Friday, November 20, 2009

Summertime 1907- and the living is people-oriented


In Tighsolas Garden. Left, Edith Nicholson.Right: May Watters.

I'm trying to figure out how to promote Furies Cross the Mersey: the story of the failed British Invasion of Militant Suffragettes to Canada in 1911/1912, with characters both real and fictional: Carrie Derick, Octavia Ritchie England of the Montreal Council of Women; Barbary Wylie, Emmeline Pankhurst and Caroline Kenny of the WSPU, Marion and Edith Nicholson, my husband's ancestors from Richmond, Quebec and Penelope Day and Mathilda Jenkins, students at McGill's Royal Victoria College.

Anyway, two days ago I went bananas-berzerk trying to remember where I put Marion Nicholson's 1907 diary,

My husband, Blair, and I turned the garage upside down looking for the little volume. I rummaged (or rampaged) through all of my giant Tupperware bins of Nicholson documents only to find the diary, hours later, in a bin I had brought up months ago and stored behind my big comfy chair in the living room.

In 1906-7, Marion is almost 20 and teaching in Sherbrooke, Quebec and in the summer hanging around Richmond. (She would decide in September to take work with the Montreal Board, a decision likely prompted by the Nicholson's sudden financial woes.)

She writes: "Ed says it is very crazy to keep this diary but maybe someday I will want to remember what I did and how I spent my 19th year." Hmm. I bet she never could have guessed this....

In the winter months, the diary details her dating escapades on the skating rink. The usual stuff of teenage love. Men who are too persistent bug her. Men who aren't persistent enough bug her. There's a certain G. N. E. she really likes. Sometimes she sounds like Scarlett O'Hara: "Went to a card party and dance at Mrs. Griggs'. Had a grand time. Played cards with Mr. Watson, danced with Mr. Avery, had supper with Mr. Davidson and Mr. Sampson came home with me." (Marion was very popular, but I wonder if this is because it was still generally believed the Nicholsons were well off.)

The summer months are mostly spent visiting friends and neighbours in Richmond and playing croquet, tennis and attending ice cream socials. Marion goes to church, sometimes twice a day. She goes for 'drives' in the countryside to neighbouring towns like Melbourne: that would be in a horse drawn carriage. When the Nicholson women go in a car, a few years later, it is a big deal and called 'motoring'. She sometimes plays cards on the veranda with her cousins, the Pepplers,who live across the street.

Strolling 'downtown' to get the mail also breaks up the long summer day. Dufferin Street, in the 'posh' area of town, is but a short distance from downtown Richmond, with its many shops and garrulous, politically savvy, French and English shopkeepers.

 And Marion often walks to the train station to meet friends arriving from the big city or other points in the Eastern Townships. Sometimes she meets her brother Herb, 21, who , it is clear from the diary, gets stir-crazy when back at Tighsolas.

The Town of Richmond exists because it was a key train stop between Montreal, Quebec and Portland, ( think).

Marion sometimes goes 'berrying'.

When it rains she reads, (Shelley is very favourite poet) plays piano, takes 'crazy' pictures, sometimes plays solitaire or mends her stockings or trims a hat.

Marion rarely ever mentions helping her mom cook and clean. (Once or twice all summer.) I think as a 'working woman' contributing to the family finances, she was spared much of this domestic drudgery in the summer. A earlier diary entry in the winter (when she was home on the weekend) says "I worked hard as Mother is sick."

Oh, she did mow the lawn in summer. (Typical of her. She loved to do 'men's work'.) And if a neighbour does call, she must stay at home and help entertain her.

Flora, it is mentioned, has some friends over for tea on an August afternoon, as well - and she visits Sherbrooke, the large town not too far away, where Marion teaches. (Her diary mentions getting a bursary in August. I believe teachers were rewarded for good performance.)

The biggest event of Marion's 1907 summer seems to be when some new born kittens escape a barn and she has to go chase them down. Oh and this: Wednesday, July 3. Lovely day. Lily Lyper nearly murdered. Great excitement.