Friday, April 8, 2016

The Lansdowne House Letters: Christmas 1960

Currently I am sharing some letters
my father wrote by hand from Lansdowne House
because he did not have access to a working typewriter.

Deciphering his words is no easy task.

Sometimes I have to resort to using a magnifying glass and recalling everything I can remember about the vocabulary and idioms of my Canadian childhood.

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

One of the surprising things I realized 
when I began working seriously with my father's letters 
was that he struggled with the dyslexia 
that runs from generation to generation in our family.

Dad was an excellent writer, and 
he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the English language;
so, when I was growing up,
I never suspected the difficulties he had with spelling
nor how much he relied on my mother
to check his writing and catch his errors.

He relentlessly drummed spelling, grammar, 
pronunciation, and precise word meanings
into my head from the time I began to talk,
a practice he continued with my four younger siblings.

One of my earliest memories was watching Dad on his knees
fiddling with the standup radio in our den in Charlottetown. 
I don't remember what I said, but I do remember Dad's reaction.

Dad smacked the top of the radio and said,
"Jesus Christ, Louise!  
How many times do I have to tell you?
It's I-land, not is-land!
The s in island is silent!
We live on Prince Edward I-land."

I was shocked at the time,
but I never forgot the pronunciation of island after that!
Looking back as an adult and a teacher
I realize that there was more going on in that incident
than Dad's being exasperated by the radio or with me.

Dad was reacting with the frustration of a lifetime
of trying to cope with his dyslexia.
The adults in his life never understood or accepted
that my father could be both brilliant and unable to spell.

He had one response to all of us children 
if we made the mistake of asking him 
how to spell a word or what the meaning of a word was:
"Look it up in the dictionary!"

I remember countless times flipping through the pages
of our gigantic Funk and Wagnalls 
and kicking myself for asking Dad instead of Mom.

I look at his Northern writing and see how he struggled,
sometimes spelling a word two or three ways
in the hope that one of them was correct.
Guess there was no room in all that luggage
he dragged up north for his F&W!

Dad's Luggage on the Beach
Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I smile when I look at his atrocious handwriting.
I'm quite certain he resorted to the strategy some of my students over the years used:
Write it badly enough, and people won't know if it's spelled right or wrong.

So here's my best shot at what he wrote:

Sunday, December 25, 1960 
my father wrote to his wife and mother:

Dear Sally and Mother:
Christmas has come and gone almost, 
and if I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget it.  
I was so sick Christmas Eve and today that I damned near died.  

I didn’t feel too good when I went over to Duncan’s, 
but I figured I was just lonesome or something. 

After Duncan and Maureen made calls at McMahon’s and Mitchell’s, 
I went with them to the nursing station.  
I started to get real sick there.  
(This was just after I sealed up the letter I wrote to you yesterday.) 

Raw Material
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

By the time we got home from the nursing station ~
about 2:30 a.m., I was in pretty bad shape.  
I was taking chills, and I wanted to go back to the shack, 
but Maureen wouldn’t hear of it.
They bundled me up warmly 
on the chesterfield with lots of blankets.  
I didn’t sleep all night.
I was perspiring like mad, yet my teeth were chattering.  

I felt a bit better Christmas morning when we opened up the presents,
but then I had to lay down and sleep again till about 2:30 
when the Father and the Brother came calling.

The Father, Dad, and the Brother
on a Better Day
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I did manage to eat a small bit of a lovely Christmas dinner.  
About 6:00 I started to feel sick again, so I came home.  
Maureen wanted me to stay, 
but I felt that I would be better in the shack in my own bed.  

I came home and bundled up into the pair of nice warm pyjamas
that Mother gave me, and here I am with hot coffee and aspirins. 

Humble but Home
Dad's Side of the Bedroom He Shared with Uno
Two Room Shack, Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don’t know what it is.  
I still perspire even though my teeth chatter.  
At first I thought I was coming down with the bad cold 
that Mike and Duncan are just recovering from; 
but two days have passed, and I still feel punk, 
but I have no cold yet.  Not even a sniffle.  

