Friday, March 11, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: A Mother-in-Law's Impending Visit

My apologies to my family and friends
for my unanticipated hiatus from blogging,
but I'm back now to pick up the narrative 
of my family's time in the North.

At that point my father was cut off from the Outside
anxiously waiting out freeze-up
in the remote wilderness of Northern Ontario
while my mother was fighting through  
loneliness and isolation in rural Nova Scotia.

Lansdowne House on Frozen Lake Attawapiskat
Northern Ontario, Canada
Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Unable to communicate with her husband,
my mother was alone with five young children.
living in her mother's home,
and struggling with little money and poor health.

My mother persisted,
and I often wonder how on Earth she did it.
Cheerful and resilient, she kept her worries inside.

With Christmas coming in less than three weeks,
my mother tried to firm up plans 
for her mother-in-law's impending visit.

What a different time it was!
Everything had to be worked out 
through letters passing back and forth
between Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Money was as scarce as hen's teeth,
so a long distance phone call was only for emergencies.
Even stamps were used prudently.

On Thursday, December 8, 1960 
my mother wrote to her mother-in-law Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
This is going to be a fast letter for it is late.  
I haven’t written because Roberta was very sick with the flu.  
I was just going to get the doctor 
when I realized that she was finally getting better.  
It made a lot of extra laundry, blankets, etc., 
and it is so hard to dry things now.

Donnie Holding Roberta with Barbara
Clothes on the Clothesline, Grammie's Back Yard
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
Summer 1960 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We have been as warm as bugs in a rug, 
but now that it has turned cold, 
I realized I had better warn you to bring warm things 
for your legs and shoulders.  

If you could bring a pair of flannelette blankets, 
I wish you would, for I gave Don most of ours.  
I can borrow anything I need from Aunt Nan, 
but I doubt that she would have flannelette sheets.  
I could get ordinary ones from her, so let me know 
whether you will have room to bring any or not.

Kelsey and Mary Lou are going 
to Mary Lou’s home for Christmas.  
I had forgotten when I wrote you.  
However, Mrs. Robinson or her son will pick you up.  
Your train arrives here at 11 o’clock.

Me (Louise) with My Childhood Hero, Kelsey
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
Summer 1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Mrs. Robinson's son would drive you here 
and back to Halifax for $10.00 return.  
He brings another woman with him I believe.
However, I told Mrs. Robinson that you might be nervous about driving,
and I would worry about you if you came by road.  
Also there might be a snowstorm.  
However, if you wish you could come with him.  

If you did, you would go back with him on a Sunday.  
I don’t know what time they leave,
but I could find out for you if you are interested.  

He has a nice new car and is about nineteen or twenty.  
He takes a number of people from the Cove and is a very nice boy.
But as I said I would feet safer if you are on the train.

I had decided to let you have the room Louise and I are using, 
and Louise would sleep with Barbie and I with Roy.  
The way he sleeps, he wouldn’t even know I was there, 
and it would please him.  

However I begin to wonder if you would be better downstairs where it is heated,
but that would leave another problem.  

There is only one solid wall away from the windows.  
Unless there is a wind blowing from the north this wouldn’t bother you.  
We could move the couch in the dining room for you.  
I am going to put one there for Christmas to give us more room anyway.  
Where do you think you would be the most comfortable?  
Of course we could arrange things differently after you arrive.

I can’t think of anything else.  
I have been trying to get things fixed up for you, 
but with the children sick, especially the baby, 
things have gotten beyond me.

  Baby Roberta Today
in Grammie's, Now Bertie's, Living Room
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
August 2015
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However Mrs. Robinson’s daughter is coming in to help me
Saturday, and if all goes well, I will be able to get her regularly.  

There is so much for me to get caught up with, 
though I hope you won’t mind 
if things are not as nice as I would like to have them.  

I made cranberry jelly Wednesday.  
Tomorrow I will make the puddings, the cake Monday,
a quick fruitcake on Tuesday.  
Stella is making me some nice mince pies,
cookies, and doughnuts,
so don’t bother to bring any.
There doesn’t seem to be anything else that I can think of. 
There are two places in the dining room that we could put a couch
if you would like to be by the heat.  
It’s below zero tonight,
and the first time I have had the furnace on all day.  
I have been paying about $10 - $15 a month for oil, 
a lot different from Margarettesville.

