Six Months In Bush Country
Mary Ann McPhaden (Née Ferguson)
In 1933, my husband Bob got a job in a lumber camp up north in Peterborough county where it was mostly bush. A land where most of the inhabitants owned bush or worked in lumber mills or cut down trees for a living. It was poor farm land as there were places where the rock was on the surface or only a few inches under. Then again there were places where the rock would be some feet below so that some could farm pieces of land.
Along about April I got a letter from Bob asking me if it was possible for me and the children to come up north and live there for six months. He could rent a house for us about two miles from the lumber camp. That would mean that he could at least spend the weekends with his family. Also days that he would be on night shifts at the camp as he could easily walk the two miles back to camp in the evenings.
Well, I knew that he must be pretty lonely and perhaps homesick or he wouldn't be asking me to take the children out of school. Lorne was 12, Betty 9 and Margaret 6 at the time. So I had a big decision to make. Of course, the children were all for the idea as they had never travelled very far from home and this would be as exciting to them as if they were going to a new country. And I must say I was as thrilled with this move as they were. I always liked to read about pioneer days when people came over from Scotland or England and literally carved their homes out in bush country on little or no money. Only hard work. My mother used to tell me about some of the hardships they suffered doing so. But they must have been made of strong minds and determination or they couldn't have done it.
Well, I thought of this plan of moving for about a week as I didn't want to make any quick decisions. We owned our little home and six acres of land, always grew our own garden vegetables, had a cow and some hens, but the neighbour said “Go on your trip, I’ll take the cow and hens to my place and look after them all summer." But another neighbour told of a family that would like to rent a house for 6 months so that is what I thought I would do. I got in touch with these people and they would move in the very day we would move out. And they would look after the cow and chickens and they could milk the cow and have the milk and eggs for their own use. She was a Jersey cow and I made excellent butter from her cream. So I only asked a small rent from them. We also had a few fruit trees and they could have all the fruit from them as well.
By this time I had my mind made up that we were going on our adventure, so I wrote to Bob and asked him if he could get a small truck and a driver and come up on a certain day for what furniture we would take with us. Just the necessary things we would need for 6 months, like a stove, table, chairs, 3 beds and bedding, and dishes, pots and pans for cooking, wash tub, wash board and what fruit I had left over from the winter.
I had asked my brother Bill if he would take us in his car. So he said sure, he was just as anxious to see some of the country as we were. So we set the date for May third 1933, and the truck came May 2nd. We had to leave the house ready for the people coming in so had to store the rest of our furniture in one room downstairs. And after doing all this and seeing the truck off we went to my mother's and father's and stayed there over night. Then the next morning we started out bright and early for it was a long drive. About 300 miles. In one of the early Sedan Ford cars it was quite comfortable but not fast.
Bob told us the place we would be looking for would be a small place with only a post office and a few houses and he gave us the names of the main towns we would pass through. As for other directions we had to inquire along the way. All we knew about the house we would live in was that it was once a store but was now empty and it was called Clydesdale P.O. So at least I would be able to send letters out and get some back.
We went through Peterborough, then on through Lakefield, a small town on a lake. Then, after what seemed like miles and miles we came to a place called Apsley, another small village with a general store, blacksmith, church and a school. By this time the children were getting anxious to see our place, so the next ten miles they were on the watch for it. Finally we came to a place very close to the road and Bill said This must be it. As we drove up to the house, my husband opened the door and what a welcome sight he was to us and we were to him. We were tired and hungry and he had a nice supper ready. We had had sandwiches somewhere around Peterborough but nothing like a good meal to brighten things up.
Then we had to explore the house. It wasn't bad for living in. It had two bedrooms upstairs and we decided to use the part that was once the store for our bedroom. You went through a little hall from the kitchen to it, so we chose that for our bedroom. It had a door leading onto a verandah. Also there was a door from the kitchen to the same verandah. There were no floor coverings, only plain boards, and I could see where I would be scrubbing and cleaning for the next week. But I didn't mind that. I was young and strong and had often cleaned up houses when we were renting. The children slept upstairs and we had put an extra stretcher type couch in the truck so Bill slept on that.
Oh yes, and at the last minute before the truck was going to pull out Bob remembered our cat so he put her in a box and nailed a top on and gave her some water and food so she was okay. She was put in the middle with furniture and boxes all around and was glad to be with us as part of the family.
The next day Bill took us to see the mill where Bob worked and we drove around in the car so we could have an idea of what the country was like. Then the following day he headed back home again.
I found out that the water had to be carried in a pail about 200 feet down in a slight hollow. But it was real cool spring water flowing all the time. But I didn't count on carrying all the water for washing and bathing in. I had the tub, so I put it out under the spout of evestrough where the rain water would be caught. Then I didn't wash unless it rained and we caught enough water. I also brought along a boiler to put on the stove to heat the water. This was no problem as we didn't have tap water at home and we didn't have electricity either. So I was used to doing it the hard way. Also we used lamps to read by and mend and sew. The children didn't like the idea of drinking the spring water and asked me if there was pollywogs in it. So I always had to assure them that there wasn't. It was good spring water and as pure as could be, coming out of the rock, and continually running. It was always cold and fresh.
