Monday, October 20, 2014
This book and this plaque are related.
I've owned the book for a while, ever since my in-laws passed away.
I saw this plaque for the first time, yesterday, despite passing it in the car hundreds of times over the years, going to Finnegan's antique market or taking the kids to soccer at Thompson Park, or, more lately, taking the 'low-road' to Rigaud, where I play tennis and walk the dogs on Rigaud Mountain.
Why, only now, after all this time, did I bother to stop and take a snap with the smartphone?
Because, yesterday, while walking our dogs in another part of Hudson, Quebec, by the water, my husband and I passed a couple with a lovely-looking labrador-like dog, but white with large black patches.
I remarked on the unusual colouring and the woman owner said, "Yes, he's our Jersey dog."
"Jersey cows are brown, " I told my husband, afterwards. "Aren't they?" Those black and white cows you see everywhere are something else. (I had temporarily forgotten.)
"Yes, they were developed by a guy from here in Hudson. There's a plaque on Mount Victoria? Do you want to do see it?" my husband asked.
I said I didn't, but he took me anyway.
So, the black and white cows, I soon remembered, were Holstein. The breed was developed in Hudson, on a farm on Mount Victoria, by one T.B. Macaulay, one-time President of Sun Life Insurance.
The book above is a self-published item about this man's 1929 trip to Lewis, Scotland. It once belonged to my husband's great aunt, Edith Nicholson, who spent time in Hudson, herself, in the 1940's, visiting her niece, my mother-in-law.
Edith was Commandant of the Quebec Red Cross during WWII.
This commemorative volume has a picture inside of Mr. Macaulay..
And an inscription to Edith.
This man knew Edith Nicholson, my husband's great aunt and subject of my own self-published ebook, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.
How well he knew Edith, I don't know. He was the President of Sun Life Insurance. She worked there as a stenographer from 1917 to 1920. The inscription is dated 1931. By this time Edith was Assistant Warden at McGill University's Royal Victoria Women's College.
These two didn't have much in common, except that they were both of Isle of Lewis, Scotland, origin.
I have many hundreds of Nicholson family letters from 1883-1940, chronicled in various ebooks.
The Nicholson's had many high fallutin' family friends, but nowhere is Macauley mentioned in the letters.
As far as I can figure, Edith got her job at Sun Life in 1917 because the Manager of Accounting lived on York Avenue next door to her sister, Marion.
Bonne Over Here: the WWI letters of the Nicholsons.
Macaulay is most famous for creating the Holstein branch of dairy cattle, or so says his Wikipedia page.
Hmm. I should put him in my Milk and Water play about Montreal in 1928, when there was a typhoid scare, blamed on water, caused by milk.
Macaulay's Secretary wrote the letter to Edith.
All this speaks to Edith's personality, her love of the 'higher' things in life, even if she was only a middle class girl, trained as a secretary, not even having a teaching diploma like her sisters Marion and Flora.
Here's a strange genealogy included with the book by Macaulay
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Chapter 2: I Survive
But, first, let’s go back to the beginning. But which beginning? The beginning beginning. The I AM BORN beginning? (To once again invoke David Copperfield, which despite appearances, is not my favourite novel. Middlemarch is.)
Easy enough. I am born in January 1884 in a green clapboard rental house in Melbourne, Quebec. 10 months after my parents’ marriage.
I know this because I have been told and also because the proof resides in shaky ink strokes in my father’s Store Book for 1884.
His household accounts that he kept from 1882, before his marriage to 1921, the year he passed away.
Fifty years of family accounts, kept in little black books.
It could be claimed that the entire story of our family is told in these pocket-size volumes, the practical side at least. The down-to-earth work-a-day side.
I was born in early January 1884 because the store book has an entry on the 7th, inserting baby’s birth 25 cents. I have survived my first challenge.
Under that breast pump 75 cents. Breast shield 25 cents. Along with one quart of milk 5 cents, a loaf of bread 10 cents, a gallon of coal oil, 25 cents. Two cords of wood 8 dollars and 35 cents. 11 pounds of oatmeal 38 cents. One dozen herring 20 cents. 1 ½ pounds of steak 15 cents. And rent 25 dollars a month. The staples of bodily existence then and today: shelter, heat, light and daily bread.
