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Odd questions Free
range children Hobos Memories I
didn't have Dad's illness My first letter My only night in the wild The other Janet When the boat comes in Mother's coat MRDA
Once at an OU summer school I was telling someone that I was dyslexic
and it was probably because I was left handed and right eyed. This
person who was a postgrad working on 'brains' said that was not right
and that I should forget about that old theory. Then a weird thing
happened; he asked me a bunch of questions that seemed off the subject.
Amongst the questions was, “Do you have a cleft palate or do you have a
close relative with a hare lip or cleft palate?” And so I told him my
brother George had a cleft palate. After many more questions which I
found an eerie experience because the question were both odd,
disconnected but 'spot on', he announced that I was probably partially
split brained. Since then, this has been a little question mark for me.
A while ago I ran across (while looking for something else) a group of
articles relating learning disabilities, palate deformations, and lack
of a corpus callosum, which is the large group of nerves that connect
the two hemispheres. (Split brain = no corpus callosum) These and a
number of other symptoms are connected. But the lack of all or part of
the corpus callosum is rarely diagnosed because it is only seen in a
brain scan. It is often mis-diagnosed as other conditions like
Aspergers. Aspergers is what I have thought George had, ever since I
read the symptoms of it years ago. But George was never offically
diagnosed with anything (just like I was never officially diagnosed
with dyslexia). Some of George's characteristics fit better with lack
of a corpus callosum: difficulties with his nasal cavity, inability to
discuss emotions with any clarity, poorly enunciated speech, late
speech. In many ways the symptoms overlap with those of Aspergers.
My mother was always too quick to blame herself. A couple of days
before she died, she apologized for not being a better mother. I
reassured her that she had been a great mother. She was not willing to
accept that because she thought she had at least failed George. She
thought he might have been different if she had had more time to play
and read to him when he was a toddler. Dad was sick so often and she
was so busy. I hope I convinced her that reading to George would not
have made any difference. George had a severe developmental fault and
there was no way she could have mended it. It bothers me that mothers
are blamed for things they could not possibly have caused.
I have a very high palate but I was unaware that it was different from
most peoples until I had my false teeth made after my fall. The dentist
had to take a mold of my top jaw before my teeth were removed. He could
not find a form to hold the mold while it was setting in my mouth
because all his forms were too shallow. I had to come back after he had
made a new deep form. He said he had not seen anyone who had as high a
roof to their mouth. So I think this is an inherited thing – I have a
high palate and George had a cleft palate; I have dyslexia and George
had more severe learning problems, Aspergers or something resembling
it. It is likely we inherited these problems.
I am going to write a article about the corpus callosum in the health
section, but not this month.
Free range children
I feel very sorry for today's children
who live in cities, and that is now the majority of children. They
can never just run around, cannot play at the edges of the adult
world, and they are always under someone's supervision. They barely
experience the natural world except in small, safe, sanitized pieces.
For hours they are entertained by television with no real
participation. They are kept as busy as the family budget will allow
in useful, educational activities: clubs, lessons, games. Having
anything less than this supervised world tailored for children is
almost considered bad parenting.
My memory of being young was that my
parents were way too busy just keeping farm and house functioning to
worry about what I was doing. No doubt they kept an eye open for me
but I was never aware of it and there were times that they could not
possibly know where I was. Don't get me wrong they spent a fair
amount of very high quality time with me but otherwise I was on my
own in finding things to do. For example, I used to visit a
neighbour, Mrs Hyer, who lived half a mile away. I sat by her range
where the crickets lived and clicked; she carried on with her work
and chatted with me. It turned out when I said something about the
Hyer house that my mother had no idea that I had ever gone there.
Marjorie and I visited a neighbour when we were at section 28. That
lady let us bake a cake once. I believe I knew every inch of the
world within three quarters of a mile from the house. I knew all the
buildings of the farm, all the tools, everything in the boxes in the
spare room, all the plants along the railway and in uncultivated
corners here and there.
It wasn't just the extent that I could
wander and play in, or the looseness of the supervision, but it is
that I was a free agent. I made my own imaginary games. I made my own
decisions. I made my own mistakes. And I was responsible for any
glorious moments I enjoyed. I could enjoy hours and hours of solitude
without any boredom. I was not always alone but often with cousins
(they also were relatively free range children).
Until recently, from what I read, even
city kids were fairly free to just play where and how they pleased.
