David Morrison Blaikie
A Nova Scotia lumberman
1. Home and Family
I was born on July 28, 1909. That date was not momentous in history for any other reason and this event does not seem to have added a great deal to it’s luster. The event itself, and the next few years which followed it, are very hazy to me, but others have filled in the particulars. My father died on March 7 of this same year, hence I was deprived of the privilege of knowing him. I was the youngest of a family of ten.
Roy, the eldest, was born on January 17, 1889. Alden on August 7, 1891, Glenn on June 12, 1893, Flossie – her name was Florence, but she has always been Flossie as long as I can remember – born on February 2, 1895. Harry, born on November 17, 1897, Edith on August 7, 1899, Olive on August 11, 1901, Leonard on June 11, 1904, and Tom on May 20, 1907.
At the same time, under the same roof were, of course, my Mother, also my paternal Grandmother, and an uncle – my Father’s brother, James Harris, who was always referred to by young and old under the plebien nickname of “Bub”.
So it can easily be seen that there were plenty of people to look after me. Some uncharitable people even said I was spoiled. The safest thing for me to do is leave that statement without comment.
Memory plays tricks
Some people seem to have excellent memories. I’ve even heard claims of remembering events that took place when the narrator was as young as six months. One case that comes to remembrance concerns a party who, at a very tender age, could recall seeing a rabbit running across the road in front of a sleigh in which he was a passenger. I don’t think he was driving the sleight.
He may have been the first to mention the incident later on, but I doubt it, until someone else happened to mention it, which no doubt refreshed his memory. One doesn’t have to really believe these incidents, but it usually says to let on you do, as these illusions are fierily cherished, and however delicately impressed, any signs of skepticism are deeply resented.
My memory doesn’t go back that far, and the best I can do is to remember a few disconnected events like it occurred after I was three years old, and from that time until I started to school, things are rather sketchy.
There are memories of old neighbors. There was John Bentley, who lived in the house now occupied by Homer Johnson. Mr. Bentley died the winter I was five years old, but I can remember him very well. He had a carpenter shop, and we youngsters always seemed to be welcome in it. He always had a supply of candy at hand, in a time when candy wasn’t to plentiful. So, to me he was one of the highlights of my early childhood, and when in later years I learned that adult people thought somewhat less highly of him, it was hard to understand. For one thing he took pride in expressing his opinions, no matter who’s toes he tramped on.
There was an occasion when a young visiting Minister held a church service in Upper Stewiacke. Whatever the service was like, it didn’t appeal to Mr. Bentley. As they were shaking hands at the close of the service, Mr. Bentley asked him how he happened to enter the Ministry, “God called me” was the reply. “You should have kept right on, and never let on you heard him”, was Mr. Bentley’s comment. I believe the Minister decided not to continue the discussion.
There was also a local Minister who didn’t measure up to Mr. Bentleys ideals. One day this Minister came to John’s carpenter shop. Mr. Bentley had been absent from church for a few Sundays, and the Minister gently insinuated that a more regular attendance would be desirable, “It isn’t worth going to ” Mr. Bentley replied. “If people in this village talked about my carpenter work the way they do about your preaching, you wouldn’t see my ass flying over Mary Newcombe’s hill for dust.” Mary Newcombe’s hill, by the way, is at the lower end of the village, and anyone making an exit from the village would have to climb it.
The people in nearby Burnside also qualify as neighbors. Our family had moved from Burnside to Upper Stewiacke in 1907, and, this being in the days of the horse and buggy, the Burnside people nearly always made our home a place to stop for dinner.
Allen Deyarmond was one to be remembered. He was a very kindly man, an excellent worker, capable with horses, and able to turn his hand to almost anything. He was a great hand to chew tobacco. On one occasion a few of the men were talking in the kitchen, and Allan kept talking until his mouth was so full he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he went to the stove, lifted the cover and got rid of the tobacco juice. Unfortunately, one cover of the stove had been placed on top of another one, so all the tobacco juice landed on top of the stove, with results that can be better imagined than described.
I can remember very well the beginning of the first world war, though I was only five years old at the time. My brother Alden enlisted right at the outset. In due course he was sent to England, then to France where he was in action as a stretcher-bearer. It might as well be mentioned here that he was killed in action at the third battle of Ypres on June 3, 1916. At that same time, Harry, who was younger and enlisted later, was on the boat crossing the Atlantic. Alden’s death was the first break in the family.
