A LIFETIME AGO
My mother was born Edith Catherine Baker, in Sue Saint Marie and when her mother died my mother was 10 months old, she was adopted by Elliotts in Sarnia.
I had been told that my father was a merchant marine, on one of the ships that sailed the Great Lakes and was of Latin blood. I've always said Spanish because it sounded so romantic but could easily have been Italian, anyway, my brother and I decided not to hear anymore.
Whatever our mother did, it wouldn't change our lives anyway. We were already orphaned by then.
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My earliest memory was the time that Santa clause came to our house on Christmas eve when I was young child.
He scared me half to death and I screamed and ran and jumped into the arm's of who I thought was my real father, but I found out later he was my step father.
My step father calmed me down and showed me what Santa brought for me and the rest of the family.
We were very poor and my step father drank a lot and we were always moving. I can remember how my step father used to beat my mother, in fact I remember my brother and I running to get the police but when the policeman came to the house he said he couldn't do anything unless my mother would press charges.
Of course she was too scared to.
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I remember one time I guess he had been drinking the night before because he was in a vile mood and he didn't like the way she was cooking his eggs for breakfast.
Now we had a room off the kitchen, in fact, you had to come through it from the back door before you got to the kitchen that was the room my mother used to do her laundry and she kept her pots and pans.
He came at her, as I said, all because he didn't like the way she was frying his eggs, and proceeded to throw the pots and pans at her.
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I remember my stepfather giving my three half sisters some money for candy, my brother and I would naturally ask for some as we hadn't been given any money. We didn't know at the time that he wasn't our father.
My sisters shared but when their father found out they would tell him that we took if from them. He would punish us by locking us in the root cellar, which was a hole under the floor in the kitchen with just a trap door in the floor.
It was cold and dark.
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I remember one of my stepsisters was given a rocking chair for a gift, it must have been a Christmas gift. It was a warm day and she took the rocking chair outside and began to rock. After a while my mother went to bring her in the house but we couldn't find her. It was some time later that we found her on the street, she had rocked herself all the way to the corner.
That was one time one of our sisters got a spanking and I'm sure it must have pleased my brother and I no end as we were usually the ones getting spanked and punished.
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I remember a particular day when a bunch of us kids were playing on a blanket in front of a neighbour's house. A man who was passing by stopped and opened his pant's fly and he flashed at us. That image stuck in my mind for years and as I grew older I used to wonder just where "it" went. Years later after reading the book "Sex, marriage and birth control" I decided that I would never let a man near me. The thought of that big thing puncturing my body was such a frightening thought.
The book also had a chapter about some things to do first called "the love play" that made me feel sick to my stomach.
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I remember when I was sick with the whooping cough and my mother closed me off in the front part of our living room. Our living room was in two parts with a french door in the middle. During my illness everything that went into that room was burned and my mother was the only one who came in.
I would talk through the door and everyday my brother and my half sisters would ask me how I was and I must have said that I would feel better when the door was opened and we could play together again.
Not only did I have whooping cough but the chickenpox which followed and in fact the doctor, who by this time was coming to the house frequently, told my mother that he was going to have to give me a shot in my arm everyday for a while to protect me from coming down with every childhood disease that was going around.
I heard him say that to my mother after he had left my room and to this day I dread getting needles.
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I remember another time when I had got a cold which took a turn for the worse and I ended up with pneumonia and nearly died but one night when the doctor was leaving, in those days doctors made house-calls, he noticed that my father was drinking gin, he suggested to my mother that she try heating a teaspoon and feed it to me every hour, maybe it worked and maybe it didn't, who knows.
Maybe I would have gotten better anyway but my mother told me she believed it was what had helped me get better.
She told me this one day after when Ted and I were complaining about his drinking so much.
It's possible my stepfather's drinking saved my life.
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Another thing I can remember was when I was getting better and someone had given me a big beach ball. I climbed out of the window in the room where I was sleeping into the snow with my bare feet with my ball.
My mother found me bouncing my ball, come to think of it that was before I got real sick. In fact it probably was the reason I got so sick that I almost died.
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I vaguely remember someone whom I called Uncle Alex, I think he was a real uncle but I'm not sure.
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I guess you could say I was a sickly child, either that or those are simply the memories that stuck. It wasn't just colds that hit me, like any active child I was forever injuring myself. I caught my fingers in doll carriage hood once and while playing "toot, toot" with a curtain rod I tripped and cut my mouth. There was even once when we were playing follow the leader that I stepped on a rusty nail.
A far too common experience it seems I remember once catching my mom and stepdad in the act although I don't think I understood what was going on at the time.
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Not all of my memories of my stepfather are bad either. One New Year's Eve when my step dad was going to work he said good-bye and added the comment "see you next year". I've always enjoyed that joke.
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Another thing I remember must have been in the early summer of 1930. I went for a ride on a train to Simcoe Ontario. It was through the Star Fresh-Air Fund that was sponsored by the Toronto daily newspaper that paid my way.
The Toronto Star would appeal to the public for money to send poor children, whose parents couldn't afford to send them to camp, to farms where the owners would give them the time of their life on their farm. I remember seeing my picture in the newspaper when they reported on it.
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I remember Violet, the middle of my half-sisters, used to climb up on the kitchen table and stick her finger first in the butter and then the sugar. She would lick her finger and do it again, my mother tried as hard as she could but she couldn't break her of the habit.
Helen, the oldest, was the one who got the rocking chair.
The youngest, Margaret was only ten months old when my mother died. I was almost eight years old when my mother died and I remember that day clearly.
She had been in the hospital and knew she was going to die so had asked to come home so she could die with her family around her.
My brother and sisters were sent out of the room, it was the same one I had spent my whooping cough days in.
I can still see everything in that room, my step father was sitting at the dining room table. As I said, this was two rooms, the first part we used as a dining room. Anyway there he was and as I think back I can see him with his head in his hands and I'm sure he had been drinking. If not then it was the night before.
Maybe he was feeling bad but of course it was too late and I'm sure that what she was dying from was caused by all the blows he had given her so I had no sympathy for him.
My brother and half sisters had been sent outside.
The doctor was standing at the foot of the bed, a minister was standing beside me, my mother asked me to promise her that I would take care of my brother, I guess she must have known about his problem for years, later he was diagnosed as a kleptomaniac, anyway I promised her that I would do as she asked and with tears streaming down my face I begged her not to leave us but she smiled and left anyway.
The minister folded her hands across her breast and said a prayer over her, I was crying so hard I didn't hear a word he said. When they came to take her body away I tried to stop them. They managed to move me out of the way and then, as I crouched down behind the door, as hurt a girl as you could find, they took my mother's body through the doorway.
I made such a fuss and when nobody could calm me my step father decided to take me to the funeral home to see her, he though it might help me to understand what had happened but I knew that she was gone for good and I was heartbroken.
I can't think back to that day without feeling the same way, there I was standing guard over my mother's coffin and I wouldn't left anyone near her, finally someone got me to touch her so I would know it was all right.
I'll never forget how cold her hands were and to this day I have a fear of the dead. I know they won't hurt me but the fear is still there. I would never want to let any of my kids go through that experience.