Older kids tended to protected younger ones from anything really
dangerous, wandering too far and being bullied but otherwise let them
get on with life.
This is a two edged sword. There were
incidences. I knew of accidents with farm machines and kids, and with
kids and guns. Horses kicked. Kids fell out of trees. No doubt if we
were supervised, fewer of these accidents would have happened. I
don't think that there was any problems with pedophiles where I lived
– I was almost adult before I heard of such people. There was abuse
I now know but that did not happen while children were playing in the
great outdoors but in the secret places in the home buildings. Of
course parents are right to worry about the safety of their
children...but...I sometimes think it is a bad trade. The children
are safer in exchange for being robbed of knowing the natural
environment and a building strong sense of identity.
Of course, within wide limits, you can
do a lot of different things with children and they all turn out to
be reasonable adults. And also, perhaps today's children are being
well prepared to live in today's world. That makes me just an old
nostalgic women who loved her childhood freedom.
I once talked to my mother about hobos.
When she was married, she and Dad lived on the Barmby family farm. It
was about, well I think almost exactly, a mile from the station in
Lang along the railway track. The freight trains were often longer
than a half mile and as they slowed for the village or stopped at the
station, it was a good place to jump off or on. Hobos would leave the
train and it would not be a long walk to our house. They would very
often ask for water and to fill a water canteen. Sometimes they would
ask for food or even something more specific like a bandage. They
came often in the couple of years of the end of the depression and
the start of the war. Mom said they were always well behaved and she
was never afraid of them. Grandma also gave them water and sometimes
food when she lived there. Mom said that they never brother her
Now there was a station about every 8
miles along that railway and there were other farms along the tracks.
There is no real reason why so many came for water to my mother and
grandmother. But maybe others were not as hospitable. Granddad and
dad were very likely to be hospitable too – they had a bit of
Recently a Facebook friend had a
picture of hobo signs. That started me thinking and now I suspect
that there was some sort of sign on our farm that could
be seen from
a train. Here is the picture that was on Facebook.
Memories I didn't have
In the winter of
1941-42 my father was in Ontario and mother in Sask. They wrote a
number of letters which Laura Hoffman found when the house was being
cleared and saved them for me. Of course, I was too young to remember
this time – but here are my mother's references to me (not in order
or in context).
- Janet is very happy & so affectionate. She half sings
I love Mummy. I love Daddy. I love Mama. I love Papa. I don't have to
ask her to kiss me, she is kissing all the time. (Mama and Papa are Wight grandparents)
- You won't know Janet when you come home. She is getting so
big & fat & talks so much. She's a pretty good girl but is
noisy & stubborn sometimes. She talks about Santa yet a lot &
about her daddy coming home in the spring. She has 2 doll beds & a
stove & a lot of dishes and about a dozen dolls altogether. It's
comical to watch her play with them. They can do everything. She even
asks them questions & answers for them, feeds them & puts them
on the pot.
- It is terribly cold. Tonight I brought Janet's bed into
the dinning room & am sleeping on the couch. It's warmer than
trying to heat the front room. Janet is having difficulty going to
sleep out here in the light. It is 10:00. The folks have retired &
I will also presently. Janet sits up & jabbers about Santa &
the north pole etc. She throws kisses east for you, north for Santa
& south for Harold & Grandma & Jeannie. Maybe she'll learn
her directions by & by. (talking
about the Wight farm house)
- I talk to Janet a lot about you because I don't want her
to forget you. I don't know what I would do without her. Do you get
lonesome for her? I'm sure she'll know you when you come home.
- Janet is growing – getting fatter & heavier. I can see
a change since I was away 4 days. She talks a lot more since Marjorie H
was here those few days. She is noisy tho. She was so tickled to see me
last night. It was about 10:30 when we got home. She'd been asleep but
woke up & didn't go to sleep till about one thirty. She is
bothering me now till I can hardly write.
- I made Janet a cute red plaid jumper out of some material
mother gave her for Xmas & I think there is enough more for a dress
- Tonight the kids will hang up their stockings. I have a
lovely doll for Janet's. It has sleeping eyes. Calvin is making a bed
for it. She is so excited about Santa & all.
- There is so much to do & there is always Janet. She
talks about you a lot. You'd be surprised to hear her talk even now,
she has improved so much.
- We had a swell dinner & then Bobby dressed as Santa
gave out the presents. He was very good. Janet was afraid of him but
didn't notice him unmask & couldn't figure out where Santa went.