We didn't reckon with the mosquitoes though. I guess I had never seen any before I seen these kind. They were very small but mighty and seemed to get into the house through every crack and even through the screen door on the kitchen. And we had to keep all other doors and windows shut. Finally I sent out to Apsley for 2 or 3 yards of screening and nailed it right on the door in our room. Then we could have it open all night. Poor Margaret. She must have been allergic to mosquito bites as she would all break out in big white blisters and She really got sick and couldn't eat. She would crawl up on the couch and pull the cover up over her head. So I thought of an idea. I put some dry grass and chipe of weed in a pail and lit a fire and let it smoulder with just enough smoke to keep the mosquitoes away. We always ate our meals with the pail under the table. Then Margaret could eat better. She had me worried for a while as she kept saying "I want to go home. I can't stand it here." Even when we went out walking the pesky things would light on our necks. Then we had to get a small branch of a tree and keep swishing them away. But once the season for them was over it wasn't so bad. I let the children stay out of school for the rest of the week. We had one neighbour right across the road by the name of Mahoney. They had a family but all grown up but the two youngest, a girl named Reta past Betty's age and a boy "Pat" about Lorne's age. So we thought that would be just great. They could go to school together and play together. But Margaret didn't have anyone her age to play with but joined in the others fun as much as she could. One day they thought they would have some fun and threw a dead snake at her, which happened to light right on her shoulder. She came screaming into the house and crying that a snake was on her. Well, I was really upset as I thought it was alive and I went out to the kids to see what had happened. But they had run over to Pat's house knowing that I was going to give them a good scolding. For both Lorne and Betty knew that Margaret couldn't even stand a caterpillar on her or a bug of any kind, let alone a snake. And I am scared of snakes too. Even garter snakes which I knew were harmless. The looks of them slithering along the ground is enough to make me shiver. But we seen plenty up there. Garter snakes, black water snakes, copper snakes. They are very small, about the size of a lead pencil, copper colour with pink under part. They often crossed our path when we went out for walks. So did the garter snakes. We never stopped to kill them as some do. I believed they had their lives to live as well as we had.
On Monday the children started to school each carrying a lunch pail. They will have to walk at least 2 miles there and 2 back. But Children don't mind that. Pat and his sister had to drive their cows ahead of them and up farther, on part of their farm. They let down the gap, drove the cattle in to pasture all day, then at 4 o'clock let them out again and drove them home. Lorne thought this was a lark. Sometimes the cattle would be in the bush and sometimes at the fence waiting to be let out
Three things I am afraid of are a bear, a bull and a big snake. One time when I was a small girl about 4 years old my two sisters and I were visiting a neighbour's and on the way home we were laughing and playing as kids do when all at once we heard a man yelling at us. We looked around to see why he was yelling at us to get off the road. Then we saw that he was leading a bull. No, the bull was pulling him all over the road and he kept saying "Get over the fence. Get off the road. I can't hold this animal much longer. I'm afraid he will get away from me." Well, once we realized that the bull was mad and wanted to get after us we lost no time. My sister Jennie grabbed one hand and Lydia the other and either dragged me along or lifted me. I don't know which. They pushed me between two rails in the fence and they climbed over the top, grabbed me again and ran over the field, crossed a pond of shallow water and never stopped until that man and bull were gone out of sight. We still had to get back on the road to get home. By this time I was played out so they each took turns and carried me for spells. I think that scare left me so scared of a bull or even cattle I would jump over any fence to get clear of them. I can be brave if I have to be, but not if I can run.
Shortly after we got settled up north we went to visit same people that Bob had known at Mount Forest, but had moved up north to take lumber out of a bush.It was quite a large piece of land, all trees, which they expected to make money out of. Their name was McTavish. I had never met them before. Anyway, it was a nice bright sunny day in May when we walked over to their place. About 2 miles. It was nice going through the bush road; trees came right up to the road on both sides. I wondered how 2 cars could pass each other on these roads, but some places there were spots where one car could wait until the other car would pass. That didn't bother us. We were walking. These people didn't know we were coming as we didn't have any way of letting them know. But that didn't bother them. They were so glad to see somebody from their home land and made us so welcome. Mrs. McTavish started to get the dinner as soon as we arrived.
They had a son Neil about 19 or 20, so after dinner he wanted to take the children back into the bush to see the trilliums or lilies as we called them. His mother warned them that they were to stay close to Neil all the time or there was a danger of them getting lost in the bush. This made me uneasy, as I hadn't thought of that. So I warned them too and told Neil to hang onto Margaret's hand, as she was the youngest and I never thought but what the other two would stay close to him.
Well, in about an hours time Neil and Margaret came home without Lorne and Betty and he said "I can't find them. Did they not come home?" My heart sank. I thought "Now they are lost. I'll never see than again." I was all for going right into the bush myself but they said no, I would only get lost too. So Mr. McTavish and Neil went to hunt for them as they knew bush country better than we did. Well, I just stayed outside watching that bush until finally I saw them coming home with the two men. Lorne kept saying they were not lost, but they couldn't find Neil and Margaret. And Betty wanted to pick flowers to take home to me and she did. A whole armful, pretty well wilted. But I didn't mind as long as I had my kids back safe. And that was the last time they ever went into a bush for flowers.
