"Joe, I've almost finished my new house. How would you and your family like to move into the bungalow? I know it's small for a family the size of yours, but it's still a hell of a lot better than that bell tent you're in now," Doc Sparrow said to Father one day.
We leaped at the opportunity to have a real roof over our heads once more. Mother in particular, was elated at the prospect of a real iron stove at last. With an oven! Cooking over that small horror outside the tent had been a daily torment for her.
We all worked toward our imminent move into the bungalow. We younger ones stuffed straw into ticking for mattresses while Father, Ted and, Dick built six bunks in one bedroom for the boys. There was a large iron bed in another room for Mabel, Emmy and me, while our parents and Baby Ray shared the remaining room. Our few household goods found an immediate place in the kitchen. My brother Bert and his wife Emily moved into a room over a stable.
Soon after we moved into our new home I found Mother standing in the centre of the little house one day musing to herself. One arm rested across her waist, the hand propping her opposite elbow. From time to time she pointed first at one wall, then at another.
Appearing satisfied at length she finally called to Father, "Joe, would you come here?"
As soon as Father stepped inside the house she launched into animated dialogue and finally concluded with, "If you could just tear out this entire wall at the front and build me some shelves there and a counter here, I think I could manage very nicely."
"What on earth are you talking about?" the confused man asked.
"Why, the shop!"
"Well, I've been thinking, Joe. With all the English folk coming through here, their tongues must be hanging out for some nice Yorkshire tea cakes, lemon tarts, and the like. And with money so scarce and you and the boys doing all manner of things for a few coppers, I just thought I could do my bit by baking a few things for sale."
Father was silent for a moment or two. Then he placed an arm around Mother's shoulders and said quietly, "If you think you can manage, we'll build anything you want."
And so Ye Olde English Shoppe came into being... Everyone worked. While Mabel and Emmy took over the care of the baby, Buzzy and me, the washing and ironing, and most of the meals, Mother baked...and baked...and baked. She worked over that inferno of an oven until three or four in the morning so that fresh baked goods would be ready for sale to the settlers passing through the following day.
Fred was responsible for collecting wood for the stove's voracious appetite...And the heat! Those cold nights in the bell tent were forgotten as we melted in the summer temperature multiplied a thousand times by that burning stove. But Mother pushed her damp hair from her damp face, set her jaw in that determined manner of hers, and simply waded into the next batch of dough.
My brothers were out from dawn until dusk, earning a copper here, and another there. They took over a regular daily milk delivery on foot. They ran errands. They helped new settlers harness their first teams. They held horses' heads while their owners went into the local store. And each penny anyone earned was put into the common kitty.
Father left the little green bungalow at first light every morning to comb the countryside for cattle, oxen, pigs and chickens which he would lead or carry back to town. An ox was considered equal to four horses in strength and endurance, which compensated in part for its slowness and each homesteader embarking on his future from Saskatoon, needed at least one to pull his Bain wagon.
Father took orders and filled them from the surrounding countryside with no other means of transportation but his own two strong legs and arms.
Not everyone was prepared to settle and work a homestead many miles from the nearest town, and a demand arose for nearby parcels of land for ready cash. Some local farmers were willing to sell a portion of their sections, so when Father had enough cash on hand he bought an occasional plot of land, re-selling it to new settlers who continued to arrive almost daily. Once a new owner took possession of his land it had to be stocked, and so Father's partnership with Doc Sparrow prospered in addition to his own real estate venture.
A common sight before the door of each family's dwelling was a side of beef, bought in the winter when it was cheap and hung high out of the way of leaping dogs and coyotes. Each morning the housewife would saw away enough meat for that one day. Beef and calves' liver, heart and kidneys - all of which made frequent appearances on our table were free for the asking since few Saskatoon families apparently used them. Eggs and milk were plentiful from the surrounding farms in the summer and our large family ate nourishing, if not varied, meals. We had barley porridge and thick cream for breakfast each morning, summer and winter.
Once the expense could be spared, each older brother bought a .22 rifle, and our fare became more varied with the addition of prairie chicken, rabbit and wild duck.
Mr. Robin Redbreast, whom I had first noticed back on the Liverpool quayside, was another of our fellow colonists who made a place for himself as a businessman in town. He was a butcher by trade, and became known in time as the Saskatoon Sausage King. Another man named Worthington, bought a team and bob-sleigh on which he rigged a pole from which he suspended four barrels of water. Each day he canvassed the homes, filling a family's kitchen water barrel for twenty-five cents. Another settler became our 'town herder 1 . For one dollar a month he took the family cow to graze on the lush grass outside town, returning it in time for evening milking.
