My Mother’s Childhood
Years ago I asked my mother to write her life story for me so there’d be a record of it. She passed away in 2016. Here’s what she managed to write down:
My Life Story by Marjorie Fern Hagen (Highlights)
I was born October 21st, 1919, in Loverna, Saskatchewan. My grandfather William Kinsey McFarland helped plot out the town and it is named after his daughter, my aunt – Edith Loverna – though everyone called her Vernie. Her mother’s and my grandmother’s maiden name was Eliza Ellen Cessna. Dad and Aunt Vernie were their only children and Dad was 10 years younger than her.
Grandpa and many others like him came from the states to take out a homestead there, and I’m not sure just when Dad came there as he was in the service during World War I for awhile, and it was over in 1918. My mother was a school teacher and was hired to teach at Antelope School near Loverna. This is how they happened to meet. Her maiden name was Stella Maude Fitzgerald and she was the eldest of 10 children. Uncle Gorden was next and he also became a school teacher, later a principal, and later became Superintendent of Education for the province of Saskatchewan. Grandpa Fitzgerald’s full name was Ira Bothwell Fitzgerald and Grandma’s maiden name was Mary Jane Walden. Everyone called her Minnie. My father and mother married at her parents house in Meota, Saskatchewan.
Dad also had a homestead in Loverna, and that is where I was born. Two years later my little brother Charles Lorry was born. When I was four years old Dad left and went to Detroit, got a job and sent for us. I still remember our train trip. Our first house was brand new and had lead pipes which eventually caused my mother and I to have lead poisoning. Lorry didn’t get it as presumably he didn’t drink as much water, and my Dad didn’t either as he was at work during the day, I have a scar on my neck from an abcess I had at the time, and some smaller like chicken-pox scars on my back. It was miserable.
Then Dad decided to build his own house near some friends of ours. When it was finished enough to live in, we moved in. That was a bad luck decision, and a bad luck place, because within the next year my little brother died of spinal meningitis (probably polio), my mother was so ill with tuberculosis she became bed ridden – our house burned down, and while staying with friends Dad knew from Loverna she died – on my 6th birthday in fact.
Dad took me up to Canada to live with his parents who were now farming at Edam, Saskatchewan. I started school in January at Lake Russel School, and my first teacher was Miss Kissack who was from Meota. I heard about her most of my life in Canada, and as long as my Grandma Fitzgerald was alive. They had me skip a grade and I rode a horse to school. Grandma was really good to me. I had nice clothes – probably I was spoiled. The landing at the top of the stars going upstairs was my play area as it was quite large, and I had shelves for books, twenty some dolls, dishes, etc.
I was a happy little girl while she lived and I was there until Grandma died when I was 9. My Aunt Vernie was widowed and living with them too. When Grandma died Grandpa sold the farm, and they took me on their honeymoon to the West Indies aboard the ship SS Duchess of Bedford. Actually they were going to leave me at a Catholic boarding school, but when we visited the place Aunt Vernie couldn’t bear to leave me there. I still remember the interview in a large room with dark paneling, dark halls and not a sound anywhere. I was scared spitless, but I supposed if I had been left there I would have survived.
On the way back to Loverna they left me with Dad in Detroit, Center Line – a surburb, who had a room with the same family they were with when my mother died. Eventually Grandpa showed up too. I went to St. Clements school which was Catholic. I had Sister Euphersina for a teacher. I had taken all the studies in Canada so I just coasted for a year. Actually I should have been in grade 5 instead of 4. Then Dad rented a big old house near where he worked. It was huge and he took in room and borders – guys he worked with. Grandpa did the cooking. I started school at Lyons School which has since been torn down, and she is the only teacher I had that I can’t remember her name. I remember her well though, because she was very upset at me living in a house with all these men. Of course I had no idea why it troubled her, but they all treated me like uncles.
One particular guy was named Isham Davis and he’d take me to get my haircut, buy me ginger bread men and ice cream, and they all taught me how to play black-jack. Dad didn’t care what time I went to bed so that is where I started getting styes on my eyelids because I would read True Story magazines etc until late at night. My reading was never censored. It was while we were living there that the Depression hit. Dad had just married Harriet Ruth Householder – everyone called her Babe. We went to Salem, Ohio, and picked up her 3 children. Peggy was 3 years younger than I (7). Lloyed was 5 and Clyde was 3. We moved back to Center Line, Michigan, into an apartment. I went back to St. Clements School, and had Sister Raphael as a teacher. I wasn’t required to take the catechism, but I often listened in, often went to church to do some of the things Catholic students had to do, and I learned some Latin, especially the Requiem for the Dead. I still remember how it begins, but that is all. It would have been very easy for me to become Catholic.
I got the measles first while living there, and Peggy, Lloyd and Clyde followed. That’s the only time I can remember ever having a doctor, but I must have had one when I had lead poisoning. I do remember Dad taking me to a doctor or hospital to have the abcess lanced. Then Dad lost his job. Eventually Aunt Vernie sent enough money to come back to Loverna. We had some sort of car, and dad filled a trailer with some of our furnishings. Babe’s sister Sue came with us. On the way the trailer came loose and most of the furniture was wrecked, but not all.
When we reached Loverna we moved into an abandoned house on the Sommer property. Dad traded the car for flour, and Babe learned to make bread. Peggy and I started school at Antelope School, the same school my mother taught at. Our teacher was a man, Archie Barton. In those days, and maybe even now, you were taught by a teacher but you had final exams sent out from Regina by the Department of Education. That is the only time I ever failed an exam (in math), but we all did, so that says a lot for Archie’s teaching.
