Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Neighbors

Before I begin I will explain the spelling which I have been using. As Canada is a part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the official spelling of words is British. However, when I use the British spelling of such words as 'Neighbours' I see the red underline as the 'Spell Check' is American. Therefore, to stop wasting time in correcting 'spelling errors' I use the American system.

I have always had a pretty good memory - although, now, I am frustrated by how short my memory is becoming! Up until the time that I went to Australia I did not keep a diary (my thinking being - "What is there of interest in mundane Coquitlam"?). Fortunately, I have never forgotten the closing line of a radio drama which my family used to listen to every Wednesday evening. The dramas were based upon the lives of ordinary people who were living in New York City so the announcer would say, "There are 3,000,000 stories in this city and that was but one of them." That memory has given me the cheek to write anecdotes from my life.

Some of you will have read my earlier blogs and know already that, when I was born, my parents lived with my maternal grandparents on an old homestead tucked away in the forest in the rural community of Ruskin, B.C. Neighbors lived a fair distance away and were reached by the 'pole road' that crossed a swamp or by two trails that meandered through the forest to distant farms and to the B.C. Electric community which was at the bottom of the hill and near to the Ruskin Dam.

To a youngster, the walk through the forest during daylight was a great adventure while a walk at night by the light of a lantern or a flashlight was spooky. As I had/have quite a vivid imagination, any little squeak, creak or snap in the forest was scarey.

West across the swamp and through the forest were the homes of a number of neighbors. I remember Mrs. Cuschia(?) - an older Romanian lady who was a friend of Grandma's - Mr and Mrs Langford and the Smiths.

Before the late '30s Smith Brothers Cough Drops were available in the little boxes with a photo of a man with a big beard on the front. The Smiths whom I remember meeting were an older man with two adult sons and all three of them (big burly men) sported full bushy beards so I thought that they were the guys depicted on the cough drop boxes!

A few hundred yards past the Smith home the road (Parker Road but later numbered by the municipality as 232nd Avenue) bent to the left and descended the slope towards the Fraser River. A short distance down there on a farm on the left lived the Lees. I do not remember Mr Lee. However, Mrs Lee was the mother of a number of children most of them being girls. All of them were older than I and only Lois - the youngest - attended school when I did. Mrs. Lee remained a friend to Mom and Grandma for the rest of her life and it was her 80th birthday party which Mom and I attended in the Ruskin Hall in the 1970s.

Across the road from the Lees (and a bit further down the hill) lived Mr and Mrs Gee who were great friends to Mom. Their house was down in a valley beside the bank of Whonnock Creek and  - as they were British - their yard was very much an 'English Garden'.

More than 50 years have passed since the last time that I saw them but I can still hear Mrs. Gee's voice calling, "Arthur!  Arthur! (pronounced more like 'Awtha! Awtha!') Come in for lunch".

Mr. Gee was nearly deaf and quite absent minded. One of the stories that was related more than once was about the day that they drove into Mission. Mrs Gee had some shopping to attend to while her husband had to be at a meeting at the Canadian Legion Branch.

When the meeting ended Mr Gee went out to his car and drove home and, when he reached the house, he wondered where his wife was? In the meantime, Mrs. Gee finished her shopping and walked to the Legion Hall. No sign of Mr. Gee nor the car. As there were not many telephones in those days, she had no option but to catch the Pacific Coach Lines bus to the Ruskin General Store and then to walk home uphill carrying her parcels for about three miles!

Mrs. Gee was quite well educated and she was intrigued by our family name. She claimed that the name was - probably - 'de la Casse' and shortened to Lacasse after our ancestors settled in Canada. Again - my vivid imagination came into  play: "Were we of aristocratic ancestry and, therefore, did some ancestors die on the guillotine during the French Revolution?" Who knows?

All along that road to where it reached River Road were other neighbors - people whom I do not really remember. Bobby Fraser, though, - a grade 1 classmate - lived with his family in one of them.

River Road was the original highway (Dewdney Trunk Road) but had been replaced by the new road which paralleled the river bank. Along River Road lived the McBrides, the Houstons, the Bartletts, the Brickmans, the Blacks and the Hoppers. The Williams family had moved into Vancouver and their house was the one my family rented - it was situated between the Bartletts and the Brickmans.

The oldest boy in the McBride family was about three years younger than I so there never was a rapport between us. The two oldest children in the Houston family were girls. The oldest, Cherie, was about the same age as was Alda but my sister could not abide her! As Alda was not afraid of anything I remember her picking up an earthworm and chasing the screaming Cherie all the way to her house.