With love,

So many changes have occurred since then.
No more doctors making house calls 
nor hanging bedding out to dry on the clothesline in the winter.
No doubling up and sharing beds.

No trace of the Robinson's home just a dash away,
only warm memories of childhood fun 
with their younger son Wayne, my brother, and me
all over the woods, the pastures, and the shore. 

Drivers still take people to and from Halifax,
but guaranteed not for $10 round trip;
and the newer Trans-Canada Highway is much faster
than the torturous old road that wound 
through endless villages and towns in the Annapolis Valley.

The Dominion Atlantic Railway train 
and the Bear River Station are long gone,
and the Bear River Railroad Bridge (photo) came down in 2012.
My grandfather Jack MacDonald helped build that bridge (photo);
it's the reason I'm here.
He'd dive off the bridge to retrieve dropped tools
and then get time off to court my grandmother.

Ella and Jack
Young and In Love
circa 1912
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Now Grammie's house, the house that Jack built,
faces the demolition dozers in two months.

The House That Jack Built
It sheltered my family many times over the years.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sometimes the most ordinary words in an everyday letter
flood me with bittersweet memories,
especially of those I love who are gone.

Every family has its stories,
and I believe those stories are important.
Is someone in your family saving yours?
I hope so!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Beautiful Cove on Long island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Back into Circulation

TLL: Grounded Planes and Real Coffee

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia


  1. Sad they are going to demolish the house.
    Ten dollars was probably a lot of money back then, but I can only imagine what it costs now.

    1. Hi Alex! Yes it is sad that Bertie and Peter have to demolish the house, but it would cost a fortune to salvage. It was originally a carriage house for horses. The trip to and from Halifax would be well over $100 return, probably more like $175, and today the trip is at least two hours shorter. Have a great weekend!

  2. I enjoyed all the photos in today's post! In that one of you and Kelsey Raymond, are you chewing on a strand of seaweed?

    1. Yes, I was chewing on seaweed. A lot of people gathered and ate pulse then; but that's not pulse. Whenever I got to Nova Scotia while teaching, I used to bring back a bag of dulse and let my students sample it.Most, like me, were not impressed! I was never far from Kelsey when I was little. Kelsey was a well known Canadian artist, and I spend many happy days in his studio. Happy Friday!

  3. yeah, sure isn't $10 now. But the main road is way faster than taking the back route. Wish oil was that price now too haha

    1. I used to hate that Valley road to Halifax. I remember when I was about six hearing that all the farmers in the Valley were fighting over where the road would go. It took decades to sort it all out. Now nearly all you see are trees, trees, and more trees with rock outcrops and a few ponds thrown in. But I love that it's faster! Happy weekend!

  4. This letter gives a great insight into how hard life was then, isolation, heating, travel, laundry and every day-to-day living problems. For my parents, and their parents, no washing machines, a hand sewing machine my Grandma brought to NZ from Scotland , and none of the things we now take for granted. I love the old photos you post, beautiful hand sewn dresses, and family pics of you together.

    1. I'm so glad that you enjoy the photos, Jean! What is the point in having them, if they are stashed away in old shoeboxes? I'm working on organizing them and saving their stories. My great grandmother (Myrtle's mother) came from the Isle of Skye when she was about 16. I have a spread that she hand-loomed before she emigrated from Scotland.

  5. Hi Fundy, Glad to see a new Northern post though you did manage to bring tears to my eyes. I hope you are enjoying Hawaii. I am of to DR tomorrow. Hugs your sister Barb

    1. I hope you have a safe and fun trip, Barb. With Jerry and Rae I can't imagine that it won't be fun! You look adorable in that frilly little dress, Barbie! Bertie probably wore it too, LOL! I'm back on track, hopefully, with the writing; although I have to work in a breezeway between the lobby and the pool. I have a man playing a piano beautifully not three feet from me, and across the table I have a woman singing along: "Home on the Range." Always interesting! Hugs, Barb!