Silent Cree Indians walked through town beside their trans-bars pulled by their women and loaded with skins. None spoke nor looked to left or right. In time, even my imaginative brothers, Fred and Bed, accepted the fact that these were peaceful people and that none of us were in any imminent danger of being scalped!
Before long, Mother's shop began to carry a few groceries. As things Improved, Father sent to Winnipeg for staples and to for such specialty items as biscuits in large tins, tea in fancy canisters, chocolates, golden syrup, jams and tinned fish. He ordered fresh fruit in season from Ontario and the apple barrel became a store feature. Molasses cane from the United States and oranges would make a rare appearance at Christmas. Gradually the little shop stocked even more items needed by the settlers. Bolts of material appeared on the shelves near the baked goods, while bridles, harness, axes, overalls, work shirts, mufflers, mittens, boots and socks lay in piles against the walls. Shielded by farmers' legs, youngsters became proficient at pilfering, their small arms zeroing into the nearest candy box. A pickle barrel was added in time, and customers would reach into the brine for a Juicy cucumber to munch while making their purchases in our little shop. Heart-shaped five-cent candy boxes covered in red mica were a real treat! Each contained a prize of a ring or brooch as well as the few expected candies. These boxes were treasured as containers for keepsakes long after the candy - rationed to one a day - had disappeared. The little shop became a place of a thousand smells...
With September, came school. Reg, Joe, Fred and I were lined up for Mother's Inspection on that first morning.
"You look very smart, Patricia," she said, giving my little sailor collar an extra pat.
Reg - resigned to the fact at last that he was not yet old enough to leave school - stood stoically by the door, hostility emanating from every pore.
"I don't want to wear these awful shoes!" Joe nailed. "All the others go barefoot!"
Joe was not the only one suffering over shoes. I had needed a pair to start school, and in the interest of family economy my father had insisted on buying me the sane thick-soled type my brothers wore for work-shoes.
"I don't care what the others do or do not," Mother stated firmly. "You children are going to be dressed properly - even if we are out here in the wilderness," she added with a sigh. "Fred, I just can't do anything about those torn britches. You don't have another pair, and Reg's and Joe's won't fit. You'll just have to make do until we can afford a new pair.'" and with a pat across Fred's torn knees, Mother pushed us out the door.
We were each preoccupied with our own private feelings as we trudged off to meet our Academic Fate. As we neared the little grey stone schoolhouse we saw that a group was already assembled near the door. They broke into two bordering ranks as we approached. Each one of them stared at each one of us - from head to toe. A snicker broke out amongst them and spread like an echo down each line.
"Look at the English blokes!" someone Jeered.
"Take a look at those shoes, will you?" And I knew for a certainty they were looking at mine.'
"That one there has holes in his knees."
Joe swung at the nearest face and the two boys went down in a flail of fists. Reg bloodied a nose before he got his bloodied in return. The tear in Fred's pants grew larger as he fought with a boy twice his size. I found myself surrounded by a group of girls who said nothing....they Just giggled behind their hands and pointed - at me! And to think how badly I had wanted to come here and learn to read and write and make friends! I tasted bitterness at the back of my throat and thought I might throw up at any minute.
"Dear, dear! This will never do! said one of the two Miss Willoughbys, our freckle-faced teachers from Ontario. "Come in, one at a time! Goodness! What a mess you boys are! What is your name? And YOURS?"
"Reginald Sutton, Ma'am," said Reg firmly, wiping a bleeding spurt across his face. "And these are my brothers Joe and Fred. And that's my little sister, Patty - over there."
"Well go and wash your face at once and then come back," said the affronted Miss Willoughby. "We simply don't allow fighting HERE!" she added pontifically.
Somehow we managed to get through that first day. And the next - which was no better...Each day, began and ended with a fight, more jeers and those interminable giggles. I wailed my chagrin to Mother who was busy making a new batch of dough.
"You will just have to ignore them," she said. "Don't give any of them the satisfaction of seeing that they are getting you down or they will just carry on that much more."
"There can't be any 'more'," I sobbed. "They just HATE us."
The boys held a council-of-war between themselves, and decided to take off the hated shoes just as soon as they left the house in the morning, hide them safely somewhere, and retrieve them on the way home after the latest day's ordeal. This strategy would solve at least one of our pressing problems!
Our daily humiliation continued to end in fights and torn clothing. Joe and Reg were our best fighters, and so it was decided that Joe should lead us on our daily march to that hated grey schoolhouse, and Reg would cover our rear ranks. There was nothing we could find in that small stone prison with which we could identify. Every outside association we had known and from which we had gained our past security, was now gone. We were too young to understand anything beyond our daily personal misery. Our hatred of that school was total, and included every person there.
