Forced to leave his children behind

From our January 2013 issue

By Anna Cooper – Macklin, Sask.

When my mother became very ill during her sixth pregnancy and was hospitalized, never to be released, hardships fell on the family.

Dad was devastated and forced to seek employment, leaving the quarter section of land for my uncle and aunt (mom’s sister) to farm. He placed us four girls in their care.

In later years, dad told us it was against his will to leave us girls behind, but his back was against a wall and he had no choice.

He mentioned how he walked the train tracks and hopped the boxcars, riding the rails to try to find steady work, but to no avail. There was no work to be had anywhere. He stopped at farms to work for his meals, doing manual labour.

He stayed a couple of weeks or a couple of days, then trudged onward when the farms had no more work. He told us that in those six months he was looking for work, he wore out three pairs of shoes.

Dad reached Edmonton six months later. There were signs everywhere to join the army so he decided to sign up. His next stop was to find a place for us four girls.

He was told about a convent for girls so we were placed there. Then, he reported for duty as a mechanic, was transferred from Edmonton to Nova Scotia, then onward to overseas.

Home for seven years

When dad left, our other sister was born and joined us in the convent. This was to be our home for the next seven years, from 1940 to 1947. I was 3-1⁄2 at the time. There were about 200 girls there.

Every Christmas Day there was a man dressed as Santa Claus who would hand out one gift each to all the girls. We had the pleasure of playing with the toy or game for a couple of hours. When Santa left it was time to go to the diner (as it was called) for dinner.

As we left the Hall Room, there were big boxes. As you passed them you had to drop your gift in the box. Then into the diner you went and lined up along those long tables that were set.

When we were all in place at the long tables, the blessing was said. It was one of the most delicious meals of the year. While we were eating, the boxes were carted away. They were stored in a room for next year’s Christmas.

Every year we got a different gift, one that someone else had the year before. Even the things dad sent us yearly from all the places he was at while the war was on went into the Christmas boxes. We couldn’t keep one gift.

When dad returned from the war he was able to get a job with the City of Edmonton as a mechanic. He then was able to find a house in Rosedale Flats in Edmonton and got us out of the convent. It was our first Christmas united as a family with him.

‘Where are the boxes?’

I believe it was a Christmas we all will never forget. Dad made us each something. That first Christmas Day we had together I remember saying to dad, “Can I keep this gift? Where are the boxes to put our gifts in for next year?”

I recollected looking at dad. He had a real sad look in his face as tears filled his eyes. “There is no box to put your Christmas gift in,” he replied. “It’s yours to keep.”

Happily I ran off to play with my new gift or wear my gift. Dad told me about this later in life.

Another Christmas and many others, dad mentioned a neighbour had given him clothes that her children outgrew. Dad said with a little tuck here and there, taking them in here and there, they were ready and made to fit for Christmas or for a birthday. They became our favourites. He was very good at anything he undertook to do.

My father was a very good role model. He taught us to be thankful for whatever gifts we were given. He would say it’s not the expense of a gift given. The price of a gift that is given is from the heart. It is the thought behind the gift that counts.

Dad would impress those sayings into our young minds, to appreciate anything done or given to us. This helped us all to mold our lives.

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