Right below our house in a hollow lived an old man, Jimmy O'Brien. He would be in his eighties. He lived alone in a little frame house. His wife had died some years ago. He was a lonely old man, and Bob would go down and talk to him in the evenings or Sunday afternoons. And we would have him up for Sunday dinners quite often. He missed the store when it was there in the house we lived in as he had no way of getting out to get his groceries unless he sent for them when the cream man came twice a week to the neighbours to get their cream. We got some things we needed too, as he was very obliging like that. You see, we lived ten miles fram the Apsley store and ten miles the other direction to a place called Coe Hill. Bob's boss at the mill agreed to get ours for us in Peterborough where they went once a month to the wholesale place to get theirs for the lumber camp, so that kept us pretty well supplied. Except we might run out of some things. Then we would send with the cream man too.
I did all my own baking. Bread, pies, cakes and buns, and tea biscuits. Meat was our big problem as there was no way of keeping it fresh. But I would get sausages at the wholesale house, several pounds, and I would cook them and put them in jars and pour the hot fat on top and they would keep for days or even weeks, all sealed tight. Sometimes I did roasts the same way. Roast it and then slice it hot and put it into the jars with the fat of top to seal it better. I never had any spoil like that even in the hottest weather, but sometimes we would run out of meat and then I would send an order with the cream man. Once I sent for a pork roast and was looking forward to having it on Sunday. Well, it came alright and when I opened up the paper I was shocked. It was ready to lterally walkaway. Yes, you guessed right. It was covered with maggots. And not just small ones either. So I quickly rolled it up again in the paper and put it into a paper bag besides, so none of them could get out. I also put in a, note saying "I like fresh meat, but not that fresh". Next day the cream man came. I sent it back to the store. Well, he apologized for the condition of the meat and sent me a bag of groceries instead. So that was the last time I sent for meat.
At that time there was no electricity so they didn't have fridges. But they did have ice boxes and they had ice houses to store ice in all summer. There were lots of lakes and it was a regular fall and winter job to fill these ice houses, all lined inside with sawdust to keep the ice from thawing in the summer. I expect the people had these too, but the poorer families couldn't afford them. And I seen a lot of real poor families up there. Some of the children just had apples in their school lunch pails and they would gladly exchange an apple or two to our kids for a sandwich, which they often did.
Housing was very poor too. I often wondered how they existed in the winters. Of course, you could have lots of wood just by cutting it. That the way some made their living, with fishing and trapping. They seemed quite happy the way they lived.
I often took the children hiking and exploring around the community. We especially liked to see old houses that were empty and if the door was unlocked we would go in. One such house fascinated us, as it seemed to be left just as though the people had suddenly decided to leave or had died. One could imagine all sorts of things that might have happened. Anyway, the door was not only unlocked, it was partly open. So we peeked in at first and could see that it must have been empty for several years. The porcupines had taken over. In fact, a dead one was on the floor. That was the first time I seen what a mess they can make of things. The floor boards were chewed until they looked more like poles. The stove had partly fallen through. Also, some chairs had rungs missing and had fallen over. The table was beyond explaining. Two legs were missing and the rest was chewed up. You could hardly call it a table any more. I explained to the children that porcupines are very fond of salt and that’s why they chew wood. And there would be a lot of salt in this house as it was once used by people who used salt a lot on their food to keep meat from spoiling. In the old days the only way they could keep pork was to cut it up and put it in a barrel. one layer of pork and one layer of salt until the barrel was full. Then before they used it they had to boil as much salt out as they could, by throwing of perhaps 2 waters and then it could be eaten. I seen my mother do this often. It tasted alright too, but I much prefer it fresh. I'm not sure how they kept the bear meat but perhaps the same way. I never tasted bear meat or even seen it, but my grandparents must have had it a lot, as well as rabbit and even porcupines. But they are very fat and not eaten very much. In fact, you are not to kill them, only if you ever got lost in the bush and had to to survive, as they are the one animal you can catch, it goes so slow. They won't get out of your way. They know they have a good defence, "their quills", which are very sharp. And anyone who is daring enough to try to catch them is almost sure to get a few in them. Sometimes dogs will if they attack them. Then they won't attack again.
Well now, getting back to the house. A typical old time one, a large kitchen and 2 small bedrooms downstairs. Also an upstairs. At first we only looked in. The kids were wondering if there would be any ghosts in it but I assured them I didn't believe in ghosts even if my mother told us lots of ghost stories when we were small. I still didn't believe in them but was afraid of the dark, for fear one would pop out of a closet or somewhere. The kids still wanted to peek upstairs to see what was there and they ventured up the shaky steps. I was afraid they would fall down with my, weight. They kept calling down to me to come up and see what was there. Old toys, broken dolls, one rocking horse, and all covered with dust. But they were really enjoying themselves, by the looks of their faces and hands and clothes. Were they ever dirty. They finally came down. We didn't open the doors to the bedrooms. I was a bit wary of what we night find there. So we came away, still wondering what happened to the family that once lived there. One thing we were sure of. They had children who once played around. I inquired of the neighbours what had happened to that family, but nobody seemed to know, or even remembered them. So I presumed it was years before that, when the house was occupied. We explored other houses (empty ones) but none so interesting as that one.