- The children entertained us this aft with singing,
recitations etc. It was good. Janet didn't do anything but all the
- Today we are to meet mother & Janet in town. I will
bring Janet back here with me. I may be crazy for getting Janet but I
sure am lonesome without her. She sure has the edge on Harold every
time she turns around. (I think Mum
was at Marjorie and Walter's while they were in Regina. I was with
Grandma Wight but then joined Mum)
- Janet hasn't had her nap yet. She has been playing with
Evelyn. They have a great time.
- Janet is a good girl these days. Eats so much better &
her habits are improving.
- Today was Harold's birthday. Janet & I wrapped up her
picture book to send to him. She got a real thrill out of it, jabbering
all the time. One new word she says a lot is “Don't”. Right now she's
having a tantrum because mother was putting her to sleep instead of me.
So we just shut the door & left her to herself. I guess I've been
clamping down too hard on her. She sure is getting contrary &
stubborn. She's been able to play outside a lot yesterday & today.
Tomorrow George Olson is going to stay with us so she'll have a good
play. Janet finally cried herself to sleep. I hope it does her some
good. (Olsons lived near Wights)
- Janet has had another cold but it is on the mend now –
didn't last long.
- Janet jabbers away about Daddy coming home in the spring.
If we mention you she cocks her head on the side & says “Spring?”,
then goes on jabbering about baby chicks & the garden.
- Yesterday Geo & Edwin O. stayed with us while they (Olsons) spent the day in Regina.
They are good company & did Janet enjoy them. They got a kick out
of helping me kill 15 old hens & watching the dressing etc. of
them. (I'm sure it was the boys that
enjoyed it, not me)
- Janet often asks “where Wally?” then answers herself “way
way to town in a car” or sometimes if I ask here where her daddy is she
says “home”. She surely is happy here just as if she belonged. Although
she's pretty good she sure keeps us on our toes. Never a dull moment.
My biggest job is to get her to clean up her plate & to go to sleep
by herself. Tonight Mom laid down beside her & was asleep long
before Janet. They're both in there asleep now tho. (The Barmby farm was locked up and we did
not go there, so maybe I thought he was there)
- I am rather concerned about Janet. She's fat & happy
and good. But the other day she passed a long round worm about 6 inched
or more in length. I don't know how many more she might have. Sometimes
she's restless in her sleep. So I think maybe I should take her up to
MacMillan and get a prescription to clean her up. I could likely go up
with Gaylord but as you are soon coming home I think I'll wait and go
up with you as a few more days can't make so very much difference. She
seems perfectly well & never complains a bit. You will certainly
see a big difference in her. She talks so much more & has gained a
lot. I'd sure like to know how she came by that worm!
- I was surprised at how much Janny had grown in the 4 days
I was away. She had a bad fall tho & cut her forehead. I do hope it
doesn't scar. She's pretty good not to pick at it. She talks more now
too. I brought home a calendar with a picture of two kids on a sled.
She said, “Deris Owl & Jeannie. Whee dey does”. Translated There's
Harold & Jeannie. Whee they go(es). I don't suppose you'll be able
to understand her as there are so many letters she doesn't pronounce so
she puts in substitutes. So sleep becomes peep and cow tow & so on.
I have been reading some old letters
(see family section) and I have been reminded of life with diabetes.
I never connected some things with diabetes. For example I remember
how much water my father could drink at one go.
We had a dugout for the animals and
garden and a rainwater cistern for washing clothes, bathing and the
like and we had a large crock in the kitchen of drinking water that
was delivered daily by a truck to all the farms around from a deep
bore well. My father would come in from working and drink one or two
dippers full of water with hardly taking breathes. I was amazing to
watch somewhere between a pint and a quart of water being glugged
down. I now know that diabetics are often thirsty and can drink a
large amount of water in a day.
My father had chocolate bars in the
truck, in the workshop, and in the house. I was told as a child that
if Dad got dizzy or started to act funny (stagger, not make sense), I
should find him a candy bar and then get help. The chocolate would
get old and when it did, Dad would replace it and I got the old
stuff. This would especially happen with the chocolate bar in the
truck as it got hot often.
