Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bits N Pieces and Brave New World

Edie and Flo. 1912

In my story about my own grandmother, Looking for Mrs. Peel, which I posted on this Flo in the City website, (about a girl coming of age in the 1910 era, based on the letters of
I have a chapter called Bits N Pieces. That's a song by the Dave Clarke Five. My older brother had their album in the sixties, but I included the song in my story (when I had the choice of a gazillion iconic tunes) because I believe that with the modern media, or just modernity, our reality is in bits n pieces, like an Eisenstein montage of sound and image.

As an essayist, I try to take these bits and pieces and make sense of them, find a pattern.

For instance, today I am listening to Saturday Live on BBC Four, a great program, and that show features a man discussing robots and artificial intelligence.

Yesterday, I listened to a few episodes of Brave New World on BBC 7, a book I studied in grade nine and which I loved - I won the literature prize at school that year because of my essay on Huxley's book.

And the other day, I heard someone, somewhere, discuss the danger of drones in war.... (the US is now using them) creating a comfort zone for the aggressor which might lead to eternal wars (Star Trek had an episode on that I believe. No doubt Twilight Zone did too.)

OK. So now I have to find a way to join these ideas with Tighsolas and modern life (as I am experiencing it.)

Well, the idea that connects all this came from that Saturday Live guest, who informed the host (or presenter as they call them in England) that the Japanese were hard at work creating robots for childcare and eldercare.

"Surely that is a dangerous thing?" said Fi Glover, the SL host.
"I agree," said the guest.

(As if war-drones are NOT dangerous, I thought.)

Then the guest explained that in Japan they have the same ominous demographics as we do in the West, with the population aging and not enough replacements, but they don't have immigrant workers to pick up the slack.

Touché guest!

We, in the west, push our elders off on low paid over worked professional caregivers. I know because I did just that!

My mother who was quite autonomous until age 88, when she discovered she had bone cancer and only weeks or months to live. She spent her final days in an old age home, albeit a beautiful and expensive one.

As she was in sharp decline, I visited every day and took care of her, as did all her friends and relatives. I must say, the other residents were not so lucky. They had relatively few visitors. I think the nicer the home, the less likely the person is to get visitors, but that's my opinion. Sure, on the outside everything looked charming. The facility was brand new and picture perfect (like a store catalogue).The residents were all nicely dressed and coifed, for one. There were fresh cookies out on the counter and a capuccino machine, too. But the truth wasn't all it seemed.

Since I visited every day, and got close to the workers, I learned, the hard way, that these beautiful places are money-making establishments functioning with skeleton crews of well-meaning, often dedicated, but overworked employees, almost all of whom are part time a la Macdonald's.

(Digression: Two decades ago I listened to a man who owned many Macdonald's franchises brag about the benefits of hiring only part-time workers. They work harder. The problem is, old people aren't hamburgers.)

Even the nurses, who were the ones charged with giving my mother her mix of pain killing opiates and morphine substitutes, and making her final days bearable, were part-time and when called upon, they cleaned the tables in the dining room.

The one doctor they had on staff was hardly ever there from what I saw.
My mother claimed she never saw him, although I didn't know what to believe as she was on drugs. I certainly never met with him.

When he went on vacation for three weeks (and my mother was in agony, tears rolling down her face) I had to hire a 'doctor on wheels' who worked outside the Medicare system and I had to pay her cash. (She followed me in her car to the banking machine down the road for her money.) She didn't do much, I tell you. She just upped my mom's dosage a tad.

Despite the 6,ooo- 8,000 dollar a month bill at this home, my mother was not well taken care of in her final days, with respect to her condition. The place was simply not set up for palliative care.

They were stingy with the pain killers, and killing pain is the point of palliative care. Pain management was my No. 1 concern when I interviewed the Director there (under great stress as my mother was in dire need of 24 hour care, immediately, and she needed some major painkillers) but they failed, despite my vigilance. (I had to hound them weekly, then daily, for two months, always to get them to up the dosage. "If my mother says she is in pain, SHE IS IN PAIN, I said.My mother was stoical in that regard. For two months she rode a roller coast of no pain, tolerable pain, intolerable pain, weeping from pain, a three day or four day cycle and her moods fluctuated as much. I never knew what to expect.)

In my mother's case, the entire medical system let her down, as she refused radiation treatment, her spine was turning to mush and she couldn't get to the hospital except on a stretcher, so her cancer doctor dropped her, just like that, and advised me to find a pain specialist for her (on my own, off the street) "Pain management isn't my specialty," he said. "Find a social worker." I had no time for any of that. Her G.P's nurse tried to help me as much she could.

Anyway, how do I relate this to Tighsolas. Easy. In 1912, Margaret Nicholson is feuding with her sister and brother in law about the care of her aged mother, who dies that year. They didn't have old age homes in that day and age. The kids took care of their parents, but it was no easier, as the Nicholson letters reveal. Indeed, there was such a need for an old age home that the town Tycoon, Mrs. Wales, left money in 1917 for the building of a home for the elderly. Norman Nicholson was an executor of that will.
(It is likely Margaret's trials with her mother inspired Mr. Wales.)

The Wales Home still exists up in Richmond, beautifully seated up on a hill. Inside, the once graceful furnishings are faded and old fashioned. (The place seems as if it was last redecorated in the 50's). I know, because I visited a few years ago to see Baby Montgomery, who was about 95.

And, unlike my Mom's Residence, some of the guests were lined up in wheelchairs at the nursing station, in their nightgowns or sweats, and their hair was not neatly coifed.

My mother's home prefered to install the inactive in comfy chairs in the salon, in best Sunday dress with jewellry and makeup, where they slept away the time.

But with what I now know, so what? Appearances aren't everything, not when it comes to Seniors Residences.

How did I finally come to understand that my mother's pain was mismanaged. Because 1) a friend of a friend had a husband diagnosed with a similar condition at the same time. He was nursed at home by his wife, who regulated the medication as per his pain level, and she had a doctor at all times at the end of the phone to consult (as well as a great many friends taking care of her other household duties).The man died two days after my mother, but had no pain the entire time. And, still, it wasn't easy.

2) I had my hair done by woman who had spent her summer in much the same way as me, by her mother's bedside in a small hospital out west. The first thing the doctor said to her when she arrived, "Pain management is the most important thing." This was a palliative care unit and a terrific one from what the hairdresser said. And, still, it wasn't easy.

Now my mother in law had a similar bad time at the end. She too refused treatment (her spine had degenerated due to osteoporosis) and was sent home, where her bed had to be put in the living room, and she was screaming in pain with only her husband (and my husband as back up) taking care of her. But at the very very end, she went to hospital, where they managed her pain killers very well, from what I saw first hand, as I was there when she died.

We're lucky if we can get out of life with just a few weeks of agony. I know that. But, still, it shouldn't be a 'crap shoot' as a friend called it, with one person getting good treatment and another rotten treatment, with one person paying a fortune and another getting it for free.

Disclaimer: I'm sure there are plenty of great Residences out there, but my advice for anyone choosing a Residence, don't get carried away by the superficial touches. And don't just visit briefly (These places tend to give whirlwind tours, I know, I took a lot of these tours earlier on, when researching an autonomous Residence for my mom).

Hang around and talk with the workers and residents, not just the sales person. As for palliative care, make triply sure the facility is equipped for this very special form of care. A doctor must be available all the time and nurses should be full time with at least one registered nurse. As for palliative care facilities, there are wonderful ones in my area, but they are too few beds.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Looking for Mrs. Peel Part 6

SOUND: Office Noise

Clerk: : Please be seated Mrs. Nixon. I see you have come all the way to Westminster from Cumberland. And in January! It all must be quite a shock. How long have you been in England?

Dorothy: Two months

Clerk: This should not take too long. All you need do is read your testimony in front of Mr. Cramden, the Commissioner of Oaths, and I will type it.

SOUND: Telephone Rings Clerk: Ah, she’s quite frail. I hate to send her back out. Yes, fine. There’s been a delay. Instructions from the barristers. Shouldn’t be long. Would you like some tea or water?

Dorothy: Tea, please.

SOUND: Clink and clang and tap water splash.

Clerk: I see that you are the wife of a rubber planter.

Dorothy: Yes

Clerk: A large plantation?

Dorothy: No, well, yes, at one time. But tin has taken precedence over rubber lately

clerk: My mother’s Canadian cousin, Sydney moved to a Malayan rubber plantation as a new bride, before the Great War. It was either that or the Canadian West,you know, but she was afraid of the bitter cold, and wild Indians.

Dorothy: Ah?

Clerk: Her husband got all caught up, those early days, in the frenzy of rubber speculation. Automobile tires, you see. She left him, though, after only a few years in the tropics. Returned to Ottawa.But had he given up his Asian mistress, she might have stayed longer.

Dorothy: Uh Huh.

Clerk: The original plan was for them to go out there and make a fortune and both return home as soon as possible, but with the boom of 1910 over and the price of rubber so unstable and the frightful cost of living over there, the dream soon faded.

Dorothy: Yes,

Clerk: Her daughter Emelia was born out there. Do you have any children?

Dorothy: Yes, three. My eldest was in the RAF. Ferry Command Based in Montreal. He's been demobbed and he's back at Oxford. I’ve been trying to contact him.

