Friday, April 6, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: The Delousings

I wouldn't be sharing my family stories today
were it not for my paternal grandmother,
Myrtle Pratt MacBeath.

When my father began writing his Lansdowne Letters,
he asked his mother to save them.

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

Sometimes she and my father would agree to burn
very personal letters they had written to each other,
but most of my father’s letters survived,
thanks to Nana’s efforts to preserve them.

My mother wrote frequent letters too,
but only a few of hers have survived,
also due to her mother-in-law’s effort.

I imagine that many of the letters my mother wrote to her mother
went up in flames in the trash barrel in her mother’s backyard.
My maternal grandmother, Ella Cossaboom MacDonald,
believed that many things should be consigned to the flames,
perhaps because her family history contained dark secrets.

My Grandfather Jack Courting My Grandmother Ella
Circa 1913
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I can still see Grammie in all kinds of weather feeding the flames
in her trash barrel near the old apple tree that we used to swing from.

The Best Swing Ever!
Barbie swings while Donnie watches.
Fall, 1960
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The surviving Northern letters eventually found their way to me,
and I am grateful that Nana saved this letter written by my mother,
not just for the details of our days in the North,
but because it reminds me of what a rock she was for our family.
No matter what storm waves slammed her, my mother stood firm.

When the Indian Agent unexpectedly summoned my father
via radio to Nakina on the departing mail plane, 
he refused to tell my father the reason for the sudden trip.

My parents assumed the worse,
that another of my father's letters about the poor Indians
in Lansdowne House had hit the Canadian press
(Thanks to me and my Junior Red Cross project).

They thought he was about to lose his job.
They had no idea that Mr. Gowan would send Dad
on the overnight train from Nakina to North Bay,
again with no explanation.

No one would guess from reading this letter
that my mother spent four anxious days waiting for my father 
to fly back to Lansdowne House and tell her what was going on.
My parents had gambled everything on moving North,
and it would have been a disaster for my father to lose his job.

My mother stood firm.
She carried on with no idea when Dad would return,
even teaching school for him while he was absent.
There is no one I admire more than my steadfast mother.

She was the rock on which we rode out many storms,
sheltered by her love and her belief that everything would work out.  

On Thursday, June 1, 1961
My mother wrote to her mother-in-law,
Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
I haven't gotten a line off to you recently.

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

It was a madhouse here lately getting ready for break-up,
and then Don leaving unexpectedly for North Bay.

I taught school for him all day Monday,
washed all day Saturday at the nursing station,
and on Sunday I had Sunday school for the children
and started out for a wiener roast with them,
but had to come back for the wind was too cold.
We had our picnic in the house.
They all seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Sunday morning bright and early
Roy opened his gifts from you.

He and Louise are both reading the book you sent.

The shirt and socks are lovely.
The children were all delighted
with the candy, tablets, and pens.

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

Don got word Friday morning that he was leaving that day.
We were having a party in the afternoon for Roy, Glennie, and Duncan Jr.
Their birthdays were on the 26th and Roy’s on the 28th,
so we decided to celebrate them all at the same time.

I made Roy a birthday cake, an angel cake,
and I added walnuts and cherries to it and decorated it
with white icing and little round colored candies.
It looked very nice.

Roy received two t-shirts, a silk Hawaiian shirt,
a water pistol, and a cap pistol (from Louise).
Don gave him a pair of fins and a snorkel outfit
when he came back from North Bay.
All in all Roy had a very nice birthday.

The weather has been very beautiful.
The lake is so much prettier without the ice.
We went on a picnic the Sunday before last
up the lake in the canoe and took along a camp stove.
We had a lovely time.
It was difficult to keep the children out of the water,
and it was still freezing cold.

Lake Attawapiskat
The Paths to Our Water Hole
After Breakup, 1961
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Roberta goes to play with Glennie and Duncan in the mornings
quite frequently.  It is the only solution to our problem,
for they have a fence all around the yard which is big. 
They play in a sandbox and have a great time covering each other with sand.

We are all excited about going to Sioux Lookout;
and, of course, Don is looking forward to his new job.
It will be good to have a bath tub again,
also a dentist, for I think Mike pulled the wrong tooth.
This isn’t Mike’s fault because he isn’t a dentist and pulled the one I indicated.

A lot of the Indian children had fleas, or is it lice, the kind Louise got in Atholville.
Our children and about two Indians didn’t have any,
but Mike had to spray ours today for fear
the Indians might think they were being discriminated against.

Donnie, Louise (me), and Roy
on the Stairs to Our Second Floor Apartment
Spring, 1957
Atholville, New Brunswick, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Except for Don’s trip, this week has been very quiet.
Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier were to come over for Bridge
on Tuesday evening, but the Father cut his hand badly on a planer.
He removed nearly half of one finger, and so he couldn’t come.
Mr. Pratt came with the Brother, and the Brother and I beat them,
but not by much.  Most of our games seem to be close here.