On February 19th a baby cradle is purchased 3 dollars. And some flannel and some cotton for baby. And on April 28, baby’s picture 25 cents. I have officially arrived. I am sketched in silver bromide.
On June 27, 1 baby carriage 6.37.
A year later, baby’s first shoes, 1.20. I am now officially a financial burden on my parents. They would spend a great deal on shoes and boots - and the mending of same - for me and my three siblings in the following decades.
October 1884, one crib. 2.75. Some wool for baby 2.60.
In June 1886, a child’s broom is purchased. 15 cents and I begin to pay for my keep. In those days they began teaching girls the womanly arts very early.
Also purchased that month: baby’s first book. We are Scots after all, who value education above all else. “An education is something they cannot take away from you,” my mother always says.
Still, it’s something of a mixed message I am being sent, as a 2 and ½ year old. But I might as well get used to it. Being a female, I will be showered with mixed messages for most of my life.
Then, the narrative in numbers continues: 1890 to 1895 school fees 25 cents a month. The occasional slate 5 cents. Bottles and bottles of cough medicine 25 cents each. (Cough medicine had kick in those days.) Later on scribblers 5 -7 cents. Skating rink 10 cents. Soda at Sutherland’s drugstore 5 cents. (Soda had kick in those days, too.)
Later, pocket money for Edith 5 cents. I guess I was doing a lot more than sweeping by then. Oddly, my younger brother Herb received ‘wages’ for his household chores.
And then I grow up. St. Francis Academy 50 cents a month. Latin text 1.25. Euclid’s geometry 1.00. And I get stockings and gloves at Christmas, just like Mother.
We are living in our own house by 1896, built at a cost of 2,718 dollars, not including landscaping. My father is by now a well-to-do hemlock bark dealer. Hemlock is plentiful in the E.T. and used in the leather tanning process. Father sells his bark to tanneries in Montreal, New Hampshire and Maine.
The mortgage on our house is 30 dollars a month, similar to what we paid on the rental house, but “Tighsolas” or House of Light in Gaelic is ours. And it is a fine house, a brick encased Queen-Anne Revival in the good part of Richmond, not far from St. Francis Academy on College Street. (The kind of house seen often in Ontario but fairly rare in Quebec.) Building this house, my father inspected every plank, brick and tile, himself, tossing aside more than he used.
By now, as I said, I have three siblings, a young brother, Herb and two other younger sisters, Marion and Flora, born 1885, 1887, and 1892.
By 1901 I am ‘fully out’ : corset for Edith 2.35. I start wearing my hair tied up around then, but only at dances. Combs for Edith: 20 cents.
I graduate from St. Francis Academy II in 1903 and take a stenography course there. Stenography is an up and coming profession for women. 13.50 for the course. 1.28 for a shorthand book. 5 cents for a reporter’s notebook.
I pass the course with 100 words a minute in shorthand and 45 words a minute in typing, good enough to get a job, but my parents don’t want me going to the city to work. Life in the city for young working women is a dreary business, at least according to a cousin, Jessie Beacon, in a letter to Mother.
Jessie says she works until six at her insurance office, goes ‘home’ to her boarding house for a ‘lousy hash complete with garnish of housefly” and then dresses for a predictably boring evening.
My parents are intent to save me from such a denigrating existence and seek a job for me in Richmond, but in 1904 in Richmond jobs for young people are few and far between.
Still, money is plentiful at home, despite the fact my father has had to change lines of work. He now sells pulpwood instead of the bark. At Christmas there are watches, rings, and perfume given as gifts, over and above the usual stockings and gloves.
In 1905 my younger sister, Marion, leaves for McGill Normal School and adventures in the Big City. My determined little sister has managed to convince my wary parents that the City is safe, as long as she rooms at the YWCA on Dorchester.
And, as Herb works in Montreal, at the E.T. Bank, she is not alone, so my parents permit her to go despite the great cost: 16.50 a month.
Everything in life is timing.
And I am left alone at home with my little sister, born 9 years after me, a financial burden on my parents, who shower me with ‘gifts’ at Eastertime as they feel guilty about Marion: 5.00 for a plaid dress, as plaid voile is all the rage, I read it in the Delineator; 2.35 for a ticket to see the Madame Albani
Concert in Sherbrooke. Opera singer Emma Lajeunesse, now in her middle age, is a ‘local’ girl from Chambly made good. She is world-famous, a long-time favourite at London’s Covent Garden. So, (you may have already guessed) this is a huge event. All of the. E. T. seems to want to attend.
