. Buzzy and Bay, sitting serene in their places, were full of confidence in their older brother and no sign of anxiety crossed their smiling faces. Soon the little craft was truly at sea. Consternation began to mount within me as the diminishing speck disappeared from view for end less minutes at a time. When it disappeared entirely, I tore up to the house screaming for Mother and Mabel.
Ever fearful of the water herself, my mother pulled up her skirts and ran full out along the beach calling for help at the top of her lungs. My God, there were three of her sons at sea, literally, in a hollowed log! A neighbour heard her cries and said he would go after the boys.
As he pushed his sturdy boat off from shore, he said solemnly, "You have cause to be anxious, madam!"
Mother, Mabel and I watched from the water's edge. Gradually the boat was roved towards the spot where the boys had been seen last. We strained to see.
"I'm sure I can see him helping the boys into his boat," Mabel's quiet voice was reassuring.
"Can you tell if they are drowned bodies?" Mother's voice faltered.
The boat pulled strongly for the shore.
As it drew nearer, I broke into a hysterical shout, "I see four heads and they're all sitting up!"
Fred, his manhood affronted, went into a snit for an hour or so after they landed. Even the log-boat had been rescued!
Mother stated flatly, "If there are any more ventures out to sea, I shall take the boat away!"
I asked Ray if he had been afraid.
"Oh no, Patty. Fred told me he would save me if we ware dumped," he said in unshattered confidence....
One night there was a fury of a storm. Loud banging at the front door at two in the morning woke us all, and we trailed down stairs after Mother who had answered the knocking. There stood our Neighbour-of -the- Rescue, enveloped in a wet slicker, and holding a lantern. He told us that an injured octopus had been washed up on shore if we would to come and see it. We had been warned constantly not to swim near any rocks because of these deadly creatures, and for the most part, had obeyed. So far, we had not seen one. Eagerly we trooped along the beach behind Mother who led the way, a blanket wrapped around her over her long nightgown, waist-length hair blowing in the wind, while the lantern she carried cast grotesque shadows along the sand.
We came to an abrupt halt near a gathered crowd of people who ware all staring at a huge, greyish, putty-like mass. In its centre a devil-eye roved, glaring first at one person, then moving to another. Eight tentacles waved menacingly in the air. They were from eight to twelve feet long, each bearing suction-cups the size of saucers. One tentacle had been injured.
"Watch!" our neighbour commanded as he placed a stick near the injured part. Slap! With the speed of a bullet and the sound of a whiplash, injured or not, that tentacle adhered to the stick with tremendous force. We stood studying the ugly monster, mesmerized by its grotesqueness.
"Come children. There is nothing more to see," Mother said at length, and reluctantly we all trundled back to bed, to remain wakeful and talkative for hours. We planned to somehow drive the octopus up the beach the next day and hang it in a tree where it could not escape, so we could show it to Father when he came.
By the next morning, our denizen of the deep had been washed back to more familiar surroundings. Now Father would just have to take our word for it! The next day was bright and carefree.
"Isn't this the most wonderful holiday you could ever imagine?" I emoted to Mother.
"I would give my right arm to be back home with your father," she retorted to my surprise. I certainly did not understand the workings of the adult mind!
Fred was trying to persuade me to go with him while he swam off the forbidden rocks. I was hesitant.
"It will be alright if you are there to watch, Patty," he wheedled, "but if I don't come up in three minutes after I dive in, then I've been taken by an octopus."
Leaving me perched on the rocks, his watch in my hand, Fred dove into the water. A full minute went by. Then a second, I began to panic as I watched in vain for his head to emerge. Stumbling to my feet, one eye on the water and the other on the ticking watch, I waited until the full span of three minutes had passed, then turned to pelt home for help.
There on the rocks behind me sat Fred, grinning from one ear to the other! He had gone underwater around the rocks and cut of my line of vision.
"Ha!" he said gleefully. "Thought I'd been taken by an octopus, didn't you?"
