Friday, April 15, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Christmas Without My Father, 1960

Christmas 1960 was the only time during my childhood
that our whole family did not celebrate the holiday together.

Santa in Lansdowne House
with Mrs. Mitchell, the Wife of the Hudson's Bay Company Manager, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father joined friends in Lansdowne House in Northern Ontario,
while my mother and we five children spent Christmas together
at our Grandmother MacDonald's home in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia.

Dad's mother, our Nana MacBeath, traveled from Charlottetown,
Prince Edward Island, to spend the holiday with us.

On Monday, December 26, 1960 
My mother wrote to her mother and sister:

Dear Mother and Louise:
It was so good to talk to you all, 
and I wish I could have sent you all something nice for Christmas, but I was really going around here in circles.

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

A Letter from Sara
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However I was able to get Muriel to come in a few days 
this week before Christmas, and she was a great help.  
Stella did a lot of cooking for me.

The children all had a wonderful Christmas.  
They received the gifts I wrote you about.  
Louise also received ski pants, ski sock slippers, and books from Don’s mother, 
Roy pants, ski sock skippers, socks, and books, 
Donnie jeans, ski sock slippers, and books from same.

Roy and Me (Louise) on Grammie's Front Steps
Smith's Cove, Likely Summer 1954
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

She (Nana) brought me a nice dressy sweater
and chocolates and panties from Aunt Maude.  

Cynith sent a dollar for the children’s socks,
and Miss Cummings sent a book and I think $2.00.  
I felt terrible because she can’t afford to do this.  
The only thing I can think to do is buy 
a couple of Tom’s books of poems.  

Josephine came home, and she brought over candy
and coloring books and crayons for the children.
It is very warm here.

Barbie on Grammie's Front Lawn
Smith's Cove, Likely Summer 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I certainly missed Don putting up the tree,
decorating it, and filling the children’s’ stockings.  
He is as bad as the children and was up every Christmas morning
before they were, dragging me reluctantly from bed.  
It just didn’t seem like Christmas.  

Don’s mother seems to be enjoying herself.  
We are getting along fine.  
Muriel was in today helping me.

Thanks for all the money you sent.
The children loved their gifts.  

The baby fell in love
with the iron and ironing board.

Well I must close now and put out the dog and milk bottle.

Baby Bertie in Her Cousin Dawn's Home 
Montreal,  Winter 1961
© Photo by Dawn MacDonald White

We don’t know for certain if we will be going North.  
I didn’t say anything in case we wouldn’t go, 
and I knew you would worry. 

I am enclosing a letter from Maureen.   
If we go, do you want me to try and rent the house?
Love and kisses, 

I sent Tom and Miss Cummings two-pint jars of jam, 
and Cynith two small jars of jam.

Roy and Donnie
Atholville, New Brunswick, Likely Summer 1957
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When I read my mother's words,
I am struck by the kindness and generosity of our neighbors 
who gave us gifts when they had little themselves.
Cynith and Miss Cummings were lifelong friends of my Grandmother Ella,
and Josephine, I think, was Grammie's cousin.
They understood the difficult time our family was experiencing.

Her words also remind me of many in the Cove
who worked hard to earn a bit of extra money however they could:
Muriel Robinson who did housekeeping chores for my mother,
Tom Cummings who published small books of poetry,
and Stella who baked cookies, doughnuts, and other goods.

And those same neighbors bought my Christmas cards,
stationery, and other small things so I could buy 
Christmas gifts for my family for the first time.

There were no Christmas photographs of us that year.
My mother could have borrowed a camera,
but whether for lack of money, time, or exhaustion,
she took no photos.

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: Traffic Jam

TLL: Freeze-up Worries


1.  Tom and Miss Adelaide Cummings:
          Tom and his sister Adelaide lived next door to my grandmother.
          Adelaide devoted her life to caring for her brother Tom who was handicapped from birth.
          By Christmas 1960, Tom was mostly bedridden.
          In December 1960, Miss Cummings was 81, but I don't know what Tom's age was.
          My brother Roy and his wife Susan currently own the land the Cummings home was on.

          In her book "Down Nova Scotia Way", the author Hazel M. Clayton spelled their last
          name as Cuming, but my mother always referred to them Cummings.

          I obtained a copy of Clayton's book from the Smith's Cove Museum.  It has no publisher,
          publication date, or copyright listed.  The Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia in its
          library records indicates that it was self-published by Hazel M. Clayton in 1964.

          Following is a previously unpublished poem by Tom Cummings in Clayton's book.