At 22, I feel like a debutante about to make her grand appearance under the patronage of a local legend. But nothing comes of it. No eligible young men come out to the home-coming concert.
But late 1906 the pulp contracts dry up. To add fuel to this fire, we are disinherited by a wealthy Maiden Aunt on her deathbed.
My brother takes this especially hard.
“Well, now that my house is being given to someone else, I will have to give up all hope of being rich and look at it as a fortune lost,” he writes in a letter home.
“My house? MY house?” exclaims Marion at Christmas. She is now working at Sherbrooke High School and boarding at a Mrs. Wyatt’s who has a daughter, Ruth, Marion’s age. “What has Father been telling him?”
I don’t tell my sister that Herb believes we were disinherited because Old Aunt Maggie did not approve of ‘working women.’
In June 1907 my father is desperate for work, with a meager 33 dollars left in his bank account. He applies to our local Member of Parliament, E.W. Tobin, to work as inspector on the crew building the Canadian Transcontinental Railway.
He receives a polite letter from their offices in Ottawa. They say they have their full complement of inspectors. They acknowledge that Tobin has been in to see them on his behalf.
Then in August a great bridge half built collapses, the Quebec Bridge. It was to be the world’s longest suspension bridge. 78 men die, mostly Mohawks from Cawgnawaga near Montreal.
The bridge was a component of the CTR. Magically, there is a need for inspectors at end of steel and father gets the call to La Tuque, to be Timber Inspector at 100 dollars a month. .”
My parents take out a 1,000 dollar insurance policy on my father’s life. It is well known that jobs on the railway are dangerous.
My mother exchanges one worry for another.
“What is a timber inspector? Is it safe? It doesn’t sound safe.”
And I am still at home, no income, no prospects.
Then arrives a letter from Reverend J. R. McLeod in Three Rivers.
Three Rivers, Sept. 1907
My dear Friend,
I have but a few minutes to write as prayer meeting is starting. I was asked yesterday by the Manager of Works in a village 15 miles from here if I could find a suitable girl to teach a small school, about 10 children. My thoughts went to you. They will take you without a diploma. They offer $20.00 a month. I know you are fit for the position.
Regards, Reverend J. R. Macleod
“Should I accept now, I mean that Father is away?” I ask my mother.
“It is your decision to make,” my mother replies. She does not seem surprised at all by the letter from her cousin.
Mother hands me another letter, just arrived in the mail, from a young friend of the family’s, Mary Carlyle. The correspondent omits the obligatory opening pleasantries and gets straight to the irksome point:
I am writing you with such good news. I am to be married! He is a George White and he is from Kingsey. He is a sweet, kind man, with a good position and very good looking, in my opinion. It is such a relief. I was worried I was destined to be a burden on Father.
“Kingsey. So, that’s where all the perfect men are,” I say to Mother in a tired voice but my mind is suddenly made up. I climb the stairs to my room to scratch off a note to J.R. McLeod saying I will take the job as offered.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
What did people eat 100 years ago? Middle class people in Quebec of Scotch origin, anyway. Well, here's a partial list.
1 peck of apples
castor oil (Yechhh)
Nothing I wouldn't buy today, crammed in with my basmati rice and shitake mushrooms and ready-made pizza crust. (If you count CO as Vitamin D supplements.)
This list comes from this invoice from January 1914. MacRae Bros, Choice of Family Groceries, Provisions, hardware and paints. (We've come full-circle, haven't we.) It's a Christmasy list.
No meat. That was purchased at Pope's Butchers.
A 1917 list I have for that store has lard, suet, chicken ($1.60!) pork, herring, bf, fish, steak. Lots of meat in the diet back then, as now. And salmon as popular as ever. No doubt they fished salmon in the spring or fall out of the local river, the Salmon River, but that was free, wasn't it?
Margaret and Norman Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec were empty nesters when this invoice was penciled, in their 60's. But during the war they sent in many a food package into Montreal.
