I was growing up. At the end of the following year I would graduate. I intended going to Normal School then, for the teaching profession had appealed to me for a long time.
I had met an Englishman - a bachelor - who had been a civil engineer in Norwich. His family was in the stained glass window business, and he had been one of Mabel's admirers, or 'lovers' as we referred to the many young men in Mabel's life. She had found but little time for him, however, and he and I discovered that we got along famously. We had a kindred interest in literature and the theatre and read Shakespeare by the hour when I was at home in Saskatoon. He imparted much in the way of insight into the meaning behind the characters as we discussed the plays and poetry. We attended the Empire Theatre regularly when I was home for the holidays, and corresponded frequently when I was at the convent in Prince Albert. All poetry and literature took on new meaning for me, largely due to James King's enlightened insight.
One day at the convent, a huge box was carried by one of the nuns into class. Everyone looked in awe at the beautiful package.
"It's for you, Patricia," she said, laying it down on my desk.
For me! Who on earth would send me a present? All the girls crowded around as I removed the outer wrapping. What excitement! Inside was a wooden case. Two girls dashed to the kitchen to borrow something with which to pry off the cover. Inside was a ten pound box of Cadbury's chocolates! We gasped at the artistic array. In the centre lay a tiny pair of golden tongs.
"Don't eat any, Patty. You'll spoil the whole effect if you do!" one of the girls advised.
But who had sent them? The next day I was summoned to Mother Superior. All along the corridors I examined my conscience and decided that one of my brothers must have said something revolting in a letter to me which could not pass Mother Superior's eagle eye without a rebuke.
I waited outside her office in fear and trembling. A dressing down by the Superior was something to dread, as I well knew! Inside the office, I was invited to sit down.
"I have learned that you received a box of chocolates yesterday," she began. "They were from a certain Mr. King," and she handed me the small enclosure card. "You have been receiving quite a number of letters - almost every week in fact, from him too. I wonder if your parents know this man?"
"Oh yes, Mother!" So that was all! James King had sent the chocolates. How nice! Then I added, "He is a good friend."
"A good friend", hmmm I see. But just how good a friend is he?" she demanded.
"Oh, he's a 'lover'," I explained, I thought, by using the family expression.
Mother Superior's eyebrows shot up into her coif. "He's not YOUR lover, is he?" she exploded. "Heavens, no!" He's more like an uncle," I explained.
My friendship and correspondence with James King continued, albeit under the extra critical eye of Mother Superior who examined each letter addressed to her charges. He continued to guide, govern and suggest during this impressionable period of my life, but never criticized. I think our Superior finally grew to appreciate his influence on my emerging development once the first shock of his 'lover 1 status had been dispelled....
Back in Saskatoon in the summer of 1915 I found everything changed. Mother and Mabel no longer attended teas, the theatre, or any social functions. They were busy doing War Work and house hold chores for we could no longer afford any hired help.
My father's face was grey with worry when we saw him at infrequent intervals, and he snapped at each of us in irritation. He no longer went to the Empire Hotel each day, for the hotel staff had all left and work on the new extension had come to a total standstill. Like a man demented he haunted the front hall of our house, jerked outside onto the verandah, dashed down the walk to look for the postman and lumbered back into the house again, to repeat the entire performance in a matter of minutes. I overheard Mother ask him what he expected that was so important, but he turned his back on her, mumbling something about a letter he was expecting.
"It might be the Crown Jewels the way you are acting!" she retorted.
Each day saw the failure of another business in Saskatoon. People who had owned thousands just a few short months ago were suddenly penniless. Whenever a new failure was mentioned in our home Father would thunder, "Don't worry! I have provided" and begin his pacing again.
I was stunned by all these changes and waited for someone to explain. Apparently Mabel and Fred, who was home on his last leave before going overseas, were equally in the dark. The three of us sat together in Fred's room before dinner one night discussing the inexplicable reversal of our family fortunes.
"It is hard for us, that's certain. But it is far harder for Mother and Father to meet a crisis at their age - whatever this particular crisis is," Fred observed with new-found wisdom.
Dinner that night was a subdued affair. Father pushed his rice pudding away untouched and went out for a walk. Mother sat at her end of the table.
She too suddenly looked grey, and when she said, "I have something to tell you all," we knew we were to learn the fearful facts at last.
"Your father will be displeased when he discovers that I have told you, but you are all affected and I am glad to spare him the ordeal of telling you all himself," she began, hands folded tightly in front of her at the table's edge. "Things have become very difficult. A year ago - even before the War - your Father sensed that we were about to enter a decline and he had the foresight to enter into a transaction with a British syndicate which agreed to purchase and refurnish the Empire Hotel and Theatre for half a million dollars." We gasped aloud. "Furthermore the syndicate agreed to retain your father's services as manager of both for the next five years at an annual salary of $10,000." she went on, her voice quite calm. "The agreement was drawn up and signed by both parties. Only the money transfer had to be completed. You have seen him haunt the front walk for the postal delivery each day lately. Today's news paper states that no money is permitted to leave England and all agreements, signed or not, are now null and void. Your Father invested everything he had in the hotel and theatre. Now it is lost - all lost." Her voice stopped then and her eyes locked back in time. Then she said softly, "It doesn't seem possible that we have to go back to scraping for every penny again, but there it is.!"
