Father forced to leave his girls behind

From our January 2013 issue

By Anna Cooper – Macklin, Sask.

When my mother became very ill during her sixth pregnancy and was hospitalized in the late 1930s, never to be released, hardship fell upon our 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, he 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 told of how he walked the train tracks and hopped boxcars, riding the rails to try to find steady work, but to no avail. There was no work to be had anywhere. Stopping at farms, he would work for his meals, doing manual labour.

He’d stay a couple of days or a couple of weeks, then trudged onward when the farms had no more work. In those six months he was looking for work, he said he wore out three pairs of shoes.

Dad reached Edmonton six months later. There were signs everywhere to join the army and he decided to sign up. His next step was to find a place for his four girls. He was told about a convent for girls and we were placed there. Then, he reported for duty as a mechanic, was transferred from Edmonton to Nova Scotia, then onward overseas.

Convent was home for seven years

After 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, a man dressed as Santa Claus would hand out one gift each to all the girls in the Hall Room. We had the pleasure of playing with the toy or game for a couple of hours. Soon Santa left and 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 we passed, we had to drop your gift in a box. We went into the diner and lined up along long set tables. When we were all in place, the blessing was said. It was one of the most delicious meals of the year. While we ate, those 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.

Dad returned from the war and was able to get a job as a mechanic with the City of Edmonton. He found a house in Rossdale Flats in Edmonton and eventually 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 asking dad, “Can I keep this gift? Where are the boxes to put our gifts in for next year?”

I recall 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.”

Dad mentioned a neighbour had given him clothes her children outgrew. With a little tuck here and taking them there, he said, 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.

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

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

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