Margaret still grew vegetables in a large garden in back of the pretty Queen Anne Revival Style house on classy Dufferin Street. She didn't have to buy peas, or tomatoes or cabbage in the summer. Or potatoes, either, which she kept in a cold cellar for winter use. The Nicholson's had some fruit apple trees out back, too.
In 1916, Marion started a Victory Garden in her backyard, just like everyone else on her street. She laughed at how inept city slickers were at cultivating food.
Actually, I have a list of the trees planted at Tighsolas, the Gaelic name they gave their abode, in 1897. Yes, they had apples trees of the Bismarck and MacIntosh varieties.
Here's a 1917ish pic from the garden.
Well, in 1914, eldest daughter, Edith was back at home after a long stint in Montreal teaching. Second daughter, Marion, was newly married and living in NDG and youngest daughter, Flora, was at her first year of teaching in Griffintown, living at a boarding house on Tower.
With the war she would move in with Marion, as good help was impossible to find.
It's all chronicled in these two ebooks: The Nicholson Family Letters from 1908-1913 (an ebook on Amazon)and Not Bonne Over Here, the letters from the WWI era.
One thing I don't have, recipes for the meals Mother Margaret cooked (on her wood stove) with these food goods. She liked to keep them all in her head and when she shared a recipe or two, she left out an ingredient. So the family story goes.
Haddie, smoked herring in milk, was a traditional family meal from the Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, one that did not at all please her grandchildren, who spent a great deal of their childhood in Richmond in the 20' and 30's, especially when sick and suffering from one of the childhood diseases.
Otherwise, they loved grandma's cooking. Their own mother, a teacher, was some-what deskilled.
Margaret (Right top) and Norman and Edith and Marion and unknown woman.
Tighsolas in the buggy era.
The back of Tighsolas
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
My Youtube Video: How Canadian Women Won the Vote.
My nephew gave me his old treadmill a few months ago and I've been using it while watching repeats of Murdoch Mysteries.
I tried to do it watching the likes of Roger and Gilles play tennis, but walking straight ahead and watching tennis balls fly back and forth made me dizzy ;)
I tried other shows, too, but I need that perfect blend of 'interesting, fun and light" but not involving, like, say, Homeland - or I get all tied up and fall on my face.
Anyway, a friend of mine just sent me this link to the CBC promo page for the upcoming season of Murdoch, which features a suffrage sub-plot. She has an old friend in Toronto who got to be an extra for the show.
Gee, I wonder how they are going to deal with the topic.
The subject of Canadian Woman Suffrage has pretty well been censored until now: they can go any direction that what they want to. And since Murdoch is popular all over the world, this is how the world will come to understand our suffrage movement. So it goes.
Toronto actually had a real suffragette movement. What I mean is, their movement was broader and wasn't all about Protestants and Purity.
Flora Macdonald Denison was a genuinely interesting woman and activist, a journalist and former textile worker, a pacifist who didn't suddenly change her mind during WWI.
She attended the May, 1913 Annual General Meeting of the National Council of Women in Montreal...The one that figures in my story Furies Cross the Mersey.
So, I can't wait.
Here's the link to the CBC promo page.
I pinched this pic from that page... I hope it's OK ;)
Nice costumes. They called outfits 'costumes' in those days, too.
Now, this 8th season is supposedly taking place in 1902... early for the Canadian movement.
According to Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association (1913-1919) it was the Montreal Delegation in 1912 that convinced the National Council of Women (that was basically the Toronto Council, I think, as it was headquartered there) to come out in favor of woman suffrage.
Derick said there was determined opposition... But I think it was Denison who brought Emmeline Pankhurst into Canada to speak in 1909 and 1911.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather, built Tighsolas for around 2,700 dollars in 1896, the year Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberals came to power.
I have all of his records. Nowhere does he say he bought a water closet in 1896, while building the house.
So the Nicholsons went a year without an indoor toilet, or they didn't live in Tighsolas until 1898..
Or the invoice above is indeed for the Post Office. Who knows.
As it happens, in 1897, one Herbert Ames wrote an influential book about Montreal poverty, the City Below the Hill, where he said many poor Montreal families still pooped in a hole in the ground. A Privy.
This was considered scandalous and very dangerous for spreading diseases like cholera and typhoid.
Also as it happens, Norman Nicholson contracted typhoid in 1896! His wife, Margaret, stuck his mattress out in the hallway.