We lived there about a year. One time there was such a sandstorm we were sent home. Babe was really upset and worried, but we made it okay. That was a very unhappy period in my life because the kids at school were so mean to us. Mainly because we had poor lunches to take to school, etc., and probably poor clothes that I don’t remember, but I do the lunches. Dad found a job on a farm, but had to walk 20 miles each way so he only came home once a week. I don’t imagine it paid much, wages those days were terrible.
Then we moved – I’m not sure where Dad got the horses – but everything we owned was loaded onto a big wagon and we went to Meota. First we lived on Section 27 where my Uncle Ray and Aunt Lily still live. We went to Miss Francis Ewart Fitzgerald School. Needless to say we weren’t mistreated here – just the fact my mother was a Fitzgerald meant a lot. Everyday coming home from scool we walked with my Uncle Glen who was only 6 months older than I was. Grandma always gave us a peanut butter sandwich and a sugar cookie each. We had lots of eggs which were worth 3 cents a dozen in trade for sugar or whatever staples were needed. We also went to Gladys Rumalo Wing School and I drove a horse and buggy that belonged to my Uncle Athol. They lived across the road from us, and two of my cousins – Iris and Lois, and Peggy and I and Lloyd by that time, all rode in the buggy.
Then Dad got the itch to move again. He had heard about homesteads up north of Beaver River so away we went. There wasn’t a bridge over the river and hardly any roads. A man named Sam Dayton met us on the road from St. Walburg – the last town before we left civilization. Whenever we’d get bogged down he was there to pull us out. The wheels had to be chained going down the steep hill to the Beaver. So that is how we arrived at Beacon Hill.
We lived the first winter in a cabin they built on Dayton’s property. Then before the winter was over we left Meota again because Babe was very pregnant. This time we went out on the ice on the river so it was an easier trip. Dad somehow got a farm to run from Harry and Bill Long who he had known forever. Harry Long gave me the Log Cabin Syrup spoon when I was only three years old and I still have it. Billy, my half brother, was born on April 20th, 1932. He was a darling little guy. We all went to Vyner School. I guess we were there a year or so, and in the fall after harvest time back we went to Beacon Hill.
This time we moved into an old ranger cabin while Dad built a house of logs. It was a good house too. We were 3 miles from Venusburg School where once again we had Miss Lois Bates. Later we had Fred McCall. It was during the period we lived here that my homelife wasn’t the happiest – Dad was out of sorts a lot and Babe was jealous of any good times I might have. I guess I forgot to say that when they were married she was only 23 so she wasn’t very old at that time. Peggy also resented me to no end. I’m not sure what her problem was, but I’ve never had much to do with her. When we were in North Battleford and both Babe and Bill were dying of cancer, Peggy didn’t like it that we went to Donna’s first.
Lloyd lives in Florida. Clyde drank himself to death. When I was 17 Dad took off for the U.S. I stayed on for awhile until I got a job working for the Embrees doing housework etc. Irene was an Embree before she married Bud. When I went there to work her brothers put up a log cabin for Irene and I to share. At the time Irene’s brother Gene (she had 8 brothers) had double pneumonia and Bud’s sister Jessie was there in bed also with mastoids. Mrs Embree wasn’t very well and every now and then she’d pass out somewhere. They really needed help. I made good friends there that have lasted all my life. Then I finally left and went to Aunt Vernie’s.
They were living in Barrhead, Alberta, at that time, and I left Embree’s mostly because I knew if I didn’t I would be married to Jim Embree if I didn’t watch out. Mrs. Embree really liked me and was determined I was going to be her daughter in law. She’d plant things in the garden saying they were for Jim & I and can things for us etc. I had to get out of there although I was fond of them all and they treated me just like family. Charlie was the one who really wanted to marry me. Irene had one sister, Winnie, who was maried and living in Southern Saskatchewan. She died while still real young and Irene always said I was her sister more than her friend.
In Barrhead, Alberta, I worked for a family who had a retarded son who had epileptic spells. There were several more children too. To this day an epileptic seizure upsets me, although there I learned to deal with it, we all did, mainly we made sure something was between his teeth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue off, and try to keep him from hurting himself. He was bigger than I was, and none of us could move him, so we’d just let him sleep wherever he had one. He always slept a couple of hours and then he’d be all right for awhile.
Then I worked for a family named Fluet, and I mean worked. Mr. Fluet always came to the top of the stairs and would holler out “Top of the morning!” all bright and cheerful. I don’t know how come he was never murdered. This was at about 4:30 every morning. They had several hired men, 2 kids, lots of milk from the cows that had to be separated morning and night. I had all the corking to do and every noon had to have half a dozen pies ready plus a big meal. The only thing I didn’t have to do was the laundry.
I made the great sum of $10 a month and that wasn’t bad for those days. Then Uncle Jack got into trouble and was sent to prison. So I stayed with Aunt Vernie and helped her. When I first came to Mosside, Alberta, I think it was the second day that I remet Benny Molesky (Benedict Victor Paul). I had gone to school with him at Antelope School in Loverna, in fact he was the last person I saw when we left Loverna.
That’s where she stopped and she noted in ink: “I started to write this for Philo, but it’s too bare. Rewrite with more of how it affected me personally.”