Desserts were not served with every
meal. We had desserts when it was Sunday, we had visitors, special
occasions like birthdays or when there was something that needed to
be used up like over ripe fruit. To this day, I don't really expect a
dessert to always end a meal – there needs to be some reason for
Until the early 20s, diabetes was a
death sentence. Dad was diagnosed in '38. But even with insulin it
was still a terrible disease in those early days. Later insulin had
fewer long-term side effect and was easier to use with correct
dosages. My Mother said that Dad went to Rochester to get treatment
soon after he was diagnosed. When he came back, he knew more about
how to control diabetes than any of the doctors in Regina. That may
well be. People died of diabetes so quickly before insulin that the
doctors never saw the other effects of the disease and of the
insulin. Dad lived for 13 years on insulin before he died at 39. When
he died he was blind, had Bright's disease in his kidneys, all his
muscle was gone and he looked like a skeleton covered with skin. He
could not walk. Mom had to inject him, feed him, turn him - he was
helpless as a baby. A few months before he could sit up and listen to
the radio in the afternoon. By the time he died, any noise was
His brother Bert lived longer with the
disease, but still died fairly young. He was diagnosed quicker
because he had a brother with the disease. He also had more control
over his life especially the pace and continuity of exercise. There
is a big difference between teaching and farming; teaching is
continuous but mild activity but farming is running-and-waiting.
Every summer when I was a kid, Bert would go to Regina Beach for the
whole summer break. He would cook for himself an unchanging diet that
suited him and he walked the same amount everyday so he got his
insulin just right in amount and timing. When we visited, he was
always tanned and healthy. Dad would ask him how he was and he would
say with a big grin that he was as blue as the sky. This referred to
the test for sugar in urine that was blue if there was no sugar. I
don't think Dad every managed to have that much control – he was
not blue as the sky every day for two months at a time.
For years I was afraid that I would get
diabetes. But now I have to worry about type2 diabetes which is a
different disease. I don't have it but I could have if I don't watch
My first letter
This is something
found, not remembered. I guess that I would have been in
This is because I would have lived at Grandpa and Grandma's house in
grade 2 and the summer before grade 3. So in grade 3 I would have
been motivated to write them. I would have been about 8 years old. I
notice that my mother's handwriting is showing through. I was copying
her having written the words out for me. For the first three lines,
she seems to have written them out on another piece of paper for me
to copy. For the rest, until my name, she seems to have written them
on the page and I wrote over them. It looks like my very own JANET.
The envelop does
not show any tracing but it is too straight lines for me and to badly
done for Mom. So I guess it was also traced. The 'Janet's first
letter' looks like Grandpa's note.
So it is my first
letter, sort of. At least what I said was probably my words. Click on pictures to enlarge.
My only night in the wild
The other day Harry said something
about when we went to the Aberdares and camped in a bamboo forest at
a very high altitude. We drove up with a America professor and his
English wife. We didn't see many animals (some monkeys and birds) but
we heard plenty and saw the traces of some. The animals sure saw us.
The camp we made was OK in the daylight
but when it became night, we did not feel as safe. I think Harry
slept very little. We had picked, we realized, a spot on an elephant
path. It had been OK the way we parked the car but then Lloyd wanted
the car moved so he could tie his hammock to it. We moved the car and
then noticed much later that we were no longer sheltered from the
elephant walkway. Nothing bad happened in the night.
Sitting at the camp fire was
interesting. We were talking and not noticing the background. When we
did we saw lots of eyes glowing in the dark. We decided (hoped) they
were all small deer, some were. They were sure interested in us.
I had to pee and I went into the
darkness and was crouching down when I saw that I was about to
urinate on a snake and not a tiny one either. I moved to another spot
closer to the light very quick.
We could hear larger animals in a
particular direction, but Lloyd had walked in that direction shortly
after we stopped and had described another clearing on the other side
of a ravine. The Nancy, Harry and I thought (hoped) this meant that
we did not need to worry about the animals we heard coming towards us
because there was a ravine. In the morning we were shocked at how
shallow and easy to cross this 'ravine' was.
It was a lovely two days, good company
and great sights. But I never again wanted to camp in a really wild
place. I was quite satisfied with day trips to game parks. On rare
occasions staying in park lodges, but not camping in the wild. I
guess I'm a scaredy-cat.
The other Janet
When I was young, there was another Janet in my high school. We
were not friends and really had practically no overlap in friends, not
one mutual friend. I would not remember her at all except for the fact
that my Aunt Marjorie, with whom I lived at the time, and her mother
were close friends. Every few weeks they would spend an afternoon
together and Marjorie would come home and tell me all the great things
that the-other-Janet did, could do, said, was going to do, have etc.
