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April 7, 1949

Romantic Notes On The Gay Nineties

By Leora Webster Cross

My next assignment was the Primary Department of the school at Sheffields Mills, where I spent two very gratifying years.

This thrifty village nestles at the foot of the North Mountain, not far from its eastern extremity where historic Blomidon, the home of Glooscap, the fabled Indian God, towers over picturesque Minas Basin.

I am not sure how it got its name. There were families by the name of Sheffield and a mill burned down during my stay there. Perhaps some of the ancestors once lived in Sheffield, England, as the first settlers were the New England planters who came to Nova Scotia after the Expulsion of the Acadians, and their descendants were now living here in peace and plenty.

It is a very rich farming section. The prosperous looking orchards and commodious well kept buildings attest to the fertility of the soil and thrift of the owners.

Having the Primary Department there was less strain than in the over-crowded miscellaneous school and gave more leisure for cultural and social activities of which there were a-plenty in this active community.

There is a saying that "Order is Heaven’s first law." It is also the first law of the school-room, as Barry Burgess, a grade VI pupil found out. Barry still likes to tell in his own facetious way, just how he was brought into line and made to "toe the mark". It seemed to be a milestone in his life, for thereafter he began to climb the ladder of success, and consistently rose until he reached a pinnacle in the medical profession, practising in Boston, Mass. Unfortunately, due to heart failure, he has been on the retired list for the last several years. His sister Helen and I have maintained a constant friendship throughout the years.

The citizens of "The Mills" were a very socially-minded people. I remember Miss Louisa Ells for her outstanding community spirit. She had a tennis court on her lovely spacious lawn and invited all players to make free use of it. Needless to say, we took advantage of her kind offer and got in lots of jolly good exercise. And I don’t think anyone abused the privilege.

Man is naturally a gregarious animal. Nowadays, we have Farm Forums and Women’s Institutes to develop a community spirit. Very much may be said in their favor, especially for their cultural and social values. I presume such a need is felt in every community, but it takes enterprising people to do something about it.

There was a Community Hall at The Mills, which was used for many purposes; but as I remember that first year, the big centre of attraction was the Friendly Fireside Club, which, as the name implies, met around at the different homes of the community. It might have been termed a literary society, though its programs were very flexible, covering a wide variety of subjects from poetry to astronomy. The latter subject fell to my lot. Though I tried to remonstrate, pleading total ignorance there was no gainsaying Mrs. David Ells, the moving spirit on the program committee. "She had a way with her". However, she did get me some books about astronomy, so I rolled up my sleeves (figuratively speaking) and proceeded to grapple with the mysteries of the oldest science in the history of the world.

I discovered that ordinary people, without the aid of books or telescopes, had done this same thing all down through the ages. The records and traditions of all ancient peoples furnish traces of rude attempts to discover the laws governing the apparent motion of the sun, moon, planets and stars, and to utilize them in reckoning time.

The Chinese, one of the oldest of the civilizations, had incorporated much of their findings into their way of living.

Greek mythology had made the study of "the stars in their courses" one of romantic legend. And throughout the Bible, one could find evidence of the interest taken in the celestial sphere from a spiritual viewpoint, by the Hebrew nations of antiquity. The most notable reference, perhaps, is found in the 8th Psalm, when David exclaims: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him or the Son of Man that Thou visitest him?"

Like the Psalmist, do we not all experience the same feeling of reverence and awe for the Creator of this stupendous miracle, as we gaze upward on a starlit night?

"Astronomical figures" do not mean much to the most of us, but almost everyone is interested in romance and legend; so I made a chart of the Solar System, showing the eight planets in their relative position to the sun; and the most interesting of the groups or constellations of stars and this chart, I pinned on the wall to illustrate my lecture.

I was naturally intrigued by the story of Pleiades or The Seven Sisters (being one of seven myself). It is sometimes erroneously called the Little Dipper. According to legend, these seven sisters are the seven daughters of Atlas, and were translated to the sky to rescue them from the pursuit of the mighty Hunter, Orion.

Orion is one of the most clearly defined of the constellations, the distinguishing feature being the three stars which constitute the belt, mentioned in the Book of Job as the "Bands of Orion,"

Cassiopeia (seated lady) is another constellation of interest, composed of fifty stars and visible to the naked eye. In certain positions it resembles an inverted chair. According to legend, Cassiopeia so angered the sea nymphs by boasting of her beauty above theirs, that they persuaded Neptune, God of the Sea, to ravage her country by a hideous sea monster. After her death, the sea nymphs had her placed near the North Pole, where for a part of each night, she must humbly hang with head downward.

These are some of the stories I learned in that study of astronomy which the many years since have not altogether been able to eradicate from my memory, though my talk on Astronomy was very "amateurish", of course.

The popularity of the "Friendly Fireside" attracted young people from the outlying districts of Canning and Centreville. Amongst the latter, was my sister Alberta who was the teacher of the Centreville school during that year.

I was glad Centreville was near for another reason. It gave me a chance to take my first piano lessons from my sister Lulu, who was then living there, having married J. Everett Kinsman, one of the foremost farmers of the day. We all agreed that Everett had very winning ways, but it seemed that Lulu, with her musical ability, was destined for a different kind in life. (While taking her high school course at Waterville she went to Wolfville every week to take lessons in piano at Acadia Seminary). However, she proved to be a real "help-meet" for a farmer, and somehow managed to continue the cultivation of her artistic talent, too, thereby adding grace to the occasion when her husband became a member of the Provincial Legislature.

I found time to indulge in another "pastime" – one that is becoming quite a popular hobby today – the art of painting. The lessons in drawing that I had received at the Normal School came in play very nicely, and under the guiding hand of our very efficient teacher, I acquired a nice collection of oil paintings. Some years later, I took some lessons in water painting and found it much less bother.

Thus, my first year at Sheffields Mills was a very full and satisfying one, but my greatest triumph came in the second year. That story I shall leave for another chapter.