Coincidence? Probably not if you consider the invoice above. He didn't live in the city, but he was pooping too close to where he was drinking...
So, water closets were so named because, originally, toilets, or chamber pots or whatever for the servants to clean up, were stuck in closets, for privacy.
Tighsolas had 'servants stairs' to the kitchen, even though that lifestyle was dying for middle class people in Canada by the early 1900's. Poor people preferred working in factories. The Nicholsons had a live-in servant in 1901, although likely just a relation. By 1911 only a few in their upscale neighborhood had a live-in servant.
Servants stairs were designed so that the owners of the house didn't have to pass their own effluvia waste while going up and down stairs.
Monday, October 13, 2014
So, the story of the suffragettes of Montreal in 1912 is now told (in Furies Cross the Mersey by e-book) but it's unlikely people in Canada will care.
I am hoping to attract some interest, in the next few months, from Great Britain when the movie Suffragette with Carrie Mulligan is released. I hope that movie is a big hit.
(Yea, I know some people in Canada are still chafing that Quebec suffragist Therese Casgrain was taken off the new plastic money. Unlike Carrie Derick, Casgrain wasn't a proponent of eugenics, so I do not know why she's being shunned by the government.
There was an article this weekend in the Guardian asking why Family History is considered so low-brow by historians. Here's In Defense of Family History promoting a book called Common People by Alison Light.
The article claims that after shopping and porn, looking up ancestors is the most popular activity on the Internet.
This Guardian story was sent around to my twitter account (@dottynixon)by well-known historian, Amanda Vickery, who did that totally brilliant History of Private Life Series on BBC Radio 4.
I belong to a genealogy writing class in Montreal and I can say that every month I am amazed at how interesting the stories are and how much I can learn from them: after all, these simple 'family stories' tell the story of Canada by showing who came here, when and why. And in delicious,colourful detail.
Genealogists are wonderful historians, from what I can see, and family history is a great way to explore Canadian social history.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Chapter 1: Miss Derick Regrets
I am trying to picture in my very modern mind’s eye how it all might have unfolded way back when in July 1913. In Montreal, Quebec, where I now live, but in the era of shirtwaist suits, Model-T Fords and suffragettes.
The Post-Edwardian era, the Pre-WWI era, the post-Laurier Era in Canada.
The era BBC Radio Four has recently referred to as “The Birth of Now.”
But first I must invoke a be-speckled woman, past middle age, seated in an armchair by the window in a small parlour, in farm country, 100 or so kilometers away.
The woman seems tall and is solidly built, yet trim, with a strong, attractive neck over narrow sloping shoulders. There’s a gentle spray of silver in her mahogany brown hair; her eyebrows are pronounced and arching over a perfectly oval face; she has a nose too large that is slightly hooked, a straight slash of a mouth with nice full lips, and more than a mere spark of intelligence in her large wide-apart, almost doleful brown eyes.
She is sitting alone in the reception room of a relation’s conventional red brick house, a 30-foot long box, no gingerbread on the porch, in a remote corner of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In Clarenceville, Quebec.
Her gaze is turned toward the picture window that looks out onto a moderately-busy street.
The armchair where she has parked her posterior is part of a three piece walnut parlour suite purchased from the 1900 Eaton’s catalogue, a ghastly plebeian set displaying the over-generous curves and elaborate and clunky carvings popular back in the day.
The suite still has its original upholstery, a floral motif in French silk, with large hairy dark gold blooms on a still invigorating fuchsia background.
10 years with the same home décor is not a long time in farm country where things move so slowly.
The woman vaguely notices that the couch’s covering has faded in a few places, despite great efforts by the housekeeper to shade it from the sun with thick brocade drapes drawn over the picture window that faces West onto the town’s main drag.
This afternoon the drapes are pulled wide open for this visitor’s pleasure.
She, herself, is draped rather conservatively, in a bottle green linen dress in what would be described on the era fashion pages as ‘a smart and serviceable style.’
The top or ‘waist’ is in the ‘mannish’ mode, but ‘in a slightly decorated way’ not nearly as severe as the strictly mannish shirtwaists worn by younger working women these days as a symbol of their emancipation.
There’s even a touch of lace at the top of the bodice.
The sleeves are three quarters and turned up as if in readiness for some kind of hard work.