My stomach is all upset and also my bowels, 
and I just ache all over.  
I’m telling you, I never felt so miserable in my entire life 
as I did Christmas Eve and today.

Maureen is feeling somewhat similar.  
Only Duncan could do justice to the dinner.  
However, if I feel better tomorrow, 
I am going back and really tie into that turkey.

However, enough about my troubles.  
Here is a list of what I got for Christmas.  
I can tell you what I got, 
but in a lot of cases I can’t tell you who they were from 
because young Duncan managed to pull off quite a few tags 
before we noticed him.

Young Duncan with Santa
at the School Christmas Party
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It’s a good job I took to writing "Don" on all my presents 
before I took them over to Duncan’s.  
I should also have written whom they were from.

Well, anyway here goes.  
From Mother and Aunt Maude I got two nice pairs of warm pyjamas.  

From Mother I got the Time Magazine
and from Aunt Maude I got The Guardian ~ I think that’s right.  

Also from Mother I got the suede jacket.  
Though this was given to me early in the summer, 
it was a Christmas present.  

From Mother I also got a bundle of stamped envelopes. 
Tell her I found them and three kinds of cookies ~
old-fashioned ones, chocolate chip ones, and scotch bread.

Now I got three boxes of chocolates ~ 
a Ganong's Delecto, a Pot of Gold, and a package of Fire Side, 
but I’ll be damned if I know from whom.  
I guess the name is actually Camp Fire.
Also I got a tin of candy from I don’t know whom.

I got a cigarette lighter from Donnie, 
and blades and shaving cream from one or two of my children.
Also a close-up attachment for the camera from one of them.  

Oh yes, I also got two sets of thermal knit underwear ~ 
just what I wanted.  Now I don’t know for sure, 
but I think that Roy gave me some of this underwear, 
but I don’t know who gave me the rest.

I got a lovely fruitcake from Sara.  
Also about five pounds of icing sugar 
to ice the cake and the shortbread.  
The sugar was in both Mother’s parcel and Sara’s.

Oh yes, I got a flat fifty of cigarettes from Donnie ~ I think.  
I got the True and the Post from Sara.  
Oh yes, and I got a cigarette rolling machine from one of the children.  
(Duncan really made a mess of those cards before we got him).

From Sara’s mother I got another nice warm pair of pyjamas, 
and from Carl and Louise and Jeff 
I got a nice warm Orlan wool textured sweater shirt.  
It is charcoal grey with two buttons at the neck 
and a small design in the pocket.

Even though the cards were also ripped off their parcels, 
I know that Mac gave me the pyjamas, 
because I laughed at one of her letters where she said, 
“I got your pyjamas off last night, Donald,” 
and then went on to say that there was a statement 
capable of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

I got a nice pair of brown leather gloves from Uno.

I was really shocked with the present Dunc and Maureen gave me.
I thought it was enough to have me over, 
but didn’t they give me a pair of snowshoes.  
They ordered them from Ogoki for me.  
They did not arrive yet, but should be here soon.  
It was quite an expensive gift, and they shouldn’t have done it.

Duncan Junior gave me a pair of socks and two packages of cigarettes.  

I think I have mentioned everything.  

I do hope Sara that you can write me 
and let me know who sent me what.  

I don’t believe that I have ever done better at Christmas.  
I guess every one was feeling sorry for me up here.

The Father, the Brother, Duncan and Maureen, and little Duncan
were all pleased with the gifts you and Mother sent up.

Well, I am feeling woozy, so I’ll sign off now.  
Thanks for everything.
Love Don.

I'm feeling a little woozy myself as I finish this post,
and more than a little sympathy for my father.
Terry and I left Honolulu on an overnight flight home
with Terry very sick with a nasty cold 
and me rapidly coming down with it.