We visited alot around the neighbours. One old couple up the road a piece, still lived on the farm, kept one cow and some hens. They were a nice friendly couple and were glad to get a visit every once in a while from us. We always had to get home before dark as the roads were mostly so thickly lined with trees it was too dark to see. And I was always afraid I would touch a porcupine or a skunk or even meet a bear. One time we were a little late and the girls one on each arm were hanging on to me for dear life when all at once Margaret let a yell and said "Something touched my leg and it was furry". Just then we heard a kitten meow so I felt relieved to know that the kitten was following us home from McPhersons. And it wouldn't go home again and we couldn't take it back but the next day the kids took it back to its home.
One Saturday we went down to Loon Lake, about 2 miles away. This was our first time there. The lake is not very big. The kids could wade in some places and it was nice on a hot day. They saw an old empty boat in a shallow place tied up to a tree. Lorne and Betty were all for going across the lake in the old, leaky thing so I persuaded them that it would sink before they got half way over. Kids don't see the danger until they are already in it.
The Loons were calling to each other. This bird looks somewhat like a small duck, but has a weird sort of call. At first I thought it was one of the kids calling me, so I was answering it, but Lorne said "That's not us, that's the Loons calling".
Another day we went a different direction on the same road the kids went to school on. Lorne and Pat had been down there quite often to swim in a small lake. I can't recall the name of it now, but Lorne and Pat were going to swim and called to me as I stood in the doorway watching them to come on down and watch them swim. But watch out for the snakes. So Betty, Margaret and I did go and we seen a few garter snakes along the way as we always did when we went walking, but we got used to that. As we got closer to the lake we began to see the odd black snake which we hadn't seen before so I wondered about that. Then as we got closer to the Lake there were more. By the time we got to the Lake I had counted 12 so I was thinking it was time to go home. But we found a big log and stood on it to watch the 2 boys swimming. Then I noticed what looked to me like sticks standing up in the water here and there, so I called to Lorne "What are those things", and when he said black snakes I nearly fell off the log. "Lorne, you don't mean to tell me you swim in the same water with black snakes." "Oh yes Mom. They won't hurt you. See. I carry a stick with me and if they get too close I just hit the water and they go down under." This must have been a real breeding place for black snakes. I seen enough to do me for the rest of my life, so I called to Lorne that we were going home if we could get off the log without stepping on one. Poor Margaret. By this time she was almost in hysterics. Betty didn't mind a bit. She seemed to enjoy watching them slither along in the grass.
Our mail came to the post office twice a week. There was no mail delivery at that time, so we walked the half mile for it, or sometimes the children picked it up after school. People by the name of Montgomery looked after the post office so we always had a little visit and chat with them. They farmed a few acres of land too. Across the road from them were people by the name of Trotter which we got to know very well. One of their girls, Vera, later on married Neil McTavish and moved up to the Mount Forest area to live.
When at home we had always gone to a Baptist church so I inquired if there was one any place around. But they said no, but up the road north of Clydesdale about 21/2 miles there was a United church. So every Sunday we walked to that church. It was a quaint little white church set in the bush near the road. Quite a few gathered there for worship, as it was the only one for miles around, and they only had services in the summer months as the roads in the winter would be impossible to travel on in this country except by horses and sleigh.
The children were bugging me to set a hen and have baby chicks as the Mahoneys had. So I asked Mrs. Mahoney if she would lend me a setting hen for the summer and she said she would. So I bought a setting of eggs from her. 13 eggs in a setting. Now there was a little stable at the back of our lot and it still had a few old nests left and Lorne nailed one up more solid and they brought the hen and eggs over. She was a good setter and never left the nest only to eat and drink once or twice a day. Then in 21 days she brought about 8 chicks out and we fixed up a coop and put the hen in, then drove stakes of wood in front, so she couldn't get out but the baby chicks could. Then we got some old chicken wire we asked Old Jimmy for and made a wire pen all around for the chickens to romp and play in. Then it was up to the girls to feed and water them, which they did all summer.
I was afraid a skunk would get them as they will dig a hole along side of the coop and reach in at night when the hen is setting on them and pull the baby chicks out one at a time. They are so clever at this that the mother hen will never know it. And a weasel will do the same thing. One night I heard an awful commotion in Mahoneys hen house and the hens yelling as a weasel will reach up to the roost and pull a hen down. Then he doesn't eat it, just sucks the blood from its neck, then reaches for another and if the farmer doesn't get up and shoot him he can kill as many as five or six hens. But Mr. Mahoney did get up and shot the weasel before he had killed more than two. These little animals are long slim ones but are very ferocious. They will even attack a person if cornered.