Clerk: How old would he be now?

Dorothy: 22, or 23. Born October 1922. .

Scene Sixteen: Flashback.Europe Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

SOUND: baby crying.

woman muttering "Rubber London. 18 cents. How will we manage?"

Nurse: A big fine rosy pink boy you have there, Mrs. Nixon.

Dorothy: Thank you, Nurse.

Nurse: Sister Ellen. Normally, Mrs. McLeod, the District Medical Officer would normally pay you a visit, but she’s been run off her feet setting up the KL infant welfare program.

Dorothy: I understand.

Sister Ellen: (sx paper flapping)I see that all went smoothly. A natural delivery. You may be a tiny woman, but you have the pelvis of an Empire Builder.

Dorothy: A loathsome man, that Dr. Wood. I asked him about hiring a native nurse and he lectured me on the duties of the Imperial wife. I am to be a homemaker and a social weaver, it seems, not a layabout and gadfly.

Sister Ellen: Damned if we do.Damned if we don’t. That’s a woman’s lot I’m afraid. And that goes double here in the colonies.

Dorothy: And my husband will have something to say about that 500 dollar fee. Outrageous. What did he do to earn that?

Sister Ellen: He applied the latest scientific birthing methods in a somewhat hygienic setting.

Dorothy: Scientific methods!

Sister ellen: Would you have preferred to have a Malay midwife deliver you baby? On a mat on the floor of your bungalow. I hear they like to chant over the afterbirth.

Dorothy: The fan on this side of the ward is broken. It’s hot as Hades in here. And the mosquito nets are torn. Why was I put in Second Class?

Sister Ellen: Two many malaria cases in the first class ward. Probably. Well, Dr. is discharging you anyway.I see you are going to a Hill Station for a postpartum confinement?

Dorothy: Yes. I am doing it the Chinese way.

Sister ellen: Excellent. No need for a home visit, then.. Still, I will leave you some information on the best infant formulas.

Dorothy: Thank you sister. But I would still like to talk to Mrs. McLeod about a nurse. I have my hands full running the bungalow. So many visitors.

Sister Ellen: She’ll advise you to get a good British nurse, or nothing. Native nurses are little help. They need constant supervision. And even if you find a reliable one, do you want your son’s first words to be AYAH and not Mama? Enjoy him while you can, Mrs. Nixon. It’s the tragedy of colonial life, having to part with our little ones so young. For their own good, of course.

Scene Seventeen:Westminster Commissioner of Oaths Office

SOUND: window opening

Clerk: I think I’ll open the window a smidge. Splendid countryside in Malaya, as she described it. Misty blue-green mountain ranges. Fiery fairy tale flower-scapes, Birds as big and bright as Chinese kites. It must have been glorious to spend your days surrounded by such proof of God’s Majesty. Such natural beauty.

Dorothy: Nothing beautiful about a rubber plantation. A bleak tree laboratory, really, complete with daily bleedings.

Scene Nineteen: Rubber Plantation.Verandah

SOUND: loud pops monkey shrieks.

Dorothy:(reading under her breath) The Planter's Store: Tapping knives, earthenware latex cups, acetic acid, coagulation sprayers and sprays... Bush's coagulating and bleaching powder. Immediate separation and clotting of rubber at the same time giving a fine light colour. ...Of Interest to planters: reduce your factory costs by sending your rubber rolls to us for regrooving. We have special machines to turn, grind, recut grooves. Maybe he would be interested. (sx. paper tearing).

Denise.: Ayah? I mean Mummy.

Dorothy: Denise. What are you doing on the verandah so early. 5.30.
Father has only just left for work.

Denise. : I can’t sleep. The trees are exploding.The monkeys are all fighting over the blijakozas.

Dorothy: Seed pods. Denise. Say it in English. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The seed pods are popping open and falling to the ground.
It’s nature’s way.

Denise: What are all the coolies doing way down there? They look like ants.

Dorothy: They are lining up for muster. They are starting their work day. Rubber only runs in the morning.

Denise: When I am big, can I help the Mummy tappers clean the tree milk from the cups like the coolie children?

dorothy: Latex, Denise. No, the Tamil children have to work with their mothers and fathers. You and your brother are luckier. You get to go to school soon. Now,let’s go find Ayah.

Scene Eighteen: Westminster Office. SX Ambient Office Sounds.

Clerk: No, the jungle was no place for a woman back then. Too lonely. Nothing to do but write letters, maybe garden.. The Man of the House out working from dawn until past dusk. Still, back in Canada she missed having the huge airy bungalow and all those servants. A Malay driver, a cook, a Chinese lady’s maid and two houseboys who pinched money from her. But that was to be expected.

Dorothy: Yes, we’ve all heard the clichés. The proud lazy Malay, the pious eager to please Tamil, the shrewd hardworking Chinese.

Clerk: Ah, let me see how much longer he’ll be

Scene Nineteen: Rubber Estate 1937

SOUND: Sound of singing in Chinese and radio with poor reception

Announcer: And that concludes our hour of Hindustani music on the Britith Malaya Broadcasting Corporation. Right after the midday rubber and tin prices, a discussion of Harvey Firestone's efforts to raise rubber in Liberia. But first,this: Up Country listeners. Are you tired of poor reception and interference from Tokyo and Saigon? Well, a reminder that powerful new 1937 Marconi wireless sets and receivers are available on easy payment plans.

dorothy: No, not turtle soup. Yes, Muligatawny is fine. If you can find some guinea fowl at Cold Storage for under 1.00 buy it. Serve it roasted. Nicky? About that auction sale today, Anna could really use the Singer hand sewing machine to make some extra money. But even if the bidding is very low on the Crosley Shelvador refridgerator, we can't justify it.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: Yes, I did promise Kajan I’d try to persuade you to promote him to teacher. We have 11 older children on the lines now, and as you know, regulations state we must have a primary school.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: I do not see this as interfering in Estate Business. Kajan is very keen to improve his lot and there’s no work recruiting these days. He is the only Tamil we have who can read and write well.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: Upsetting the natural order of things? Courting scandal? Don’t be ridiculous.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: What’s wrong with putting ideas in their heads if they are the right ideas?

Nicky: Bark

dorothy: I know the Tamils want their children to work with them, but as this Depression proves, we can’t promise to keep them in work forever.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: I know I am not a missionary but if the shopkeepers of the Central Indian Association aren’t interested in helping their lower
castes, we Europeans will have to.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: Now that our last child have been sent away, what am I to do, stand behind the Cook all day? The Bungalow runs itself.

Nicky: Bark

Dorothy: Fine. I will find something to do, off the estate. If that’s how you want it.

Scene Twenty: Westminster Office

SOUND: office

Clerk: And were you on the plantation when the Japanese invaded?

Dorothy: No, I was at the Book Club.

Clerk: Book club?

Dorothy: The Kuala Lumpur Book Club. A library. I was secretary. We
had just moved our offices to the Padang,the green, where all the important government buildings are located, so we were expecting it.

Clerk: The bombings, you mean.

Dorothy: Yes. Boxing Day 1941. The Japanese planes usually passed overhead and bombed the aerodrome, but this time it was different.

Scene Twenty-One: Flashback, Box Day 1941 Kuala Lumpur Book Club

SOUND: artillery, planes

Woman: What’s that sound?

Dorothy: Our anti-aircraft guns up on the roof. The planes are bombing us this time. Find shelter!

SOUND: Loud sounds of roof collapsing, desk being thrown around etc

Dorothy: sx(Scream)

Scene Twenty-Two: Westminster Office

SOUND: ambiant office noise

Dorothy: I was thrown under a shelf. My desk overturned. My typewriter pulverized. My car outside crushed. Afterwards Marion, the ARP Warden and I collected the casualties. 4 dead. 3 wounded.

Clerk: And then you headed for Singapore?

Dorothy: Shortly afterwards.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Montreal Council of Women

Richmond couple. Possibly the Hills.

Hmm. So it has taken me two months to complete the first rough draft of the 1908 chapter of Flo in the City, a work in progress, based on the letters of

I copied and pasted the text and printed it out and it came to 20,000 words on 40 pages. I looked up how many words typically make up a middle school book and learned it was 20,000 to 40,000.

Now, I wonder if I will make 1908 a book in itself. Maybe.

I read it over. I liked some of it and hated some of it. It works when I 'show' and don't 'tell'. Well, of course.

I think I will put it aside, to clear my head and, gee, I dunno what to do. There's so much more to write. 1908 is the shortest and least eventful year. But it's the intro and I have to get it right before I attempt the rest of the book.

Maybe I will read more letters from outside the 1908-1913 time period. I re-read a few the other day, from 1914 and the war years, to dig out some of Flora's expressions...

"Some style, don't you think? To come sailing home in an auto?"

One thing I am sure of and that is "My Ma."

"I heard the door open and close, but it was only Coupland. He is poking around in the barn. I believe he is thinking of doing a few strokes of work."

"This is only going to be a scrap of a note."

"Only one more week of slavery." (Teaching)

"I am coming home. Please have a bed ready as that is the best way I can be entertained is to be led to my couch as I am nearly dead, but not quite."

"Now, my dear Matel. Hurry up and spend the money. If you are going to hoard it you won't get anymore. How do you like that?"

