The Matter of Place

Off the top…a great book recommendation made by Bill MacDonnell, Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama.

From the section of Streams of Consciousness Chapter 5…this preface by Gaston Bachelard.

“I was born in a country of brooks and rivers, in a corner of Champagne, called Le Vallage for the great number of its valleys. The most beautiful of its places for me was the hollow of a valley by the side of fresh water, in the shade of willows…My pleasure still is to follow the stream, to walk along its banks in the right direction, in the direction of the flowing water, the water that leads life towards the next village…Dreaming beside the river, I gave my imagination to the water, the green, clear water, the water that makes the meadows green. …The stream doesn’t have to be ours; the water doesn’t have to be ours. The anonymous water knows all my secrets. And the same memory issues from every spring.”
― Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter

These summarize my general sense of landscape and more specifically, place.

Just as I think that our narratives inhabit objects, and without materialism, contain our affections and memory, I believe that particular places do the same.

On Labour Day, my son and I headed to Magrath, Alberta to say good-bye to a house…my Auntie Ruth’s home…because on September 15, it will be possessed by a new family after all of these years.  James and I listened to CBC radio programming all the way south to Lethbridge.  It seems to me that a story on whistle blowers in places of employment kept us engaged for most of the journey.  The miles, as is usual, went by quickly.  Once traveling the 23 across from Claresholm, Barons was just around the corner and then, with coulees in sight, I felt as though I was home.

Rolling into Magrath, the first stop was the old house.  My cousins have been sorting and downsizing and cleaning…a very difficult experience, as I recall from the days when my parents went through the same process.  As I stepped into the house, all of the memories of childhood and adulthood rushed back to the surface.  There’s just no stopping that particular experience.  I snapped a few photographs…while Auntie Ruth had already moved…she was still absolutely present to my experience of memory and love.

Last week, my cousin wrote that he had found a package of negatives in among Ruth’s things…and much like I do at such discoveries, he set out and had them developed.  Here, is a scan of one of those photographs.  My parents, in 1954, brother John, a year old and one, a photograph of my Grandfather, John Moors, with his dog at Greg Lake.

Read this…on the Poetics of Space. About a house, Gaston Bachelard wrote…

“His use of architectural phenomenology lets the mind loose to make its way, always ready for what might emerge in the process. The house is ‘the topography of our intimate being’, both the repository of memory and the lodging of the soul – in many ways simply the space in our own heads. He offered no shortcuts or routes of avoidance, since ‘the phenomenologist has to pursue every image to the very end’.”

If one does not move carefully through a house/home, one might not capture these bits of magic or ephemera that remain silenced by time and circumstance.  I’m grateful to my cousin who discovered those negatives, flattened amid the bric-a-brac.

From Tim Rollingson Black and White 11From Tim Rollingson Black and White 9

Our footsteps echoed in the house, as James and I traveled room to room.  And while memories flooded my walk, my son James had a completely different experience of place and quietly uttered the words, “This is so sad.”

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I remember the front door always being open or unlocked.  Family came and went.

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My father asked me to take a photograph of the front door.  Several times repaired or renovated, my father had recollection of an incident from his childhood in this part of the house.  I’m publishing that recollection, here, as it was written.

 “Well the problem is Kath this new door had the hole above it fixed. Anyway my dad and his buddies came home from hunting birds one day in Magrath Alberta . Of course they were half cut (as dad told me years later”if you are going to drink just drink good scotch and you will never have a hang over”. Well that day Dad left a shell in his single barrel 12 gauge shot gun. I being an inquisitive young lad wanted them all to know ( Mom and the whole family was in that little living room); anyway I lined up the duck flying above the door cocked the gun and pulled the trigger.. BAM you should have heard the screems and the shot about knocked me on my butt but there was a neat round hole firght through trim at the top of the door which appeared just seconds after a big guy way over 6 feet had walked in. Dad was the only one who got supreme heck for having a loaded gun in the house. Now I have bared my soul to all those interested.PS I was about 7 or so when this happened..”

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I remember fried eggs and bacon cooking….the smell of toast freshly-popped.  I remember my mother’s laughter in this kitchen.  I will always remember where my Auntie sat.

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The back room…I remember the ceiling being lined with cardboard egg cartons.  I remember my cousins and drumming and laughter.  I remember the door from this room out to the back, always open.  I remember summer.

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I remember Linda.  I remember sleepovers.  I remember lots of quilts and pillows.

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I remember food supply.

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Objects of the every day.