One day the girls came home without the cattle or Lorne or Pat so I asked "Why didn't they come with you?" as they always had before. Well, they had to wait until they got the bull out of an old well, which he had fallen into. Can you imagine how shocked I was to hear this, for I had never dreamed that they had been driving a bull and the cows every morning for the past month to and from the pasture. And now this same bull was in an old well and the boys were trying to get him out alone. And what if he got mad after they got him out and chased the boys? So I told Reta to go and get her Dad to go and get the bull out. But she said "Dad is not home". "Anyway" she said. "The bull is quiet and wouldn't hurt the boys. He is just a young one." But to me all bulls are cross sooner or later. I don't trust any of then, so I was glad to see the boys and cattle coming and the bull with them. He looked pretty dejected and tired after his big fight trying to get out. I got the whole story form Lorne. He didn't know how long he was in the old well before they went in to get the cattle but was pretty tired trying to climb out. He would get his two front feet on the edge and then the mud would crumble and he would slip back in again. There was only about 3 inches of water at the bottom. It had been dried up for a few years but was never covered over. Anyhow, the boys couldn't bear to see him in there and instead of coming home for help they got some rails off the fence and laid them across the well, and when he would raise his feet to try again they would put some more rails under the front part of him. I thought it was pretty smart for 12 year olds to think of that. As they kept putting in more and more rails they built up a strong platform for the bull to rest on. He finally was able to lift himself up and onto solid footing. Of course, the well wasn't very deep or this method would not have worked so well. Lorne said he was so played out he just lay down for awhile after he got out before he was able to walk home with the cows. I was glad the bull was young and quiet for they still drove him and the cows back and forth until the holidays started.
I wanted so much to go picking raspberries in the woods but I was too frightened of bears, as I was told there were bears around someplace. There was a pet bear tied up at the store in Apsley. We seen it once when a neighbour took us there one Saturday night. The kid would throw candy to him but once he broke loose and was out on his own. Nobody knew where he would head so once again I warned the kids to get up a tree if they seen him anywhere. But they said "He is a pet. He wouldn't hurt us". But I told than he would because he liked candy and would be sure to follow for that. So I was so relieved when I heard that he was found and caught in a man's potato field eating his potatoes as he was planting them. We were told that we could see more than one bear if we walked up the road about 2 miles as the bears gathered there in an old apple ordhard and ate the apples as they fell on the ground. But I wasn't anxious to see them that way. I don't mind if they are tied up or in the zoo. We never did see a skunk up there.
One night on a weekend and when Bob was home we woke up about 2 in the morning. We could hear like a saw sawing a board out in the back part of the store. I knew the door leading to it was locked as we never used that part. We couldn't sleep with sawing going on so I suggested we go and investigate to find out what it was. If I had been alone I would never think of doing this, for fear I would see something unusual. Was I thinking of a ghost? No. I didn't believe in ghosts. So Bob reluctantly got up and lit the lamp, got a stick from the wood box, all the time saying "There is nothing out there". Nell" I said. 'You heard that noise, didn't you?" He said "We11, come on then. You have to hold the lamp so I can hit whatever is there." So out we go in our pyjamas, me holding the lamp high above our heads and Bob ahead with the stick. We slowly crept along trying not to make a noise. There were a lot of old packing boxes out there and if we weren't careful we could stumble and fall over them, and with a lamp that would be dangerous. We could follow the sound, which seemed to be coming from the back door leading in from the back yard, so on we crept. Then when we got to the door, the sound seemed to be farther away, so now nothing to do but open the door. We debated whether to open it or not to see who or what was sawing wood or a board because if we didn't find out now after going this far when I was alone I would always be scared if I heard that noise at night. So Bob slowly pushed back the bolt lock and peeked out. He beckoned me to came and see. And after all it was only a porcupine chewing a board in the fence as they love to do. So we marched back again and must have made a funny sight, in our pyjamas in the middle of the night. But now I was satisfied. It was worth finding out what made that sawing noise, and I wouldn't be frightened if I heard it again.
But one night in July I heard a noise on the verandah. It sounded like someone quietly walking up and down. And the door in our bedroom was open at nights to let in the cool air, but I knew I had the screen nailed on from top to bottom. I felt I was safe from any intruder so long as I could shut the door and lock it from the inside. At first I just lay still and listened quietly hoping the footsteps would stop, and wondering if he or she or what would knock on the door. If they did I had made up my mind I ould quickly get out of bed and close the door and bolt it. But the foot steps continued and I finally got braver and got up and peeked out from behind the door and at least I was satisfied it wasn't a human being. But I had to find out what it was, so I got braver and looked out the door and seen it. It was a porcupine again. This time he wasn't sawing. He was just walking across the verandah, back and forth. When he seen me he jumped off and walked away. So once more it paid to investigate. Now I could lie down and sleep in peace.
But one night when I was alone again I got a worse fright. It was at 4 o'clock in the morning. An unearthly hour to have anyone knock on your door, but they did. And I made up my mind I wasn't going to answer. I would just let him knock until he got tired, and went away, but that didn't work as I had hoped. He began calling "Is anybody home? Is anybody home?" until I couldn't stand it any longer, so I called back 'What do you want?" He said "I would like to know it this is the right road to Bancroft," Then I knew he wasn't going to harm us so I told him he was on the right road and to go about 30 miles and he would be there. He thanked me and went on his way. He had a car, but I hadn't heard it stop. Funny. When you are in a strange place you get frightened of every little unusual sound and we seemed to hear plenty of them.
