Grandma didn’t buy anything that could me made

 In Opinion

Although the Smith family, the subject of this series, was industrious some hard knocks made life difficult for them. We have followed the family from Yorkshire, England, 1832 to the wilds of Nottawasaga Township. The year is now 1902. Bert Smith continues his story:

I had been persuaded by my father in the spring of 1902 to quit school and work on the farm. 

I was not big for my age but healthy and tough. I took a man’s place and had just finished seeding operations when I had a terrible and almost fatal accident. Details are not necessary but after five weeks at Collingwood Hospital the doctors not only saved my life but the arm, which they had thought of amputating. This accident added to existing financial problems.

Up at Grandmother’s things were anything but good. 

There was really no boss. Grandma owned the 50-acre homestead and 25 acres of bush but she had no money. However, she made arrangements with Reub (uncle) to work the farm. Reub in turn was to provide food, wood, etc. I am not sure how much Reub gave his mother in cash but no doubt it was very little. They existed but had to live economically.

Fred, the youngest landed at the West Coast. It was about 1906 that he wired my father requesting $800 to save him serious trouble. About the same time Jack needed $400. 

These hard knocks left us all limp. None of the Smith family, of my father’s generation ever became wealthy for the very good reason that on too many occasions they were called upon to help a brother in distress.

It was generally known that I wanted to get married. I was engaged to May Ferguson at the time and was biding my time, waiting to see what would develop. 

Suddenly in January 1916 Reub telephoned me to come to see him. On my arrival Grandma opened the conversation by telling me that she and Reub had a talk and decided the time had come for them to sell the property. She said that they would like me to buy the old homestead because they didn’t want it to go out of the family. I was always sentimental and was thrilled at the prospect of becoming the Laird of the old family homestead. The deal was completed in a few days.

Reub then called an auction of his chattels. 

I had hoped to get married in the spring. This was found to be impossible for several reasons.

Firstly, my financé had a slight indisposition and her doctor advised her to not to marry until autumn. 

Secondly, I discovered the house was in a terrible rundown condition. No decorating had been done for many years. 

Thirdly, I had very little money and realized I had furniture to get besides decorating a few rooms.

Grandma had a sale of household effects in May and I was in full possession. She then moved to Creemore to live with her youngest daughter, Maude (Mrs. Wm Mackay). Grandma had nearly $3,000 in the bank and paid her board. She was 75 years of age and was independent for the first time in her life.

Looking back about 65 years to the late 90s I would like to give to succeeding generations a picture of life as I remember it on the old homestead. 

Grandma didn’t buy anything that could be produced by their own industry. 

Any money made by making butter and for eggs sold was used for such necessities as tea, sugar, salt and on occasions some yard goods to make men’s shirts, overalls, and once in a long time, a dress for one of the women. 

There were no canned goods of any kind. Instead the cellar would be well stocked with preserved fruit, pickles, etc.

Bread, of course, was all homemade. She had hops growing on poles in the garden. She grew hops to make yeast for bread. She made soap with lye made from hardwood ashes. The lye mixed with discarded fats would make her soap.

Home cured pork was their staple meat diet, and the fatter it was the better they liked it. They had lots of apples and I think apple pie was on the table at every meal. In the autumn she dried bushels of apples to be used until the next summer.

Grandma’s parlour was rather a dull place. The only time, although beautifully furnished, it was used was for weddings and funerals or when the minister called. 

Although they had plenty of wood the only stove used, except on special occasions, was the big wood stove in the very large kitchen. The bedrooms were unheated. This was their way of life and they thrived on it. Grandma had 13 children and never once had the doctor.

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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