Thanks for the nice things you sent Roy.
He will be getting you a letter off this week.

I must get some more letters off, and it is very late,
so I will close for now.
I hope you and Aunt Maude are both well.
It must be a relief not to have to worry about the apartment house any more.
The children were all anxious about your garden.

With love,

The Tip of the Peninsula (Mainland)
A Pontoon Plane at the Hudson's Bay Dock
Fall, 1960
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lice!  If you've ever had them, you will never forget
the shame, the itching, and the remedy.

My teacher discovered lice crawling through my hair 
during a head check in the fall of 1957.

We had recently moved to the small Acadian village
of Atholville in Northern New Brunswick
where I attended a Roman Catholic school.
One of my teacher's periodic duties
was to check every student's head for lice.
I was mortified when she found lice on mine.

My teacher was almost gleeful because she didn't like me.
I was Baptist and likely the only Protestant student in the school.
The principal notified my mother and quickly sent me home.

Worse than the shame were the intense itching
and the nightmarish thought of bloodsucking insects
creeping among the roots of my hair
and attaching their pale nits to the base of individual strands.

Before bedtime each night, my mother washed my hair and dried it vigorously.
Then she sprinkled my hair with a DDT powder, rubbed it into my scalp,
and began the time-consuming task of combing my hair
with a fine-toothed comb designed to comb out lice and eggs.

I remember sitting in the lamplight in the kitchen, my head over an enamel basin
as my mother repeatedly parted my hair, side to side and front to back, 
and meticulously combed each section of my hair.

She frequently rinsed the comb under the hot water tap,
dried it, and sprinkled more DDT powder on it.

She combed and combed for a long time,
until she couldn't find any more lice or nits.
They were almost microscopic in size,
but they looked huge and disgusting to me.

Every morning she combed my hair again and washed my bedding.
This went on for a good two weeks.

At least I wasn't alone in my humiliation.
My teacher routinely found someone with lice.

Imagine how shocked I was when I walked into my school
that first Thursday afternoon in June, 1961,
and my father grabbed me from behind in a big bear hug.
The nurse, Mike O'Flaherty, dusted my hair with DDT powder,
and Dad tousled it with gusto.
I can still hear my father's gleeful chortle and my classmates laughing.

When Mike and my father discussed treating
the Ojibwa children for lice, they decided
to include my brother, sisters, and me in the process.
They did not want the Ojibwa children
to feel discriminated against because they were Indians,
so they hatched a plan to ambush me
and make the delousing more of a game.

They treated my dubious brother, 
and everyone giggled at our grey hair.
Soon there were greyheads everywhere,
and clouds of dust filled the air
as the children rubbed their heads and shook their hair.

My father chased us all outside for an early recess,
opened the school doors to air out the classroom,
and joined Mike for a quick cup of coffee
in the nursing station across from the schoolyard.

My mother may be the person I admire the most,
but my father wasn't far behind.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Shore of the Annapolis Basin
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
July 24, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  The Problem with Bertie:
     Bertie was late learning to walk; but once she found her legs, she was always on the go.
     Bertie loved to play outside in Lansdowne House; and by the spring, she could slip out the kitchen
     door when my mother's back was turned.  One morning my mother opened the door after
     hearing a knock to find a wet and muddy Bertie riding on the shoulders of an Ojibwa neighbor.
     He had found her sitting in a puddle on a path in the bush singing and washing her dolly.  When
     the MacMahons invited Bertie to play in their fenced in yard, it solved a big worry for my parents.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House
Northern Ontario, Canada

Location of Atholville and Smith's Cove
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

Location of Atholville
New Brunswick, Canada
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

Atholville and Sugarloaf
As seen across the Restigouche River from Quebec, 2007
Wikimedia ~ Credit:  Tourisme-Nouveau-Brunswick


  1. Lice - awful! Of course DDT on your head wasn't much better.
    Roy got a Hawaiian shirt? Perfect for the frozen north, right?
    Sorry that more of your mother's letters weren't saved.

    1. I've thought about that DDT over the years, LOL. But then I remember we had a DDT sprayer in Nova Scotia that the adults used to spray the bedrooms with to kill mosquitos. Times have changed, thank goodness. I hope that you are enjoying a great weekend, Alex!

  2. That was a great way for him to make all the Indians feel at ease with it, maybe not for you lol thankfully I never caught the little blood suckers. I think if I did I just would have shaved my hair all off. Having access to dentists and showers and everything in between again must have been nice.