  6. An engaging post! Jack built a most impressive house. Roofspine is still arrow-straight. As one who has raised a family in crazy old crumbling farm houses, I am dismayed to learn the house pictured, which is neither crazy nor crumbling, is to be razed. Best wishes to all.

    1. Hi, Geo! You've been so good to visit when I've been absent! I'm determined to get back in my blogging groove. I'm beyond sad to see my grandparents' house come down, but there are plenty of nightmare things hidden inside. My sister and her husband saved it from being sold outside the family, and we got to enjoy it for another twenty some years. They're getting ready to retire, so they're going to build a new home on the site, one level without the horrendously steep stairs that have bedeviled many arthritic members of our family The good news is that my great grandmother's house that was built in 1785 in the same community is being restored by a family with the financial resources to do so. Have a great weekend with Norma!

  7. So wonderful to see a post like this from you, Louise! And it's another wonderful read. It was so much harder for our parents in those days. None of today's comforts. It reminds me not to complain! LOL...

    1. Hi Martha! You're so good to come back after my time away! I'm getting back in the swing of things! Every time I want to whine, I think of my mother. Not that it works all the time, because occasionally I tumble into a black hole of depression that takes me time to get on top of; family curse that we can trace back through my father to my great grandfather Pratt who arrived as an orphan in PEI sometime in the mid-1800s. Hopefully it won't strike me again, or not for a long time. I do want to catch up on all that has been happening with you and your hubby! Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Hello Dear Louise,
    Many thanks for your kind comments, I am happy you're back blogging and resuming your family's life up in the north. It is so interesting and it is great to keep a 'diary' like this, a true testimony of an extra-ordinary life.
    Keep well my friend, love from France :)

    1. Love right back at you, Noushka! Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Gee, did your mother have her hands full or what! Luckily she had you Louise who would help whenever you could.
    Such great memories of your families struggles and strength to make it better for you and your siblings.
    Welcome back Louise. I look forward to following your life's journey from long ago.
    I have only a few letters from my parents when I lived away. There were quite a few letters that my father wrote from overseas but I heard that he threw them out when he discovered they were being read. I and my sister had already read them when we were kids. It would be nice to have them now since his 100th birthday is in June. Such is life.

    1. Hey, Jim! It feels good for me to be back. Thanks for your encouragement! It's a shame that your father threw away his letters! Even I, letter saver extraordinaire, have thrown away letters of mine (old boyfriends ~ LOL) that I now wish I had. They're so good at capturing a moment in time. I can't believe that Pops will be 100 in June! What an amazing run he has had! I hope you inherited those longevity genes! Have a good one!

  10. Replies
    1. I so appreciate your support and friendship ~ simple as that!

  11. Great post Louise...glad to see you have gotten back to your writing. I love these photos we have all grown. It is amazing to see Mom's handwriting on the envelope to Nana. I honestly don't know how Mom managed the 5 of us and I was totally oblivious to it all. Dutchess

    1. I love these photos too, Dutchess! After you left Aurora, I moved mountains at home, including my National Geographics. I'm basically down to photos and papers ~ organizing, identifying, and preserving, and sharing family photos are a huge project for me. It's overwhelming if I think of it! But I am excited.

      I love the one of you, Bertie, and Barb in Grammie's back yard. I remember years of Mom washing pails and pails of cloth diapers. She boiled them after she got them washed. Five babies in nine years; and yet, she told me numerous times that that was the best time of her life, when we were all small. It's haunting to see her handwriting on letters and envelopes; Dad's too. I have a few letters and drawings of we kiddos, and I'll eventually share them too.

      I went through a rough patch after you left and I suddenly saw 66 bearing down. Now I just laugh! My trainer Alex, whom I'm meeting in less than an hour, was really impressed with my strength and level of fitness. That was such a morale boost! Deciding to join 24 Hour Fitness for while I'm here was such a great decision. The gym is closer to me than our clubhouse at home!

      I sure hope Barb is having a blast in the Dominican Republic. Turning 60 is a big deal too! Hugs to you!

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