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April 21, 1949

Romantic Notes On The Gay Nineties

By Leora Webster Cross

I do not think any work could be more interesting or satisfying than that of teaching little children as you watch their little minds unfold from day to day; nevertheless, they are such restless little bodies that it necessarily "keeps one on their toes" to keep operations running smoothly. Therefore, it meant considerable self-discipline for me to settle down to a bout with problems in Trigonometry, and the other weighty subjects of the Grade XI course, after a busy day in the school room.

I don’t know that I should have stuck to it but for a challenge I got from Arthur Eaton, at whose home I boarded. Arthur gave me three weeks before I would become discouraged and stop. I determined to "show" him. At the end of three weeks, I had found my stride and was well on my way. Perhaps my persistence may have reacted on Arthur. At any rate, he perked up himself, and soon after went to the States and became a full-fledged dentist and later followed on to become an M. D., practising in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. For the last few years, I regret to say, he has been incapacitated by blindness, but still has the same pluck and cheerful outlook on life.

I had long cherished a desire to obtain a higher grade of scholarship, but probably never would have got started on this quest for knowledge, had it not been for Mabel Caldwell, the teacher of the Advanced Department, who kindly offered to help me realize my ambition. Mabel had received the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Acadia University, and, it gives me a surge of pride to record, was one of our Cambridge girls. (In previous ramblings, I have mentioned the other members of this clever family, with the exception of Margaret (Cunningham), the youngest, also an Acadia Graduate and a "playwright" of considerable ability.)

Being a profound student, herself, Mabel had the faculty of inspiring others to become like-minded, and seemed to derive much pleasure in helping others along the flowery paths of learning. With her, to use a current phrase, "life was not all beer and skittles". It was too precious to be frittered away. Perhaps, like the Village Preacher, it might be said of her, that "e’en her failings leaned to virtue’s side". Her interest lay in the intellectual sphere, which, no doubt, accounts for her having the "leading role" in the Friendly Fireside Club. She had a gift for repartee, too, which made her popular in the social circle.

At the end of the half-year, I got a satisfactory substitute, and stepped across the threshold that separated our two departments, and became a full-time student in the Eleventh Grade or "B" Class. Here the spirit of friendly competition added zest to my efforts, and made the work more interesting. It was rejuvenating, too, to drop all responsibility and revert to the school-girl again.

I sat with Estelle Loomer, who was recently superannuated at Winnipeg, Man., after having devoted her life to school teaching. Her brother, Brett (smart as a whip), sat behind us with his cousin Fred Baxter. Both had the same mischievous twinkle in their eyes. Fred believed in the old saying that "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men – and women". His favorite diversion was to pass his slate to one of us girls, to read an inscription such as "Grin if you love me." Of course, he was always rewarded with a grin. Brett is still practising Dentistry in New Glasgow, and Fred wandered off to the Canadian West, where he is still engaged in business.

(I wonder if our educational system is not too much devoted to the serious side of life, an if it might not be a good thing for this sad old world, if we could find a place in our curriculum for a course primarily designed to develop a sense of humor, to include such famous humorists as Mark Twain or the late Will Rogers. I remember how we used to hover around the radio to catch every word of Will Rogers’ talk, before his life was suddenly cut short in a airplane crash. Most of us have our favourite "comic strip". Mine at present (naturally) is "Grandma" by Charles Kuln.

Opposite me sat Harold Chase and Harry Burgess. Harold, now an eminent lawyer in Kentville, had the same joking ways then as now.

We all knew that Harry was cut out for a doctor from the day that Mabel fainted away, by the way he took charge of the situation – in such a tender and understanding way. Sure enough, he became an outstanding doctor in Montreal and gave his services in the First World War. After he came back, his health rapidly declined, ending in death at an early age.

Incidentally, we all passed the Provincial Examinations with flying colors. How could we help it, with such an efficient, pains-taking teacher? The following summer, Mabel became the wife of Alfred Armstrong, for many years Secretary of the YMCA in New York City.

I would like to pause here to pay a tribute to my Aunt Maria (Mrs. Colin Smith) the last member of Father’s large family, who departed this life at her home in Nictaux Falls, on February 28 in the eighty-fourth year of her age, and on the day after her husband reached his ninetieth year. She was cared for in her last illness by her daughters, Pauline, at home, and Mrs. marguerite Scheer, of Alberta. Aunt Maria was always interested in anything pertaining to the friends of her youthful days. I shall miss her cheerful and interesting letters.

I received a letter recently from F. A. Bowles, of Amherst, a native of Cambridge, which I believe contains much of interest to his old school mates. Fred married a Cambridge girl, Eulalia Mahaney, a school teacher, and they moved to Amherst where Fred had a position with the Canada Car and Foundry Co. Ltd. In recent years, he has been Chief Assessor for the Town of Amherst and a Real Estate broker and Insurance Underwriter. And "last but not least", he writes, "I have the honor to be a deacon in the First Baptist Church". I feel that in this capacity he has also brought honor to the home of his early boyhood, of which he says, "I have very fond recollections." Eulalia also has the honor of being the President of the W.M.A.S. of the Church – "her only activity, now; both at 77 years of age beginning to feel the weight of the years. Such lives are a mute testimony to the Christian influences of childhood.