The skirt is without buttons, pleats, French knots or scallops.
The dress is probably new, there’s no fading at the hem or thinning at the elbows.
This is an outfit that attracts no attention at all. Nor does it detract from the woman’s carefully curated image.
She has chosen to wear dresses like this from intuition.
As a professional woman of a certain age, there are no instruction manuals to show her what to wear.
She is the pioneer, after all, a one-off of sorts, a kind of five-leaf clover of her sex.
A cup of black tea in an exquisite green and gold cup has been placed beside her, on a two-tiered side-table with scalloped edges from the same turn-of-the-century Eaton’s catalogue. There’s a stack of newly-minted journals grazing the green cup: the Botanical Gazette; the Record of Science; the Journal of the Microscopial Society.
The woman is spending this summer afternoon catching up on her reading: She is a scientist! And a lady scientist, at that!
By all accounts this lady scientist should be in Montreal this day, downtown at Stevenson Hall, presiding over a reception for 300 members of the National League of Women Workers who have crossed the border in support of the striking garment workers.
She is also a social reformer of consequence and THE expert when it comes to working women in Montreal, on the Protestant side, anyway.
She is the person who presented a brief, the year before, at MacDonald College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, to Mr. Robertson’s Royal Commission on Technical Training and Industrial Education.
“Thirty-three percent of women between 15 and 24 are working,” she soberly informed the esteemed gentlemen of the Commission.
“A woman’s work is the same source of strength and pleasure as it is to man; self-respect is deepened by economic independence and her womanliness is only fully revealed when every power is given opportunity for exercise. But the idea has not been recognized.”
But the men of the Commission, visiting Europe this year, are not interested in working women, she knows this. They want all females to remain in the private sphere, to be trained as middle-class home-makers or, if circumstances dictate, as domestic servants for the wealthier.
The woman has folded open a Montreal Gazette newspaper and placed it on the coffee table in front of her. She turns her gaze from the window to glower at one article in particular.
AMERICAN WOMEN INVADE CANADA. Party of 300 working women spent glorious Fourth of July here, BUT NOT SUFFRAGETTES. Entertained by Local Council.
“Not suffragettes!” The lady is highly irritated. Any chance those Montreal newspapermen can get to take a jab at Mrs. Pankurst and her ilk – and by extension at herself.
What are they so afraid of?... Ah, she very well knows.
Just last month a large assembly of striking garment workers, mostly women, marched up St. Lawrence Street, led by the all-male Executive of the United Textile Workers of America.
The majority of these marchers were unmarried maids, ”some even pretty” a Gazette reporter smugly noted in his report, but some other marchers were married women with children, and some of these married women were in the back of the parade, pushing babies in perambulators.
But were a mix of magnificent Montreal womanhood, young, middle-aged and old; rich and poor and in-between; mothers, spinsters and childless widows; to march for equal rights in a suffrage parade, say, up Sherbrooke Street, say, passing by the elite Mount Royal Club, where the scions of Canadian industry supped and smoked cigars under a private collection of fine paintings while planning hostile take-overs of each other’s companies, now THAT would be the end of the world.
And this despite all her efforts as President of the Montreal Council of Women (up until recently) to educate local citizens about the wide spectrum of suffragism that exists within England and out in the wider-world, by holding lectures and information sessions, by bringing in moderates to speak, like Mrs. Philip Snowden, and the more advanced, like Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst.
A gorgeous golden tabby cat stretches out on the carpet in the sun splash beside her. The woman notices a sprinkle of tiny rainbow tints reflecting in the filaments of the animal’s supremely healthy coat. The woman delights momentarily in the extraordinary sight.
Many people wouldn’t care about this inconspicuous miniature rainbow, hiding in a domestic animal’s fur, but this is a lady-scientist, remember, who is trained to look closely at nature.
A Botanist of note.
And her handiwork hangs nearby as if to prove the point: two wooden frames up on the wall over the settee across the little room from her showcase some black and white sketches of plants indigenous to the province of Quebec.
These are her sketches, Flowers of the Field by C.M.D. Montreal Family Herald, published in 1900. Summer: loosestrife, clematis, and evening primrose. Autumn: touch-me-knots, harebells and Indian pipes.
