Mabel and I were coming home from Church one Sunday morning in the summer.
"There's Mrs Harrison," she said, waving to a figure on the porch of the house beside the Church. "She is a wonderful person I met in the I.O.D.E."
"Come in an 'ave breakfast with us," the cheery voice called, betraying a light French accent.
We went in and took off our hats and gloves.
"Come through to the sunporch," Mrs Harrison bustled us along the hall.
There I was introduced to a delightful grey-haired man, the lines in his face betraying the suffering he endured from a leg amputation - the result of typhoid fever. His two sons were there; Dick, older by a year or two, and Bernard, looking handsome in white flannels and jacket. They had just come in from playing tennis. I was glad I had worn my lime green dress with the satin bands and my new white shoes! We had a lingering breakfast. I was impressed with all the Harrison's - collectively and individually.
"I think that young Harrison boy was impressed with you," Mabel observed on the way home.
"Oh, go on! You've got romance on the brain because you've had so many," I retorted, but was secretly pleased, since I had been more than a little impressed with that young man. "He's a bit conceited, don't you think?" I asked Mabel, recalling his way of speaking with conviction.
"No," she laughed, "He just knows what he thinks! Then she went on to explain, "His mother told me that he tried to enlist but was turned down because of a heart murmur. He is building himself up for awhile before he tries again."
I had wondered why these boys were not in uniform. Mabel, sensing my question, explained that both boys had been obliged to go to work when their father became ill. Dick was something of a bohemian and worked as a reporter with the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. Bernard had to leave university in Winnipeg after his first year and now worked in a wholesale grocer's office on the books.
"Tell me more about the family," I begged, my interest aroused in spite of myself.
Mabel told me that Mr. Harrison had been a bank manager in Carbury, Manitoba, when he was smitten with typhoid. Gangrene had settled in one lag which had to be amputated. Once, during a bout of delirium in the hospital, he imagined that he had been left a great deal of money. As his nurse was leaving, he called out, "Don't worry? I will write you a cheque for $500.00.'" Since the family was scraping the bottom of the financial barrel at this point, Mrs. Harrison had to convince nurse and patient alike, that there was no inheritance for anyone!
Undaunted by the loss of his leg, Mr. Harrison had determined to carry on with his work at the bank. Bernard had climbed a tree at the edge of the main street in Carbury, watching the townsfolk build a wooden sidewalk with a ramp so their manager could propel himself to work in a small go cart. When ill health prevented Mr. Harrison from working any longer, Bernard had left the university at sixteen, and had come to Saskatoon alone to find a house for his family and jobs for both Dick and himself. Mabel chuckled at this point in her narrative.
"Do you know what young Bernard did, Patty? He went to the owner of the Star Phoenix and talked him into giving his brother a job as reporter - sight unseen!"
"But where was Dick! Why didn't he get the job for himself?" I wanted to know.
"He had to stay in Carbury to help his parents," she said. Then she went on, "The owner of the paper said to Bernard, 'I'll give YOU a job here anytime, young man!". But Bernard wanted to deal with mathematics, so he got a job with the Bank of Commerce at first, but the salary was so low that he felt he could not refuse the almost double pay offered by the food wholesaler where he works now in the office. And so Dick got the job with the paper," she concluded.
The two boys were quite opposite in temperament. Where Dick was flashy, quick and always on the go, Bernard was dependable and practical, spending hours playing chess in companionable silence with his father, and giving all but $5.00 a week of his earnings to his mother.
I listened to Mabel eagerly, for whether I cared to admit it or not, I had been very increased by Bernard at our first meeting, and after listening to my sister, was now even more so. This Sunday was the first of many when we had breakfast with the Harrison's after Church, and I soon felt very much a part of their family.
I was there one afternoon, when Mrs Harrison asked, "Patty dear, would you go upstairs and bring me my slippers from the closet in the bedroom?"
Up I went, I didn't see the slippers, so pulled aside some dresses. There was a foot - and a trouser leg! Not waiting to see anything more, I panicked. Down the stairs I tore yelling at my startled hostess, "There's a man standing in your cupboard!"
She was nonplussed for a moment, then burst into laughter. "That's Daddy's artificial leg," she chortled. "He keeps it made up, ready to slip on!"....
Banks were awe-inspiring places to me. The atmosphere was ethereal. People spoke in whispers, looking askance at anyone who raised a voice in those hallowed halls. Bank clerks were automatically accepted into society on the same footing as doctors and lawyers.
"He's in a bank, my dear!" was enough to warrant the highest respect.