         My Sister
       There is a little Lady,
       Aged four score years today,
       Her name is Adelaide Beatrice;
       A princess!  Well, I'll say.

       A diadem of white she wears,
       More beautiful than snow,
       But once it shone like burnished gold,
       So many years ago.

       To be a friend to everyone
       Has always been her aim;
       A kindly word, a helping deed,
       That's how she plays the game.

        My sister!  And she is the best
        A man was ever given,
        For all she ever had she gave
        To keep me with the livin'.

        And toil she has for fifty years,
        That I might happy be;
        Success is hers, as can be seen,
        Whene'er you call on me.

        by Thomas G. A. Cuming
        November 17, 1959
        (p. 90 "Down Nova Scotia Way")
Note:  Any additional information from my siblings or extended family would be
                        greatly appreciated.

2.  Cynith Thomas:
     I spent many hours after school visiting Miss Thomas during the fall of 1960.
     Cynith lived next door to Grammie's, but her home further back from the main road.
     I remember the bright flowers around her home, the beautiful antiques inside,
     but most of all the wonderful stories she told me while she rested in her bed.
     Sure wish I remembered the content of those stories today!
     In her 60s at the time, Miss Thomas was the unmarried great great granddaughter
     of Loyalist Joseph Smith for whom Smith's Cove was named.
     He acquired his Smith's Cove land in 1783 from Joseph Potter
     in exchange for his original land grant in nearby Upper Clements.
     (p. 101 "Down Nova Scotia Way")
     The author of "Down Nova Scotia Way" spelled Cynith's name as Ceneth
     in various places.

3.  My apology for not getting around to your blogs this week.
     I think I'm finally on the mend.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Smith's Cove in Nova Scotia

Location of Grammie's House
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Grammie's House Today
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Shortybear! I appreciate the feedback, because after working on a post for hours and hours, I have no objectivity. It always amazes me that people enjoy these letters from a half century ago. Have a good one!

  2. Louise, it is so refreshing to see your lovely posts and photos, especially now, as the art of letter writing seems to be dying, and even Canada Post is feeling it. Thank you so much for sharing, dear friend.

    1. Thank you, dear friend!!! Your kind words and encouragement lift my spirits, Linda. It's been a rough ten days with Terry and me both really sick. Our living room is still littered with half unpacked suitcases and things scattered on the floor around them. Terry played pickle ball yesterday, and I think that wasn't smart because I hear him coughing in the guest bedroom. He must have surfaced long enough to put on a pot of coffee ~ which I am gratefully having a cup of as I answer comments before returning to bed myself. Argh! Without inspiring people like you, I would have given up writing these posts and struggling with my memoir. Your support means so much to me! Big hugs coming at you!

  3. I always love the memories you share...thank you for always allowing us a brief glimpse into your memory lane

    1. Thanks, Keith! I'm glad to see you again. I often think of you and Beate in Germany. It's not easy to walk away from your expected life to marry and live abroad, even when love is the motivation!
      Sending you both my best wishes!

  4. Generous neighbors and family are always a blessing.

    1. Yes they are, Alex, one of life's greatest! That wonderful security of lifelong community has disappeared in so many places. I hope you enjoy a lovely weekend with your wife!

  5. I enjoyed reading Tom's poem about his sister Adelaide and also hearing a bit about their lives. They live again in your post today and are now known to more people because of it.

    1. Thanks, Debra! I'm so glad that you enjoyed Tom's poem and a glimpse into their lives. "My Sister" is just a few simple words, but it says so much. Tom and his sister were ancient to my ten year old eyes, even older than my grandmother. And a bit mysterious, because I rarely saw Tom. I was delighted when I came across the poem yesterday, because it perfectly illustrated Adelaide's generous nature and why she would give my mother a small bit of money for our Christmas.

      I often find myself thinking about the meaning of life, the meaning of success. What profound meaning and success Tom saw in his sister! We are so out of whack today and undergoing such rapid change. We are caught up in forces and momentum beyond our control, maybe even understanding. What is real and meaningful is how we interact with the people in our daily lives, definitely not fame or money.

      I'm an agnostic, so I am uncertain about a lot of religious things; but I am not uncertain about the process of living and the importance of treating others as we would wish to be treated. This elderly brother and sister are inspiring in their simple, but meaningful lives.

      Wishing you and your Rare One a great weekend together!

  6. Always a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you, Ian! And how lovely to see you! Have an enjoyable weekend!

