February 24, 1949

The Register,

Romantic Notes Of The Gay Nineties

(By Leora Webster Cross)

The year 1895, A. D., was a Red Letter one for me. Having obtained my Provincial Tenth Grade Certificate, it was decreed that I should register for the “C” Class of the Provincial Normal School at Truro upon its opening the first of October. I had wished, first, to continue on through Grade Eleven, but it was expedient that I get “on my own” as soon as possible.

My mother, ever solicitous of the welfare of her children, began to concentrate on my wardrobe. Mother had a passion for beautiful things, as a look into our parlour would testify. The walls were covered with the best quality of paper and the floor covered with a nice Brussels carpet strewn with roses. Suspended from the centre of the ceiling, was a pretty chandelier with handpainted shade and crystal drops, under which stood mother'’ chief pride, a beautiful walnut table with a marble top on which rested the large Family Bible, containing the record of all our names and dates of birth. This table belonged to an equally prized walnut suite covered with haircloth, the price of much self-denial and hard work.

On entering the room, one’s gaze was arrested by a lovely large mirror suspended over and all across the mantelpiece. On either side of this mirror, was a beautiful large urn, a gift in honor of a crystal wedding anniversary. Reposing in front of the old-fashioned grate below the mantel, was a lovely hooked rug, a masterpiece of mother’s fine workmanship. The raised roses in the centre looked so real, that it seemed like sacrilege to step on them. A set of green venetian blinds covered the windows, to prevent any stray sunbeams from fading the precious roses in the carpet.

I well remember a day when father was taking tacks out of the carpet, to give it the annual beating, when he called me into the room. I can still feel the embarrassment I endured, when he confronted me with some letters he had found tucked under the corner of the carpet for security. My little romance had been discovered. I wish I could remember just what he said to me, but I seem to recall a twinkle in his eye as he delivered a little lecture on morals. We were all thoroughly grounded in the Biblical injunction that, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”

When we used to cross the railroad to get our cows, we always kept an eye out for any stray lumps of coal that had been dropped by a passing train. These we collected for use in our fireplace during the rareoccasions on which we were allowed to use the parlor. Then these coals emitted a warm flow that gave one a very luxurious feeling, as we sat in front of it, weaving dreams and building castles in the air.

My mother was also an authority on the latest style. In my early years, my gowns had been made of homespun woven in mother’s loom, but times had changed and now the vogue was for fine imported material. The New Look of the period, featured a large leg-o-mutton sleeve. In order to get the proper fit and stream-lined effect, we had to engage an exclusive dressmaker in Kentville, seven miles away. Fortunately, in those “Horse and Buggy days”, we had a fast-stepping mare. Rose was old but faithful and took us over the ground in record time. When she took the bit between her teeth, there was no holding her back – only holding on and trying to avoid a collision.

Eventually, the day of departure arrived. My mother had sat up most all night putting finishing touches on my clothes, which included the “essential” heavy underwear.

Happily, I did not have to venture out into the strange new world alone. I was accompanied by Myrtle Caldwell, who was about to enter the “B” Class of the Normal for the year term. My term was for six months.

My Uncle David had sent me a cheque for $85 to defray cost of board and incidental expenses. Tuition was free. As I had been used to saving, I had no difficulty in making ends meet.

The Principal of the Normal at that time was Dr. J. B. Calkin. I had little personal contact with him. I think his subjects were The History and Philosophy of Education, in which my immature mind took very little interest. But for several years after, I taught his Elementary Geography, which I considered one of the best textbooks on our curriculum.

Being rather shy and reserved I was somewhat overawed by some of the members of the Faculty, especially when it came to be my turn to teach a class before one of the “Tribunal”. At first, with my lack of experience, it was quite a terrifying ordeal. In time, I learned that these same “judges” were not so formidable and could be quite co-operative.

