LoveChild 12: My Mother’s Story
“I'm just kind of taking whatever life gives me and hoping that I make the right decision."
Margaret MacDonald, my mother, left home when she was 16 to go to the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and start a new life.
On the surface, her story was a simple one. Eldest child of a 17-year-old mother and a father who'd been shuffled from place to place all his life and never known what we'd consider a normal home life; older sister to three younger brothers; small town (village?) girl; daughter of the local barber and pool hall manager, so not exactly upper class; a perfectionist who was embarrassed by never having enough money; a dreamer who longed for something more...
When I look closely at the picture I posted last week of Margaret when she was about nine, her face is the face of my mother, just a bit younger. And I know from her expression that she's concerned about looking her best and she's disappointed in the results.
Her hair! While her brothers had dark curly hair like her father, Margaret had fine, straight, mousy brown hair like her mother. Efforts to curl or wave it had no effect, and she hated it.
She also hated that she had no eyebrows. If there were any hairs where her brows should have been, they were so light as to be virtually nonexistent.
Margaret did okay at school. She liked history best, and as she grew older, she followed current events as well as you could in those days. She had a few friends. But the village was small and so were opportunities.
Not that Margaret had any ambitions other than to grow up, have a better home and nicer clothes, and eventually have a family of her own. That's what you did in those days if you were a female, and no one encouraged her to think beyond the norm. In fact, her family was basically just trying to survive each day and have a place to live with enough food on the table and half-decent clothes to wear.
She'd turned 16 in March, and had finished grade 10. There was no reason for her to stay in school in longer, and she was old enough to get a job. Maybe even help out her father in providing for everyone. Besides, her parents were looking into a move from Whitewood to Arden, Manitoba (near Neepawa). They were now much closer to the city of Winnipeg, and Margaret saw her chance.
Margaret longed for a different life. One that would entail nice clothes, jewelry, shoes, and escaping the boredom, angst, and she knew as the daughter of the local barber and pool hall manager.
It still seems strange to me, but Margaret never learned how to cook or clean or look after younger children. Her mother basically did all that on her own.
As she got older, Mom would talk to me a little about the past. She told me that her mother felt it was easier for her to do her housework herself than to try to get the children to help. Mom said her mother would have everything done by 10:00 a.m., and be out having tea with other women. I think the reality also was that their living space was so small and there were so few possessions that there wasn't all that much to take care of.
Also, to tell the truth, Mom and her mother never quite got along. Mom was clearly a "Daddy's girl." Whether they had a truly close relationship or she simply felt sorry for him, Mom always spoke of her dad with sadness and regret.
The MacDonald family moved to Arden a year or so before 1929, but I'm not sure which year they went. I do know that Margaret left home for Winnipeg in the summer of 1927, when she was 16. I think it's possible that she moved to Winnipeg at the same time as her family moved to Arden. I assume Bruce had a barber shop and probably managed the pool hall or did other odd jobs as well.
Her Aunt Maudie and Uncle Mac Mctaggart were living in Carroll, Manitoba, at this time, and I know she visited with them several times. Mac was the station master for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Carroll, and a telegrapher.
But her Aunt Ettie and Uncle Bert Hawkes, were living in Winnipeg after some years in Broadview, Saskatchewan. Their daughter Leslie (the little girl in the picture in my last post) was a few years younger than Margaret, but the two of them remained friends until Leslie's death many years later.
My guess is that Margaret stayed with her Aunt Ettie and Uncle Bert and cousin Leslie for at least the first few years that she was in Winnipeg. Bert worked for a publisher, in editing and layout.
Ettie offered to help Margaret finish high school and then go on to college if she wanted. She chose instead to get a job so that she could buy the clothes, make-up, and jewellery she'd always longed to have. Plus, it was 1927, and society was beginning to change.
A part of Mom always regretted the choice she made. When I try, I can honestly envision a parallel universe in which she was a history or current events professor. She was always interested in what was going on, and I think she was much smarter than she realized. But because of her background, I don't think she could ever have been able to make a different decision.