Mr and Mrs Bartlett were an elderly and childless British couple (their garden was very English and quite beautiful to look at). Their vegetable garden was beside the fence that separated their property from where we lived and Dad was worried that we would be imitating Mr. Bartlett in one way - he  was quite profane.

I can remember that split rail fence and Alda and I standing upon the lowest rail and looking over the top at Mr Barlett as he dug, hoed, weeded or whatever. The Bartletts were a childless couple and quite proud of that fact so they were not used to little kids. Evidently we - and, especially, I - tormented him with a never ending stream of questions so Mr. Bartlett would pick up his tools and move to the other side of the property just to get away from us!

After moving to Coquitlam, Alda and I would go out to Ruskin to stay with Grandma and Granddad for a week or two. On one of those days Grandma would take us to visit the Bartletts - I have very fond memories of those visits. Mr Bartlett sported a big bushy mustache. As soup was often on the menu he would amuse Alda and I by his comments. Dad and Granddad were both clean shaven so Mr. Bartlett's mustache was a novelty and he would tell us that that adornment enabled him to have his soup twice - once off of the spoon and the second time by licking the hairs above his mouth!

Eventually, Mr Bartlett developed a cancer in his stomach but he would not go to a physician - he consulted a chiropractor instead. The remedy prescribed by the chiropractor? A cup of hot water just cool enough not to burn his throat! Needless to say - as a 'cure' it was completely ineffective.

When we moved down the road to occupy the house abandoned by the Blacks our next door neighbors were the Hoppers. Bobby Hopper was a teenager so he became our baby sitter. I remember Alda and I being in bed and Bobby in the living room listening to the radio and smoking illicit cigarettes.  We  were highly amused the evening that Bobby dropped the cigarette and it burned a hole in the lap of his pants.  He yelped and then had to search for the lit butt.

The Hoppers had a rabbit hutch and, therefore, rabbits. At Easter Mrs. Hopper brought chocolate eggs over. After enjoying them we accompanied Mom when she went next door for a visit. While there we went to the rabbit hutch to view some little bunnies which had just been born. The pen needed a cleaning and the smell emanating from the waste was over powering! Those chocolate eggs were so delicious so, if the rabbit had laid them, how come they were so clean when we received them? One of the mysteries attached to childhood lessons!

Funny the memories that linger!

Moving to Dawes Hill we had a completely different set of neighbors.

Up the lane behind the house lived the Boisse's, then Mrs. Fleury, the Poiriers and the Crandells.

I mentioned Mr Boise in my blog about Dawes Hill (he was the union activist). Up the lane from the  Boises lived Mrs. Fleury who was a sweet elderly widow. I have mentioned the Poiriers (Alda's in-laws) and the Crandells where we went to fetch our quarts of milk.

The Crandells had two sons - Jay who was three months older than I was (but never my friend) and his younger brother nicknamed 'Happy' who - during our teenage years - became a close friend.

The house in which we lived faced onto Montgomery Avenue and the view was to the west down into Maillardville, New Westminster and the mills along the river bank. To the north was a woodlot and then the house belonging to the parents of the Philcox family. Beyond them were the Durrs Senior with another house beyond that one. Who lived there I cannot now remember (no children therefore no way in which we could relate).

To the south of us and across the lane was a triangular vacant lot and a treasure trove in  August - wild blackberries which Mom converted into blackberry pies and blackberry jam. Beyond the vacant lot was the continuation of Dawes Hill Road and the bus line into New Westminster. Across that road was the largest house in that neighborhood. The people who were living there when we moved onto the Hill sold the house and it was bought by a man who built a mink farm in the back (upper) part of the property. Only once did I get a glimpse of the mink although - from time to time - we could smell them!

Beyond the mink farm lived the Dolbecs. In an earlier blog I mentioned Maurice who was killed in an accident between his bicycle and a car while on his way to school. There were other children in that family but we never associated with them - except on Hallowe'en. Why then? Mrs Dolbec made the best fudge that I have ever tasted so we HAD TO 'Trick or Treat' at that door.

