Friday, May 10, 2013

My Mother's Turnips, Visits and Quilts/MANN

Childhood memories are golden. However, some don’t make much sense without interpretation. And sometimes, we can’t do that by ourselves.
Back in the 40's and early 50's, I remember my mother going to what was called “The Poor House”, a huge three story stone resident that housed people without means, situated between Elora and Fergus. She took produce from the farm; I faintly remember turnips as one item. I wondered over the years, why turnips, when The House of Industry had a mega garden across the front of the property and lots of workable farm land.

I also remember cutting, what I think were quilt blocks, for Mother to take there. She would wait patiently for an item of our clothing to wear out so she could cut it up and get a few blocks. She would use corners and lengths of material from blouses, shirts, bedding and aprons to create a colourful pile. Sometimes it would wait for the quilt frames in the upstairs bedroom and other times, she’d put it in a paper grocery bag for other places. She’d visit The House of Industry and enter at the barn side of the big house with a box. When I was with her, I'd remain in the car. This was the second memory of the mystery.

The third part of the triad was equally unsolved. Mother would drive to The House and bring several women down to our farm for the afternoon. I often wondered if she had some friends who moved there for better living conditions. Although I was in school, I don't remember meeting them, but I heard her tell her friends. Seriously, at times, I wondered if this snippet of memory for just a figment of my imagination.

Only recently a historian friend shared that following the WWII ‘the vegetable gardens at the Poor House were scaled back and local residents were then asked to donate what extra farm produce they had to feed the residents.’ This fit for my mother’s character, as she often shared her garden produce with neighbours who didn’t have a garden.

My friend also said her grandmother went to The House regularly to cut quilt blocks and added, “My grandmother always had one or two women [from The Home] come to visit. They'd spend the afternoon drinking tea and quilting.” This was an important piece of information for me as the residents, or inmates as they were referred to at that time, would need bedding. It seemed right, as Mom used to have benefit card parties and social events at the farm house to raise money or to wrap bandages for the local  Red Cross during the war. She also quilted, gathered items of use for them and worked diligently in her local rural church through Mission and Service.
So turnips, visits and quilts, all a part of my mother’s life who believed in ‘feeding the hungry, visiting the poor, and providing warmth on a cold night.’ One of her favourite scriptures: 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40).


Aggie’s Voice, the third and last of the Agnes Macphail trilogy, coming early fall (Brucedale Press).


Carolyn R. Wilker said...

I didn't know there was such a place, Donna. Intriguing questions that we have to ask about to learn what the memories mean. Thanks for sharing.

Peter Black said...

You shed light Donna, on statements I often heard during my UK childhood and youth. Statements like, "If the cost of food [whatever] keeps going up, we'll end up in the poor house!"
I thought it was a harking back to the poor houses and work houses of Dickensian days. Hmm, but the 1940s -- that's quite recent.
Thanks for this tribute to your mom's generosity and character.

Diana said...

Donna, as soon as I saw the picture I knew the place. I don't have childhood memories of it but my husband and I several times took our kids to the museum that is now in the building.I know the buildings history. We have lived in this area for the past 30 plus years. What wonderful memories you have of your mother as well as a piece of the area's history. Thank you for sharing that

And you're right about the need for interpretation. On the theme of vegetables, Mom used to say, I'm not as green as I'm cabbage-looking, when we were trying to pull the wool over her eyes. :) Now I know she meant she wasn't as gullible as we liked to think


Jane Buttery said...

Donna, In Kent UK an old Poor House" became a Nursing Home for Seniors who were ill and alone. My brother was one of the doctors there. When my mother got dementia, she went there in 1976 and John was able to see her about three times a week.She died there 5 years later- very happy and well cared for. Like Elora, it was in a beautiful setting.

Glynis said...

This is a lovely story, Donna. No wonder you have a good heart - you acquired that from your momma! She sounds like she was a wonderful soul. And I had no idea that the museum had 'that history.' So very interesting. I will tell my children. We would go to the Wellington County museum often often during our homeschooling days. The library used to be in there, too, until they built the separate building. You should write a book on that! I am sure you could get some wonderful stories! Thanks for this great post!

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