The day came in the Autumn of 1920 when Mother called together those of her children still living In Saskatoon - Mabel, Reg, Fred, Ray, young Bernard and me. She folded her hands together, fingers i nterlocking, and resting her elbows on the dining-room table gazed at each of us In turn. She took a deep breath and began.
"As you all know, things have been very difficult for your father, particularly since the end of the War when he had to give up as Recruiting Officer. For two years now he has had no steady employment and our savings are now gone. He has tried his utmost to find a worthwhile situation with some firm in Saskatoon but has met with no success. He has had to face the fact at last that there have been no offers for his services nor does there appear to be any hope of an offer. So your father now feels he would be better off to get right away and make a new start in life elsewhere... And so we are moving to New Zealand," she concluded in a rush.
We were dumbfounded! NEW ZEALAND! That was on the other side of the world!
"These Canadian winters have been too hard on his chest since he had pneumonia," she calmly countered our hysterical protests. "He needs a more temperate climate. With all the experience he has gained here he feels he can be successful elsewhere. So we are going to sell this house and the furnishings to finance the trip," she stated firmly.
Sell the Poplar Crescent home? OUR home? They couldn't!
"What does he want to go so far away for?" Reg queried in head-shaking disbelief. "Surely YOU won't go too, Mother?"
She turned to face her son with surprise.
"Of course I'll go! My place is beside your father. I wouldn't dream of letting him go alone! We have decided to let you all make your own choices. Some of you have already put down roots here, so you will understandably want to stay. Young Bernard will naturally come with us."...
And so our home was sold. One by one the furnishings acquired new owners in exchange for money. Gone was the camel-hair rug from the living-room - the one I had so hated to clean on Saturdays! Someone else bought the solid brass fire irons with the inlaid Wedgewood. The sofa and chairs were the next to go. Then the bedroom furniture. The good dishes and all our family silver went too. The dining-room table, around which we had all sat on so many occasions, was carried out with all the chairs, the sideboard and the china cabinet which had housed Mother's greatest treasures. The few remaining pictures came down from the walls and were loaded on a wagon with the few odds and sods and pots and pans which had not found a buyer, and the wagon lumbered off down the street.
Mabel and I stood in our now empty living-room, weeping at the breakup of our family. We had all been through so much together! Surely these two courageous parents of ours deserved some measure of tranquility and security in their later years after the way they had worked to help build this city into the 'Hub of the North' which my father had envisioned so long ago when he had decided to stay here instead of joining the wagon train to Britannia! He was now into his sixties, as was Mother. What would they DO away off there in New Zealand where they knew not a single soul?
"Don't worry about us," Mother said, bustling through the room with an arm full of clothing. "We have always managed, and we always will!" She paused for a moment in the doorway and said more to herself than to us, "At my time of life I did feel I was settled. However, it won't be as hard as Canada because the climate is more temperate," and off she marched, chin up.
Until final arrangements for their passage were made, my parents with young Bernard, Mabel and I moved into a small apartment. The boys moved into temporary rooms until the day of departure.
Our parents went out to visit friends the first night in our new quarters. The boys had come over and we all sat there in the cramped living-room, commiserating.
"Well, it won't be as hard as it was when we all came to Canada," Reg volunteered. "This time there are only three of them."
"And the rest of us can help out a little with what we are earning," said a tearful Mabel. "After all, Dick has a good job in St Paul, Minnesota. Joe is doing quite well in Calgary. Reg will do well here in Saskatoon with his new English bride and their baby. Fred will be going to Medical School in England next semester, thanks to his R.A.F. gratuities. And Patty will be marrying Bernard soon and leaving for the East."
"And if you can ever choose between all your 'lovers' you will be getting married and settling down too," said Fred, his teasing voice bringing a smile to Mabel's face.
"I think our parents feel they don't have to worry about any of us," I volunteered. "After all, children grow up in every family and branch out on their own."
"Isn't it a wonder that after all our father did for this city that there is no one now to step forward and offer him something?" Reg was finding it all very hard to comprehend. "Everyone seems to have deserted him! The English firm didn't come back with a renewal of the offer to manage the theatre or hotel after the War, and not a single person here seems to have made him an offer...But I have never heard a word of complaint from either of them," and he shook his head in wonder at the strength of these two people about to embark upon a whole new adventure in living at their time of life.
"Father never did show his feelings, Reg, so It is quite probable that no one even knew!" I replied, feeling the same pride In our parents' courage. "The strong don't get offers of help. The weak tell of their needs, so others rush in to help them."
