Hello, World–Here I Am!
It takes two people to make a child, or a family; in my case they were Allen Vance and Louise Harmon. Wilfred Allen was born to Allen & Emily (Turner) Vance. Grandma came out West to teach school and married a local farmer, as many teachers did in those days. As a young boy my dad was Willie; he took the name Allen after his father died.
Grandpa Vance was killed in a threshing accident when my dad was quite young, leaving Grandma Vance a widow with six children to raise. In 1924 there were few employment opportunities for women and the Great Depression came just six years later. Grandma found work as a housekeeper or school teacher, but those were HARD times.
Louise Harmon was born to Floyd and Thelma (Falconer) Harmon near St Brieux, SK. When my mother was two years old, her mother died of breast cancer. Apparently before Grandma Harmon died, she begged Grandpa to “put Louise in a Home”, so obviously there was a problem from birth. “Louise isn’t very bright,” people would have said. Various complications during birth and infections shortly after, easily enough rectified nowadays, left some children with irreversible brain damage. I believe my mother was one of these.
Their family was dirt poor–in fact a relative told me he could remember the children waiting for the chickens to lay a few eggs so they’d have something to eat for breakfast. Grandpa chose to keep Louise at home, but she became a severely abused child. (Remember Oliver Twist: Mr. Bumble giving Oliver a crack across the head “to make him wise.” That was the cure for slow wits in those days and my mother got more than her share of cracks across the head–with frying pans even.)
Dad Vance was a railroad labourer when he met my mother. His mother and sister begged him to reconsider‒or at least wait‒but he loved her then and ever after. (Sad to say, it didn’t make him faithful ever after.)
Dad V never had a driver’s licence but operated with horses all his working years. He was a farm labourer, day labourer, drayman, whatever would bring in a little money. According to various relatives Louise tried to keep house when they were first married, but was so discouraged by Allen messing up whatever she’d done that she gave up. Or perhaps it was the children coming almost every year. So Mom V spent her time in the local bar. From all reports, they fought like cats & dogs.
I was born in Melfort, Saskatchewan, the second of seven children: my brother Jim is 11 months older than I; my sister Donna 2 ½ years younger; brother Martin was next but he died shortly after birth; there were a couple of miscarriages somewhere in between; my sister Rose is 5 years younger; my sister Wilma 6 years younger; my sister Lorraine 11 years younger.
A couple may be able to produce children but not have a clue about the care & feeding of the creatures. My Mom V, coming from mental health & severe abuse issues, was barely functional as a person, never mind a mother. I was born with low blood pressure, so spent a bit longer in the hospital than the average baby. Then when my parents took me home Mom was nursing me, but I wasn’t getting enough and was crying all the time.
One day my folks were visiting Dad V’s sister Myrtle and her husband, Fred Forsyth; my aunt & uncle took note of my plight and brought me a bottle of milk, which I devoured. They offered to keep me for awhile until I should be “filled up a bit.” They looked after me for a few weeks and then gave me back to my parents.
From what they’ve told me since, Allen & Louise went to a ball game and left me, a three-month old baby, on a blanket on the cold sand while they visited &/or played ball. I landed up in the hospital with pneumonia. Uncle Fred & Aunt Myrtle came to see me and a welfare worker suggested that they take me before I died of neglect. “If she knows us,” my uncle & aunt said to each other, “we’ll take her.” Well, I didn’t know them, but I recognized their twelve-year-old son, Verne. So they took me home and, to all intents and purposes, became Dad and Mom to me.
They did a fair bit to look after the rest of the children, too, as they came along. Mom F was Dad V’s favourite sister‒the two were always very close‒so we had close ties over the years. For several years Mom & Dad V had a small trailer on Dad F’s farmyard; we children went back and forth. My brother Jim and I were very close and played together a lot. After we moved to the city, my siblings came to spend a month every summer, or I would go back there.
Various financial and health problems troubled Dad F, as well as problems between him and Mom. The Vance family was a financial drain, too, as Mom did what she could for her brother’s children. They left the farm for a year when I was four: Dad took a job on a ranch in BC; Mom worked in a tomato-canning factory at Ashcroft. They left the farmstead in care of Dad & Mom Vance–and came home to a disaster. Mom F said it was so hard to find her lovely tea towels used as diapers!
Their son Verne was an issue between them, too. He was born just before Dad F left for the War, so was over four years old before the two met again. Of course Verne was very close with his mother. Dad F had a bad relationship with his own father and never liked boys. (He told me once that his dad never had anything for them but the toe of his boot.) This did not bode well; he was probably just as hard on Verne. I often think sadly of that little boy waiting four years for a daddy to come home from the war, then the man who arrived was so unloving.
Mom & Dad F came to a parting of the ways for several years. Mom went off to the nearest town, Melfort, to earn the money the farm wasn’t making. She probably took Verne with her; I’m not sure. Later she and Verne went to the city of Saskatoon where she found work in a hospital kitchen. During that time I stayed with Dad, then Mom took me to the city as well. This broke my daily contact with my brother and younger sisters. Last of all Dad came, too.
To Be Continued…