Thursday, March 4, 2010

A STREETCAR NAMED HOPE-31st installment

A Montreal Streetcar in 1910 era. Park and Prince Arthur. North of where Marion was rooming in 1909, but she would eventually move to this area, in 1913, before getting married. (This is near McGill and looks pretty much the same, sans streetcar and shirtwaist suits, of course. It's sad, there are some films of Boston, New York, San Francisco and UK cities of the era, by Edison and ilk, but none of Montreal, from what I can see.)

Herb had hardly made an appearance at Christmas. He had shown up for Christmas dinner with the family, and poked at the turkey, but left before the coffee and cake to go curling on the river. He had not attended Christmas service with the family either. The only time Flora saw him for any length of time was at the Hills’ holiday social, where he engaged, glass of warm punch in hand, in heated discussions with all the local men and ignored everyone else. (Flora and the other women at the a party danced among themselves to the Merry Widow Waltz on the Hills' new Victrola.) Flo hardly knew her brother anymore, her big brother who could be so charming (he had had, at one time ‘best girls’ all across Richmond County) seemed aloof and fidgety the few times he did return to Richmond.

This Christmas he seemed to leave as soon as he had arrived, citing important work to catch up on at his Cowansville bank, where he had been transferred two weeks before.

And, he never spoke once to Marion the entire Christmas dinner, Flora noticed. There was some kind of dark empty very secret space between them. Not so secret, actually. DeBullion Street!

Then Marion, too, returned to Montreal, and then there was a fire in her school in Little Burgundy, damaging some classrooms. It was written up in the newspapers. Mother Margaret fielded phone calls all day, asking if this were indeed Marion’s School. Oddly enough, Margaret wasn’t certain – and she felt somewhat embarrassed about the fact. Marion, at times, could be as secretive as Herb. Except she was always there when needed. And Edith was always there to keep Margaret up to date on what was happening, with Marion, in Montreal.

Edith returned with mixed feelings to her work at the Crepeaus, but, unlike sister Marion, famous for her iron-willed focus, she was ambivalent about most aspects of her life. When she returned she found a new young resident, Claudille LaChance, 16, sent by the nuns.

Margaret wrote Marion who replied saying, Yes, it was her school, Royal Arthur that burned down. Thank Goodness, before school opened! A furnace fire. " I still have work. By the way, I’ve received my assessment for the first term from the School Inspector. I got an 87!” New teachers, it seemed, were graded too. ‘Maybe they will let me stay, after all,” she joked.

And Margaret replied, that day. "Congratulations for getting such high marks.

Did I tell you that Jim Smith has applied to Parliament for a divorce. Father thinks he may claim his marriage is illegal, anyway."

That piece of information was Margaret’s gift to Marion, a reminder that marriage, although desirable, was not always a bed of roses and that there was much to be said for being an independent woman.
Flora read this line and thought "Edith would enjoy this piece of news, not Marion," and she added a line of congratulations at the bottom. "Ma Big Siss a gosh darn good school marm with cleanest class in Quebec."

She imagined Marion taking her three streetcars to her school in Little Burgundy beside the biscuit factory and then standing tall, well taller than herself anyway,in her new but modest shirtwaist suit, in front of her 50 ill-groomed street urchins, leading them in a counting exercise, their dear but dirty little hands fanned out in front of them, filling their weary, sad inner city hearts with hope for the future. She was very proud of her big sister, at that moment, very proud: but how could she ever measure up?