She would ask why I didn't get to know her and she would say that I would
benefit from being more like her. Over time I grew to dislike
the-other-Janet for no good reason except that I kept hearing how great
Eventually we found ourselves in the same class room but we still had
next to no contact. In a Psychology class we drew names and had to
write a description of the person we drew. And I drew the-other-Janet.
I tried to be fair but I knew deep down that I was being unfair, not
cruel, but not fair. I realized how unfair when I got my own
description from an unknown classmate. It was not cruel either but not
fair. Very few of us had broad smiles so I think there were quite a few
A few years later, when I met Harry, he was about to go out with the-other-Janet that night. I
could not believe it. I was out of school and I had many new friends
and only a few old ones. Why was the-other-Janet still crossing my
path? That is when the whole thing became amusing rather than
irritating. Suddenly I saw this in perspective. I heard in my memory
Marjorie's descriptions and they were funny – a second-hand version of
a mother's exaggerations. The Psyc teacher's great idea was ridiculous
– he should have known how teenagers act. That I worried over what one
unknown person thought of me was silly – I could be loud if I felt like
it. And that I had some sort of connection to someone I had never had a
real conversation with was ludicrous. The whole thing was laughable.
When the boat comes in
How I wish that the BBC was as good now
as it used to be – before reality TV was invented. Many years ago
we watched a drama series on BBC called When the Boat Comes In. The
program always started with a little song. Now, I had not thought of
the song for a great many years – 30 maybe. But we were eating fish
with company (and with good wine); I went to put a bit of fish in the
dog's bowl along with her regular food. Out of my mouth came the
little tune, “You shall have a fishie in your little dishie, you
shall have a fishie when the boat comes in.” That little song that
seemed to come from nowhere became a little ear-worm for several
weeks, going round and round in my head. Along with the song came the
memory of the TV series and how good it was.
Being an old folk song, there are many
versions. Some are like drinking songs, some are like a teaching aid
for naming fish, some are just a little child's entertainment. Here
is the chorus:
Dance ti' thy daddy, sing ti' thy
Dance ti' thy daddy, ti' thy mammy sing;
Thou shall hev
a fishy on a little dishy,
Thou shall hev a fishy when the boat
The song appears to be a Northumberland
fisherman returning home and having funny with his little boy. The
series was set in Newcastle and the song was sung with a Geordie
People don't wear
fur coats the way they used to. When I was young (I can't find
anything to pin my age to.) I was in a big store in Regina with my
mother. It was probably the old Simpsons. It was the Christmas season
with decorations and carols. It was very busy and crowded. I was
having trouble staying in contact with Mom, so I got behind her and
got hold of her fur coat near the hem. I put my head in the fur and
just hung on. After a few minutes (or maybe a much shorter time), Mom
stopped, turned her head and look to the side. IT WAS NOT MY MOTHER.
I looked around and I was surrounded by fur coats – sea of moving
fur coats – but I could not see Mom. I screamed! All the people
turned to look at me and through the crowd Mom appeared. She had been
looking for me and she said something about staying close and not
wandering. All I could say was that I had a-hold of the wrong coat.
50 years ago there was the Profumo
Affair – it seems so quaint now. The very best part of the whole
affair was the testimony in court of Mandy Rice-Davies. She had given
evidence about the involvement of Lord Astor and was being questioned
about that evidence. The prosecutor went on for a long time about
what Lord Astor denied and end with Lord Astor denied
an affair or having even met her. She replied, "He would,
wouldn't he?" It was such a perfect answer that it caught the
public imagination. For weeks people said, “Well, he would,
wouldn't he?”, at every opportunity and people who chuckle. It got
abreviated to MRDA.
Lately, she worked on the
Lloyd Webber musical, 'Stephen Ward', about the case, as an advicer.
At the launch there was a press conference and she said a few words.
Asked if she thought there had been a miscarriage of justice - "He
was certainly part of the vanguard movement of free love and free sex
and being at the vanguard, he got shot down first. Of course he was a
scapegoat. The government was trying to control public morals."
She has not lost her touch. Asked if she worried about how she might
be perceived, she said: "I'm 70 next year. Who gives a damn?".
I laughed out loud when I read that.
I have heard her name
mentioned from time to time over the years and I always smile inside.
Harry and I still exchange the odd 'well he would wouldn't he?' when
appropriate and chuckle.