Old Jimmy was always saying he was going to have us down to his place for a meal sometime as he had been up to our place so often for a meal. He loved the children and used to call Betty Mary for he said they had a little girl called Mary but she died while still a baby. But he never forgot that and always wished she had lived to be with him after his wife died. I think he had a son someplace too but he didn't seem to come home much. Poor lonely man. He enjoyed having my husband go down and see him and talk to him. I often asked Bob how he kept his house and what he ate, knowing that a man living alone isn't likely to do much cooking or house cleaning. But Bob would laugh and say "Why don't you come down and see for yourself?" But I never went until one Sunday Bob had been there while we were at church. So when we came home and I had just started to get lunch ready for the children were hungry after our long walk and as it was hot I had planned we would just have sandwiches and cake. No cooking over a hot stove. When in walks Bob and tells us that Jimmy wanted us to go down there for dinner. Now this was what I dreaded to hear, not knowing what Jimmy would cook up for a dinner as Bob had told me that he kept his meat in a crock under the table, and not knowing that he wasn't getting fresh meat every day. I had my suspicions ours was coming out of the crock where all the flies buzzed around. So I said "Bob, I can't go. Just tell him we are eating lunch." But Bob said "We can't offend the old man like that. We have to go. "Well then, tell him not to light a fire in the stove this hot day, but that I have some cooked sausages in a jar, and I'll bring that down and he will only have to heat them with a very small fire." So with trembling and fear we went down the hill to have dinner with Jimmy. I took the sandwiches, also the cake, and told Jimmy we were going to celebrate his birthday or something. Anyway, I hoped he wouldn't be offended as I’m not the type of person to hurt another's feelings. All the same, I felt guilty about it all, and vowed I would make up for it by having Jimmy up for dinner at our place every Sunday after that, which I did. And whenever I baked pies or cakes or buns, same always went down to Jimmy. And he enjoyed the home made things with a loaf of bread too whenever I baked.
When the school stopped the last week in June the kids were planning on going for more walks and picnics outside down by the lake. They played with the Mahoney children across the road but I didn't expect any problem there. But one day Lorne and Betty said they were going to go over and play hide and seek among the trees and hills. I kept Margaret at home for fear she might get lost. Anyway after an hour or so I was startled to hear Betty crying and yelling at the top of her voice, and running for home as fast as Sshe could saying "Take them out, take them out" and holding her head. I couldn't imagine what was wrong until she got into the house and said "They are in my head". So I looked and one or two black hornets fell on the floor. They looked dead so I tried to tell her she would be alright now, they were dead. But she said "There is more in my hair". got the comb and combed nine black hornets out of her hair. So I knew she at least had 9 stings over her head and she was still crying and shaking like a leaf.
By that time Lorne came home to see what had happened. He said she and Reta were hiding up a tree, when all at once Reta ran to her house and then he heard Betty crying and running home. So he followed to see what it was all about. Finally I pieced it all together. After I got Betty quieted down I sent Lorne down to the spring with an empty honey pail and told him to get it full of the wet black mud around the spring and get back as soon as you can. I had been told when I was a young girl that mud from the swamp was the best thing for bee stings there was. So when Lorne got back I started plastering this mud all over her head until it was completely covered. I think both the kids thought I had gone crazy. Lorne said "You're going to spoil her hair Mom" but I just kept on rubbing mud into it. At least it would wash out again. Betty had long brown curls and I always kept it in ringlets. So when I was through with it that day it really looked a mess. Then I wrapped her head in a large towel and rocked her to sleep in my arms. She shook and trembled for an hour or more. I never did find out what medication is in mud but it sure worked on those bee stings. Perhaps if she had been allergic to bee stings this would have been a different story. But I had to do with what knowledge I had and what means were available as we were 56 miles from a doctor and had no way of getting there. After she had a good sleep and had the mud all washed out I never heard her complain of a bee sting. But her head was a little tender when I combed her hair. No wonder. 9 stings was enough to drive a person crazy. She and Reta thought they would climb this spruce tree and the boys would never think of looking up a tree for them. So Reta wcnt up first and being more familiar with hornets nests she spied one above her head. Then as soon as she heard the buzzing she just dropped to the ground. She didn't wait to tell Betty about it. But she skinned her back on each limb as she dropped down. So she just ran for the house and dropped on the door step and fainted. She never got stung but the bees were mad by the time Betty got to their nest. They just lit into her hair and stung. So instead of dropping down like Reta did she waited to climb down each branch and by doing so naturally the bees had a better chance to get at her. That one episode in her life she has never forgotten, and neither have I.