And with an abrupt movement she rose, gathered a handful of dishes, and walked firmly into the kitchen, leaving us in stupefied silence.
"But we can't have lost EVERYTHING" I ran after Mother.
"Yes, everything except this house which is in my name," she stated in a voice so deadly quiet that it left no room for doubt. Then as an afterthought Mother looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, Patty, but you just can't go back to school in the autumn."
I was numb with shock. The picture of my father looking over his devastated farm flashed into vivid recall.
"This is the same thing again," I thought....
Mabel in her quiet way took the first positive step. She answered an advertisement in the 'Help Wanted 1 column for an office worker with Imperial Oil.
"She'll never stick it," prophesied Fred. But I knew she would. From being the belle of Saskatoon society, Mabel accepted her lot as a working girl with never a word of complaint.
Father tried to enlist in the Army, but since he was now well past fifty, he was turned down. Undaunted, he found a place for himself as Recruiting Officer for the region, and once more his days dawned with expectation; his step held purpose. But even this was not total commitment, to such a man, and he found tine to help organize an 'older men's army' - a type of Home Guard. Their aims were somewhat vague, but they were certainly going to be prepared if they were needed!
One morning in the heat of the summer, I passed by the park. Hearing a voice bark orders, and the sound of marching feet, I walked over to see what was going on. There was a squad of men - some thirty of them - marching briskly up and down the length of the park, in the heat to the commands of one of their number, many were grey-haired; some were snowy white. I saw my father going through his paces, his face blood-red with exertion and perspiration showing through his shirt in wet patches. Like the others, he made up in determination what he lacked in youth. I stood still, unwilling to have him see me, and watched. Pride in the man who had sired me welled up in my heart which broke a little at the sight. Everyone else seemed to have purpose to his daily life. I spent long hours by myself wondering what I was going to do. With my convent training cut away, m y lifelong ambition to become a teacher disintegrated in a puff of smoke, and I found myself in total vacuum. I had no skills, no talents and no training.
One day James King asked if I would like to go out to one of the hotels for dinner with him, always providing Father would give his permission. Dinner! At a hotel! And with a man! I was ecstatic and terrified at the same time.
I listened from the upper landing while he approached my father.
"Mr Sutton, would you allow me to take Patricia out to dinner one evening?"
"Harrumph I suppose you might ask her," came the testy reply. As my elation soared, I heard the quiet voice go on.
"And would it be alright if she had a small glass of wine with her meal?"
I almost toppled over the banister in surprise.
"Erah! Yes, I think she might have one glass of wine. A small one, mind you" my father replied.
The date was set and I alternated between the heady conviction that I was now a woman of the world and outright terror lest I make some nervous blunder that would reduce me to social annihilation.
When we entered the hotel dining-room, James King held my chair for me and helped me off with my wrap. This was the sort of attention people gave my mother and Mabel, but not me! I began to glow - even before the wine - and found myself talking freely over dinner. I was explaining each person's re adjustment to our losses.
"Father seems reasonably settled into his new role as Recruiting Officer. Mabel is working in the office at Imperial Oil, and Mother has thrown herself into her Soldiers' Wives and Mothers League. And of course Joe, Reg, Fred and Buzzy are already in the Army."
"Joe is married with two children, isn't he?" James asked.
"Yes, but he says he has that much more to fight for. So that means that just Baby Bernard and I are left at home with nothing to do," I finished gloomily.
"That's what I wanted to discuss with you, Patty. What is it you really want to do with your life?"
"Why, teach of course!" I exclaimed. "But I still have one more year at the convent and a year at Normal School before I am qualified," I moaned with the despair of not-quite-seventeen.
"That's quite true for teachers in the city schools, but a Junior Certificate is all you need to teach in the country, and you got yours this year. As a matter of fact, we have a new school out near where I have my quarter section, and if you are interested I would be glad to speak to the School Board on your behalf."
My escort settled back and let his suggestion sink in. Me! A teacher my personal sky was suddenly filled with sunshine again!
"Where would I stay?" I asked when I got my breath.
"I think Dalton Hunter and his wife would be glad to have you. He is a remittance man from England and has a farm near the school. He is quite a character, but the Hunters are a very cultured couple. As a matter of fact, I think Mrs. Hunter's sister - a Miss Gage - lives with them too, so you would have company."As quickly as I agreed, it seemed that arrangements became finalized, and I found myself on a train proceeding toward my future.
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