After being up over twenty-four hours straight,
we crawled under the welcome covers of home and crashed.
For Dad, Terry, and me, there is no place like home 
when you're feeling lousy.

I'm laughing at the thought of Dad receiving cigarettes, 
a machine for making home rolls, and a cigarette lighter
from an assortment of young children!
How times have changed.

Most of all, I'm laughing at my proper Baptist grandmother Ella MacDonald
making a joke about getting my father's pyjamas off.
But then, I suspect there were plenty of times she wasn't so proper!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Boars Head Lighthouse
Tiverton, Long Island, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: A School Party

TLL: Northern Teacher ~ Traffic Jam


1.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
          Duncan, married to Maureen, worked for the Department of Transport,
          and his duties included running the DOT Weather Station.
          They were the parents of young Duncan

2.  MacMahon's:
     Milt MacMahon was the other DOT employee in Lansdowne House.

3.  Mitchell's:  Bill was Manager of the Hudson Bay Post. 

4.   Nursing Station:  Mike, married to Anne, was the nurse at the nursing station.

5.  Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier:  
     They were members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.

6.  Aunt Maude:  Dad's mother's sister, Maude Cox.

7.  The Guardian:  Newspaper published in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island,
      since the 1870s.  Wikipedia

8.  Scotch Bread:  I think Dad was referring to Scottish shortbread.

9.  Ganong's Delectos:  Talk about memories!  Ganong chocolates: the iconic,
      family-owned chocolate company founded in 1873 in St. Stephen, New Brunswick!
     For any homesick Maritimers, here's a brief walk down memory lane:
     (Anyone remember Chicken Bones?)

     You Tube ~ Ganong Bros., Ltd. 

10.  Carl and Louise:  Carl Lindholm was married to my mother's sister Louise. 
                Jeff was their eldest child.

11.  Uno Manilla:  Dad's roommate and the teacher at the Roman Catholic school.

12.  Ogoki:  An Ojibwa community on the Albany River, south of Lansdowne House

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Ogoki, Ontario, Canada

Lansdowne House, Ontario
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


  1. Write badly and no one will know you spelled it wrong - clever.
    That must've been such a struggle for your father, especially as a teacher.

    1. It was a struggle, Alex! But Dad always found some way to cope ~ like offering his students a reward if they could catch an error, a practice I continued with my own students. Have a great weekend!

  2. This is my first time here. You have a beautiful blog. I hate to admit it, but my penmanship is worse than your father's. And I write words a few different spellings hoping to decide on the correct one, too. But Alex is correct. Clever to write so poorly that no one will know you can't spell. Not sure if that was my reason or not. I've enjoyed the photos and your father's journey. Thanks for sharing. I'll join your blog. ~Victoria Marie Lees

    1. Thank you for the wonderful encouragement, Victoria Marie! And thanks for following my blog! I hopped over and joined two of yours. A fellow memoir writer! I'll have to check out your special education one too, but right now I am so behind in everything!!! Have a great weekend!

  3. Yes, I remember when cigarettes were commonly given and received as gifts! My sister always called it "giving someone cancer for Christmas." And I LOVE chicken bones -- they were my favourite candy as a kid. But on the prairies, our chicken bones usually came from the Nutty Club Co. manufacturers in Winnipeg. But I've had Ganong's too and they're just as good!

    1. I am so going to buy a box of Ganong's chocolates when I get to Nova Scotia this summer, Debra! Maybe even some chicken bones, of which I ate countless numbers when I was a child! We were not so knowledgeable about the cancer connection in 1960, but it wasn't too much later that we started to realize that. I was lucky in that I never smoked; nor did my brother. My three younger sisters did, and they had a devil of a time quitting. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  4. My penmenship is scribbles at best, I may have him beat. haha surely wouldn't get away wit giving cigarettes today. Hopefully your germs fly away now that you are home.