One time when she was about four years old she and Lorne were playing in the barn and I warned her not to get her clothes dirty as we had company coming that weekend from the city and I had put a brand new dress on her. Also a little white apron which I had made. She loved to find the eggs that sometimes the hens laid in a hidden nest of their own choosing, and would came running up with one as proud as if it was a gold nugget. Eggs were pretty precious then as we only had a few hens and they were not forced layers like they have now. So Lorne found a whole nest full hid away in the hay mow and he carefully carried them down the ladder two at a time and Betty held up her apron to put them in like she had seen me do lots of times. And when the whole dozen was in the apron he warned her to be careful and not break the eggs, so I could get a nice surprise.
I had just came out the back door to call them in to lunch and I wondered what she was carrying in her apron. She soon told me that she had a whole dozen eggs for me, and her smiling face told me how proud she was to be able to present me with a whole lot at a time instead of one or two. Well, I called to her to be careful as eggs will break so easy. With that she stumbled over a little rough place on the ground and in trying to save the eggs she held the apron up high, trying to keep them safe but as she fell her face hit the eggs and of course, broke every one. That wouldn't have been such a loss but as I ran to help her up I smelled this awful smell. Rotten eggs. One can smell terrible but a dozen. Oh my. And when Betty raised her face and head up I could see nothing for egg smeared on and into her hair. I couldn't very well bring her in where the company was. Not with that smell. So I quickly undid the apron ties and got her over where the tub was full of rain water for my Mondays washing. And I told her not to cry now as I would soon have all that nasty stuff washed out of her hair. I dumped her head down and sloshed water all over her head and shoulders. I also had to pull her dress off. All the time she was crying and saying "Your nice eggs Mom, I broke them, and I tried not to". "Yes, I know. You were so careful and wanted me to have them so badly. But they were just too rotten to use so I'm glad they are gone. Now it’s getting you cleaned up with clean clothes that I'm worried About." For I made up my mind that the visitors from the city were not going to find out what really happened until I had Betty all clean and in clean clothes. So I sent Lorne in to get her a clean dress upstairs. Also a slip and socks and a towel to dry her hair. And I warned than both they were not to come in the house until her hair was dryed in the sun. So in I had to go and get the lunch finished. The first thing they asked me was "Where are Betty and Lorne? We haven't seen them since we came". So I had to make some excuse, so without actually telling a lie I said "Betty got into the tub of water and got her hair and clothes all wet so now she has to stay out in the sun until her hair dries. And Lorne is keeping her company." As soon as I finished lunch I hurried outside with a comb and ribbon in my apron pocket, gave her hair a fast going over and put a few ringlets in it as it was long and curly and had to have ringlets to keep it inQZZ place. Now I told them "you can both come in and get your lunch but not a word to anyone about what happened today". Of course, we can all laugh over it now but at the time there was no laughing. And my visitors never knew what really happened until years later.
Things went on the same up in the old store at Clydesdale. The hen and chickens got restless and hot in the coop so we let them out to roam around. I knew that the hen would look after them and show them how to scratch for a living but we still fed them in the morning and evenings. They were really growing quite big.
We didn't see our cat around for a few days when one day she came home looking rather thin, I thought and was very hungry. So the kids gave her a big bowl of milk, also some meat. Then she was gone again. So after a few days I said to them "Why don't you follow her and see where she goes?" So they did and came back and said she went back to the little old hen house and up into the loft where there was some old hay still there after years of not being used. I had an idea what she had up there but I decided to let the kids find them on their own. After debating among themselves why she wanted to sleep up there now when she used to sleep in the house all the time, their curiosity got the better of then. So one day Lorne decided he was going up the old rickety ladder with some rungs missing and he would see why she was hiding away. He found her alright and 2 little kittens. So once the girls knew this then he had to hand them down for them to cuddle and carry around. Then Lorne had to put them back again. This got to be quite a chore so he asked me if he could put them in a box on the back porth. So I said yes, if their mother will leave them there. I had an idea she wouldn't, but she did and the girls thought this was fine. They could play with them whenever they felt like it, and Lorne was glad he didn't have to take them up and down the old ladder.
One Saturday Bob came home from the mill and brought a young man with him, because this fellow was working at the mill too and didn't have any people around there to spend his time off with. Bob asked if he could stay until Sunday night so naturally I said yes, if he would sleep on the couch. His name was Brit. On Saturday I got dinner ready and as we had just finished eating, I heard the hen making a funny scared yelling. Not a cackle like they usually make but a really scared cry. So I ran out to the back and Lorne and Betty followed me thinking something was after their chickens. I seen the hen, but the chickens had scattered in the long grass. The hen was standing there with her feet braced, head down and looking at something which I didn't see for a second. But when I did I got an awful shock and nearly froze in my tracks. It was the biggest ugliest snake I had ever seen, about 2 feet long or maybe 2 and a half. It was laying stretched out facing the hen. I wasn't any more than 3 feet from it so I knew I had to do something quick, to save the poor hen. I really didn't want to kill it, because it looked too big for me to handle. But fear of it coming back again someday, maybe doing something to the children, drove me to tackle it, not knowing what species it was. I never thought of the danger it could be to myself. It could have been a rattler for all I knew. All I could think of was getting rid of it somehow. So I called to Lorne to get me a stick, a long one. But I guess he was as frightened as I was and he brought me a stick of short stove wood from a pile right close by. The stick was a foot and a half long so I could see at a glance that I was going to have to get too close to that snake for comfort. So I yelled "Get a longer one than this". And he said "I can't find any bigger one". All the time there was a hoe on the back verandah but neither one of us thought about that. Anyhow, I wasn't taking my eyes off that snake and it was still intent on having the hen. It had never moved and maybe it was hypnotising the hen and never noticed us. It could easily have gotten away through the long grass and I wouldn't have chased it.