We had our 'day at home' and certainly gave the town a good raking over.

(new baby boy) If you can buy a little dress for him I will be charmed to embroider it.

I am looking after your companion right smart.

I have been living the simple life since Easter, nothing to do but work. Ain't it H___ to be poor!

The snap of Edith is fine, but I look like some jackdaw. I am not going to have my picture taken any more.

A fellow was there, a Captain. He was fine but a real Scotchman written on his face.

Interesting thing happened yesterday. I noticed the Montreal Council of Women linked to my page on well, the Montreal Council of Women. Years ago, upon starting my Tighsolas research, I approached them to have a look at their archives and was not at all successful. Their website at the time said anyone could visit and check them out, but when I phoned, they were apologetic "Our archives are in disarray. So, I went to the Biblioteque Nationale and found a couple of boxes with info from 1909, summarized it and posted it. Now the MCW says they are having an anniversary celebration in 2012, and will write a history. Gee, this would be very useful for me, as Flora is going to have a meeting with Carrie Derick... President of the MCW in 1912, when she explores signing up with the suffragettes. A biography of Carrie Derick exists at McGill, and only McGill from what I can see. That I can get a hold of.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SCANDAL AND FIREWOOD 28th installment

A Man at Work, 1910 era. From the Tighsolas album. Perhaps a worker at the Transcontinental Railway. Or maybe a teacher.

December 1908 and Flora was struggling at school, as per usual. Her Latin results were abyssmal and her French borderline. To be fair, the atmosphere in Mr. Jackson's classroom was not at all productive, for it was now widely known that he had asked to have his contract terminated.

Many parents had made formal requests for their children to be transferred out of his class, but not Flora's parents, who were, again, as per usual, otherwise preoccupied.

Mrs. Montgomery was very ill, so mother Margaret was busy fulfilling her neighbourly obligations, providing meals for the family, in rotation with other neighbours. Montgomery wasn't suffering from typhoid, or diptheria or tuberculosis, nothing contagious, so Norman wasn't afraid for his wife. Indeed, the occasion provided the couple with another chance to give each other moral support in hard times.

"I hear Mrs. Montgomery is ill. Is it her 'old troubles'? Well, as you said, it is better to be healthy with no money then wealthy with no health," he wrote to her. "Keep well, and tell Herb, next time he is down, to get about 8 cords of wood from the Last Factory at the best price. That is what I got last year."

Flora was reading that very line, in that very letter when Margaret came in from next door. 8 Cords of Wood. Flora knew she would be the one getting up at 6:30 to stoke the furnace in the winter - again. She examined her little birdy wrists. At ninety pounds, she was hardly the image of the person usually entrusted in a household with such an important task.

Margaret said, "Mrs. Montgomery is a little better. She ate quite a bit of my soup. Are you reading Father's letter? He is upset that the Danville people didn't read out his regrets at the St. Andrew's Dinner.

"He is a Past President," Flora replied. "But the Danville people aren't as backward as he says. Certainly, the dresses on the Danville women put ours in the shade."

"And the haggis was interesting, was it not?" Margaret added. Margaret and Flora had enjoyed the St. Andrew's Festivities in the neighbouring town immensely. In fact, Flora had travelled a great deal around the E.T. in the fall as she had been appointed by the Presbytery to one of their Committees, a solemn responsibility, with many social perks, including teas at the homes of some of the E.T's most respectable citizens.

Margaret was busying herself with the stove, setting some burning coal on the kindling, for she had prepared her scones early this day. "I want to go to Church, if nothing, to show them I still have my dignity. Did I tell you, Mrs. Kelloch is still ignoring me and the others act like they do not want to talk to me. Still, I am curious for news about Lindy Anderson. Jim Anderson, father says, has applied to Parliament for a divorce."

Edith, no doubt, would have proferred an opinion here, but Flora was not interested in the lives of Old Married People. "Is Herb coming," Flora asked, wondering if her mother had any idea why the Ladies of the Missionary Society were being so cruel to her. "Father seems to think so."

Margaret took a deep breath and for a brief moment her hands were still, the steel poker pointing up at the ceiling.

"Yes, he is coming home. In fact, it looks like he has been transferred back to Cowansville, full time,"she said, closing the door on the firebox.. Hopefully, away from all the city's temptations, he'll finally straighten out." Margaret tested the temperature of the oven with her elbow, then popped the scones in.

As usual, what Margaret was leaving unsaid, spoke volumes. So, she knew. Mother knew about Herb and de Bullion Street. She knew why he wasn't speaking to Marion. She must have discovered the uncomforable truth about her only son on that trip to Montreal two weeks ago to buy Edith a suit.

"Did he ask for the transfer? " Flora asked feigning innocence. She gentle fingered the rim of the pan with the uncooked biscuits.

"Well, no." Margaret stood up and turned to Flora. "I believe your Father had something to do with it. In Quebec, we ran into Mr. McKinnon of the Eastern Townships Bank, and father and he had a private meeting, while I sat in the sitting room of our hotel and wrote a letter home. I couldn't concentrate for curiousity. "Anyway," she said, gazing out into the hallway, "something had to be done."

I must go upstairs and change and find some spare linens for the Montgomery's. They have not had a chance to do the laundry. Flora you are in charge of supper. Just keep an eye on the scones and heat up the leftover haddie." Margaret disappeared up the stairs. "Oh," she hollered down to Flora, "and I'm expecting a delivery from McCrae's.. mostly spices for the Christmas cakes. I must get started. Ring over to them, will you and tell them to add some candied pineapple, if they have any."

Flora walked to the phone, on the wall in the hall and picked up its earpiece and looked up McCrae's number. 30 06 on the list tacked to its wooden side. She cranked the bronze handle to make the call. So a year had passed, since Christmas 1907, when Margaret had got but a 'glimpse of her family' as someone had said, she couldn't remember who. So so much had happened over the past 12 months, the brilliant Tercentary, Boston and Wellesley, the Election, Marion and Edith's moves, it was dizzying, and yet... if she thought about it, so little had really changed. At least, all the family's problems remained pretty much unchanged.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Laurier and wife at Quebec Tercentenary, Bibliotheque Nationale Photo. It's in the Public Domain.

"I've been asking around, and Senator Rodolphe Forget is the most powerful French Canadian railwayman," so if this Crepeau is a relation, it cannot be a bad thing for Edith to work in his house. Despite the 'other'. He was referring to the fact they were Roman Catholic. "And besides, he is likely just another good Liberal."

It was the last week in October and Norman had come home to work on the elections. The results were coming in for the rest of Canada, but it looked like another Liberal sweep for Quebec. And in Richmond-Wolfe Tobin had won handily, with similar results to 1904. Only in Richmond itself, voting had been down, by 25 men, and the Liberal count too. Norman took pride in this fact, for he hadn't been around in September to talk up the Liberals to his fellow constituents. Perhaps Tobin.a Roman Catholic himself and Norman's benefactor, would notice what a value he was to the party on the ground.

Yes, 567 men had been eligible to vote and only 302 had bothered to. He turned to Margaret who was sitting at her chair beside him, crocheting a caftan for Marion in the city, who was having trouble finding a proper rooming house. Flora was a few feet away, tinkering on the piano - feeling safe and contented to have her parents both at home and together in the same room.

"I think women's suffrage is one of the changes that will happen in the near future. Too absurd to think that a woman cannot exercise her franchise with as much intelligence as some of the male sex. And that they are making this so hard is so many countries when you have to drag some of these supposedly intelligent men to the polls as you would cattle."

Margaret glanced his way and Flo recognized the look: some private thought was passing between the old married couple.

Flo knew that her Father was trying to make his wife feel better. She had so many worries when it came to her children, her nerves seemed to be continuously on edge these days and that simply wasn't like her.

Herb hadn't written and, on top of that, he was avoiding Marion. Were the two quarrelling? Margaret had asked Flora one day. Flora had blushed. She hated to keep secrets from her Mother, but what else could she do. How could she tell her mother about de Bullion Street? "Well, at least Edith is in Montreal, now," Magaret had mused.

Edith was already dug out in her 3rd storey room in the 4 storey greystone of Sherbrooke. "Very elegant," is how Edith had described it in a letter, "and filled top to bottom with brique a braque of every kind, porcelain, brass, and marble. "Mrs. Crepeau is especially fond of marble urns filled with fountains of ferns." Edith discreetly avoided describing the walls, covered in paintings of winged angels and bleeding-heart Madonnas.

It was through Edith that Margaret learned about Marion's trials looking for a room. As it was, she was temporarily installed at their friends, the Cleveland's, in brand new Mile End, but she had to take four streetcars to get to her school in Little Burgundy. This arrangement was tolerable for the fall, always a kind season, but impossible for the winter. "She is determined not to have to go to the Y, although she could get a room there for 12 dollars a month. Too many rules! But it is so hard to find a proper rooming house, even with her good references. I hope she finds one soon: Dr. Cleveland drives her crazy. He sits in his den and bellows orders to his family from his chair; his slippers must be warmed for him. Father would never do that!"

No. Father would never do that and for this Margaret was grateful. It didn't hurt, in times of difficulty, to ponder the blessings in ones life. But easier said than done.