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I remember the gardens…the lilies…the geraniums…the hanging baskets.

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More than anything, I remember my Auntie sitting on the front porch.

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From the house, James and I went for visits with both his Great Aunties…Ruth and then Eleanor.  We are so blessed to have these women in our lives, as well as my Auntie Jackie and Auntie Mary.  I lift up prayers for all…for their health and their safety and that we keep memories such as I enjoyed with my son, close to our hearts.

Just this morning, and the reason for this post, I interviewed Auntie Ruth over the telephone, about her home.

Back in early 1940s, my Gramma and Grampa moved to Magrath, mostly in an effort to help their young daughter, Ruth, fight the symptoms of asthma.  The humid air in Ontario seemed to really irritate her breathing and  my grandparents were willing to try anything.

The first home they lived in was rented from a Ukrainian family.  I am in the process of researching their name.  Water was manually pumped from a well on the property.  There was an outhouse and bathing happened in the middle of the kitchen floor in a round tub.  Auntie Ruth remembers the water being heated in a kettle on a wood/coal stove.

Magrath had two stores at the time, the Trading Company and Louis Stevenson’s store.  There was a black smith shop on main street, as well as a show house.  There were no sidewalks in the town.

When Ruth turned 16, she remembers that the family moved into a white stucco house, the very house that James and I visited on September 1 of this year.  She remembers that Eleanor, Margaret and Johnny went off to school in the town, located where today’s school stands but, of course, a much smaller building.  During the war, Ruth worked at one of the blanket-making machines in the Golden Fleece Woolen Mill.  I’m posting a photograph of that particular mill here…it is not to be confused with the Woolen Mill that my grandfather opened up some years later.

John Moors Woolen Mill Magrath, Alberta

Many contracts came in to the Magrath Golden Fleece Woolen Mill during World War II 1939-1945.  My Auntie remembers working there.

A booklet published by the Magrath History and Museum Association and written by John Balderson, explains…

“When in full operation, the Golden Fleece Woolen Mill ran three 8 hour shifts, 24 hours a day.  Twenty-five men and women were on each shift making seventy-five individuals in total.  Two hundred and twenty five army blankets were made each day using 1,000,000  lbs of wool each year.”

Whenever my Auntie speaks about that time, she mentions the Canadians of Japanese descent who shared her machines with her.  She also talks about the shame she feels at how they were treated.  She explained to me this morning that eight Japanese-Canadian women were pulled off the Sugar Beet fields, to work in the mill.  They were all University educated and lovely, however, shy women.  Auntie Ruth  said that their housing was comprised of sheds lined up on the far edge of town, rows and rows of sheds where these beautiful and hard-working people were treated as prisoners-of-war.  My Auntie will never forget the women she worked with on her shifts.

In terms of the house, my Auntie remembers very good and also, difficult times.  She dated my Uncle Roy for four months when they got married and moved to Lethbridge, Uncle Roy worked for Western Drilling.  Ruth was 20 at the time.  Auntie Ruth will always tell you that the Korean War finished off her husband.  And all these years later, having read about the war and discovered the exposure these soldiers had to Mustard Agent and Lewisite as well as the bizarre view of PTSD at the time and the irresponsible treatment of these veterans, it is absolutely no wonder that he and his family, struggled upon his return.

I remember vacation days in both Magrath (at my Auntie Ruth’s and at my Grandparent’s place in front of the mill) and Raymond (at my Auntie Eleanor and Uncle Ted’s place).  In fact, I regret that I didn’t have the chance to grieve the farmhouse in Raymond like I did this house.  I remember much family laughter.  I remember the smell of a slow-cooked blade roast in the oven.  I remember my Grandmother’s laughter.  I remember the smell of wool.

This past weekend, I said good-bye to a place.  That does not mean that it does not remain with me…always.

 

 

Friends Reach Out Across Time

I continue to be blessed by individuals who somehow land upon a post of mine now-and- again, (quite often, recently), as  it relates to family.  I have often come across old photographs, military medals and treasures in second-hand shops and thought to myself, “I hope that our family treasures are always cherished and remain with our families, somehow.”  Well, in this world of digital imaging, more and more, photographs of our loved ones surface and just as I have shared with others…others share with me.

I am hoping that in the morning, my family members are surprised by these recent gifts from a man who I will simply refer to as Phil.