Well, I crept up close enough so I could hit it on the head with my short stick. And I did. Quick as lightning it curled itself in a ring with its ugly head up in the centre and its eyes looking at me. And it really looked mad. Ready to defend itself. But I was ready too. I had to now. After going this far I just couldn't let that snake get loose in my back yard. So I only had one thing in my mind, that I was going to kill that snake. I could have called the men out to do the killing but I thought if I took my eyes off it, and waited on them to came out the snake would be gone and then my fear would be every day. So I hit it again, and each time it kept darting its head to each side. I never could remember how many times I hit it. Once it bled a little. Finally it turned over on its back and lay there, very quiet. So I said to the kids "It's dead now. We will go and tell the men to come out and see the big snake I killed. And it wasn't just a garter snake either." But imagine my surprise when I took them to where I left the dead snake and it wasn't there at all. No sign of it. I just couldn't believe that I hadn't killed that snake at all. And the men said "Are you sure it was a snake?" They didn't believe it but I had Lorne and Betty to back me up. They said I did kill a big snake. So now I got the hoe and gave one of the them it and the other one the axe. "Now you have to find that snake or I'll never go out in this yard again, or the children either".
Betty, Lorne and I got onto an old fallen tree trunk a piece away and watched the men as they whacked the long grass to see if it would move the snake out for I couldn't believe it would go far after all the knocks I had given it and left it for dead. We kept looking all around to spot any movement in the grass, so I looked down around the log we were standing on and believe it or not this dead snake was curled up directly under my feet under the log and he was darting his tongue in and out and looking up at us just as though he was saying "I fooled you. You thought you had killed me, but I just played dead so I could get away". But I lost no time in telling the men where it was and this time it really did die. And no wonder. Look at the weapons they had. I sent for the neighbour to come and tell us what kind it was. So he said it was a puff adder. Although he had never known of any to be around in that part of the country. They were up farther back in the bush. They are not poisonous but can puff themselves up to twice their size to scare their enemies. And this one did just that and both the hen and I were scared. I often wondered after 'Was he going to eat the hen or was he just scaring her so he could get her chickens, or why didn't he slink away in the long grass after I came on the scene? And even after he played dead he could have gotten away. I wonder why he stayed around. Or did he just want to have the last laugh?" Well , who knows. They are not so dumb as they look. Summer was fast slipping away and berry picking time had passed. I didn't get any as I was too frightened to venture into the edge of the bush for fear we might see a bear. For they are fond of berries too. We still went for hikes around the countryside. One house we often passed, but although I had never seen anyone around and the door was always shut, there were no curtains at the windows. Of course, a man living alone wouldn't be bothered with curtains anyway. I really would have liked to go up to that house and rap on the door, but then if I did and the door did open and a strange man stood there I would be so surprised it would likely show on my face. So we left that house unexplored, not knowing if it was a hang out for ghosts or not. The first of September soon came and I knew it wouldn't be long now until we had to leave this beautiful country and return to the quiet town life at home again. We had made slot of friends here and had many little adventures which may not seem much to other people but to us it was something we would always remember as being different. And I'm sure the children learned alot just watching nature at its best. They didn't want to leave and in a way, I didn't either. But I thought of the long winters with snow and cold and no way of getting out once winter set in. Old Jimmy had made us an offer that if we would stay he would have the Old Store fixed up and would put in the first lot of groceries and other things needed to start in a general store. He missed the old corner store so much that he was ready to spend sure money to get it going again. But Bob and I talked it over and we came to the conclusion that we might not be able to handle it as people had cars and were already driving ten miles to buy their groceries and other things and were not likely to do much shopping at the little corner store anymore. So we had to tell Jimmy we just couldn't accept his kind offer to set us up in the store business but we would always remember him as a great friend and a kind neighbour.
Now it’s time to get our things together and head for home. So on a cool October morning we were ready. Bob had put the two cats and their mother in a box, and nailed the slats on the top. He also put our eight chickens in another box and put slats on that so they could have same air. Our good neighbours, the Mahoneys, had us over for breakfast while the trucker and his helper loaded up the last of the furniture. My brother Bill had come the night before to take us back. I took a last look around the old kitchen to see if anything was left. Sure enough, Bob had left, and here was his gold watch hanging on a nail. And that was one of his prized possessions, as it once belonged to his father, who was a doctor in Mount Forest. So I quickly got it down and put it in my purse.
As we were ready to get in the car poor lonely Jimmy was standing there to see us off, feeling too bad to even say a word. And I looked at the children and they were feeling bad too. We had one other misadventure on the way home. The mother cat and one kitten got out of the box and we never saw her or the kitten again. But the other one still stayed in the box. We drove all day and arrived home in the evening, tired, but happy.