Margaret wrote back for Edith to get herself a pair of thick soled shoes for the winter, so she wouldn't catch the grippe. And, if she could, Margaret would try to go to Town to buy her a new suit. Margaret was secretly ashamed that Edith had rushed away to the city so ill-equipped with respect to clothing; her Radnor kit was clearly not adequate for Sherbrooke Street West. And she had another reason to go to town. She wanted to check up on son Herb.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS 26th installment

Alice Crepeau, left, with her Dad, Jules. Louis center with Maria Roy Crepeau and her daughters, Florida and Cecile. Circa 1918.

When Flora got home from school she found her mother in the sewing room ripping apart Edith's blue dress. She had torn it at the cattle fair on Saturday. "I got a letter from father, "Margaret said. "And there are no fires there, thank goodness."

When Flora and May had left from school, in the morning, the haze had been so thick, they could not see the Montgomery's house next door. Hot dry summers bring on the forest fires. But the haze had soon cleared and it hard turned into a lovely day.

"Father is happy about the election at end of October, as he will be coming home. And I am happy, because Herb will be coming home as well. That boy is making me ill. He has not spoken to Marion since she arrived in Montreal. Father also saw in the papers that Mr. Jackson wants to leave St. Francis but he didn't seem so pleased about that." Margaret gave Flora a piercing look. "What do you know."

Flora was stunned. "Nothing," replied Flora, truthfully.

"Well, the students are always the last to know. I wonder who will take his place. Would you stir the stew on the stove, Flora?"

Flora didn't know what to say. She knew what she wanted to say. That perhaps if the parents of the community left their teachers alone to do their work, they wouldn't want to leave. Did Margaret have a word with him, as father had instructed her, Flora wondered. Was she a cause of this? If there had been a meeting, neither her mother nor Mr. Jackson had let on.

She walked over to the stove, where a beef stew was simmering in a iron pot and took the large wooded spoon and lifted the heavy lid with a potholder and began to stir. The carrots and peas and beef eddied before her, supper. But she suddenly didn't feel like eating. And then Edith breezed by her holding a letter, very agitated.

"Leave Mother and me, Flora please," she said.

So Flora took the stairs up to talk to May, with a book on her lap, but staring into her dressing mirror, her normally sparkling eyes were wide and blank. Her lips, usually animated, were extended into a pout: Her pretty girl look.

"I wonder what Edith had to say to Mother that is so urgent," Flora said.

"Oh, didn't she tell you. Dede Miller has broken her ankle and cannot go work as a tutor in Montreal. She has asked Edith if she can take place, but she must have the answer tomorrow.

"In Montreal? With the French family?"

"Yes, isn't it exciting. Then Marion and Edith can go to Dominion Park, together."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

General Elections in Canada 1904 1908

Election 1904 Proclamation of Results for Richmond Wolfe. The places the men voted are listed on left, such as GG Gymer's Store. Margaret's sister Christie married a railwayman named Gymer and moved to Evansville Illinois. Likely a relation.

In this 1904 election: Tobin the Liberal got 3787 votes against 2576 for O'Brady the Conservative. Men voted in Halls, schools, stores and even private homes, it seems. Poll number 13 at Windsor Mills was at the "store house of Mr. Dearden opposite River View Hotel." In Richmond that year 507 men were eligible to vote. 371 men voted, 230 to 141 for Tobin the Liberal. Tobin was MP for the area for a long time and he helped Norman get his job on the railroad.Margaret voted for the first time in 1921 and wrote about it in a letter. She wrote "I did not feel ashamed" and "How I Love this Country" in the letter and then gave all the reasons her female neighbours DIDN'T VOTE. One woman arrived too late to vote; another said that TOBIN and the Liberals didn't need her vote. One woman did vote and was so ashamed she wouldn't leave the house. So Margaret wrote. In the afternoon of the election a neighbour came by auto (1921) and asked to bring Margaret to the polls. She replied, "Do you think I would wait this late to vote?" She had already walked there in the morning. She told the man to go ask her neighbour, Ethel Crombie, who, she wrote "would not go vote." So it seems, despite all the hoo-ha, many women in Richmond just didn't care or were afraid to vote in the first general election where they had the right to. Apathetic already.

In my next installment of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the letters of, Margaret says that there's an election coming up, end of October. So Norman will come home for it. He is some kind of official, I'll make him an invigilator. Herb, too. In September Marion is in Montreal and looking for a place to stay. Herb is dividing his time between banks in the E.T and Montreal and he refuses to visit Marion, when in Montreal, as he is angry at her for reasons I will divulge in the installment. So when Edith announces that she, too, is going to work in Montreal, as a tutor in a French family, Margaret will be of mixed mind: unhappy about the job and happy that Marion will have someone there - and she will have someone there to report on Marion. Edith is the gossipy one and Marion plays her cards close to her chest. She has a strong independent streak but also is a dutiful daughter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BUT DO THEY GET PAID? 25th installment

Marion and Floss 1910 era.

"Speak to Mr. Jackson and ask him to spend more time on the subjects Flora is failing," wrote Norman to Margaret in early September. Flora, of course, was not surprised.

As usual, her father was acting as if she were the only student in the school. Flora was reading the words for herself now. She passed the letter back to her Mom somewhat sheepishly.

"I an inclined to think," Margaret said slyly. " that you are the one I should talk to."

"I will do better this year, I promise. I have incentive. After my trip to Boston, I know that I do not want to be a nurse. So I must get into teacher's college."

"Why not nursing?" Margaret asked.

"Because nursing seems not much different from mothering. Nurses must clean sick rooms and lavatories, have a knowledge of dietetics and food preparation, of hygiene and heating and ventilation, and of the dispensing of drugs. They tend people with scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid and pneumonia, sometimes a combination of these. See?"

"I see your point," replied Margaret who had done all these things in the past and would likely continue to in the future. " And for this they get paid?"

"Well, yes."
"Then there is your difference."

Flora had learned all this from the nurses at Newton, only one of whom was a surgical nurse, with very special training in operating room techniques.

The others, for all their three years of training,including anatomy and bacteriology and physiology, were glorified cooks and maids, for all she could see. No, nursing was not a profession she would want to pursue, although the women were nice enough. And they certainly enjoyed their off- time.

At Jetties Beach they had swum in the ocean and collected sea-shells. And rated the fashion sense of the 'superior' women who strolled the wooden walkways down to the water under parasols in their summer frocks, enduring the 90 degree heat radiating off the plush carpet of sand around their feet with a demure stoicism.

Flora had brought a handful of shells home and they were amassed on the sill in her bedroom, a charming, pearly reminder of her all too short trip to Massachusetts.

For a souvenir, Flora also had a thick advertisement filled program from the Boston Theatre Stock Company, and that Wellesleyan Magazine.

On the train trip home, her nose peeling from too much sun and surf, she had read an especially interesting article out to May. It was titled The Old Order Changeth.

"Yesterday, the struggle was for the higher education of women; to-day,the struggle is for the opportunity to have a voice in moulding educational,social and industrial conditions through the one medium which makes this possible, viz: the right to vote for measures and for men. The new struggle rests upon the same fundamental principle upon which the demand for educational opportunity rested, the right of women as individuals to individuality of action, their right to full equality of opportunity with the other half of the human race. Resting upon the same principles of right and justice as did the demand for higher education, it is bound to meet with the same triumphant success. By all the signs, that success is not far distant. Never before have the position, the rights, the demands of women so occupied the center of the world's stage. Where, even three years ago, there was one article or editorial dealing with the subject, to-day, there are a hundred such articles in the various periodicals ; and, one after another, these periodicals are joining in the demand that women be given their full and free share in moulding conditions in city, state and nation. The old order is changing so rapidly that one scarcely dares to make a statement setting forth the precise status of women civilly and politically lest tomorrow's dispatches bring word of change."

It all seemed so exciting to Flora. She saw herself in her mind's eye travelling with the suffragists, town to town, giving speeches in front of large enthusiastic crowds. Except she was not a Wellesley woman, who were generally well-heeled and could purchase the furs and fine silks advertised in the pages in front of her. If lucky, she would like her sister Marion before, have to scrimp and save her way through teacher's college. Except she wouldn't live at the Y, because the Normal School had just moved to Ste. Anne de Bellevue, on the Macdonald Campus. May was expecting to go there next year, and share a dorm room with her friend Alice Dresser, a bright and vivacious girl, whose father had been Principal of St. Francis College.

Margaret, who was now folding and flattening linen place mats at the kitchen table, spoke again. "If you don't like the idea of nursing, and I don't blame you, then teaching is your destiny, and for that you will have to pass French and Latin. But don't feel too badly. A person who has struggled herself at school is bound to be a more sympathetic teacher. She was offering Flora encouragement. Just like her. So, why wasn't it working?

Monday, January 18, 2010

SHAME SHAME SHAME 24th installment

1910 Fashions from the Pictorial Review.

When Flora returned to Richmond, in mid August, Mother seemed calmer. Some kind of weight, the weight of worry, most likely, had been lifted from her strong, stoical shoulders. Flora assumed that having seen Norman’s railway digs at end of line near La Tuque, she now was convinced her husband was safe, or at least safe enough.