Well, my school days were about to begin. This was long before the days of the consolidated school, and the “little red Schoolhouse”, was in its prime. Ours happened to be white, or something less than that when the paint was poor. There were two teachers, of whom one had the grades primer class to Grade 5, the other Grades 6 to 11. Grade 11 was as far as you could get in Upper Stewiacke, and not many got that far.
I started going to school in April, 1915, my sister, Flossie, was teaching in the “little room” as everyone called the primary department, and it was decided that I should begin on the last quarter of that particular term. The experience, while new and strange to me, was at first uneventful, or anyway I can’t remember much that happened during those three months. The next term a girl named Vivian Fisher was the primary teacher. At the end of that term, it was decided to close one room, from primer class to Grade 11. Considering that there were thirty five to forty pupils, this would look like a fairly large order today.
The teachers of that period were, by present day standards, utterly unqualified to teach. In Upper Stewiacke we had a few teachers with Grade 12, but most had only Grade 11. In some schools there were only Grade 10 teachers, and in a few instances, only Grade 9. I can recall only one teacher who had a BA, and she was by all odds the poorest teacher of that period. This was not because she had a BA, but because she was anything but a natural-born teacher in other respects.
No teacher can have complete mastery of all subjects. Hence it developed that some subjects, notably mathematics and the languages, were taught in a manner far below average.
The “little red school house” has become a byword. That it was inefficient by modern standards goes without saying. But I think most of the older generation look back on a day that is gone with a deep feeling of nostalgia. For the little red school house is gone out of our life as effectively as the horse and buggy have disappeared from the highway. And it’s passing has left a sense of loss to many communities.
In spite of all these drawbacks, strangely enough in due course I learned to read. The teachers of that day had somehow or other acquired this knowledge, and were strangely insistent that we acquire it too. I also learned to write, although anyone reading these pages might find it hard to believe. And as time went on, we did even learn a little arithmetic.
Discipline was much less a problem then, than at present. In extreme cases it was usually administered with a pointer, and the unhappy recipient was unlikely to return for a repeat dose. Today there is such an uproar over corporal punishment you’d think it was Capital punishment. If a pupil of that day got a taste of the pointer, he usually kept quiet about it. Inquiries would be made at home, and more than likely he would have an unpleasant trip to the woodshed to remember also. Problems of liquor and drugs were unheard of. A few depraved individuals smoked a little in strict privacy.
It would be too boring to go very deeply into school membership at that time. There are not many of that group living in Upper Stewiacke at present. A good many have gone into other parts of the world, and quite a number have died. Parker Cox began school on the same day as myself, and we sat together. We nearly always did sit together except for one or two terms, and stayed together right through to Grade 11. Parker kept right on with his education, got a BA. from Acadia University, and later an MA. from University of Toronto. At present he is on the staff of the Agricultural College, Truro, with retirement not too far in the future.
After Vivian Fisher, Amelia Cox was our next teacher. She was a local girl, and a teacher who kept excellent order in the classroom, and was very handy with the pointer in doing so. I was always in mortal terror of being next in line, but being only seven years old at the time I guess she decided I wasn’t worth bothering with. It was always said that mathematics was her weak subject. All I can say on that subject is that her mathematical background was quite equal to Grade and I found her instruction painfully thorough. At the present time, a woman in her min-seventies, she is living in retirement in Vancouver.
The next teacher was Jessie Irving. She was less sever than her predecessor, but had no disciplinary problems that I can remember. She boarded with a maiden lady – Miss Margaret Creelman, or Miss Maggie as everyone called her, and they didn’t designate her as a “Maiden lady”. She was simply an “old maid”. I always found her quite a nice person. Anyway her nephew started to keep company with Miss Irving, or at least he made the effort, but never did get to first base. My brother Glenn’s advances were more favourably received. I don’t think Miss Creelman really disapproved of Glenn, but since her own nephew was involved she did little to help Glenn’s cause. And it added nothing to his popularity when one night they inadvertently left a door open, and froze most of the old lady’s plants. But Glenn was still in possession of the field, and remained that way through the rest of the school term.
Flossie, my sister, was my next teacher. I had gone to her for the last quarter of the term when I began school, and she was the only teacher we ever had for more than one term. She was a good teacher, and made it very plain that she intended to have no favorites – especially me. At the end of the term she went to Alberta to teach, and in a couple of years was married to Russell Bommer. About that time Edith also went west, and married Raymond Bommer, a brother of Russell’s. Russell died of typhoid fever in 1935. (They all resided in Red Deer Alberta.)