Dick arrived from St Paul and Joe from Calgary to see our parents off. Mabel and I had tried to put together some special treats for our last night together, but the party was not turning into the success vie had hoped for. The conversation was desultory. Someone forced a laugh, and then terminated it abruptly when no one else took it up. Not one of us seemed able to lift the conversation to a level of gaiety. Our sense of impending loss was too great.
Suddenly Father emerged from the kitchen, white towel over his arm, a napkin wrapped around a bottle, wine glasses on a tiny tray.
Fred, standing between Joe and me muttered under his breath, "Look at him! He must have saved one of the best years for a special occasion!"
With a flourish, Father uncorked the bottle and began to pour the amber liquid into each glass. Regally he offered one to each of us. After he took his ow we all lifted our glasses in silent salute to our parents. We began to sip... Champagne? It had been so long that we had forgotten the taste. We sipped again. Then Father began to chuckle. It wasn't champagne at all - it was pop! We all burst into laughter. Mother laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks. The ice was broken and we had the best family party of our lives...
In the morning we all dressed in our best to go down to the station. Mother looked like a queen in a deep lavender suit with ermine furs and muff.
Mabel and I juggled for a place at the mirror while we pinned on our hats and made last minute adjustments.
"If either of you sheds a tear, we'll clobber you!" said Joe. "You must bear up for Mother's sake!"
Dick and Joe slipped money into Mother's hand as each said 'good-bye'. One or two old friends came to the train to see them off. Mr. Cameron, a Scot of many years' acquaintance, came over to Mabel and me where we stood.
"Mon, that shuurly takes courage to go off at his age to anltherr country. You glrrrla should be verra proud o' your parents," he said.
As the train pulled out, Mother's fine courage, taxed past endurance as she gazed at her children for perhaps the last time, gave way. Father stood, misty-eyed, waving with one hand, the other around Mother's shoulders. A confused young Bernard stood with them, waving to his brothers and sisters, the tears of a bewildered twelve year old coursing down his young face.
The train pulled away from the platform, As it gathered speed I saw my father look over the city which he had helped build, perhaps seeing the tent compound of seventeen years before, in his mind's eye. He looked back at us and he smiled...
There were few jobs for the returned men in Saskatoon. Some who had experienced too much in far-off places spent many months in hospital. Others felt their wives fell far short of the women they had met abroad.
"It' an orful thing to see 'er fyce in front uv me over the tyble in the mawin' awfter sum uv the simndn oi 've seen," one was heard to remark.
MacLean had been one of Fred's brother officers in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps. He took advantage of his unique training as a pilot to go into business for himself after the War. He acquired a small two-seater plane which he kept at the Exhibition Grounds and put up a sign: '$10.00 for 10 minutes in the air.' Hundreds of people gathered to witness this novelty. Those with adequate funds and daring, paid their money and, disregarding the pleas and tears of mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts, climbed into the fragile-looking craft. Down the field they flew, prayers for their safety enveloping them every inch of the way as the plane soared heavenward to become a tiny speck in the sky. Once the circuit was complete, the little 'plane reappeared, magnifying each minute, to land at last with many a bump and jolt on the uneven ground amid sighs of heartfelt relief from those watching.
"That was suupin'!" said a long-legged farm lad as he clamboured out, a grin of pure enchantment on his freckled face.
Mabel and I wanted to take that trip so badly, but our finances were at such a low ebb that it was out of the question. We compromised by spending many of our free days out at the Exhibition Grounds sharing the thrill of a lifetime with many a venturesome, paying passenger.
Mabel had met a handsome man with pure white hair. Bill Clark was as interested in music as she; he too sang beautifully. From her dozens of 'lovers' Bill emerged as the one Mabel finally fell in love with. She told me about it one night as we were doing the washing up after dinner.
"Why don't you invite him up so I can meet him?" I was delighted that my sister had found the one she could love at last. "We'll ask Reg over too, and have a party!"
The evening was set and Mabel was radiant. Reg and I were almost as anxious for Bill's arrival as Mabel. We had never seen our sister this way before.
"He'll be here any minute now!" Mabel glowed as she passed through the tiny living-room.
There was a knock at the door. Her beautiful face alight, Mabel floated across the room to open it.
There stood our regular little Chinese laundryman, his crooked face alight with a merry grin as he said brightly, "Laundly!" and extended the package.
Reg and I burst into laughter. Mabel's face had altered from glowing expectation to open-mouthed surprise to blushing realization all in a matter of a few short seconds. Even she saw the funny side of the situation and hurriedly reached for the package.
"Shut up, both of you!" she admonished Reg and me as we continued to howl with laughter. "He'll be here any minute now!"