    1. Dad always took great delight in pulling a fast one on one of us kids, especially if it involved a surprise. It's one thing if a guy shaves his head, but it's something else for a girl. One of my nieces shaved her longish hair the night before her prom for a cancer fundraiser ~ as did her boyfriend. I thought that was pretty gutsy for a sixteen-year-old. To this day I love my bathtub and shower, and I especially love hot water! Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Pat!

  3. What a great picture of you and the kitty. I laughed at the lice story. Being a teacher we had frequent lice checks where we took the whole class to the nirse’s office. I always worried about getting them but somehow avoided it. Your family always made days special for your family. Don’t you think we lived in a less complicated time? It seems birthdays now for kids are such big productions.

    1. I agree, Peggy! We lived in less complicated times, and some days I really miss those days when we lived in the North. We didn't have lice checks in the school I taught in, although we did have kids get lice. Usually a parent would let the nurse know, and she would tell the homeroom teacher. All the kids used to hang their coats on a very crowded coatrack. I had them hang their things on the backs of their chairs. I told them that when the fire alarm went off, they could grab their outdoor things and they wouldn't get cold, but secretly it was to cut down on the spreading of lice. fortunately I never caught them again. I hope you and Don are enjoying a great weekend!

  4. Here in NZ we really have no idea of the vastness of some/most areas in the north, and the isolation that accompanied them.Your Mum and Dad were no doubt among many parents who made huge sacrifices, for giving their families a better education, a better income, and above all, love and steadfastness in face of all that was thrown at them.Even lice!!! I have read that they do not live on clean hair.

    1. Hi, Jean! I met many wonderful parents during my teaching career. It gave me hope for the future. I think lice can live on any kind of human hair. From what I've read, lice have lived with (on!) humans as long as Homo sapiens have existed. We've co-existed for at least 5,000,000 years. That thought gives me the creeps! I hope that you and Hugh are having a great weekend!

  5. I don't ever remember there being a lice outbreak at my school, thank gawd. It just sounds too awful for words.

    1. Lucky you, Debra! Lice are yucko! I hope I never get any kind of lice, bedbugs, or cockroaches ~ anything like that creeps me out! I hope that you and your Rare One are having fun this weekend! Take care!

  6. It's good lice isn't the problem it used to be

    1. I'm grateful a whole lot of things are better today than in the past, Adam! Wishing you and Daisy a great weekend!

  7. Lice! A horrible experience for anyone. We never had any outbreaks in school when I was a kid. THANK GOODNESS! But they are still around. I hear about them every now and again, but the treatments are better and there isn't as much shame surrounding them. It can happen to anyone at any time.

    1. Hi, Martha! It's so good to hear from you! Thank goodness you never had to deal with lice ~ definitely icky. I hope all is well with you and George! Hugs to you!

  8. Oh, I have to say I never had the displeasure of dealing with a lice problem...thankfully! I'm sure it was a tough time for you as a kid! The story of your dad giving you a surprise bear hug is wonderful! Your mother sounded like a strong and wonderful woman! :)

    1. May you never have to deal with lice, Rain! It was mortifying, but in the great scheme of life, not such a big deal. I was very fortunate in my parents. Take care!

  9. I love your pictures! The one of you holding the cat is so cute! I'm so thankful your grandma saved your dad's letters!
    I've never had lice! Yucky!! DDT?? Really!!
    Big Hugs!

    1. I can't believe it, Stacy! I was just going on-line to visit you, and saw I had a new comment! Big hugs back at you! Lice are definitely yucky. Yes, DDT! We weren't so worried about it back then!

  10. A most informative post of yesteryears.
    The maps assist with the written words.
    Well done - I must look more often.

    PS; I'll send more info. on that Denver Rugby Union ( not League I was informed by my drinking mates (buddies) yesterday. One of these mates was born in St. Louis, Missouri but his folks "up-sticks" and migrated to Australia, Eric was 9 at that time. Eric informs us that it was the best thing ever, considering what you have now!!!!!
    If you were a fly in the wall at the Terrigal Hotel and heard us talking you'd swear we were deadly enemies...........ah that's the Aussie way. All good mates and jolly good company!
    You should try and get the book. A look at Australians through the eyes of an Italian migrant, it's called "They're a Weird Mob" by Nino Culotta.
    It will have you rolling on the floor with laughing aches!

    1. Hi, Huggybear! I swore that I wouldn't go to bed without answering your comment. Thanks for the tip on the book. I'll have to look for it. My head is suffering from whiplash with all the news that has come down today. Australia looks pretty darn good right now! I definitely don't think of you as an enemy ~ rather as a very sharp and funny thinker. Take care!

  11. Greetings Louise. Your Mother sounds like she was a strong woman. Sorry you didn't get to keep all of the correspondence from your family! And sorry you got treated for lice on occasion - better safe than sorry. Sadie gets fleas on occasion and I feel sorry for her while she's trying to gnaw them out! Blessings to you.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.