I am sure that anyone who attended Normal in those days would not soon forget little Miss Ottie Smith, our Drawing teacher, with the “basilisk” eye and the snappy manner. Aunt Ottie (our pet name for her) had no use for a “Dumb Dora”. She had a duty to perform, and determined to do her part in turning us out, not only well schooled in the fundamentals of the art of drawing, but with vital, dynamic personalities, fitted to cope with the many difficulties that beset the teaching profession. Behind that snappy manner was a very kind and understanding heart as I learned on one occasion when I had to teach a very difficult lesson. I am still grateful for the very material help I then received form dear Aunt Ottie.

I think Professor Lee Russel is also deserving of special mention. In his laboratory, with test tubes, acids, etc., we learned the practical side of Science, having learned only the theory in a country school. I am also indebted to him for a personal interest, since the day we roamed the fields together, searching for specimens for the Nature lesson I was scheduled to teach the following day.

The late Dr. J. B. Hall of Lawrencetown, Annapolis County, was supposed to be our teacher of Geography. In my imagination, he was a character who played the role of “comedian” in this drama of Normal School life. He had recounted his European travels so many times on his left hand that his fingers had become deflected away to the left of the thumb! He was a bachelor, and therefore very popular with some of our more sophisticated young ladies. He had a good sense of humor which he believed in using to advantage. One day he divided the class into two sections with a captain for each side, and told us to prepare for a contest on the pronunciation of words. We all set to work with great diligence but the contest never came off.

Miss Reid was our Instructor and Director of Music. We learned to sing in the Tonic-Sol-Fa system, as well as in the Staff notation. In the chorus work, I found myself trying to bring out some harmony among the altos. I am sure our presentation of “The March of the Men of Harlech” would move the heart of any audience.

I have very fond recollections of my associations with the other members of the class. My special friend was Bessie McLeod, of Springhill, but I remember with affection the names of Mader, Strum and Hennigar – girls from the South Shore. I would like to single out Beatrice Hennigar for her sweet disposition. (Beatrice is a sister of Mrs. Nina Turner, of New Minas, Convenor of Arts and Literature for the Women’s Institutes of Nova Scotia). She eventually became a Medical Doctor, practising in the U.S.A. until called home by the serious illness of her mother, after whose passing she continued to stay on the old home at Chester Basin, extending a welcome to relatives at all times.

Besides the advantages incident to life at the Normal School, the Town of Truro afforded us many wonderful opportunities. During the winter, Dr. Gale, the famous Evangelist, held a series of Revival meetings. Never had I seen such crowds, nor such fervor. I think all of us got a decided spiritual uplift. After the meetings closed, eight students (four couples) met weekly for some time for a devotional period, I would not like to say that was our sole purpose, as the Bible tells us that the human heart can be very deceitful; but I can say that as far as I know only one couple succumbed to Cupid’s dart, viz., Myrtle Caldwell, of Cambridge, and Grassie Archibald, of Truro. I think this may have been one of those matches we hear spoken of as having been “made in Heaven.”

Myrtle and I attended Sunday School in the Immanuel Baptist Church. Our teacher was Mr. Seldon Cummings, a very lovable young lawyer. He presented each member of his class with a nicely bound book of Henry Drummond’s Addresses. How many times have I read that famous Address on Love – “The Greatest Thing in the World”, and blessed the memory of our good Sunday School teacher Mr. Cummings, not long after, entered the Baptist Ministry and held pastorates at Amherst, N. S. and parts of U.S.A. He was occupying a chair of Theology in a University of California at the time of his passing some years ago, leaving a daughter and seven sons to carry on his good work. His wife was the former May Vaughn, of Wolfville, N. S.

Our term of training ended, we bade our farewells and scattered off to our homes, and from thence to our fields of service.

It was amazing to note what changes six short months of intensive training had wrought in our personalities. Looking at the pictures in our class group. I wonder what fifty-odd years have done to each of them, and how many, if any, ever returned to the Normal for a diploma of higher rank, as it was my privilege to do a few years later. I wonder, too which ones have been called to higher service.


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