She spoke of her adventures on the railroad at length: I walked with Father from end of steel to the Camp, three miles. Very hilly and hot. I had dinner on the line, tomato soup, roast lamb and roast pork with potatoes and for dessert cake with preserves. So Father is getting his food all right. I stayed at the camp and Father walked five miles further down the line.

Edith, too, seemed to walk with less weary a step. She had had some weight lifted off herself, lately, the weight of guilt. She had received a letter from a fellow teacher at Radnor, Dede Miller, saying the school had closed down for lack of pupils.”The eldest boy Stuart, is going to Grande Ligne and the little boys from Douglasburg are leaving in September so that leaves only the little girl of 10, Eleanor. But I have enjoyed my stay and learned so much French that I have been offered a tutoring position in Montreal, in a family of a functionaire at City Hall. They are the Crepeaus and they have a son at school and a daughter, Alice, who is ten but speaks no English. They are related in some way to Senator Rodolphe Forget, so my parents are agreeable. Ps. The Marceau family are leaving for Ste. Agathe next week. Three of them are threatened with the tuberculosis. Is it true that Charlie went to parties last winter?

Edith had read it out to Marion and Flora then said, “So I need not feel so bad. I would not have had a job anyway this September. My French has greatly improved as well, so it was not a waste of time.”

Today, Edith was out of the house, visiting the Watters' in Melbourne. Marion was standing on a kitchen chair having the hem of the skirt of blue serge suit shortened, just a bit to the ankle, by Margaret, who had suggested in her definitive way, that Marion ought to have one new suit made and keep the blue for the spring.

The subtext was clear to all: Marion might have to lend the family some money from her giddy new salary of 600 a year. But Margaret articulated another excuse. She said, “You have not found a place yet, so you do not know how much your room and board will cost. And if you refuse to live at the Y, you may have to take your meals out, which I really do not want.”

I wouldn't worry. There are tea rooms exclusively for women in town. At least I know of one on Notre Dame.

Marion didn’t like the Y. She had boarded there in 1905 and despised the rules. Besides, some people looked down upon the YWCA on Dorchester, beside the Windsor Hotel, thinking it too grand as establishment for itinerant types. “And I want to make Flora a new pinafore for school, ”Margaret had added. As per usual she had her work cut out for her, for it was coming on September and the start of school and it didn't matter whether her daughters were students or teachers, they still needed to look smart.

“Flora, you are so spoiled, “ teased Marion. And after that new skirt for the trip to Boston where you one-upped me by visiting Norumbega Park before I could get to Dominion Park in the fall.

Flora had bragged to Marion about all her Massachusetts excursions, by boat to Norumbega Park, by the brand new subway to the theatre to see the Walls of Jericho, and by trolley car to Filene's department store where she rode the moving stair and almost caught the hem of her long skirt in its hungry silvery teeth. With her mother listening she decided she had to qualify her earlier remarks. “But Norumbega isn’t so much the modern thrill park, as it is a cross between Lafontaine Park and Dominion. It has a zoo, and an outdoor theatre and a carrousel, but no Fun House."

Then Marion stirred up the pot again by saying: "And did you tell Mother about the boy and girl in the canoe? Flora saw a couple getting ticketed by the police at Norumbega after a tour on the river. They'd been making a spectacle of themselves. Shame on them. " Margaret looked warily at Flora but said nothing, as she had some pins pressed between her lips. “That’s not all, Mother, “Marion continued, “Flora went to the beach at Nantucket with some nurses from the hospital and drank sodas at... Where did you say?”

Congdon’s Pharmacy, Flora replied, softly.

Tell Mummy about all the flavours they had, Flora.

But Flora was still thinking of the young lovers in the boat. They hadn't seemed at all ashamed. The man had removed his straw boater and bowed in a broad sweeping gesture as the policeman walked away. His girl, all in pink with sparkling sprays of butter-coloured organza on her small, angular shoulders, only smiled up at her handsome beau and then she bent over a bit and began, of all things, to shake those little shoulders and to laugh out loud luxuriously. She had hardly seemed older than Flora.

Connections, Friends, Networks and Success

St. Francis College from a postcard belonging to the Nicholsons.

Before I get to my next installment of Flo in the City (I'm working on it, but it's complicated)based on the letters of let me tell you about another key document I downloaded by happenstance from The 1910 Canada Who's Who!

Of the principal 'characters' in Flo in the City, I found E.W. Tobin, the MP for Richmond Wolfe and Nicholson benefactor, or sorts. Peter MacKenzie, the Quebec Minister of Finance and MNA for the area and a few others, including a Mr. McKinnon, who was high up in the Eastern Townships Bank. The Nicholsons corresponded with him in 1910 over, ahem, Herb's disgrace.

MacKenzie and McKinnon were graduates of St. Francis College, where the Nicholson children went to school. Before 1900 that institution was affliliated with McGill, after it became a public high school.

Another graduate in the 1910 Who's Who was a Tait, Chief Justice of the Quebec Supreme Court.

On my website, I posted an article by Edith Nicholson about education in Richmond and about St. Francis College, in particular. She wrote it for the McGill Alumni magazine in the 30's.

She says:

"We will enumerate a few: Dr. John A Dresser, distinguished geologist, was the late principal of St. Francis College and the first Principal of St. Francis College High School; Sir Melbourne Tait, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Quebec; Dr. G Q Parmelee, whose work for Protestant education in Quebec is well known to all; George. J. Hill, sculptor; F S Coburn, artist; two Provincial Treasurers, The Hon. Henry T. Duffy and the Hon. Peter S. G. MacKenzie; J. Armitage Ewing, eminent Montreal lawyer; Senator A. J. Brown, now a Governor of McGill University, and his classmate, the late J. N Greenshields."

Had she written this a few years later she may, indeed, have included her own sister, Marion Nicholson Blair, President of the PAPT (teachers) union.

All to say, the Nicholsons were well-connected. These important connections did not give them an easy time of it, they just provided a 'life-line' in hard times. As it happens, one of my ancestors is on the list...Rodolfe Forget, Senator. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was a cousin and this connection, no doubt, helped Jules rise up to the very top in Montreal's City Hall.

In one of my next installments of Flo in the City, I am going to have Edith get a job as tutor in the Crepeau household... and in my next installment, I will set the stage for this. It's August, and Marion is getting ready to start afresh in a new school in Montreal, Flo is starting her second to last year at St. Francis High School, and Edith is at a loss for what to do. Ps.

The man mentioned man above, Dresser, had a daughter, Alice, who attended Macdonald Teaching School in 1910 (with Mae Watters) and she wrote a fine letter talking about some embarrasing event in the classroom with legendary teacher, Miss Robbins. I will be including this letter in the story. It is a high spirited letter (Alice founded the Richmond County Historical Society) and it will influence Flora..

Ps. It seems E.W. Tobin had only elementary education. He was of Irish origin and Roman Catholic, so I will have Edith bring this up when defending her decision to go work in a R.C. family.

Threshold Girl

Flora in a formal 'school picture' either from St. Francis College or Macdonald Teacher's College,

Yesterday, I re-read the article "the Present Unrest Among Women" by Gertrude Atherton from the 1909 Delineator Magazine, which I had posted on my website a few years ago. Someone had found it interesting and put in on Twitter.

This paragraph stood out to me this time. "We are all familiar with the selfishness, the slyness, the lack of real frankness it what might be called the Threshold Girl, anywhere between seventeen and nineteen. This is nothing worse than the mating instinct driving her blindly until she has learned to play her part with taste and tact. During that period she gropes about in her still childish brain for those qualities that will enable her to hold at least her own in the great game, and she is the more befuddled because of that curious tradition, that a girl must be seen other than she is."

I want to portray Flora, the heroine of Flo in the City, my novel in progress being written on this blog, as someone on the threshold, but also someone who refuses to give up who she is, either."

And here's another paragraph which sums up what I am trying to show with Flora and Edith and Marion.

"And the girl of today , with her mind full of the furniture of modern life, and a hundred new windows in her mental house of which her grandmothers never dreamed, with her manifold opportunities for independence and liberty, has sought and found antidotes to the old humiliating canons. If she can not pursue a man as a man pursues a woman when he wants her; if she has not the supreme attractions which bring a man to a woman's feet with a flash of the eye, she can at least avoid the mean subterfuges of the husband-hunters, and lead a life in which man as a love-factor is practically eliminated. She can also enjoy much the same privileges as men, until, perhaps, who knows? - one day she may meet in this larger, fuller life a congenial, many-sided creature who wants something more than the reproduction of his grandmother."

Funny, but in their letters, Marion jokes a lot about being 'an old maid' and about finding a husband. Flora does too, in a more indirect and gentle way and Edith never does.

But what I want to show than ever, that despite the rhetoric (as above) there were not that many opportunities for women -or men - in society. If there were, why do the statistics show that most women worked as domestics, teachers, shop-keepers or factory workers, depending on their social standing. Yes, new jobs were opening up, but they evolved into the 'pink' ghetto of the 20th century.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, when I graduated from university in the 70's and was interviewed at an Advertising Agency, the one of Peel, between Sherbrooke and St Catharine, the person interviewing me said I would have to work 2 years as a receptionist and then 2 years as a secretary and the MAYBE I could get a job as a copywriter. (Like in the series Mad Men which won best drama at the Golden Globes last night. I have watched it but couldn't get into it.) What would she have told me were I a male?