Margaret's New Life in Winnipeg
Margaret soon got a job on the switchboard at the large Eaton’s department store in downtown Winnipeg. She used her paycheck to buy the latest clothes and make-up, learned to play tennis, went to dances, and lived the life she had dreamed of, with lots of friends, including her cousin Leslie.
It’s funny, but I have no memory of Mom ever doing physical activities other than dancing (which she loved) or walking. However, she told me how much she loved playing tennis when she was in her twenties, and that she was quite good at it. I know when I was fourteen, I played tennis a bit, and it was Mom who showed me how to hold a racquet and how to keep score. She never played with me, though. That was firmly in the past.
As for snow shoeing, if visualizing her on a tennis court is difficult, the thought of my mother out on a trail wearing snowshoes is almost beyond my ability to imagine. But she did it at least once. I have proof.
I've no idea how Margaret felt in October of 1929 when she learned that her mother had given birth to her second daughter, Brucie Delores. But I do know that she had more pictures of Brucie than anyone else. Here are a few:
This picture includes the dog Fluffy, which Mom told me about a number of times. I believe they had the dog before she left home, but this is one of only two pictures I found.
On the back of the picture when Brucie was two, Margaret wrote, "My Dolly."
Margaret as a Working Girl
This is a picture of Margaret, age 24, with her Aunt Ettie. Not sure why she's wearing a fur coat while her aunt is wearing a summer dress, but I'm guessing it was because Margaret had either just bought the coat, or she'd been given it by her aunt.
From this and the previous picture of her also at 20, holding her younger sister Brucie, it’s easy to see that she was well-dressed, with the hairstyles, make-up, and fashions of that time.
And eyebrows. She'd learned how to use an eyebrow pencil to create eyebrows.
She'd also been promoted from the switchboard to being a fulltime salesclerk. And she loved her job!
As the years passed, her Uncle Bert, Aunt Ettie, and cousin Leslie moved to the United States and Margaret lived with her Aunt Maudie and Uncle Mac, who had moved to Winnpeg where Mac worked as a telegrapher for the CPR and Maudie took in boarders. Margaret had no need to do any cooking or cleaning. She was a working girl who could pay her board!
Her aunt and uncle had no children, so they were happy to have her. Their home normally included a budgie and a cocker spaniel.
Margaret's Family in Rossburn
Meanwhile, Margaret's parents and siblings had made another move, this time to Rossburn, Manitoba, where a fourth son, Terry, was born in November, 1933. A third daughter, Fay, arrived in December, 1935.
I'm sure Margaret managed to get to Rossburn to see her family occasionally, but not very often.
These are two of the earliest pictures of Terry and Fay that I have.
You can also see a bit of their home in Rossburn in the back ground.
The German shepherd's name was Keeno. I assume he came after Fluffy.
When her sister Fay was born, Margaret was a few months from turning 25.
It must have felt surreal for her 42-year-old mother to be having yet another baby while she remained unmarried and childless.
Margaret had never intended or expected to be single. And it wasn't as if she hadn't found someone she wanted to spend her life with, either.
When she was 19, she'd met a young man named Tommy. They began dating and eventually became engaged. However, there was a huge problem. Tommy was married. Although he and his wife had been separated since before Margaret had met him, his wife was Roman Catholic and she refused to give him a divorce.
What was Margaret to do? More time passed. Margaret turned 27 with no indication that Tommy's wife would ever give him a divorce.
She'd been a working girl for more than 10 years. Now she had another choice to make. If she wanted a home and family, she'd have to either forget about convention and live with Tommy, or break off her engagement and look for someone else.
Can You Relate?
Margaret made a life-altering choice when she decided to leave home and get a job rather than finishing school and maybe going to university.
Can you think of any choices your ancestors made that altered the course of their history, and maybe even yours?
Can you see their reasons for making the choices they did in their own background or in the culture of the day?
LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.
I'll be blogging my story once a week.
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