My father insisted that I now do my own banking since I was earning a salary. I gathered my courage one day and walked into the forbidding atmosphere. I approached one young man behind a wicket and said that I wanted to deposit some money. "If you want to open an account, you must go to the opposite wicket," said the haughty young man.
Humiliated at my lack of experience in these financial niceties, I went to another wicket. It was the wrong one too! I was so embarrassed that I could hardly stammer my request.
"Is that ALL you want to deposit? Then you require the savings department madame - over THERE!" said an equally haughty young man, and he condescendingly waved vaguely to the left from his high financial plane!...
After two years of teaching in one-room prairie schools, I decided to take an office job in Saskatoon for the coming year. Besides, Bernard was there! Mabel was now senior clerk in her office at Imperial Oil and she helped me apply for a clerk's position in the same department.
It was hard to adjust to office routine after being solely responsible for an entire school. We all sat at our own desks like children in a classroom under the beady-eyed supervision of a Scots manager overseer. We e were not permitted a single word of conver sation except in the line of duty, my particular function was to write letters of acknowledgement of orders in longhand and to check incoming receipts. Our hours were from eight until five and we worked a five-and-a-half day week. There was no lunch-room, so we bought our noon meal at the Patricia Restaurant. A sandwich, drink and dessert cost twenty-five cents. We were paid every two weeks. My salary at that time was $18.00 weekly.
Our one social outlet at work was the occasional invitation to the ladles washroom to hear a special tid-bit of gossip or to inspect a new engagement ring. The new recipient would get some tissue, moisten it, and push it lovingly through the ring to remove any dust particles so the stone would glisten in total splendor, while the rest of us made appropriate noises of being impressed. Eventually notes were circulated from the manager's desk stating that no one was to take longer than fifteen minutes in the wash room - and we were timed. Those who overstayed the allotted time or disappeared more frequently than was deemed necessary, were personally reprimanded by the bushy-browed manager. His were the most mobile eyebrows I have ever seen, the long ginger hairs curling in and out of a tangled web which stretched in unending line across brow and all but hid the small blue flashing eyes beneath.
Each Saturday afternoon, Mabel and I spent doing housework. I polished the fire-irons and the screen with the brass trim, and cleaned the hearth. We swept all the rooms and shook the rugs. I remember what a chore it was to do the large camel-hair rug in front of the fireplace!
Mabel helped with the baking which was in never-ending demand for Mother's Soldiers' Wives and Mothers League. Mocha squares, iced on all sides and rolled in toasted almonds, were a regular favorite and would have stretched for miles had they been lined up end to end!
Each night we had the dishes to do. Even if we were going out for the evening, we could never hurry the dinner hour. My father had decreed that it was always to be a leisurely meal, and we had to wait - and wait - and wait - until he finally pushed himself away from the table. Once in the kitchen we would tear into those dishes. Occasionally Father would appear at an elbow.
"That's not the way I want them done," he would storm. "First you wash each dish in hot soapy water, THEN rinse in clear water, and THEN drain!" and he would stand there and supervise! We might be frantic to race upstairs and dress, and our date might well be cooling his ardor in the parlor for some time, but it never entered our heads to cross our parent.
When Mabel and I groused about the lack of any dinner preparation on the stove one night after work and I observed that the house looked as if it needed cleaning up too, and where was Mother anyway, we were overheard by father.
"You leave your mother alone," he stormed. "She needs this outside work of hers now. It's all that is keeping her going in these anxious tines. You've seen the casualty lists you should understand what she is going through"
We already knew that Joe had been wounded. Reg - now a sergeant in the front line - had written that he was on duty one night when a soldier came towards their post. He alternately crawled, got to his feet, stumbled a few paces, fell again, and crawled once more. Bringing him into the light had discovered that it was Joe! He had been shot through the jaw, and his arm hung useless, full of shrapnel. Reg who had himself managed to survive the first gas attack deputized two of his own men to take Joe to a dressing station. We had not heard anything more...
Mother's varicose veins were giving her considerable trouble again, so Father found the money somewhere to hire Mary, a young Cockney girl of fifteen, to help with the housework. She was bright and cheery and whistled at the soldiers on the street and in the park. Mabel used to speak to her gently about her lack of ladylike behavior.
"Aw, ay likes ter wis'le at the sojurs!" Mary retaliated in wide-eyed wonder at the rebuke.
"But why Mary?" Mabel pressed on.
"Wy! Becuz wen ay wis'les at 'em, thy winks back at me, an then we can walk aht t'gewer." 1 It was all so basic and uncomplicated in Mary's young eyes]
Mother offered Mary the kitchen where she could entertain her friends.