You think things are better now for women, take a look at this CBC article.
A female freelance writer, in Montreal, like myself, created a blog where she 'suggested' she was a man and 'instant respect' and much more work. Makes me want to cry a bit, but then that's so girly.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lady Problems and their Solutions

Advertisement from Ladies' World Magazine 1898 for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Tonic, which contained 15 percent alcohol.

The reason why I liked exploring the 1910 Era is because by doing so I learn so much about this day and age and about human nature, by acquiring a better understanding of what things change about it and what things stay the same.

Take this advertisment for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Tonic, a huge bestseller in Victorian times until the 20's. The ad above is from 1898, when Edith Nicholson, of my novel in progress, Flo in the City based on the letters of would have been 14. This ad was aimed at mothers with their young daughters in mind: it says that these young girls can avoid embarrassing, painful, humiliating (my words) gynecological exams by taking the tonic.

I also have a brochure for the same product from the 20's. There it is described as a beauty aid with this advice to women: get plenty of fresh air, and exercise and rest, drink lots of clean water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, coarse bread, and take Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable tonic. Who can argue with that advice?

Now, just this morning I read an article from the New York Times,Healthy Aging with Nary a Supplement
aimed at aging Boomers, like me, claiming that there is little science to back the many exuberant claims of the supplements and nutrition industry; that in order to age healthily it is probably good to stay active and eat a Meditteranean style diet, with olive oil, fruits and veggies, fish and precious little meat. Oh, it is a good idea to take a calcium pill and vitamin D. Remember, everyone up North took cod liver oil in the winter. (And stay away from buzz words like anti-oxidant.)

Think about it! Think about all the advances in science in the past 100 years! Think about all the advances in science that happened in the last 100 seconds! To think we have come full circle with respect to COMMON SENSE about health and longevity.

A few years ago I visited Brockville, Ontario to participate in a Canadian Antiques Road Show practice sesssion. The event was held in one of those gracious old homes on the water. As I waited for the show to get on the road, so to speak, I learned that many of the huge homes on the water there were erected by men in the 'pseudo pharma' industry. As I understand it, the laws for selling medicinal products were tighter in the US, so the men worked out of Canada, but lived right across the water from the US for easy access. Hmm.

Now, I tend to eat a Mediterranean diet (and I PROMISE to start my exercise program THIS AFTERNOON!) but I also buy fish oil, and those super expensive de-tox greens that I drink, sometimes with Bentonite, believing the BS, because it suits me to believe it. (Then I hear that singing in a choir is excellent for your health. SINGING. Maybe that's all we have to do to be healthy. Edith, a smoker who lived to 92, attended church all her life. People in the old days sang a lot.)

I know detoxing by eating greens and taking salt baths is probably a useless thing to do. Or the common sense meter in my brain knows it is a useless thing to do. But I also have a part of me that likes to believe in magic. (Don't scoff. I know plenty of people with science training and they are no different. When it comes to diet, which is tied into self-esteem, even scientists cherry pick the facts, the only difference being they can defend their actions with 'facts'. )

Ps. I just saw an advert for a new product: water with all the nutritional benefit of fruit and no calories. Are we all idiots?? Except the marketers of course. They know what they are doing. That NYT article claims that the goodness of fruit comes form the eating the entire ovary, so to speak, that the myriad health benefits are a by-product of some kind of synergy, not entirely understood.

Now, I eat tonnes of veggies, much more than I ate as a child and a wider variety of them, but the fruits for sale most of the year all taste SO BAD, I can hardly stomach them anymore. Frankenfruit. When I was a little girl, my parents had to lie to me to keep me from eating all the pears or apples or oranges. They said "You'll get sick." I never did. And those peaches, in season, I would eat them by the basketfuls.

(Actually, I recall one month when I was 14 when I stayed with a family friend in the Laurentians north of Montreal, away from my stressed out and unhappy parents, and I gorged on hamburgers (cooked super-rare) and peaches and spent the rest of the time outside in the woods playing with a boy a bit younger than me and we got along like soulmates (we were too young to be awkward or obnoxious ) and I NEVER felt better.
The recipe for health, one simple ingredient: happiness.

A mediterranean diet is terrific, but it's better on the Mediterrean, I suspect. I'm going to Greece this year. For sure. Mamma Mia.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A collage of Nicholson documents. 1910 era.

Hmm. I'm perusing a 1894 book on sex and gender relations, one that was sold outside the publishing industry, and although it is full of fascinating 'facts' I am going to focus on hair. Why? Well, a few nights ago I attended Mamma Mia at Place des Arts and as I waited for the show to start I noticed that the women in the audience, young and middle age and old, mostly had dyed hair, and the colours were all over the spectrum. (Well, the mostly found in nature spectrum.) I remarked upon this to my husband and said, "If this were 100 years ago, everyone's hair would be done up and we'd have our view totally obscured by ladies' hats."

Funny, because just a few years ago, when my son was in 11th grade (well, 6 years ago) I attended a parent's meeting and noticed that all the women, except for me and one other, had dyed hair, and dyed in the same way, with blond streaks. Like some kind of suburban uniform.

Just last year, I succumbed and dyed my dark brown hair (with a little grey) with streaks in two tones, red and blond. Right now, it's only half dyed, I just HATE sitting for hours in the hair salon.

Anyway, as I've written before, hats are no longer 'in style' because 'hair styling' is the new 'hats' and hair colour the new 'trimming.' The hair industry is a HUGE industry, as huge, I dare say, as the millinery industry was in 1910.

Back then, women wore their hair up and washed it rarely, once in three weeks was recommended. They brushed it a lot and from all I have heard, hair was beautiful back then, luxuriant.

Anyway, here's a bit from this 1894 'sex manual' about hair colour and character. It sounds ridiculous today, and a form of racial profiling, but, before you scoff, it is important to recognize how this kind of thinking permeates our own. We have our own prejudices about blonds, redheads and brunettes that still exist, despite the hair dying hodgepodge of today.

We know that a tall, skinny blond with big breasts is a 'trophy' today and when a rich and famous man has such a woman on his arm we understand why. Back then, in 1910, it was a plump, big hipped woman with big breasts and small feet and hands that was the trophy. In those days, artificially enhancing one's appearance to fit the ideal (except with corsets, which promoted morality and with elixers and with a simple toilet regimen)was considered tawdy and tarty. (So women like Flora, who didn't fit the bill, appearance-wise, had very little room to manoever. ) Today, of course, anything artificial goes, because it promotes consumerism and, in our society, whatever is good for business in 'good'.

Theses have been written about the allure of the Monroe/Harlow blond bombshell, half goddess, (for her hair is like light) and half whore (for her platinum blond colour is cleary subterfuge) ergo, the quintessential woman.


1. DIFFERENT COLORS.--Coarseness and fineness of texture in nature indicate coarse and fine-grained feelings and characters, and since black signifies power, and red ardor, therefore coarse black hair and skin signify great power of character of some kind, along with considerable tendency to the sensual; yet fine black hair and skin indicate strength of character, along with purity and goodness.

2. COARSE HAIR.--Coarse black hair and skin, and coarse red hair and whiskers, indicate powerful animal passions, together with corresponding strength of character; while fine or light, or auburn hair indicates quick susceptibilities, together with refinement and good taste.

3. FINE HAIR.--Fine dark or brown hair indicates the combination of exquisite susceptibilities with great strength of character, while auburn hair, with a florid countenance, indicates the highest order of sentiment and intensity of feeling, along with corresponding purity of character,combined with the highest capacities for enjoyment and suffering. {478}

4. CURLY HAIR.--Curly hair or beard indicates a crisp, excitable, and variable disposition, and much diversity of character--now blowing hot, now cold--along with intense love and hate, gushing, glowing emotions, brilliancy, and variety of talent. So look out for ringlets; they betoken April weather--treat them gently, lovingly, and you will have the brightest, clearest sunshine, and the sweetest, balmiest breezes.

5. STRAIGHT HAIR.--Straight, even, smooth, and glossy hair indicate strength, harmony, and evenness of character, and hearty, whole-souled affections, as well as a clear head and superior talents; while straight, stiff, black hair and beard indicate a coarse, strong, rigid, straight-forward character.

6. ABUNDANCE OF HAIR.--Abundance of hair and beard signifies virility and a
great amount of character; while a thin beard signifies sterility and a thinly settled upper story, with rooms to let, so that the beard is very significant of character.

7. FIERY RED HAIR indicates a quick and fiery disposition. Persons with such hair generally have intense feelings--love and hate intensely--yet treat them kindly, and you have the warmest friends, but ruffle them, and you raise a hurricane on short notice. This is doubly true of auburn curls.

It takes but little kindness, however, to produce a calm and render them as fair as a Summer morning. Red-headed people in general are not given to hold a grudge. They are generally of a very forgiving disposition.

Now, in my next installment of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the true life letters of, I am going to have Edith find a job as a private English tutor with a French Canadian family in Montreal. (She lived in Montreal in 1909, but I have no indication of what she was doing, so I decided to make her a tutor in my grandparent's home...It fits, because the next year Edith worked at Ecole Methodiste Westmount, a private school that 'converted' Roman Catholics to Methodism.) Anyway, she will be tutoring my Aunt Alice, was was a Titian-haired beauty, whose character, as I have had it described to me, pretty well fits the description above for auburn haired women.