With infinite patience and dally practice I was learning to master the breaststroke. Fred game me pointers from time to time and I had hopes of putting everything together properly by the end of the summer. One afternoon I felt on the verge of success.
Arm and leg rhythm plus breathing synchronization took all my powers of concentration. Fred slipped underwater behind me, grabbed my legs, and pulled me under. A nightmare vision of that injured octopus on the beach made me thrash in fury, and I swallowed gallons. When I reached shore, I promptly brought up my lunch while Fred the Tormentor stood by chuckling.
"Thought I was an octopus, didn't you?" he taunted. This concluded my aquatic ambitions for life....
As we played among the trees or helped ourselves to the colourful bounty in the orchard, we discovered several large hornets' nests. Many plans were devised for ridding the trees of these pests, but we finally settled on one with universal acclaim.
Each person had his appointed task. I was to sneak matches from the kitchen. Each boy had conmandeered an old worn-down broom and these were to be dipped in kerosene at dead of night, lighted, and each one was to converge upon the grey domes with fire and war-whoop.
The hour struck on a particularly clear night. We left our beds and tip-toed out of the house to meet by the kerosene can which lay in readiness beside the brooms. Fred, our leader, was the first to dip his broom in the can. Buzzy and Ray followed suit. There was even a broom for me, and I dipped ceremoniously with the rest. Fire from the stolen matches turned those brooms into flaming torches in a second. Fred led off through the trees at a run with a blood-curdling yell. Buzzy was a close second and an octave higher. Ray, his piping voice sounding more squeak than whoop, was in imminent danger of being toppled by his torch which was twice as tall as he. Sparks hissed in every direction. We surrounded the first nest - a pendulous affair and 'home 1 to countless yellow and black inmates. Three flaming infernos focalized on the nest; Ray's was too short to reach the target. Hornets by the thousands awakened from slumber and emerged to defend their home and loved ones. The noise of their fury was deafening! They formed into squadrons and attacked!
My war-whoop had long ago turned to a cry of surrender, and I turned tail and bolted for home, my broom discarded in haste to burn where it lay. Fred grabbed Ray and they beat a hasty retreat after me. Buzzy, with his white-blond hair, became the focus of the displaced hornets' attention as he stood immobilized with fear. He was swarmed by the descending hoardes which stung him on the eyelids, in his hair, ears, nose and mouth.
Mother and Mabel applied baking soda for hours that night, offering not one word of sympathy to the miscreants....
Although we were free to pick all the fruit we wanted from the orchard, Mother had specified that one pear and one apple tree - both of her choosing - were to remain untouched by us and kept intact for Father when he came. How much larger and riper that fruit looked than any ether in the entire orchard!
Although the fruit on our trees ripened quickly, Buzzy could not wait. He so loved the novelty of fruit growing at our very door, that he ignored repeated warnings and one day gorged himself on green apples, then peaches, and finally, pears.
I was the first to be awakened by the terrible groans from Buzzy's room. Arriving in my nightgown at his bedside, I found him parchment-white, his blue eyes staring like marbles from the terrible pain. All night long, Mother kept reheating the hot water bottle, and finally toward morning, the pain subsided.
The next day Buzzy confided to me, "I never knew you could have pains like that! They were just like red hot knives cutting through me!"
A large porch extended across the back of the cottage. This w as where I used to lie and read by the hour.
"Come on, boys. Let's get one of those big water snakes and put it beside Patty," whispered Fred.
Down to the beach they raced, returning with the biggest, blackest snake they could find. Oblivious to the skull-duggery afoot, I was lost in my book until that horror writhed over my bare leg to the jubilation of my watching brothers. With a scream of terror I jumped straight into the air, book flying. My mother's repeated warning that the show of any reaction on my part would only make the boys more persistent was forgotten in myinnate fear of crawling things. Snakes! Ugh!
I finally discovered the one place where I could read in comparative seclusion - the honeysuckle covered outhouse - and I spent many pleasant hours there.
