Sunday, August 12, 2012

Childhood Memories of Great Grandma Nicholls

My Aunt Betty (Elizabeth Nicholls Walling), sent me her mom's childhood autobiography (Lettie Evelyn Lawrence Nicholls). She is my great grandma (my dad's mom's mom). Lots of precious memories here! Compared to our fast-paced, always connected, get-what-you-want-now life, she seems to have grown up in a different world! But there's still lots we can relate to, in particular the beauty of life through a child's eyes and her family relationships. 


Childhood Memories
by Lettie (Letticia) Evelyn Lawrence Nicholls (1908-2003)
written about 1981

I was born the 2nd of October 1908, 6th in a family of 9 to Edward John Lawrence and Edith Ruth Telling in Chisolm Township, east of Powasson, Ontario, Canada.  Dad was away fighting forest fires so Mother sent my oldest brother Charlie with a horse and buggy to bring a neighbour to be midwife.  The nearest doctor was at least 10 miles away. There were no telephones and no cars.  Most babies were born at home--seldom with a doctor on hand. None of my sisters or brothers births were attended by a doctor.

When Charlie got to that neighbour's home she would not come unless another neighbour woman would come also so Charlie had to drive another mile to get that woman.  So back home they drove  and all went well--another girl.

We lived in Chisolm several years then moved out nearer to Powasson on a farm my Dad named Maple Ridge.  Esther and Art were born within the next three years.  I remember a little bit about that house.  It was two story with a stone foundation and there was a trap door in the floor and a ladder to get down to the cellar.  I remember one Good Friday there was a terrific storm and Mom took us children down there for safety.  There was a hen setting on a clutch of eggs and Dad carried a young calf down there too.

That house burned down two days before Christmas .  I was about 6 years old but can still remember seeing sparks land in the snow and make black spots near where we were sitting bundled up in blankets.  Dad and Charlie has gone off to town with the beef and pork they has butchered earlier in the week. These would be traded for needed groceries--flour, salt, sugar, tea etc.  And they would also bring back Eaton=s mail order parcel from the post office there, probably some Christmas goodies like candies and maybe oranges.  These were treats seen only at Christmas time. My two oldest sisters, Mabel and Hilda, were at an Aunt=s house about 12 miles away.  So only Mom was left to do the stable chores and look after the children.  Mom was in the stable cutting up a rabbit for the hens and upon coming out of the stable to check the house she saw sparks flying out of the chimney--rather the stove pipe that extended above the roof.

Frank and Ida helped get us outside and dragged as much bedding as possible out also.  Then Mother sent Ida to a neighbors for help while she and Frank tried to save more things from the house. The neighbour came with team and sleigh and drove us to his house for the time being. By that time the fire had completely destroyed the house. I learned later (many years later) that when my Dad and Charlie returned and found the house burned, they were desperate, not knowing whether there had been loss of life.  That was their chief concern.

We were given shelter in several homes for several weeks--I don't know how long. The men of the neighbourhood had turned out and helped cut logs to build another house. That log house sheltered that big family for years.  Irene (my youngest sister) was born in the log house.

I remember:
  • carrying pails of water up a hill summer and winter for drinking purposes.  Rain barrels caught wash water and when that was not enough even that had to be carried.  Dad would bring big barrels of water to the house on the stone boat from the well where cattle watered in a different direction from the house.
  • having to cut up huge pots of rhubarb and thinking I was very hard done by. Esther could go play while I had to work. Ha  ha.
  • gathering piles of chips to hurry the fire under the boiler on wash days
  • seeing Mother washing clothes in a wash tub--scrubbing them on a galvanized scrub board, hanging them out on a clothes line, winter and summer--bringing them in frozen stiff to hang around the kitchen to dry. In summer, often the clothes were spread on the wood pile or out on the grass.  There were not pulleys lines either. You walked along the line with straight clothes pegs (the kind we made into dolls). Where the line sagged in the middle with the weight of the clothes the line was propped up with a long stick with a forked end.
  • playing hide and seek around the yard and barn on summer evenings. I remember once how badly Mabel hurt her legs when she fell on a spike tooth harrow beside the barn.
  • feeding the pigs, chickens, gathering eggs. How some of the hens would peck my hand when I'd take the eggs out from under them.
  • hunting for cows in the bush.  There were at least 2 cows with bells on and how jealous the older cows would be when a bell was put on a heifer.
  • picking wild raspberries in the woods then gathering choke cherries too.  Mother sometimes mixed pie cherries and raspberries together. We called it war weapons because of the pits in the cherries would spit at each other when we went outside after a meal.  We dared not do that in the house!
  • we were not allowed to fight or argue in the house either--but I'm sure we did our share when out of hearing of our parents.
  • picking up potatoes and scrubbing the dirt off them and later eating them raw.  Hunger is good sauce. Dad would pile the dried potato tops up to burn them and we'd roast small potatoes in the coals when the fire died down. Ummm they tasted good!  
  • boiling huge kettles of small potatoes for the pigs on a fire outside and taking some out to eat while still not quite soft.
  • how good a turnip tasted when we pulled it fresh from the ground and peeled it with our teeth.  Ummm good!  Carrots and pears tasted so good snitched in the garden.

