Thursday, December 3, 2009


Marion, second from left in picture from Normal School Days 1905

A sunny Sunday morning in early June. Marion, used to getting up early, to take the street car to her work, was already downstairs in her flannel wrapper, putting the kettle on for tea.

Flora quickly removed her night gown and grabbed her underthings, her drawers, her 'waist' (what passed for a corset for girls) that was stained brown with sweat, and her chemise. Of her two dress skirts, suitable for a warmish spring day, she chose the blue-green worsted cotton, the one that had been Edith's before alterations. But first, where was her petticoat?

Then she put on her blouse and some stockings, soft cashmere, for it was Sunday.

Then she pulled the tie from her ponytail and combed her hair and put two pins on either side of her part.

She passed Marion on the stairs, in her wrapper,going back upstairs to dress. Mae appeared as she was spreading some preserves onto a piece of oat bread, Mrs. Montgomery's.

At breakfast, she was reminded of a time, years ago, when father was so upset about his children getting up late and skipping breakfast, that he laid down the law. He posted rules right there on that board. 7 o'clock all children up and washed and dressed. 7:05. Ready at the table for oatmeal.

Poor Norman. Flo wondered aloud how he was doing all by himself on the railroad. No doubt he was lonely.

Marion was wearing her 'silk' when she reappeared a bit overdressed for church but she was unapologetic. "It is such a lovely day and I am happy to be in Richmond."

Flo took her at her word, forgetting the previous evening's discussion about Jimmy T. Or about the out of date leg of mutton sleeves on her jacket.

Let's get along. Just because Mother's not here doesn't mean we can laze about.

Church had little appeal right now for Flora.

It seems of all the age groups, males her age were the less likely to attend church regularly.

Men in their twenties seemed to make regular appearances - if they were in town and that was a big if, and it wasn't the sermons they were interested in.

Sure enough, at the church were all the regulars, the very young and the old, and the couples, engaged or married. 85 families attended Chalmer's Church, down from a few years back. She especially noted the old women with their out-dated millinery and darting eyes, taking in everything. The fact that the Nicholson girls were at church, alone, without father or mother, could be seen as a good, or a bad thing, depending on the observor's point of view and generosity of spirit.

Flora squirmed in her pew. Marion was still talking a mile a minute to Mr. H., seated directly behind them. He was the milk and butter man. H's eyes seemed to be fixated on her hat, a yellow straw shape of middling size, trimmed with pink rosebuds and red velvet ribbons that bobbed as she spoke.

Eventually the service started. Perhaps it was mere coincidence, or perhaps it was a sign, but the Minister, a visiting one from Coaticook, a Reverend McMichael, intoned on the evils of the nickelodeon.

He was young and clearly he wanted his sermon to have a contemporary spin. But his inexperience was obvious and his performance was not convincing. In fact, somehow, he made nickelodeons seem like terrific fun.

After the final hymn, Flo and Mae then went off to Sunday school, in the basement, and Marion took the opportunity to mix with some old friends. Friends her age, friends still at home, or working in town, or, like her, visiting from working elsewhere.

She did not tell any of them about her new job in the city.

Ivor D. then asked her out for a drive, in the afternoon. Marion waited a few minutes before giving her reply and then agreed and went home to finish her lesson plan for Monday.

Marion, the disciplined one in the family, found it easy to defer pleasure for work. Her siblings. for all their superior gifts of imagination, intellect, or gender, were not as fortunate in this respect.

When Mae and Flora returned to Tighsolas, clutching their psalm books and licorice sticks, (spending money all gone) they were taken aback.

You are working? And on a Sunday. The Day of Rest, said Flora, "for both the devout and heathens." (Flora was referring to a new law passed in Parliament the year before, the Lord's Day Act.

Well, until such time as teachers are unionized, I will have to work on Sunday, or skip my Saturday evening pleasures.

What are you working on? asked Mae

A lesson plan for reading. My last, the rest of the month will be review.

Flo glanced at at the page (Bits from Royal Crown)

If mother could see you! she teased, knowing full well that Margaret was as adaptable as any person alive, to the realities of modern life.

Well, teachers do not have days of rest. My very bad pupils need me.

Is teaching little children so very hard? asked Mae, who had one year of Academy left and was thinking of applying to McGill Normal School to be an elementary school teacher.

Not as hard as teaching the older ones I am told, Marion replied.

That's why Marion turned down the principalship at Ormstown, Flora said. Too many dunces and incorrigibles.


St. Francis Academy is a very special place, it seems. We are lucky, said Mae.

Even Flora, in her heart of hearts, had to agree.

Well, I expect to be teaching somewhere, in five years, said Mae. With any luck. What do you expect to be doing in five years, Flora?

Flora was stunned. The question was innocent enough, but it was not one she wished to answer or even think about.

Just a change of colour. There was that irksome phrase again. And it brought along with it a train of pesky thoughts about Canadian values, and money problems and nosy neighbours and sister Marion's many attentive menfolk.

I think I shall go to England and become a suffragette, a part of her she had never encountered before came to the rescue and answered.

Well, mother will be pleased, said Marion. But how will you eat?

Edith will support me. She will marry, ah, that man who visited with Gordon at Easter. The one studying dentistry at McGill.

And we all know dentists make good money, said Mae.

Yes, they do, replied Marion.

And where do you want to be in five years, Marion.

She will be principal of Royal Arthur School. No, better, of that new school in Westmount, Rosyln, Flora laughed.

And all her students will be well behaved and rich.

And she will fall in love and marry one of her students' fathers, a widower, and go to live on the Boulevard.

This conversation has certainly taken a turn for the silly, said Marion.