Yesterday’s e mail, in my inbox, began like this…

“I’ve known for years that your grandparents John & Florence were friends with my grandparents, Percy Hayes (1899-1979) and Mary Hayes (nee Severs, 1909-1996) of Oshawa, Ont. I’m afraid I don’t know the nature of their friendship. Percy worked most of his life at GM. I grew up just up the road from them, my Dad being their oldest son Cliff Hayes (b.1929). I recall being told that your grandpa had moved to Magrath to run the woolen mill, being a strategic industry during WWII.

 

I know Mom & Dad (can’t recall if ‘Granny’ was with them) stopped in Magrath years ago on a trip. I can’t recall if they connected with anyone though. I seem to recall Dad saying there weren’t any/many Moors left there…”

Phil began by sharing two photographs, along with their annotations.  I immediately forwarded the e mail to my father and he very shortly responded via Skype, sharing stories about his three oldest sisters and the three gents that they dated…all horse-riding cowboys.  Off they would go for their rides together, evenings, in the herd pastures of McIntyre Ranch.  *OOPS!  A mistake…Dad has sent me corrections, here.

“It was not Mcintyre ranch herd pasture. It 
was the Magrath herd pasture where all our cows were pastured every day 
!!! Rob worked at the ranch as I recall ‘but even that may be wrong 
cause we all owned horses in Magrath and Raymond in those days even me . 
Love you big good work.”

Dad

It is an amazing thing, this lovely collection featuring my aunties.  Beautiful Margaret is now passed on, but Auntie Eleanor just enjoyed her 90th birthday…as did Auntie Ruth, a couple of years ago.  Auntie Mary, the youngest, was not to be excluded from this set.  Also featured, my Gramma Florence Moors, my Great Auntie Caroline; her son, Orval who flew with the Canadian Navy and would not have lived much beyond these two photographs, having served on the battleship, HMCS Magnificent, (was a Majestic-class light aircraft carrier that served the Royal Canadian Navy from 1948–1957.) meeting an early demise when the plane he was flying, crashed.  His little sister, Joan, is also present in one of the photographs.

Based on the annotations, it seems likely that Auntie Ruth sent some of these archives…some might have been mailed, along with letters, by my Gramma Moors to these friends in the east.

I am amazed by the generous hearts of people who take the time to scan and forward such treasures on to me.  I do not take any of this for granted.

Family, do enjoy and copy and save these to your own archives.  I love you all.  Thank you, Phil, for taking this time.

Ruth Moors Rollingson and Rob Gorman 1

Auntie Ruth with Rob Gorman

Ruth Moors Rollingson and Rob Gorman 1b

Eleanor 1

Eleanor and Bob

Eleanor and Bob 1b

Margaret and Jay Passey 1

Margaret and Jay Passey

Margaret and Jay Passey 1b

Gramma Moors, Caroline, Orval, Joan 1

Front: Joan Gamelin Back Left to Right: Auntie Caroline, her son, Stanley Orval Gamelin and Gramma Florence Moors

Gramma Moors, Caroline, Orval, Joan 1b

Orval Ruth and Dooley 1

Dolly, Orval and Auntie Ruth

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And, here’s dear little Mary Jane.

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Mary Jane Moors

Mary Jane 1b

Today, I enjoyed a yummy lunch at the Blackfoot Diner with Phil and his wife, Cindy, and they generously gave me the original photographs that you see above.  I am blessed.

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We never stopped gabbing the entire time! I got a little emotional when I gave them my good-bye hug. Can you imagine what our grandparents might have thought?

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Cindy and Phil Hayes

Of all the Places

I ended up thinking about this place today.  I sat with my children, as we do on Sundays, ate a meal and shared stories and as they left and I find myself alone at the table, I feel a certain sadness for the passage of time.  Sundays with Gramma meant a blade roast, cooked slowly, all day long.  Sundays meant cartoons with Grampa on the sofa.  I’m grateful for my family and the memory of places that remain in my heart.  If you are in my family and have a photo of yourself on this front step, please forward it to me, so that I may include it here.

The Mill For Sale As I remember it. Woolen Mill 001 Uncle Bob Moors in Magrath Alberta July 1963

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Woolen Mill

They lived off of the front of a woolen mill, the only one in all of Western Canada.  The evening we arrived at the Magrath Wool, Card and Spinning Mill, was the first time I had ever met my grandparents.  It was a one bedroom apartment with a curtain strung for a bedroom door.  To the right of the front door was a small office with papers and invoices heaped high on a huge oak desk.  Some old black and white photographs were pinned to the bulletin board.

