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March 24, 1949

Romantic Notes Of The Gay Nineties

By Leora Webster Cross

My sister Alberta, having enlisted in the teaching profession, engaged to teach school at Millville, while I taught in the adjoining section of Nicholsville. After a rather uneventful year, we decided to spend our spare cash and our summer vacation on a little sight-seeing tour.

We picked the Province of Prince Edward Island as the place to be honored with our visitation, not just because it was famous as the "Cradle of Confederation", but because of its romantic interest for us as being the "cradle" of mother’s girlhood.

Accordingly, we began to negotiate reservations with our Island relatives for our "itinerary". (Like John Gilpin’s wife, "though on pleasure we were bent, we had a frugal mind".) In response, we received letters from our aunts and an uncle living on the Island, assuring us of a hearty welcome.

I suppose as much planning and strategy went into our preparations as if it were a political campaign during an election time.

Though we expected to be entertained, yet we thought we ought to have a few "parlor tricks up our sleeves", by way of entertainment, ourselves. Neither of us had a special talent for music, but we did have one number in our "repertoire" that might do on a favorable occasion; viz., the vocal duet, "Star Of The East". Alberta sang the soprano while I took the alto. To this day, whenever I hear that pretty little duet, my mind goes back to those happy days on the Island.

Full of the wonderful inner excitement of setting off on a strange, youthful adventure, we hopped on our bicycles and started for Kentville, to catch the early east-bound train for the first leg of our journey. Arrived at Pictou, we embarked on our first boat trip, and landed in Charlottetown a few hours later, where we were met by Aunt Melinda McLeod and her son Fred.

Aunt Melinda was mother’s cousin, and we suspected had a hand in the match-making between mother and father, as she was the wife of Uncle Joseph Webster at the time. From her we learned something of mother’s girlhood days, as they had always been very close friends. As she related incidents that pictured mother as being always a very blithesome lass, we could understand why father had taken such a short time to consider the important question of matrimony. It made us realize to some degree, too, the extent of the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice that had gone into the making of our home and our up-bringing. It is hard to see the truth at close range. Now after the experience of many years, I can appreciate still more the patience and many hardships endured through their long hard voyage together, and the still harder years for mother when she had to bear the burden alone.

Uncle Joseph died when very young, and in the course of time, Aunt Melinda married Hector McLeod. Their son Fred, who was a clever and ambitious young man, sometime after became an eminent lawyer and Judge in the State of Massachusetts.

After an enjoyable visit with these relatives and having "done the Town" (including the insane Asylum), we took the boat up the Hillsborough River to the old "Clark" home at Clarkstown, where Uncle James Clark lived.

It is strange how items of apparently no particular significance will linger in a person’s memory. On board the boat was a fine-looking young man, obviously of good breeding, who had indulged too freely in "the cup that cheers" but alas, "in the end, stingeth like an adder." Perhaps it is because of my sad observation of the latter fact, that the incident has lingered in my sub-conscious mind, as well as because of the amusement he afforded the passengers as we sailed up the river. Throughout the years, I have seen so many promising careers wrecked by this insidious enemy of mankind, that I wonder we can be so complacent when we see the tremendous inroads it is making in our civilization today.

There is a story about a man who said he was not interested, because his own family was temperate and he didn’t consider it his business to interfere with the rights of the other fellow. Shortly after, his wife and children were killed because someone had been drinking. We cannot afford to be "isolationists" in the war against this terrible evil of intemperance, for some day it may "strick home". Truly, "no man liveth to himself alone."

It was hard to realize we really were at mother’s old home, though the spirit of her girlhood seemed to be hovering around. Even a house seems to absorb something of the "humanity" of those who lived in it, and the things they have touched and handled, to have received an impress of their personality.

Uncle James and Aunt Bertha, as well as cousins Lester, Hazel and Leila, had received us with open arms. The spirit of a warm friendly atmosphere soon made us feel at home. As farmers, they led a very busy life, but could always find time for the social amenities of living. Even in a country village, when young people get together, life can be pleasantly exciting and full of interest.

The times were not as prosperous as they were in mother’s day – the halcyon days of the ship-building era. Grandfather Clark was a shipbuilder, and mother still gloried in the time she was called upon to officiate at the christening of a ship. I remember it was quite an historic event in our young lives when we went to Kingsport just to witness a similar ceremony at the time of the launching of the "Canada", the last sizeable ship to be launched there.

The Islanders were disappointed at the outcome of Confederation. While it had worked out to the advantage of some provinces of the great Dominion of Canada, stretching from Sea to Sea, the Island was still "in the cradle".

(Mrs. Montgomery’s book, "Anne of Green Gables", which is doing much for the Tourist Industry of the Island today, had not then been written).

Some years later, some Canadians began to "share the wealth" with the introduction of the Silver Black Fox Industry on the Island. (I ventured a few "gold and silver dollars," myself when for a $100 share, I got a return of $40, before the bubble burst.) But by the time this boom appeared on the Island, Uncle James had pulled up stakes and migrated to the Canadian West. He located at Edmonton where Fortune began to smile on him, and his financial status rapidly improved.. Lester became a medical doctor and the girls attended the University and married very happily.

Travelling on our bicycles, we explored much of the south-west end of the Island, visiting our aunts at Peaks Station and Murray Harbor and a cousin at Mount Stewart, where we had our first experience in a sailboat. We had been used to small rowboats on our father’s mill pond, but to keep dodging the pole that held the mast, every time the boat tacked, was a rather thrilling, though frightening, experience, since neither of us could swim. But such is the adventurous courage of youth!

One pleasant chapter of our lives having ended, we bade good-bye to our kind relatives, most of whom we had not seen before, and have never seen since. They had all expressed fondness for our mother and their pleasure at having the opportunity of extending their hospitality to her daughters.