I've done some research about my family for a future book and, luckily, talked about them with my mother before she died a few months ago. In many ways, the Nicholson and Crepeau families were similar: highly religious, with a very competent housekeeper mother who could cook up a storm and clean and who didn't have or want a maid. But they were different, too, in many ways. The Crepeau family was on the way up socially in 1910, the Nicholsons on the way down.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And History Marches On...

A Bibliotheque Nationale picture of the historical pageant, during the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary. (I got it from Wikipedia, but it is said to be in the Public Domain.)These celebrations were a big military show of might. Were they preparing for war? Of course. An article I read in a 1910 Technical Review claims that there is a great deal of talk of the coming war with Germany.."In the leading newspapers and the great reviews of Europe the prospect and the probabilities of the coming war have taken the place of the weather as the regular topic of discussion." ..Racial Fertility and the War, June 1910

The future historian of the nineteenth century will find no more prominent or distinguishing feature stamped upon it than the enlarged opportunity of labor and usefulness afforded to women, and the marv'ellous march of woman to the front in almost every field of human activity. The century will pass into history particularly distinguished hy the enlargement of woman's sphere and the multiplication of her advantages. In all lands blest with the Light that rose in Judea nearly 1900 years ago, there has been, since the dawn of the present century, an almost complete revolution in the ideas once entertained as to woman's ability on the one hand, and her rights and duties on the other. To- day, whilst there are still advocates of woman's subjection, and of the limitation of her privileges and powers, the vast majority of all who desire to labor for the general good are disposed to look upon woman's enlarged freedom, increased advantages, and rapidly-widening labors, as among the most hopeful aspects of the age.

Woman:Her Character, Calling and Culture. 1894

Hmm. I'm an essayist and the more documents from the 1910 era I read, for my novel in progress Flo in the City based on the real life letters of the more parallels I see with today.

For example, during the Christmas holidays my sons came home. They played video games with their friends in order to decompress from their end of term exams. One evening, my husband came home to find a group of 20 somethings in the living room, using our big screen TV to play some multi-player shooter style game (very violent). Two young men were using the big screen and another had set up a lap top on the coffee table. Beside them a young woman was watching a movie on her dvd player and another young woman. my son's girlfriend, was in the adjacent room, typing away on her laptop, on Facebook.

"Modern life," my husband remarked.

Not too long after, I read an article in the Guardian in defence of these video games.(Why playing in the virtual world has an awful lot to teach children. Jan 10th) They provide players with 'real life' skills the article said.

Here's a quote: For perhaps the most remarkable thing about modern video games is the degree to which they offer not a sullen and silent unreality, but a realm that's thick with difficulties, obligations, judgments and allegiances. If we are to understand the 21st century and the generation who will inherit it, it's crucial that we learn to describe the dynamics of this gaming life: a place that's not so much about escaping the commitments and interactions that make friendships "real" as about a sophisticated set of satisfactions with their own increasingly urgent reality and challenges.

Now, I won't debate that point. But should this point be correct, then what does it mean about modern women and their future place as leaders in society?

My son, an accomplished cook, who competes full tilt with his girlfriend, when it comes to college work (and he has to work hard to keep up with her achievements) likes to tell me that 'plenty of old women (meaning in their 30's and 40's) play these games. He says he can hear them yell to their kids to shut up as they play him over the Net. (sic).

But these games are mostly war games and from what I see (or what my husband saw in our living room over the holidays) is that females don't like to play these games. They prefer the social networks. (Yea, yea, you're not killing humans per se, just it's OK, Mom. Chillax. Yea, I know that in wartime they dehumanize the enemy, but it's just a game and it's good for letting off steam.)

Young women today have achieved equality in matters academic, this is clear. One hundred years on, the dreams of the suffragists and religious temperance types (who wrote the passage at top)with regard to women's rights are mostly realized. (Funny, they believed the same thing in 1910! I ask again, HOW DID THE 50's EVER HAPPEN?) But what of it if success in tomorrow's real world is based on a violent military and sports paradigm, as per usual, if it is not about what you know, or how hard you work, or how many degrees you have, but how you play the game? What does that mean for women and social equality? Just asking.


Marion Nicholson, circa 1910

The next few days shot by, as the rather insensitive opening line on Flora's letter home three days later, proved: Newton Center, August 6, 1908

Dear Mother,

I suppose you will be thinking it is your time to get a letter. We are having such a fine time I can hardly waste time writing letters.

Henry May and I are going out to dinner tonight to Mrs. Burnett's. We would have gone out auto riding this afternoon if it hadn't rained. Tomorrow we are going over to Mrs. Coites' to play bridge and in the evening Henry is going to take us to the theatre.
Friday, Miss Starkey and Miss Stevens are going to take us to Jetties Beach on Nantuckett Island. They are nurses in the Newton Hospital. Miss Starkey took care of Aunt Christie when she was the worst. She is very nice and pleasant and above all a Canadian. ..Flora underlined the words ' a Canadian' for emphasis.

Lovingly, Flora,

PS.Tuesday, Henry, May and I went out to Framingham to call on Mrs. Coy.

Flora didn’t go into detail about her Tuesday trip, in the Stanley Steamer, to Wellesley and then on to Framingham, on a whim, where the happy trio dropped in on family friend Mrs. Coy unannounced and found her in kimono, her hair dishevelled. She had been doing the washing, all day, she said, appearing both pleased to see Flora and her cousins as well as deeply embarrassed.

“I’m not fortunate like your mother,” she said, apologetically. I have no daughters to help me do the housework. “But on your house calls, Dr. Watters, you have likely seen women in worse disarray than this.”

Henry blushed a bit and said nothing.

"We were visiting Wellesley and since you are just down the road we decided to come say Hello," said May,"but we cannot stay."

With that Mrs. Coy was let off the hook, and didn't have to receive them, yet she seemed torn. She was a lonely woman, with two sons, one living at home.

"Mr. Coy is at work and Chester is in Maine. Had I known you were coming I would had Ross come down. How is your grandmother, Flora. What is she, 83? Does she still like to travel?

"Yes, I think so. She is fine. She rattles away in the old tongue all the time now."

And then a few more words and they were off, with Mrs. Coy waving from the window, a small, sad figure, no doubt wishing she were young and free again.

On their way back, motoring smoothly through the sprawling Wellesley Campus, Flora spied a lone figure on the archery field setting her arrow in the bow, drawing and taking aim.

Flora shaded her eyes from the 4 o'clock sun with her hand. (She had long given up on wearing her hat in the open car.) The woman archer struck such a dignified figure, Flora's heart leapt. Henry noticed his cousin's intense interest and slowed the motorcar. The tall young woman on the grassy knoll let go the arrow which fell somewhere out of view and then reached over her left shoulder into her quiver for another and repeated her strike. She wore no hat, either, the hair of her updo had come down on one side and her grey-blue skirt billowed in the breeze like the gown of a twentieth-century goddess.

The woman didn't notice she had an audience. For some reason, Flora was reminded of Marion.

In a minute or two, without speaking, Henry pushed forward the throttle and the Steamer barrelled on, much more quickly now, past a few other women scholars strolling in the late afternoon sun, for it was summer and the campus was quiet.

May, in the front seat now, started flipping through the Wellesleyan Magazine, which they had picked up on their visit. “Newspaper Work” She read:
The world of journalism, in which the average layman indiscriminately places the cub reporter as well as the seasoned war correspondent, seems to possess an especial glamour for college girls, and every year there is a little group of graduates from the women's colleges who try to enter the field.

The term " newspaper work " usually suggests the reporting and editing of a paper; although there are two other very important departments. Blah blah. There are the Managing Editors whose work is to keep the paper closely in line with the policy laid down by the owners, and the interests of the business office, City Editors, right down to the Desk Editors, who read the copy turned in by reporters all day long.

The news is divided between two fields: local and foreign. The City Editor has charge of all local news; that is, within a radius of about twenty miles. He keeps a big book, called the "Assignment" book, and in it are recorded weeks and months ahead, coming events of public and general interest.

His salary, on the five papers investigated, ranges from $1,820 to $4,000 per year, with an average of $2412.

“I think I would like to be a city editor,” exclaimed Mae.

She lip read for the next few paragraphs and then said “Ah, listen to this, Flora...
But there are handicaps which are thought to offer serious objections for women. All the editors and newspaper women interviewed feel strongly that the high nervous strain under which the editors must work, especially in the last hour before the paper goes to press, would wear a woman out in a short time.

It is a maelstrom of hurry and anxiety, Woman's ability to control such situations is, of course, a matter of opinion, but newspaper people themselves doubt it, and point to the fact that there are no women holding such positions in Boston.

“So a teacher I will be, it seems,” said Mae. “I’m suddenly sick to my stomach. Must be the oysters at lunch.

“It is likely motion sickness. They are finding that it is difficult for some people to read while driving in an auto,” said Henry, wiping the dust from the face of one of the gauges with a gloved index finger.