But there were others - men of vision like my father - who could see beyond the Immediacy of our despair in that little schoolhouse and recognize it as but one of the small foundation stones of Things to Come. One of these was the school Inspector who arrived one day and announced that he was about to teach us a new song entitled, "Hail Saskatoon, the Hub of the North!" His blue eyes burned with his own vision of the future of our town and his voice soared with conviction-conviction which carried little meaning for us in the face of our daily fight to survive.
Spring brought three dread epidemics. Half the class fell victim to typhoid fever from drinking unsterilized milk and water. When the children finally returned, one glance at the pale, wan face and close-cropped hair told the tale of typhoid. Diphtheria too, was an annual dread. Entire families succumbed to the choking phlegm. Scarlet fever was the third terror.
Bath night In the Sutton household was always a hilarious and Joyful affair. We took turns being first in the sudsy water and felt warmed and loved and cared-for as Mother meticulously scrubbed each body and toweled us dry. It was many years later that we realized that Mother's bath-time games with us had actually been times of close clinical observation, scanning each body for spots, rashes, fevers and sniffles. Her fears for our health she kept entirely to herself... How did she know enough, to boil all our milk and water?
There were dozens of time-proven remedies used by each family for common maladies. Peppermint in water was invariably used for babies' colic. A clove was placed on an aching tooth. Oil-of-cloves was used for a dressing after a tooth extraction. Castor oil was the cure-all for an upset stomach, ginger tea for cramps, and rice-water for diarrhea. Babies were nursed throughout the summer months to avert the fearful 'summer complaint'.
One day I was passing by an open door of a house. There was a mother scrubbing her floor. She was naked from the waist up! Her child of a year-and-a-half was playing about the room. From time to time he would attach himself to one of her pendulous breasts while his mother continued to scrub - never breaking the rhythm of her swinging arm!
One standby recipe for just about anything dates well back over a hundred years...Place three white eggs in a sealer with the juice of three lemons on top. Allow to stand till shells are dissolved. Meanwhile, in another jar, place three-quarters of a pound of rock candy and half a pint of rum; allow to stand until the candy dissolves. Mix the two together and take one teaspoonful of the mixture as often as necessary....
When the new railway bridge was completed people stood on the shore and gazed in awe at the massive structure which spanned the swirling Saskatchewan River.
"Well THAT one will never be washed away In the Spring," one spectator volunteered.
"Sure looks purty strong to me," said another.
"Betcha no one would dive off that one into the water," ventured another.
"Just how much would you be willing to bet?" enquired a familiar voice.
"Waaaal, let's see. I have $25.00 right here that says no man can dive off that and live."
"Done!" said Bert, and put out his hand to shake on the bet. "I'll be back.'"
'Big Emily' as we called Bert's wife to distinguish her from our own diminutive volcano of the same name, did her best to persuade her husband that such a dive was suicidal.
"Don't you worry, I'll be fine. And think of it, Emmy twenty-five dollars! "
Bert changed his clothes and strode back to the waiting spectators now greater in number than when he had left ten minutes before!
He's crazy!" was the general opinion. "That water's freezing"
Bert walked out onto the bridge. The water was suddenly much farther down than he had expected. Thank goodness Mother and Father did not know what he was about to do!
"Better get on with it," he said to himself and braced for the icy shock. Down into the swirling water he dove. A gasp went up from the onlookers. After an eternal moment, Bert's head bobbed up and he struck out for the shore. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as he clambered out of the freezing river and into the blankets Big Emily had waiting for him. Dripping and chilled to the bone, he strode over to the man who had made the wager and stood there with a broad grin on his face. Shaking his head at the folly of youth the man paid up.
"You'd think he would have had enough of that type of daredevil try with serving in the South African War," said Mother with a sigh when we raced back to the bake shop with the news.
"Crazy young pup!" said Father - but his eyes lighted up with pride in his son' s courage......
One of the regular customers in our shop was a handsome dark-haired young man of the town. It was soon apparent to everyone that he had more than a passing interest in our tiny Emmy. Her vivacious manner had attracted many young men and Father was often sorely tried to keep callers at a distance. But young Mr. Gougeon with his French charm would not be put off. It was not long before he began to call on Emmy In earnest. She was as enamoured of the dashing young man as he was with her. When he pulled up in front of the shop in his cutter with the red velvet cushions in the Jingling bells, Emmy would be ready to go off to a dance or a party at the first ring of the door-bell.
Breathless, Emmy came home one evening and announced, "He's asked me to marry him! And I'm going to!"
"But you're far too young," Mother moaned. "You've only just left school!"
