I offer you my memories
So that you will know
Your Grandmother was a little girl
Not so long ago
This is the second part of a transcription of the memories set down by Freda ‘Tottie’ Phyllis May McGrath (neé Turner) in a sheaf of papers called “Grandmother Remembers”. An Ontarian Canadian all her life, her recollections, memories, anecdotes, and musings are for all her descendants, of which The Diplomat is one. Born in 1906, this written legacy, which she commenced in May 1986, stretches from the mid-nineteenth century as far as December 30, 1995. It is a lifetime that covers a busy period in Mankind’s development: two World Wars, the advent of flying, T.V, computers, the Internet…and much, much more. Yet, this is a narrative that is fascinating in its remembrance of daily life, in how it speaks casually of events that were the norm for the social ethics, the mores and the education of the time.
I have reproduced this exactly as the author penned it with the kind permission of her sons, Michael and David. I hope you will find Tottie’s voice as fascinating as I have. For clarity I have, on occasion, entered a [textual note] where the narrative assumes a common Canadian knowledge that readers may not possess. The first part of this narrative can be read here and the final part here.
My husband Murray had an older brother Jack and a sister Kathleen. Jack ran a grocery store at the corner of Johnson & Victoria Sts and he was engaged to my sister Ada. However, Jack became an alcoholic and their engagement was broken. He joined A.A [Alcoholics Anonymous] and never drank again. Murray’s father’s sister, Nellie, was born in Fort Henry [where the St Lawrence Seaway meets Lake Ontario]. There were five girls in the family and finally a boy, my father-in-law and I was told his diaper had to be removed before his Mother could finally be convinced she had a son who grew into a handsome man with a beautiful head of white hair and twinkling blue eyes. He was an engineer at the Canadian Locomotive Company and owned 55 Earl St [Kingston]. Kathleen married Martin Barry and they lived in the U.S. – New Jersey and Connecticut. Martin was a successful chemical engineer. They had no children but David and his son Brendan inherited Kay’s red hair. My mother-in-law, Sahra Murray, was not my favourite person altho she lived with Murray and I for the last two years of her life.
Must go back to my childhood when our street, St Catherine, was not paved and had wooden sidewalks. The milk and bread were delivered daily by horse and wagon. We had coal oil lamps, then gas and then an addition was built on our house and a bathroom and electricity was added replacing our outdoor toilet in the back of the garden. Our treat in summer was to run with a penny when we heard “Odd Joe Trasso’s” bell so we could get a tiny ice cream cone. We children stood in awe when the first car in Kingston drove past our corner, maybe I was six years old!
September 1988! Now Erin is in High School, Jodie next year and Mark coming along at 10 years. Brendan is nearly 2 yrs and a small and adorable child as all my grandchildren are. Haven’t mentioned my marriage to Murray on Dec 30 1940. Yes I did. Murray died on January 14 1970 and I stayed in Ottawa [Canada] until late August 1972 when I moved into Michael and Judi’s apartment and they bought their first of four home so far. That fall I met Enid Lavin and she has been a good friend ever since. We travelled to Yugoslavia (my first plane trip) England twice. Now Enid is no longer able to travel so on Sept 23 1988 I went with the Agnes Etherington group for eight days on a bus trip thru Bath and on to Wales and Scotland. I enjoyed it very much, especially Bath and the Highlands of Scotland.
…more to come in the next blog installment….before that here are some Q&A that ‘Tottie’ penned:
Q: What were your favourite things as a girl?
A: Song? Red Sails in the Sunset; Movie? Gone with the Wind; Actor? Clark Gable; Radio Show? Rudy Vallee; Season? Spring; Vacation? Kemphville where I traveled by train to visit Gwen Hagan; Flowers? Carnations, Rose and Pansies; Colour? Blue; Sports? Tennis and Skating; Friends? Helen Coyle, Helen Pappas, Mary Cross.
Q: What did you do on weekends?
A: I played tennis, bowled, skated, danced and went to parties
Q: How did you meet your husband?
A: At a sluighide party, no it was the old Palace Rink with the pot-bellied stove
Q:What was your first date?
A: Skating at the Palace Rink later to become the Regis Tennis Club where I spent my summers. He was eighteen when we met and I liked him because he was kind. Later dates were walking, skating, movies, dancing, tennis, parties. We courted for sixteen years.
Q: How did you tell your parents you were to marry?
A: My mother was dead and my father had tears but he was very fond of Murray. We became engaged on October 31 1940. Murray asked how we were going to manage. I had the down payment for the house and from there we were well provided for by Murray.
Q:Tell us about your wedding day
A:It was on December 30 1941 at 3pm at the Chapel at St Mary’s Cathedral. I wore a white lace over satin with a short veil. We celebrated by having our own reception for relatives and friends in the house where I was born. Our most memorable wedding gift was the “Cogswell” chair Ada gave us and I still have. My most vivid memory of my wedding day is the sun shone and our friendly reception after. I made the wedding cake and had it decorated by National Bakeries. After the wedding we traveled to Montreal. My sister Ada was my bridesmaid and dressed in blue. Murray’s brother Jack was his best man.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?