To the left, a living room opened up, with a sofa set before a half wall that was easily called the Wiley Coyote-Couch because every evening after work, Grampa would sit for the cartoons with as many grandchildren as possible nestled around and about him.  The half-wall revealed on the other side, the kitchen where most of the visiting would happen.  My Gramma was the nucleus of this portion of the home.  I still remember her, without dentures, eating a slice of white bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with white sugar.  The sound of her laughter and the appearance of her crinkled face stay with me.

Deep into the living room was a second sofa, this one was a pull-out bed.  My parents would sleep there.  Beside the sheers on the living room window, grew a huge Christmas cactus, dust woven in and out of its myriad of branches.  There was a small electric organ in front of the same large picture window and Gramma would play Aura Lee and Going Home and make my father weep.

The evening we arrived, Gramma met us all at the front door, squealing.  It seemed my father held onto her forever.  She had one of those cover-up aprons on, more like a duster…it was covered in golden flowers and was as soft as can be.  Grampa was called in from the mill…Gramma called him, lovingly, Jack.  Whenever he made his way into the kitchen from the mill, his first gesture was to lift his suspenders up and over his big shoulders.  When he smiled his eyes always filled with tears, it was just the way it was.  He smelled of this wonderful scent of raw wool and wore little pieces of grey and white fluff in his hair and on his clothing.  I loved these two with my whole heart.

The sight of my grandparents for the first time, was indeed, a little taste of heaven.  Having lived on the move so much, it was those memories that I would grow to hold onto and keep in the treasure box of my soul.

Where are you, Ruth Rollingson?

My Auntie Ruth is a force not to be reckoned with!  She is a very strong woman who has a sharp memory and a very particular type of wit.  Ruth holds strong opinions about most things (it runs in the family) and articulates them with emotion and power.  A woman who puts family first, she loved spending extended periods of time in both Peace River and New Zealand.  With fondness, she talks about branches of her/our family who are separated by a huge physical distance as though they could not possibly be held any closer in her heart.

This week she shared some of her narratives and I treasured every moment of the time we spent together.  As I delved deeper into the paternal side of my family history, I wanted to hear, first hand, the recollections of two of the matriarchs of the family, my Auntie Ruth and Auntie Eleanor.  It is with great fondness that I recall visits out west while my own military-family seemed to be, every couple of years, on an east-west migration.  Auntie Ruth and her family were a big part of what it meant to be ‘a Moors’.

Many hours were spent in friendship and family…teasing one another…complaining…and typically, exploding into laughter.  I am so happy for the previous interviews that my second cousin, Danielle, has worked on and the beautiful family album that contributed so much to our chats early in the week.  Several of these photographs are borrowed from this treasured resource.

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St. Mary's

St. Mary’s Dam…Ruth swimming with friends…

Family Reunion St. Mary's Dam...cousin, Linda in foreground...Gramma Florence Elliott Moors with her back to us.

Family Reunion St. Mary’s Dam…cousin, Linda in foreground…Gramma Florence Elliott Moors with her back to us, likely late 1960s.  My own mother’s face, just slightly above Linda’s arm…

I am so grateful for our conversations, dear Ruth…and look forward to connecting some of these narratives with the research I have already documented.  I love you.

Southern Alberta Roads

P1130699What a wonderful feeling to hit open roads…heading south always gives me some sense of going home to my peeps.  I weep when I see this blue up against this yellow…reminds me of grampa and our talks as he drove, with his racing cap on (ball cap turned backwards).  The past two days, I moved between Raymond and Magrath and Lethbridge…connecting with that feeling, pretty much the whole time.  Interviewing two of my beautiful aunties about family history was a joy.

I started Tuesday morning off with bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast and coffee at Ying’s Chinese and Western Cafe.  I love that there is no choice here…no brown and white toast, for example.  This was where I bought my penny candies as a little girl…and where grampa went in to catch up on the stories.  I chatted with these folk (different-but-the-same) over my first two coffees.  Thing is, the place looked so different years back.  Apparently, one of the fellas told me, May died some years ago and Mark lives in Lethbridge.  There used to be booths with high backs…dark wood.  These Canadians were a part of my childhood story.  I felt blessed in remembering.

P1130678 P1130680From there, I went out to the cemetery to have some time with my relations who have passed and who rest in such a beautiful and peaceful spot.

P1130683 P1130684 P1130690The mill…a spot where family photos were taken…keeps on changing as it changes hands.  For our family, though, it will always be connected to that smell of wool and grandma’s roast beef.

P1130691 P1130693 Sister in MagrathOn the Steps of the MillIMG_5619Ruth and RoyWoolen Mill 001P1130516