Near that log house there were several small hills.  We called them mountains--Mabel's mountain, Charlie's mountain, Hilda's mountain. There was such lovely mossy areas between the out- croppings of rocks that we played there by the hour in the summer days.  We paid stones and twigs to divide "rooms" in our "houses."  Near one of the mountains tall trees stood and Dad tied a poll across between those trees and tied a good sturdy rope to the pole for a swing.  We could really swing high.  We had so much fun we never worried that the rope might break and let us down in the brush.  The age of innocence or ignorance?  What's the difference?

Church was about 2 miles away. I remember Daddy taking us to Sunday School on foot. I remember hanging on to Dad's big finger to help us along. Sometimes he would lift one of us up to his shoulders when our legs got too tired and carry us along for a while--then lift the other one up.

I remember:
  • seeing Dad burn burning big trees when he was clearing new land.
  • gathering sap to boil down into maple syrup.
  • digging among roots to find the crinkly white roots of the pepper root plant to eat. It tasted good but burned out tongues.
  • riding in the sleigh with hot bricks to keep our feet warm. It was tradition to take such a drive on Christmas day--top hear the sleigh runners squeak on the frosty snow and hear the sleigh bells jingle and the horses snort the frost off their nostrils. We sang and forgot how the wind nipped our cheeks and noses.

Our Grandmother Lawrence lived about a mile away and sometimes we'd go there. And Aunt and cousins lived near there, too, so we'd have a visit while out for a sleight ride. These cousins were Elsie, Annie and Lloyd Makins, children of Susie Lawrence and Jack Makins.

We walked to school a distance of three miles unless we were able to take shortcuts.  We made our own paths in winter and often had to miss school because of bad storms.  We carried books in a bag over our shoulders and lunch in tin pails. Little ones didn't go to school between Christmas and Easter--not until grade 3 (Junior 3rd it was called.)--about 8 years.

Friday afternoon was a special time.  Then we'd have a spelling match, and arithmetic match, a geography match or recite special poems, tell stories and play games from 3 to 4 o'clock. Every morning we had exercises - warms ups.  In the winter that was necessary top get our fingers and toes limbered up.  It was often so cold in the school we could hardly hold a pencil. A wood burning box stove toasted your face if you were lucky enough to sit near it.  It was the responsibility of the pupils to carry drinking water and bring wood and keep the fire going.

Not many boys finished grade eight. They were needed on the farms.  Girls too often had to leave school after a few years of lessons. I was the first in my family to attend till grade 8. (Senior fourth)     

It was 1919 when we moved to the Rankin farm where the airport is now. 320 acres of large fields, much brush and wooded areas. The house was brick veneer.  We thought it was very nice after living in a log house with a few small windows.  This house had tall windows, a fairly large kitchen, dining room, a small bedroom downstairs where Mom and Dad slept, a hall and stairway to three rooms upstairs.  There was a pantry under the stairs and a large woodshed at the back of the house.  A cellar the full size of the house with dirt floor where vegetables kept very well.  All the preserves and pickles were stored down there. And Mom did the churning down there in the summer.  The cream and butter and milk were kept down there too.  There was no refrigerator, no radio, but there was a phone. The telephone number was 636 ring 2-3.  That's 2 long and 3 short rings. It was the kind fastened to the wall.  You rang the handle for people on your own line 636 and pushed a button on the side and rang the handle to get Central to ring numbers that were not on your own line.  The line number here on AB@ line (now Tower Drive) was 641. There was a nice big frame barn on top of a stone walled stable that would house up to 14 head of cattle, several calves, a team of horses and a place for chickens.

We attended school at 1A, a little one room school down by what is now the golf course.  It was a two mile walk to the school. We made it even shorter by cutting through the fields and woods but in the winter we walked along the roads which were more traveled here than in the Powassan area.  It was traveled by horses, of course, and later a few cars and trucks.  After passing grade 8 I was home for a year helping Mom.     

My Dad and brother worked at the making of the new golf course.  It had been a farm where cattle pastured and a slaughter house the first few years we lived up here. 


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