We were happy that night for the first time since our parents had left. It was no surprise when we learned that Mabel had accepted Bill's proposal. Theirs was a whirlwind courtship, and we made plans for her early wedding.
Mabel was married in a navy blue suit and soft pink feather hat before a filled Church. It was a blow to the rest of us that she refused to wear white, but Mabel was practical through long years of privation and would not consider buying a dress she would wear but one*. She carried a tiny bouquet of pink flowers and looked every inch a prima donna as she went up the aisle on Reg's arm. After mass, the guests were entertained to a sumptuous wedding breakfast at the Harrisons 1 .
Mrs Harrison filled Mother's place in our lives in so far as anyone else could. With a limited budget she somehow managed to lay an abundant table with all the wedding breakfast frivolity needed to make it a wonderful success. Everything went off without a hitch and Mabel and Bill moved into their new apartment that same day.
When I complained about her not having a honeymoon, Mabel said, "Patty, it is no treat for me to travel. After all, I've been right across this country and back to England. Bill has an extensive area to travel for his hardware company, so it is no treat for him either. No, we'll just move into our new apartment and not spend money unnecessarily." And that was that.
In hopeful anticipation I had waited day after day, week after week, for the letter from Bernard saying that he had found a job.
The day after Mabel's wedding, it came! He wrote that he had been engaged to open an eastern branch of Burroughs Law Books Publishing Company In Montreal, and we could be married just as soon as he could get back to Saskatoon, which would be December 21 st ! I set the date for the twenty-second.
"Couldn't you 'ave chosen a leetle bettair time, Patty?" queried Mrs. Harrison wistfully as she contemplated the extensive French- Canadian Christmas baking she must do.
Here was to be another wedding right after the family budget had been extended to its farthest limits by Mabel's wedding! But I was young and in love and Bernard was coming home to marry me, and I refused to see how inconsiderate I was being. So warmhearted Mrs. Harrison gathered her reserves together and outdid herself in preparing for a second wedding breakfast. . .
Joe came down from Calgary to give me away. Mabel was to be my sole attendant and matron of honour. Since consideration of finances loomed large in our planning, I decided to take a lesson from Mabel and chose to be married in a suit.
How I looked and looked before finding that gold silk-lace-over-satin blouse with. the beautiful beadwork down the front to go with my new tailored golden brown suit! By lucky chance, I found a velour hat of the same golden brown adorned with a sweep of yellow gold cock's feathers which curved down under my chin!
Mr Simon, the jeweler, phoned to see if I had made any special arrangements for transportation to and from the Church. Finding that nothing special was planned, he offered his large black limousine to be at our disposal for the day. This was a generous and entirely unexpected kindness, for our families had been only business acquaintances.
Late nights and cold winter weather found me well on the way to being bedridden on my wedding day with a severe cold.
Joe said, "Look, you're just packed full of cold and you won't be fit to get married in the morning. Get into bed and I'll bring you a hot toddy."
I wanted to sit up and talk, but Joe was adamant, and Mabel and Reg supported him. I had no alternative but to dutifully crawl into bed and Joe brought me the promised rum-laced hot toddy.
"Drink it down now," he said, and stood there to make sure I did.
I have no recall of finishing the drink before sleep enveloped me, but apparently Joe went in to the others and said, "That'll cure her!"
And it did! By morning, my cold had vanished.
It was a crisp day but the sun shone brightly. Mrs. Harrison bustled into the apartment before I was properly awake remarking, "appy the bride the sun shines on today!"
We drove to and from the Church in Mr. Simon's limousine. The wedding was at nine in the morning and my only regret was that the Church bells could not ring because it was Advent. But I was too happy to really care!
Everyone came down to the train to see us off after a wedding breakfast to outdo all others, at the Harrisons'. We stood out on the rear platform in the cold, waving until the City of Saskatoon was a blur in our misty eyes.
My parents had so recently gone down these same tracks to the West. Bernard and I were traveling East to make a future for ourselves. Behind both of us we left Saskatoon, the city which had provided us with hope and a dream. The hope had given us the courage to carry on in the face of every adversity that personal rejection, Nature and misfortune had to offer. The dream was there before us...a reality now that the tent villages had become a prosperous city with promise for the future. But the promise was not for us.
This city had nothing more for the Sutton Family, nor had we anything left to give to it. We were leaving it for others - the ones who had survived their personal hardships and still had some thing left to give. And for those new spirits still to come. Many were yet unborn.
But the city would continue to flourish. In spite of the heartaches and sorrow, it had been a privilege to be a part of it's growing pains.
And so the Suttons passed out of the lifestream of the City of Saskatoon and of the West.
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