My parents were both staunch Church of England members. Neither of them had quite come to terms with the fact that their two older daughters had become Roman Catholics after attending Convent School in England. But Emmy's coming marriage made their acceptance of her choice inevitable. Mother approached the local Roman Catholic priest to make arrangements for a white wedding, and we were all swept up in the preparations. My personal contribution appeared to be a constant state of hypertension, questions, and generally getting in everyone else's way.
At last the day arrived. It was crisp and cold. The sun shone brilliantly as we neared the Church and took our places in the unaccustomed surroundings. An organ caroled into the morning air as our Emmy began her final maiden march down the aisle on Father's arm. Her long white dress and veil accentuated her youth and tiny figure. Her handsome groom stood near the alter, his face alight as he waited for his bride. The Church was filled with people watching Emmy and Father pace a measured tread up the aisle.
I had never been to a wedding before. It was all so strange! I was placed between Mother and my older sister, Mabel. I looked up at her and saw that she was looking at our Emmy with that beautiful tranquil gaze of hers. No one could tell what she was thinking. I looked up at Mother then. Her eyes were riveted on Emmy and I saw a tear find its way - unheeded - down her cheek. My brothers were shuffling uncomfortably, first on one foot, then another. The solemn words droned on. I had never heard Latin before, and began to fidget as the strange words seemed to go on interminably. But then I felt my mother's cautioning hand, and I stood still.
Suddenly that handsome young man up there with Emmy kissed her as the organ pealed forth. I thought that was pretty nervy of him - and with Father right there too! We came out of the Church and huge snowflakes began to fall. People mined about. Where had they all come from? Were they all friends of ours? As we stood at the top of the Church steps my new brother-in-law scooped a laugh-tug Emmy up under one of his arms and raced down the steps to his waiting cutter. With a Jangle of bells and waves back at the laughing crowd around us, they pulled away from the Church. People threw things after them. Why do people do that? Standing there by myself, feeling very alone in the crowd, I suddenly knew that Emmy was no longer ours...
With Emmy gone there was even more work for Mother and Mabel. I was now six years old and found myself responsible for looking after Buzzy, dressing him in the mornings and keeping him with me when I got home from that hated school each day.
"Life is really hard!" I thought to myself at frequent intervals,
It was not long before we lost yet another pair of hands in our family. Dick's appetite for travel had been merely whetted on our trip out from "England. He decided to go with the C.P.R. and see the world, and with virtually no warning, no fanfare and no prolonged leave-taking, he left.
And the remaining Suttons closed ranks a little more, and carried on.
Joe would never be known for his tact, and Mother was concerned about his behaviour when he was invited to a birthday party.
"Reg, you will just have to go along to keep an eye on Joe and make sure that he doesn't put his-foot in his mouth somehow," she finally decided.
"I don't want to go to any perishin' birthday party!" Joe wailed.
"You have been invited, and you're going! And that's that!" said Mother, ushering her two reluctant sons out the door of the shop.
But Joe had firmly made up his mind that he wouldn't enjoy himself, no matter what! From the time he entered the birthday house he stood aloof from everyone else, arms akimbo. Reg tried everything to change Joe's attitude including the threat of the worst thrashing of his life - to no avail. There Joe stood at the side of the room, surveying all the other children playing games, a haughty sneer on his face. Suddenly there was a loud anal report from somewhere in the ranks of playing children, followed shortly by a distressing and obvious aroma. Everyone else in the room was far too well-mannered to acknowledge the mishap. But not Joe!
"Wher!" said Joe, holding his nose in disdain, "What an awful odder!"
Reg, in recounting the tale later, said that he could have died of shame on the spot!
When it vas time to leave the party, Reg approached the hostess with a reluctant Joe in tow.
"Did you have a nice time, dear?" the hostess asked Joe.
"No, I certainly didn't!" said Joe and marched to the door leaving Reg and the hostess in speechless stupification.
"Of course he did!" said Reg, trying his best to make some amends for Joe's deplorable behaviour. "He REALLY enjoyed the party, ma'am!"
The hostess smiled at Reg.
"I SAID I didn't and I DIDN'T!" said Joe, suddenly reappearing at the front door again...
One night there was a loud knock at the door of the shop. The last customer had departed and the door was now locked. Mother, her hands covered in dough she was about to set for the next day's early baking, opened the latch and was startled to be confronted by three of the local teen-age boys who had the reputation of being the town bullies.
"Whar's Joe, Miz Sutton?" one demanded.
Mother's heart sank. What on earth had Joe been up to now?
"Why do you want Joe?" she asked, trying to keep the alarm out of her voice.
"Waaal, there's a new fella in town. He's real big and strong, and we can't manage him. So we want Joe to come and beat him up for US!"
It appeared that we had finally been accepted by the local residents of Saskatoon!
© Copyright 2023