  7. Must have been different indeed being the only Christmas he wasn't there. Good neighbors are hard to come by

    1. Good neighbors are hard to find, Pat. Part of the problem is our crazy, busy lives. I think our communities are full of good and kind people, but we are all ships passing full speed ahead in the foggy dark. Have a great weekend. Sending hugs for you and gentle chin and ear scratches for Orlin and Cassie!

  8. Your mother's letter shows us how difficult it all was her as well in your father's absence. Oh how the next Christmas must have been such a joy for all of you, Louise!
    And all that 'pitching in' from family to help your Mom...very nice to hear about.

    1. Every Christmas was wonderful, even that last difficult year at Acadia for me when both of my parents were unemployed. Christmas was always the best!!! Have a great weekend, my special friend. I use the words you wrote in a comment to me, "They're only stories we tell ourselves," the moment a discouraging thought surfaces! It's been a helpful mantra during this argh! week.

  9. Tom's poem is a treasure, and shows how much he appreciated his sister who cared for so many years. Neighbours who care, come running when needed, stay and help, are a huge bonus, both then and now. Real friendships that last the distance of years and miles apart. Lovely to know you are home, enjoy that coffee.

    1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed Tom's poem, Jean! I enjoyed every sip of coffee on my aching throat! I'm going to pour a last cup now, curl up on the couch downstairs under an afghan, and watch my soap opera while Terry finishes the taxes. We're awaiting a snowstorm! I hope all is well with you and Hugh and family have a good one!

  10. It's taken me a few reads to get the whole of it and I feel the time well-used. When I think back on those years you and I were growing up in separate frontiers, how we learned and from whom we learned, I feel grateful to have seen so many parts of this world improve. Not everybody feels education was in any way revolutionary but one couldn't invest a tenure of 1/2 the 20th century without observing teachers and concluding heroes were at work.

    1. Hey, Geo! I'm glad that you felt rereading was worth the time! The structure made sense to me, but, well, I wrote it! I'm the first to admit I can get side-tracked, and I ended up being fascinated and researching what I could find out about Grammie's neighbors, especially the mysterious and ancient Cummings brother and sister, and Miss Thomas. LOL

      The feedback was well worth it for me, especially as I often think of you as an English professor! That's a good thing! I was very fond of my English professors, well nearly all my professors!

      I've managed to drag most of my Nova Scotian books up to my bed (still quite sick) and have been reading through parts of them. I'm so fascinated by the North, but suddenly I'm very fascinated with Nova Scotia too. Sometimes I think we take the familiar for granted, and there is so much amazing history that happened in NS.

      In Colorado we hear a lot about the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 when a Colorado Territory militia commanded by U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington attacked a village of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho in the southeastern part of the state. They killed many of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, the majority of whom were women and children.

      So Thursday I discovered that in Digby, Nova Scotia, in 1759, a volunteer company under the command of Colonel Scott and Major Samuel Rogers attacked a village of peaceful MicMac somewhere in what is now the town. They killed many of the MicMac, and since it was a village, that must have included women and children.

      In both massacres, the white militias claimed justification for previous attacks on white settlers, and in both cases, these soldiers were viewed as heroes.

      I also discovered some clues to why such massacres weren't so prevalent in the North, which in retrospect, seem obvious; but, sometimes I have to be hit between the eyes by a 2X4.

      I had no idea that such a thing had happened where my extended family has lived for many generations. The two events were eerily similar, not an enigmatic event, but certainly an odd synchronicity.

      So now I am reassured, that even if I am plagued by distraction and can go off in different directions, the time is well-used! You can be sure that I am gong to chasing down facts on this MicMac massacre!

      If i'm rambling, it's probably due to too much cold medicine! I hope that you and Norma are enjoying a relaxing weekend. We're in the middle of a big snowstorm here. I think we've gotten eight inches of heavy wet snow so far!

    2. Forgot ~ almost 100% certainty that Nova Scotian company traveled stealthily over land that would belong to my family over generations in Smith's Cove.

  11. I'm glad you are getting better and still took the effort to post the Friday series. Your family and friends made sure that your family had a wonderful Christmas despite not having dad around. In those days people sure looked out for one another. I think they were kinder than we are today.

    1. Hi Peggy! It's good to hear from you. I am slowly improving, and I'm about to head off to bed in the hope of getting a better night's sleep. We've had about a foot of snow here, with more expected tonight. I hope it's better in your corner of the world. I do think people were kinder then. We're so crazy busy now, and people don't have the same sense of community. I hope all is well with you!

  12. This is such a nice post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.