"Oo wants ter sit 'ere?" asked Mary, round-eyed at the sugges tion. "Aw naw, mum It's much more fun ter walk aht abaht the park w'ere they's bushes!" and Mary would giggle uncontrollably in recall...
My parents waited in anxiety and dread for the papers, for the casualty lists were long now. We collected our mail from the Post Office in town, and one day a letter came written in a strange hand. It was from Buzzy's padre telling us that he had been badly wounded.
"Let us hope and pray that he will recover, for he has a strong constitution," Mother said, but the lines in her face betrayed her fear.
Mabel came down the stairs for breakfast one morning soon after, just as the front door bell rang. She opened it to reveal a telegraph boy who handed her an envelope. Mabel carried the message into the dining-room and handed it to Father who sat at the head of the table reading his paper. We all froze into silence as the envelope was opened.
"This concerns you all," said Father after a moment.
With a catch in his voice he read the telegram stating that our Buzzy had died from his wounds. Father's face crumpled as he read and we saw his great strength give way in grief.
We were all shaken to our foundations. Father managed to pull himself together enough to pour a cup of tea and take it up to Mother before breaking the news to her. For once, he remained
At home that day, hovering near Mother and trying to ease her heartbreak by countless small attentions, while his own heart was broken. Mabel and I went to face life at the office as well as we could. More than ever it was new our personal war - now that we had lost one of our own...
Mrs Weston was an Englishwoman who had spent many years with her husband in South Africa. The long period overseas when she had enjoyed household help had permanently obliterated any ability she might once have possessed for cooking and housekeeping. She was vivacious, warm-hearted, generous, and everyone adored her. She came to call late one afternoon when Mother was out.
"That's right, dear. I really came to see you girls," she chirped to Mabel and me. "I'm forming a V.A.D. group here in Saskatoon. It would be such a good example to the other young women in town if you girls would join. After all, your family is very well-known. You might even be sent overseas! Anyhow, we'll be ready for any call that comes. Now think it over, and come and see me at home tomorrow."
Mabel and I were elated, to go overseas! The following afternoon we presented ourselves at the Weston apartment. Mr Weston was there, a tall, grizzled, thin, well-mannered person who welcomed us warmly while his wife called cheerily from the next room.
We stood in the parlour gazing spellbound at the litter piled high on the mantle. Letters, spools of colored thread, mending, pipes - all had found a precarious lodging over the fireplace. Mr. Weston caught the direction of our stupefied gaze.
"You know, she really is a very busy person," he said apolo getically. "I really don't know how it happens, but everything seems to congregate there. You don't really mind, do you?"
We entered wholeheartedly into plans for forming the V.A.D. as Mrs. Weston bustled about, waving loose pieces of paper and various items of completely unrelated trivia. She vas so good- natured that people invariably felt obliged to work twice as hard as otherwise in order to make up for her lack of detai1led organization. Mabel and I were no exceptions.
We discussed plans to have doctors come to give us lectures in anatomy and first aid. Time flew by as we became involved in plans for the future of the new group. Mabel and I were carried away with enthusiasm seeing ourselves doing something of real contribution to the War Effort.
"Do stay for tea," Mrs Weston suddenly said. Mabel and I thanked her and accepted.
"The girls are going to stay for tea, dear!" she called to her husband.
"Good-0! We'll have some company," he replied. There was a long pause. "What are we going to give them?"
"Oh, I don't know. It doesn't really matter. We have some bread and butter and jam!"
On the way home, Mabel said with a chuckle, "Now I know why Mr. West on always called on Father at the hotel around dinner-time!"
And so the Saskatoon V.A.D. came into being. Mabel and I attended the meetings at night after work. It meant crossing the bridge to the other aide of the river in the winter darkness, a trip we did not relish. One night, coining home together as usual we heard footsteps behind us on the dark bridge. We walked a little faster. So did the person behind. The bridge had never seemed so long or so dark before. We hurried a little faster. So did our pursuer. Finally, exchanging a look of mutual agreement, and throwing maidenly modesty to the winds, we both lifted our skirts to running height and tore across the rest of the way. Ten minutes later, gasping for breath, we collapsed inside our own front door.
"That does it," said Mother. "You must have a dog!"
And so I became the owner of Billy Dooley, a cocker spaniel of questionable ancestry whose ambition in life was to embarrass me.
