Thursday, March 24, 2011

Letter 44: My Day at Home

I had scanned and posted this auto picture before, not knowing who exactly it was: the Skinners, the Montgomery's. No, it's Clayton Hill, because I found the original and the two hill children, Stanley and Isabel are in it! This must be their house on College Street.


January 6, 1912

Dear Norman,

Seems quite a while since you left - so I thought I would not wait for a letter from you before writing.

Clayton took me home from the station in the auto. After I fixed up a little I went over to Dan's (brother).He was pretty sick, was not able to keep anything in his stomach for two days so I have stayed there every night since you left - this morning he was feeling better. I think he will be all right. Mother, well, as usual. (Does this mean she is well or just 'as usual.'

I had a comfortable room there and was quite warm but it was not nice coming home this morning.

I had a letter from Edith the day you left wishing me many happy returns of the day, the 3rd. I never had thought of it. (Margaret’s birthday, which she forgot she is so under stress.)

Last night I got a letter from Flora, she arrived safely.

She said Edith and Marion met you at the train. (In Montreal, while on his way to Northern Ontario.)

We are having a cold snap last night and today. I am glad you got away before it came.

Montgomery came home Wednesday night and has been sick in bed since with bronchitis. I have just been in to see him. He is quite hoarse.
I also called at the Skinners, found Mrs. Skinner in bed trying to nurse her rheumatism.

They were telling me that it was 20 below this AM, not much warmer yet and it is now 7 PM.

I am going to have the Dr. (Skinner, the neighbour) get my mail.

(Next day?)

I have the house nice and warm only wish you were here to enjoy it. If you just keep well I will be happy.

I went over to call the Montgomery's and they made me stay for tea; they were having it at 5 o'clock.

Thursday I had Mrs. Gawne calling. She was entertaining us, telling how cold the Sutherland house was. That is the way when you rent a house. It certainly would take more to heat it than the one she used to live in on the farm with the ceiling so low that you could hardly stand in it.

I had nine callers in all: Mrs. Neeson, Mrs. McMorine, Mrs. George Alexander, Mrs Rennie McRae, Mrs. Fred Verrill, Mrs. Dr. Tomkins, Miss Tina Cross, Mrs. CJ Hill so I was quite busy for a little while. I will send you the Times after the election of the councillors. (Her day at home)

Yours with much love

Margaret Margaret had no maids but she still had days at home. A “day at home” meant it was your turn to receive visitors. That meant you had to offer cakes and tea. It wasn't a formal 'tea' which, in the English style was a meal, around 5 or six o'clock. Teas were invented in the Victorian era in England as a stop gap between lunch and the traditional late supper.
The tradition of tea time stopped in Canada somewhere in the century, when we took on American style meal times. (I experienced my first afternoon tea in 1964, when an East Indian family moved into the neighbourhood.

Margaret was proud of her breadmaking, so she enjoyed her day at home, up to a point. But she had to do this all alone, when the girls were away. Still, the day at home was necessary if you wanted to hear all ‘the news’, that is to say, local gossip.
In this case, her neighbours are acknowledging that she is still there, and not abandoning her. I imagine, when they got together behind her back, her own family situation was subject of gossip..."I think the Nicholsons should sell their home...But they wouldn't get anything for it and their situation is strained."
Heating a home in those days was serious business, especially in winter, especially in cold snaps. This is a major theme - and worry - in the 1908-1911 letters. A woman alone would have to stoke the furnace herself, unless a kind neighbour helped. In 1908-1909 when Norman was away, May and Flora stoked the furnace and Margaret only had to come down later in the morning when the house was already toasty.

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