    1. I'm on the mend, Pat; although, my hubby is so sick I go in the bedroom and check on him just to make sure he is still breathing ~ seriously! One of these days I'll get ahead in prewriting my posts like you so successfully do. You're my blogging hero! Enjoy your weekend!

  5. Louise, I have learned from my own experiences of having been in a special class for slow learners when I was in elementary and even part of high school, not to judge or label people. Everyone can learn and be good at something, we just all have different levels and speed of learning. I always enjoy reading your posts and am so happy to see a new post from you.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I always appreciate your support and encouragement. I hate labeling kiddos. You're absolutely right; we all have our strengths! I'm home now until mid-May, and my #1 goal is writing: my posts and my manuscript! Closely followed by getting around to all my special blogging buddies! Have a lovely weekend, my dear friend!

  6. Hi Fundy, "if you don't know how to spell it - look it up in the dictionary" - those words haunt me to this day lol. Dad would hate lol - I can hear him. If you want to write laughing out loud then write it! Young pups like you are ruining the Queen's English :). Loved this post and I have the old family dictionary ... but I do not use it! Actually when I sorted out the thousands of books in my basement a few years back I found over a dozen dictionaries - I only kept 3 for Sentimental reasons. Glad you made it home safe. Hugs your sister Barb

    1. It's great to be home, Barb, even if Terry and I are both sick. Terry is far worse than I am. And damn, I've got a 9:00 am hair appointment! Which I will not miss! I'm laughing out loud at your saving three dictionaries for sentimental reasons! I have all kinds of dictionaries! Too funny! Talk to you very soon!

  7. This is a beautiful and compassionate post. I too have struggled with dyslexia all my life. Every time I learn to spell some words, it's as though somebody has added more vowels to it or removed consonants when I look away. SpellCheck is no help because half the time it disagrees with a ten-pound dictionary I unshelve 10 times a day. Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Geo. You have compensated so well for your dyslexia! Perhaps you will remember when I asked you if you knew of my English professor John Brugaletta at Cal State Fullerton. I was convinced based on your posts that you were a retired English professor! I'm always consulting a dictionary. Kudos to you for working out with that dictionary every day! It doesn't matter what we have, only what we do with it! Have a great weekend!

  8. Replies
    1. Thank you Shortybear. My apology for replying so late. My husband and I have been bed bound with really bad colds. Hope all is well with you!

  9. Your dad certainly had a wonderful Christmas despite the fact that he was so sick. I think its so funny about the tags. I hope he eventually got everything straightened out. How kind everyone was to him. And I'm sure he was to them too. I remember my mother having a cigarette rolling machine. Everyone smoked back in those days.

    1. Hi, Peggy! I remember rolling "home rolls" for my parents! Times sure were different! Sorry that I'm just replying now. Terry and I were slammed by really bad colds. We have been home a week, and we still haven't finished unpacking our suitcases! Just when I thought I was beginning to gain ground. LOL Oh well, onward and upward. I am at least sitting up today and trying to complete a post for tomorrow. I hope all is well with you, Don, and little Sadie.

  10. Do you think a lot of physicians are dyslexic and THAT is why their hand-writing is generally so atrocious>!
    Your poor Dad, Louise! No family around to make him feel better. He was a very strong man indeed.
    And all those gifts! I remember as well that to get a carton of cigs for Christmas was quite acceptable at the time.
    Hope you are both feeling better and that spring is doing it's best to come to Colorado.

    1. Hi Jim! You may be on to something regarding physicians! My doctor is now entering everything on a computer. Terry is finally doing better. He actually played a little pickle ball today. I am still pretty sick, but better than yesterday when I couldn't lift my head. I may, fingers crossed, have turned the corner. The trees are leafing, but typical springtime in Colorado, we're expecting snow this weekend. Don't know about flowers; I literally have not been out of the house since last Wednesday (4/7). Have a good one, my friend! Hi to Ron and SD!

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