Busy though he was in Saskatoon, Father wrote to Mother every day.
"What's in the letter?" we would enquire.
"Sever mind," she would say, blushing like a schoolgirl.
"This is mine!"
The day came toward the end of July when Father arrived for a two-week holiday. Each of us tried to tell him about everything at once. Eventually we all trundled out to the orchard to inspect 'Father's trees'. He proceeded to eat five apples right then saying, "I shall save the rest for another day." Each day following, he ate more fruit while we stood and watched enviously. Before he left, he had stripped each of his trees. Buzzy-of -the-green-fruit episode was thoroughly disgusted.
"Patty, he's eaten both those trees all by himself!"....
It was my lot to baby-sit Bernard in the afternoons when Mother and Mabel visited the neighbours. For a baby who hated the water at any other time, he tried my patience to breaking-point by walking into the sea with his fresh afternoon clothes on. No matter how carefully I supervised him, somehow he managed to walk into the water - shoes and all!
I spanked him repeatedly, to no avail. One day when I had made myself a special promise that the same thing would not happen, and it did, I whaled the daylights out of him in sheer frustration. My mother's words had left no doubt in my wind as to her feelings about my lack of responsibility. I knew myself to be a very responsible person; it was just this naughty little boy!
Bernard was still sobbing his heart out when Mabel came back. For the only time I could remember, my sister turned on me saying, "Patty, you must learn to take your responsibilities much more seriously. Remember that he is still a baby."
Our youngest brother stood beside her, beaming the beam of the self-righteous, to complete my frustration....
A troop of Boy Scouts from the United States had their summer camp on another part of Cadbora Bay. From time to time I had noted their passage in twos or threes with a quickening interest. Apparently my presence had been noted by them too, for two smartly turned out Scouts arrived at our door one afternoon to ask Mother if I could attend a beach party that night. At first she was reluctant, but finally said that I might go.
It was a glorious moonlight night. The surf beat a quieter rhythm on the beach as we all sat around a huge bonfire eating sandwiches, drinking cocoa, singing familiar songs. One young Scout paid particular attention to me. We strolled together along the beach, exchanging tales of our respective 'pasts' and plans for the future. I was escorted home about midnight, to recall this night with tender feelings for many years. It was my very first date!
Our last day at Cadboro Bay came too soon for the younger members of the family. Mother had cleaned the cottage. The blankets had been folded and lay stacked on the beds. The stove had been scoured. The cottage looked bare - as if we had already left.
We felt despondent at the thought of leaving this beautiful place. Mother, always sensitive to the prevailing mood in her family, snapped us into action.
"I know! Go down to the beach and light a fire, we will roast our dinner there before we leave!"
Off we dashed to make this last bonfire the biggest and best of the entire summer. We sat around the fire, eating lamb chops cooked over the embers on long sticks, potatoes roasted in their Jackets at the edge of the fire, salad from, the pantry's remains, and rounded out the banquet with fruit. It was a glorious way to end a perfect summer. As each recounted some experience of special memory to the rest, I sat back. With a pang of sudden maturity, I wondered, "Will we ever again be together like this?"...
After an uneventful trip, we clamboured down from the coach at the station, in Saskatoon looking for Father.
Bernard's little voice piped, "Father! Oh, Father!" and he hurled himself at the back of a tall dignified figure, clasping long legs in a bearlike hug.
The man turned, catching Mother's embarrassed eye.
"No such luck," he said with a smile.
Father and Joe came up in time to witness the incident, and Father puffed like a pouter pigeon while Mother continued to blush. Everyone else laughed.
"What's the joke?" I demanded, seeing nothing amusing.
No one paid the slightest bit of attention to me, so I repeated my question in a loud voice. People continued to ignore me.
"What is the joke, anyway?" I was hotly determined to have an answer.
Eventually Mabel said, "Hush!" so I kept quiet finally, but no one ever explained it to me.
© Copyright 2024