A number of years later one of the girls met and fell in love with a young man and a wedding was planned. On an evening just a few days before the nuptials the young couple had been out in his car. Returning to her home the lad left the engine idling (it was a cool and damp evening) while talking with his affianced. Early on the following morning one of her brothers left to go to work. He saw the car with his sister and her fiance dead inside - carbon monoxide poisoning,

Most of our neighbors were French and, therefore, Roman Catholics. Teresa's fiance was a Protestant and the wedding was scheduled to take place at his family's church. A neighbor - also French - made a horrible pronouncement about the tragedy. She said that the accident was God's punishment because Teresa was going to be married outside of her church!

While not having any organized framework, Dawes Hill was - in all respects - a village. The three roads which descended to the highway below were lined with houses. While we never knew all of the neighbors, a  lot of them became friends of ours.

Across Montgomery Avenue lived the Emond family whom I mentioned in an earlier blog. Vulgar but goodhearted and a lot of fun. My parents loved playing card and board games so, from time to time, they would go across to play or invite Mrs. Emond over to our house.

At the bottom of Dawes Hill Road was a fairly large house on a big lot. The house had been built by the original Mr. Dawes but was sold to the Wunderlich family shortly after we moved to the hill. We did not really know them all that well although I remember going to that house so I could make a telephone call (we - and most of our neighbors - did not have a telephone until years afterwards).

I displayed this photo in another blog but it is also a photo that is significant to this story. Dawes  Hill Road up from Pitt River Road/Brunette Avenue.

Neighbors of ours (when we lived on Finnegan Street) were Mr and Mrs Martin. Mr Martin worked where Dad worked but - also - he built houses and a number of them were erected up on Dawes Hill. While not the best built houses - building codes were not as stringent back then - they sold pretty quickly. Most of the streets had at least one house along it that had been erected by this gentleman and they contributed to the 'village' becoming more populous.

Half way up Dawes Hill Road a little street went off to the right to Peterson Avenue. In a bungalow along that street lived Ian and Marie Durr (he was a son of the Durr couple who lived to the north of us along Montgomery Avenue). Ian Durr worked where Dad worked and they became good friends. Ian's cousin was Pat Ruxton and he worked there as well. After we moved to the 'Finnegan House' Ian, Marie, Pat and his wife, Connie, came for dinner every Boxing Day.

When these two gentleman entered through the kitchen door one of them would go to the refrigerator to see what Mom had cooked up for dinner. The three couples enjoyed each others' company immensely.

Marie's maiden name had been Favaro so she often said that she would have us over for an Italian dinner. This went on for years becoming quite a jest. Finally, Marie's younger sister - Irene - actually cooked one for all of us. She had learned how to cook her mother's recipes while her older sister never did!

An aside - for a few years I rode home from work in New Westminster with Irene Favaro as my seat companion. Naturally I told her when my aunt Sister Marie Anne and her companion were coming for a visit. Irene challenged me to find out what the nuns wore under their habits. That was one challenge which I ignored!

Peterson Avenue was the middle road up Dawes Hill from Pitt River Road/Brunette Avenue

On Peterson Avenue at Montgomery lived the Schmidt family who hosted the Mennonite operated Sunday School for a few years. The oldest of that family was Orville - he and I became fairly good friends while Alda and Orville's sister bonded as well.

                              The Sunday School at the Schmidt House

The entire west coast of North America is in or near an earthquake zone and the western part of B.C. does experience the occasional tremor. One Sunday morning Alda and I had gone to the Schmidt home for Sunday School. Miss Neufeld had arrived and had taken the youngest Schmidt child out for a walk. Orville's sister had just celebrated a birthday and she had taken Alda to her bedroom to show off her birthday gifts. At that moment the house began to shake and stuff could be heard falling to the floor. The tremors lasted for no more than a minute or two but did shake us up. We rushed to the front door and saw Miss Neufeld and Lawrence entering the driveway.

In excitement we called, "Miss Neufeld, there has been an earthquake!" Her response was "Go on with you!" Mrs. Schmidt - who was standing behind us - said, "Look at your automobile!" The driveway was level and the car had been parked securely but it was rocking back and forth!

In the vacant lot to the north of our house stood a snag (the remnant of a tree long since felled).  Dad had come out onto our porch when he felt the tremor and looked about. The snag was swaying back and forth as if it was caught in a gale.


The third road up the hill (the only one that was paved) is Wiltshre. There were two houses which had been erected by Mr. Martin up at the top and then a large house which had been built of stone. Below that was a vacant lot and that was where Mennonite young men erected a tent to house the Daily Vacation Bible School during two consecutive summers.

This is the longest entry by far (and there is more that I could add) but I will stop here. 

 






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