Beginnings

 

 

When she tucked blankets around her legs in the one-horse sleigh that bleak November morning in 1933, did Mom think on another day two years earlier, and an infant stillborn?  Did she offer a silent prayer for the new life within? Because it was at least thirty kilometers over snow covered roads to Aunt Nancy's midwife clinic.

 

Did she quiet her fears for her husband's sake? The wind was rising and snow continued to drift across the frozen rutted laneway.  Skies promised more. Certainly no weather for their 1928 Chevrolet; snowplows for minor township roads were decades in the future.

 

Did Dad think on his own loss eleven months earlier, of his mother and her pain-ravaged battle with meningitis? In later years he could only reluctantly speak of her death and her cries for release in the tiny log house where she'd borne eight children to healthy adulthood.

 

Nor had death respected age. In 1924 it claimed his younger brother Leonard barely twenty-one just three weeks prior to his planned wedding day. Working in a paint factory, lead pigments may have dusted every breath. Or possibly that was entirely unrelated; there were few effective treatments for pneumonia in those pre-antibiotic days.

 

And 'the war to end all wars' had taken his older brother Wilfred in 1918. Dead in a ditch in Arnhem, Belgium. On Remembrance Days that followed, as politicians spoke of sacrifice with phrases such as 'Ypres where Canada came of age', Dad would spit in the dust in disgust. He could never find glory in rows of crosses seeded by prideful ignorance. Only in 1939 did he come to accept there can be a menace that demands catharsis.

 

But on this day his anxiety would be for the woman beside him.

 

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Mary Morton arrived on the scene in 1921 as the local grade school teacher. Very intelligent, attractive and allegedly high-spirited, she'd been born to a then-prestigious Anglican family in Bradford. So what could she possibly see in a tobacco-chewing cigar-smoking fast-horse fancier with few prospects and fewer assets?

 

It must have been a love match, though that was never professed openly in those strait-laced times. And both were intelligent and industrious with strong family ties and committed to building a secure life. They also shared a deep sense of compassion...race, color or creed,  it never mattered. Someone in need would always have their kindness and support. 

 

And on that wintry day, what of their two children alone on the farm? What if the weather grew worse and delayed their father's return? My sister Jean age nine and brother Austin a year younger were healthy and responsible...they'd manage.

 

Morning and night there were cows to milk, horses and cattle and pigs and poultry to water and feed, and stable stalls to clean. Many tasks were critical—you can't ignore a cow whose udder may infect if not milked or a newer sow that might cannibalize its young if not fed.

 

They were simpler times with few distractions. Our farm lacked electricity. No radio, no telephone, no indoor plumbing. Lives revolved around work...but there was also a community of family and friends and neighbors. And no shortage of joy and laughter evident in the cracked sepia photographs of my parents' courtship and early marriage years.

 

To this day I can see a dinner table and be abashed for a child spinning corny wisecracks. But always there's Mom's wry indulgence, Dad's infectious grin, big brother's forbearance. And a boy actualizing the reality of acceptance.

 

* * *

 

But a primary concern would ride with them that bleak Depression morning in 1933. It would be for the unborn child who in his own time came to thank his God for incredible parents.

 

In this my eighty-sixth year, I know a child can receive no greater gift.  

 

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