“That must be it,” said Flora, from above Henry. 'Maelstrom of hurry and anxiety', surely her Mother, Margaret, was an expert, she thought. Flora was not happy to be brought so abruptly back to reality, her reality, that her family was near penniless, and that, with her marks, it was going to be struggle for her to get into the very female world of teaching, let alone the very male world of newspapers. At least Mae, with her excellent grades (she was the same age as Flora and one year ahead of her) had the luxury of dreaming big.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tighsolas House of Light.

Tighsolas Floor plan as drawn by Norman, most likely.

If anything HASN'T changed much, since 1910, it is the way houses look on the outside. If you flip through the pages of a 1910 magazine your eyes are met by the exact same styles that are being erected today, at least in my neck of the woods. Well, everywhere from what I have seen. A friend, visiting some corner of China, emailed me a pic of a 'new development' and it looked just like the houses they are building here, in Vaudreuil-Dorion Quebec.

Women no longer wear shirtwaists and corsets and skirts to the ground, as they did in 1910. Indeed, there have been myriad female fashion 'looks' over the past century, from flapper shift to little black dress to suit with the big shoulders to mini skirts and go go boots, but house fashion has stayed the same. Indeed, there's a cachet about older homes, despite the fact their infrastructure is iffy and they have not nearly enough electric outlets to accomodate all the modern gadgets in a household.

I personally love the experimental 20th century designs from Frank Lloyd Wright on down, but they never really took off with average people, for whatever reason. You know, homes with natural woods, clean lines and no 'symbolic' or 'anacronistic' decoration, like shutters. Modern suburban houses may be encased in aluminium or some poly-plasticky stuff, but they still look like great grandma's homestead. The Nostalgia Factor is key in home design and that says a lot about us. The movie Fahrenheit 451 may pretty well have nailed the politics of today, but erred on the look of the homesteads people 'of the future' would have - unless, of course, we're talking about Denmark.

The picture above is of Tighsolas floor plan. My husband, who visited there often in the 70's says the sketch is out of proportion. The kitchen on the right was much bigger.

Tighsolas, the house, is a key 'character' in Flo in the City, my novel in progress, based on the letters of and being written on this blog. Why? For many reasons.

Tighsolas was much more than a 'shelter' for the Nicholsons who descended from Isle of Lewis crofters who were 'cleared' from their Hebrides homes in the 1800's. It was their source of pride, their anchor, their one asset, as well as the brick albatross around their necks.

I have all the records. Norman Nicholson built Tighsolas for about 2, 700 dollars in 1896, the year Laurier came to power. He inspected every slate shingle, every brick, rejecting more than he kept. (According to family lore only 3 shingles needed changing in 50 years.)

I asked my husband to describe Tighsolas for me, on the inside, so that I could paint a picture of it in my novel.

Like many fine Victorian homes it had a back stairs (off the kitchen) and a front stairway. (In rich homes this was so that servants and their masters wouldn't pass on the stairs.)

The rooms all could be closed off to preserve heat. There were French doors leading to the living room, or parlour, which was used only for guests, the furniture draped in protective coverings.

The doorways were framed in darkly varnished oak mouldings with medallions at the corners, which was very Victorian and the doors were very solid, 'not like the cheap things we have'. This was to keep the house warm in winter.

From the letters I can deduce that the house was cool on hot days in summer, except for during the 1911 heatwave, where it got so hot inside the Nicholsons slept outside on the porch.

There probably was a furnace in the cellar, which was very cramped. The bathroom was upstairs. My husband also recalls that there were hardwood floors with wide slats. (These may have been put in in 1913.)

The style of the house, from what I have learned, is Queen Anne, but less ornamental than the other Queen Anne houses around them. The roof had a number of levels and the porch had fancy ornamentation, but in general, it was not a showy house.

In fact, I believe it perfectly reflects the Nicholsons character, solid, attractive, not too big or too small, gracious but not ostentatious.

One of the first places my husband took me after meeting me in 1984 was to Richmond, to drive by Tighsolas, even though he hadn't been there since January 1977, when he visited his great-aunt Edith, who was 93 years old, blind, and on her death bed. The house was falling apart at the time of our visit, in the early eighties, with no porch at all. I was not impressed, but happy for the two hour drive to Richmond, situated in an area of great beauty in the Eastern Townships.

Tighsolas had fallen out of family hands just a few years before. I have letters from 1905 where son Herb is suggesting the Nicholsons sell Tighsolas, which means House of Light in Gaelic. (Tighsolas had a lot of windows.) They debated that for years, and almost lost the house in the 1910 era which I write about in Flo in the City, but ended up holding onto it. Flo died there, too, in December 1977.

Monday, January 11, 2010

STEAMING TO WELLESLEY 22nd installment

Marion Mclean Mcleod, circa 1850, detail of tintype.

I found a wonderful website that explains in minute detail how Stanley Steamers work, which is verrrry useful for my next scene of Flo in the City, my novel in progress about a girl coming of age in the 1908-1913 era based on the letters on my social studies website.

Flo went to visit Wellesley and Framingham and thanks to Google maps I can pretty well see the road they took!

Henry Watters unhooked the catch pedal of his 1908 Stanley Steamer Touring car, adjusted the main burner valve, released the brake, unscrewed the throttle locking screw and pushed the throttle on the wheel forward and said to Flora in the passenger seat on the left and Mae in the back, "Hold onto your hats, this automobile goes fast." So Mae and Flora did just that.

And they were off, hands on their head, down Homer Street, past Beacon Street, along West Boynton, and Washington Street towards the Wellesley campus. 15 miles in an automobile on beautiful roads, a wonderful 2 hour drive there and back, with a stop at Natwick.

And in the shimmering green auto with the yellow wheel spokes, Flora was experiencing something rather new, the feeling of being the center of attention.

'Good for you," a well-dressed man walking a black and white bull terrier bellowed from the side of the road.

Henry, monitored the many gauges in front of them and glanced up at the road from time to time and said "The Steamer is built in Newton. It is a great source of pride."

"We're going 20 miles an hour,"Flora said in astonishment.

"The Steamer is the fastest auto in the world, " said Henry. They built a special racing model. This touring car can go faster than 20,and there's a Roadster Model that can go as fast as 60.

But I did not buy that one as I felt a doctor had a responsibility not to seem too reckless. This model is perfect for my purposes, visiting patients."

Washington Street to Clifford Street to Wellesley Avenue, the machine powered on, past the elegant homes of West Boston, with Mae and Flora still holding onto their hats.

"The streets are so wide and beautiful," said Mae.

"Without good roads " Henry said, "automobiles cannot be enjoyed. I could never bring the steamer into the city, with its crowds. Too dangerous. But then why would I want to?"

They passed another Steamer and Henry squeezed the auto's horn. The men in the other auto waves and Flora and Mae responded in kind.

Flora felt euphoric, whatever worries that had been weighing her down disappeared with the trail of water vapor behind the auto.

She was in the new light green linen tulip skirt her mother had made, which added to her good mood, as new items of clothing were a rare thing for Flora.

She had refused the duster Henry had offered at the beginning of the trip. Car rides in the country in internal-explosion cars, fueled by gasoline, were smelly and dusty affairs, but here, in this clean car on these wide clear roads, a woman's clothes weren't in much danger.

Hats however were hard to keep on the head. Flora clamped down harder with the palm of her right had on her straw with the white and mauve florets and yellow wings, or feather-pairs.

She wondered what the women at Wellesley wore in the summer and how her hat would measure up.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nurse 1914 or 1917

This picture I rescued from obscurity: it was a negative. Corel can convert negatives, which is good news, because a few months ago I spent 80 dollars getting 10 negatives from the 1950's professionally developed. (I was told I was lucky the negatives were a standard size or even they could not have developed them!)

Anyway, it was popular, among the middle classes, to have 'nurses' for newborns. This is likely Marion Nicholson's daughter Margaret, 1914 or Marion, 1917.(She married a Mr. Blair, which I will write about in Flo in the City, my novel about a girl coming of age in the 1908-1913 period based on It's an indoor shot and I may have that chair in my house. It's a peculiar style of chair.

Anyway, this business with nurses. It was probably a bit of a snob thing: the middle class was always trying to imitate the rich. But it was also an offshoot of the 1910's child-welfare movment.

Remember, Dominion Park had an infant incubator exhibit, with babies and their nurses on display.

All these new technologies were making people, especially young people, believe that the 'old wisdom' was no longer applicable. Raising children was no longer about common sense and traditions. It was a science.

As I wrote earlier, parts of Montreal, like St. Henri, had the highest rate of infant mortality in the Western World. It was mostly among the urban poor, among them many recent immigrants from Ireland, etc.

If a nurse was too expensive, a 'maiden' sister would do. But in the case of the Nicholsons, the maiden sisters were too busy with their own lives. Flora actually lived with Marion and her family in 1914 in Montreal. But she was teaching in Griffintown.

Of course, if you were a nurse and wanted to practice for real, you could volunteer to go to the Front. In a letter from WWI a soldier in Belgian advises Flora not to volunteer as a nurse. "It is not bonne over here," he writes.

In my novel in progress, Flo in the City, based on the letters of Flora visits Newton Hospital and steps out with some of the nurses there. So, I'll get in a bit about the nursing profession.