Billy used to talk through my voice with a cocker spaniel accent. He sat on my knee at night and told young Bernard his adventures of the day, captivating my youngest brother as completely as I had been by the Hunters' dogs in that cultured shack on the unkempt prairie. Little Bernard would roll on his bed in stitches as Billy related the sly methods he had used to outsmart the other dogs in the neighborhood to win a choice bone from someone's garbage. Billy would roll his big brown eyes dolefully as the tale unfolded and winked at appropriate places in the tale to punctuate a point.
Mabel and I took him to our meetings at night. He was with us one evening when we were being given a lecture in anatomy by one of the doctors. The room was hot. Billy wriggled from one spot to another on the floor, seeking a cool draught. He eventually found a spot to his liking and stretched out in tired contentment.
Our lecturer's voice went on. From time to time he pointed to various bones on a human skeleton, strung together and hanging from its stand by its skull. The doctor walked back a few paces to a table where his notes were spread out, his voice stopping momentarily as he looked for some specific information. In the sudden quiet we heard an unmistakable click and rattle. Each person looked questioningly at her neighbor. The doctor's mouth opened wide as he gaped at the skeleton doing an unmistakable dance where he hung "My God!" he exclaimed. "Is the thing coming to life?" Billy Dooley had found his cool spot right under the skeleton and his heavy breathing was responsible for those clinking, dancing bones!
When Mother had a meeting of the Soldiers' Wives and Mothers League at home, Billy felt it was his duty to attend too. He usually waited until all the ladies were having tea before making his appearance, tail wagging in friendly greeting. One particularly cold evening in February, Billy waddled into Mother's meeting. He advanced to the centre of the floor, stopped, and delicately deposited his contribution to the affair on the camel-hair rug. Because it was winter, it took time to realize just what Billy's prize was. Down he lay to watch the reaction as his gift thawed. The heated room eventually melted the ice and exposed Billy's donation in its true state - a round ball of horse manure! I could never break Billy of this habit. He must have followed every horse in Saskatoon!
Mother's embarrassment was acute as she removed the unwelcome contribution to her meeting, saying, "I don't know what Patty has done, but that dog is very unmanageable!" Then, to restore an air of dignity and gentility to the occasion, Mother decided to serve some mulled wine to the ladles before they left to brace the winter walk home in sixty-five degrees below zero. The ladies took to the unexpected treat in appreciation and then donned their heavy wraps for the homeward journey. By twos and threes they said 'Good-night 1 to Mother at the front door and went down the steps. Before they managed to make the sidewalk, they all - one by one - dropped like ninepins in their tracks! The combination of mulled wine and freezing temperature was just too much!
Bernard was now courting me in earnest. Since he gave all but $5.00 a week of his earnings to his mother, most of our time together was spent on foot. We slid on snowshoes down the steep banks of the Saskatchewan River and walked along the frozen surface, hand in hand, unmindful of the searing winds and gusting snow.
By now I knew the senior Harrison's much better and never ceased to marvel at their continuing romance. Mr. Harrison would cut out special poems from any paper or magazine he was reading and place over the sink so his wife would read them while she did the dishes. They had had to wait eight years before they could marry because he had supported his aristocratic elderly mother who would not even consider having a French-Canadian nurse for a daughter-in-law. Furthermore, the woman was a Roman Catholic! When the anniversary of their wedding day came along, Mr. Harrison would whistle a special tune which he been played on that morning, not long ago. Immediately she heard the first notes, Mrs Harrison would stop whatever she was doing and rush into his arms!
Winter and summer, fair weather and foul, we had tag days. We sold tags for the Red Cross, the Soldiers' Wives and Mothers League, Christmas parcels for the men overseas, the local hospital for returned men, and Innumerable other worthy causes. No office floor or store was closed to us when we tagged - usually on a Saturday afternoon. And how shy we were at first, to pin a tag on a man's lapel. We tagged by the hour until we were ready to drop. The most exhausting of all was selling programs at the annual Exhibition. Up and those steps .we climbed, up and down again and again and again. The particular charity for -which we -were collecting that day could keep the funds from the sale of the programs, so -we kept climbing , telling ourselves that it was one small thing we could do to help the War Effort. I remember crawling in our front door on my hands and knees after one such Saturday afternoon at the Exhibition...
Fred had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He had won the Military Cross and was to come home for a brief leave! The newspapers sang his praises in recounting the action in which Fred had brought home safely the small plane in which he was an observer after the pilot was wounded and unconscious.