The frames have served for ten years as an ego-boosting conversation piece to her cousin, a work-a-day farmer’s wife, now retired to the town to live with a daughter.
C.M.D. Carrie Matilda Derick. The memory is uncomfortably clear. A decade ago, the editor of the Montreal Gazette thought it best not to reveal the author of the special feature as a woman, even if the author was a Donalda, a McGill graduate, as well as a lecturer and demonstrator at the same prestigious Canadian university.
Has anything really changed in 10 years? Has it, now?
Just as well, she thinks, the drawings are not nearly bravura enough. She is no fine artist, no Maria Sybilla Merian.
The frames have collected a layer of dust on top, she notices, missed by her hard-working younger cousin who cannot afford a full-time maid.
Carrie Derick stands up with the spring of one much younger, stretches her strong, graceful neck to gaze out, once again, at the street and flat farmland beyond.
No question, she has an intimate knowledge of every plant, shrub and tree out there. She probably knows more about the flora in these parts than anyone else alive on the planet.
But does having an intimate knowledge of some aspect of Nature make a person appreciate it more? She used to think Yes, no question, but today there’s doubt in her mind.
Her mind is drifting like a cluster of dandelion seeds in the wind and that is so unlike her. This is a woman whose life has been characterized since adolescence by a bold, glowing vision – and a certain sense of destiny.
Maybe this is the reason why she seldom comes home to the E.T. to visit. It takes her back too far.
Random snippets of thought continue to swirl and dip, puckishly, inside her head. Why can’t she concentrate?
Nature study, now, is a required course in the schools. Children need to get back to the land, especially in the towns and cities, so believe the (mostly) men who decide such things. And all inspired by the Macdonald Robertson Movement for Rural Education.
But trying to solve society’s problems by turning back the clock seems a bit disingenuous to Miss Derick. It takes a farm girl to know.
A local woman she recognizes as kin from the general facial features (well, who isn’t kin in these parts?) barges by in a hat far too big and far too fashionable for such a sleepy town as Clarenceville, Quebec.
The hat is a yellow straw shape with a profusion of red poppy petals over top, likely bought in Montreal. Derick has seen similar ones in the shop window at Ogilvy.
She watches as the anonymous relation dashes into the dressmaker’s shop across the street. She likely wants a nice new dress to match her fancy new Montreal hat.
Carrie Derick smiles, just a bit. Her heart is touched to see such pretentions from country folk. She herself has studied in Europe and has watched, without being at all moved, the beau monde strut and stroll in their finest costumes down the grand avenues. Today, she regularly hobnobs with Canada’s social elite, from Julia Parker Drummond down.
All fashion-pride is such nonsense to her. It’s just a matter of degrees. Nature always has the last word on beauty. Those fake crepe poppies can’t hold a candle to the real thing.
Class: Equisetopsida Subclass: Magnoliidae Superorder: Ranunculanae Order:
Ranunculales Family: Papaveraceae Genus: Papaver. The poppy. Symbol of fertility and death.
Yes, her mind is wondering – and she fully knows why. It isn’t her cousins’ cozy (but dusty) parlour, or the quaint Clarenceville main street that is keeping her off-task.
There’s a troublesome thought looming on the periphery of her consciousness that is trying ever so hard to poke through – and, the truth is, she’d rather avoid it.
So, to work! She slides a few magazines off the top of the pile, flips through to inspect the covers and, sadly for her, lands on a magazine that is not a science journal at all.
Votes for Women. The Women’s Social and Political Union. Mrs. Pankhurst’s magazine. With a cartoon on the cover of Christabel Pankhurst riding a broom.
She has had a subscription since Pankhurst’s December, 1911 visit to Montreal. Unfortunately, her housekeeper thought it best to slip it in with the other magazines.
Now Miss Derick can no longer keep that bothersome thought at bay. Mrs. Pankhurst! Oh, Emmeline! My British sister-at-arms.
How you have let me down!
For decades, everything I’ve striven for, every challenge I’ve met, every hill I’ve climbed, every unlikely victory I’ve pulled from the jaws of defeat has been rendered virtually meaningless, today, and by YOU, Mrs. Pankhurst!
Or, perhaps, Emmeline, I am being too hard on you.
All Rights Reserved 2014. This is the first chapter from Furies Cross the Mersey, available on Amazon Kindle.