The whole city turned out to welcome Fred. He was practically mobbed at the station on his arrival! Grinning from ear to ear he greeted us in turn. Father stood tall and dignified, proud as a Pouter pigeon of his Royal Flying Corps son with the infectious grin. Mother's dignity vanished into oblivion as she tearfully took her son into her arms.
"Decided to grow up at last, did you n were Fred's first words to me as he looked me over coolly from head to toe.
There were parties galore in Fred's honor. Our living-room was filled night after night with young people. The local girls adored him, begging him to recount anecdotes as they hero-worshiped w ith their eyes. Fred played his role to the hilt and obviously loved every moment. Mother proudly prepared every dish herself for the nightly parties. Fred was asked to speak all over town and even addressed the congregation from the Anglican pulpit on Sunday morning!
Bernard decided to take advantage of all the excitement and bustle of Fred being home to 'speak' to my father. I knew what he planned to do and was in a frenzy lest anyone suspect and somehow spoil the biggest day of my life!
It was Good Friday, March 29th f and unseasonably warm. Fred had Invited Mabel to go to the theatre with him. She was upstairs dressing. Fred was shaving. I sat downstairs curled up in a chair, pretending to read.
Fred breezed through the living-room, spotted me, stopped dead in his tracks, and surveyed me coolly. All my will-power went into looking relaxed, but my heart was thudding violently and I felt I night suffocate.
"Would you like to come along, Patty?" he queried.
"Hmmm. I don't know. I'll think about it and let you know in a few minutes," and I turned a page in my book as casually as I could.
Fred stood there a moment longer, then went up to Mabel's room.
"If I thought Bernard was coming to speak to Father tonight, wild horses couldn't drag me out!" he said.
"Oh I don't think so, Fred," Mabel murmured, putting on an ear-ring. "Patty isn't even dressed up!"
"No, I don't suppose so," he conceded.
I strolled upstairs. On the way to my room, I stopped at Fred's door.
"I have a bit of a headache, Fred. I don't think I'll go."
"Come on, Pat. The outing will do you good," he urged, following me down the hall, calculating whether or not I was deliberately misleading him.
He stood in my doorway an interminable length of time, pressing me to change my mind. How I wished he would go before I overplayed my part and he became suspicious!
"You and Mabel had better get started, hadn't you, or you will miss the curtain?" I yawned, then stretched out on my bed.
Finally, when I thought I should explode in another second, he turned away. But he and Mabel still had to cross the river bridge. What if they passed Bernard there? Then Fred would come back in an instant to be sure of being in on the event! I dressed in a fever after they left, excitement making my cheeks glow and my eyes sparkle. Once I was sure that both my brother and sister must be safely at the theatre, I breathed more freely. Soon the doorbell rang, and there was Bernard!
Father was buried in his newspaper. Mother hovered about anxiously. She knew what Bernard was going to ask Father tonight, but neither she nor I knew what Father would say. I was the youngest daughter and there were certain expectations of me.
"I should like to speak with you privately, sir," said Bernard once he had been shown into the living-room.
Brusquely Father demanded, "Well, what is it?" as he led the *way into the library.
Once the patriarch was seated, Bernard said, "I should very much like to marry Patricia."
"Bernard, you are very young and so is Patty, Too young, in fact, to be thinking of marriage."
"Well, Mr Sutton, I understand that you were very young when you married and from what I can see, it has been most successful."
This nonplussed Father completely.
He 'harrumph'ed' a few times then said, "Well then, I (harumph) suppose (harumph) that it is alright. You have my permission to ask Patty."
My father left the library to find Mother and tell her what had happened. She was puttering nervously in the kitchen. I had been watching and waiting behind the stairwell, and as soon as Father left, I flew into the library and into Bernard's arms.
Once the news was broken, Father opened a bottle of special vintage and poured a toast. I had never been so happy in my life!
Fred and Mabel returned in time to drink our health and Bernard left soon afterward. I flew up to my room to be alone on this greatest of all my nights. My door flew open and there stood an enraged Fred.
"Deceit, thy name is woman! To think that I believed you had a headache and you deceived me!" he stormed.
"I was not deceitful and I am not deceitful," I retorted.
"This was merely my own business and neither you nor anyone else had any part in it!"
For once in his life, Fred with his conniving and contriving ways had been outsmarted!
Easter Sunday morning we were all dressing for Church, when there was a knock at the door. Fred went to answer. A long box bearing my name exchanged hands. Fred brought the box to my room and stood there while I opened it. Inside were the three most beautiful red roses in the world!
Wearing them on my suit that Easter morning, everyone could see that Patty Sutton would soon be the wife of Bernard Harrison who sat beside her...
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