LoveChild 20: Bob and Margaret—The Years Before Me
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
Life in Indian Head
With Bob owning his own butcher shop, and Margaret adjusted to her new life as a homemaker, life settled into a routine.
Bob worked long hours, with a half-day on Wednesday and the day off on Sunday. He'd often take Bozo to work with him, select some meat for lunch, attach it to Bozo's collar, and then send him home to Margaret so she could cook the meat for lunch. Back then, most businesses closed for lunch, so he could walk home, rest for a few minutes, and then walk back to work.
As soon as he could afford it, Bob hired someone to work part-time so he could get away for a few hours or a few days when needed.
In the morning, Margaret made their bed, got breakfast ready, did her housework, cooked lunch (which was the biggest meal of the day), and then visited one of her friends or had someone over in the afternoon. She'd be home in time to make supper.
In the evenings, they had at least one newspaper to read, as well as a radio to listen to for news and entertainment. World War II was still going on, so there was lots of news to discuss and worry about.
They also participated in local events, including a movie now and then, going to a dance, or a party at someone's house. In the summer, they might drive the 15 miles north to Lake Katepwa, in the Qu'Appelle Valley, for a quick visit with some of their friends who owned a cottage.
When he was growing up, Bob had picked up an accordion and a banjo, and although he never played either well enough to be in a band, he got some enjoyment from playing and singing for himself and a few friends. "Oh, Susannah" was a favourite.
"Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" was his song for Margaret. The first line is, "Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five feet can do, has anybody seen my gal?" While her eyes were brown, she was exactly five feet, two inches tall.
On Sundays, they attended the United Church in the mornings. They also attended any special events (fall suppers, ladies teas, etc.) at the church.
Staying in Touch with Margaret's Family
While they may not have had a car yet, Margaret wrote letters and they were able to take a bus ride for an occasional visit with their family members and friends. They might make a quick phone call for anything really important. Long distance calls were expensive.
Margaret's brother Hughie and his wife Oral and their son seem to have lived in Yorkton for a short time before moving to Winnipeg. Yorkton was about 85 miles (136 km) northeast of Indian Head.
Occasionally, family members came by bus to visit them.
Winnipeg, where Margaret's mother Alice MacDonald moved not along after her husband's death, was roughly 318 miles (512 km) past Brandon. Margaret's aunts Maudie and Ettie lived in Winnipeg, as well as her brothers Jim and Mervin and younger siblings. And Hughie moved there as well.
Margaret's youngest sister, Fay, remembers travelling to Winnipeg on a bus not long after her father died. She'd have been five. There was no insurance, and there were no savings. The building where Bruce had had his barber shop and pool hall were likely rented.
But Alice's sisters Ettie and Maudie, and her oldest sons as well as Margaret and Bob would have done what they could to help.
For a time, Alice and the children lived in Maude's house, which was set up as a boarding house. Maudie's husband Mac had been a station master and telegrapher for the CPR and continued to work for them in Winnipeg until he retired. Since Maudie took in boarders, she had a couple of rooms she could rent to them.
A year or so later, Margaret's next younger brother, Jim, married, and he and his wife rented a house and rented two rooms on the second floor to Alice and her three youngest children. It was crowded, but they managed.
At the time, Jim was working in a cordite plant (where "acid, nitroglycerine, and guncotton (nitrocellulose) were manufactured as ingredients in cordite, an explosive.") He later enlisted in the dental corps of the army, but never saw overseas duty.
While he was in the army, Jim's wife divorced him, and Alice and the children had to find another place to live.
Alice's son, Mervin had recently married Evelyn Bryce (who might have been his boss's daughter), and they were able to offer Alice three rooms in their house for a while.
Alice and her three youngest children lived in a variety of different apartments over the years. Holidays were usually spent at Maudie's house.
Brucie got a job in the candy department at Woolworths in downtown Winnipeg when she was 14. She'd take the trolley to get there after school and on Saturdays. Later, she got a job as a secretary.
Terry started working when he was 12, first doing deliveries for a pharmacy, then working as a soda jerk until he got a full-time job.
Fay also started work when she was 12, helping out in the convenience store one of Maudie's boarders owned in their neighbourhood. Later, she worked in a general bakery, and then in McGavins Bakery, as a comptometrist.
Fay thinks her mom was able to get some help from welfare now and then as well. She also got a small amount from Jim's being in the army.
Staying in Touch with Bob's Family
Many of Bob's siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in Rossburn, which was about 170 miles (270 km) east.
Bob's mother and several siblings lived in Brandon, which was roughly the same distance as Rossburn, but further south, on the Number 1 highway.
Some of them occasionally came to visit in Indian Head, too.
Bob and Margaret remained close to Bob's sister Jean (and Howard Maltby), Sarah (and Alf Mitchell), and Margaret (and Albert Roney), and kept in touch with Bob's other siblings, too.
They were also close to some of Bob's nieces and nephews, including Jim Shaw (the son of his Bob's oldest brother, George) and his wife Doris, and Agnes (Bob's sister) and Gordon Taylor's daughters Jennie (and Bud Armstrong) and Margaret (and Charlie Drummond), and their son Mac (and Merle) Taylor.
Their First Car
One of the few letters I have that Bob wrote was to Margaret in the summer of 1943. He was in Winnipeg and she was in Wapella. My guess is that she was staying with their friends, Eve and George Markham, who later moved to Moosomin. It seems strange to me that she wouldn’t have gone with him to visit her family.
In any case, this letter, written from Bob to Margaret on July 6, 1943 and postmarked July 7, 1943, was addressed to Mrs. R. A. Shaw, Wapella, Saskatchewan. It’s written in pencil on faded cream paper.
I’ve typed it as it was written, so you can see that spelling and punctuation definitely weren’t Bob’s strong point. When he had to write something for other people, he always got Margaret to do it.
My Little Darling & honey Bunch and sweetie pie. I am just dropping you a line to let you know that I have found a car & it is a 1932 Ford V8. Mervin and I walked about 20 miles today so I am sure tired wish you were hear with me to.
I will be home tomorrow as early as I can & will be seeing you I must get this posted as it is getting late. I don’t know if Mervin is coming or not, Will say Good nite My Darling will be glad when I get home as it is sure hot.
From your loving Husband
I find it interesting that Bob mailed the letter from Winnipeg and seemed to expect it to arrive in Wapella before he got there the next day!
I'm not 100% positive that this was the first car Bob owned, but I expect it was because there are pictures of all the cars he had later on.
I'm sure he had learned to drive a tractor, and likely a truck, too, by the age of 12 or younger. He probably learned to drive from one or more of his brothers.
In later years, his car was very important to him. My guess is that he saw it as a bit of a status symbol. That certainly wouldn’t have been unusual in those days. Riding in a car was still a bit of a novelty.
On several occasions, Mom told me that her dad never owned a car and often sat looking out the window on a Sunday afternoon, longing for someone to stop by and offer to give him a ride. Not to go anywhere in particular—just to go out in a car.
All her life, Mom loved going for a ride. She and Dad often drove around our small town in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. When I was at home, I usually went with them. That’s when they’d talk about the people who lived in the town and what was going on, and I'd listen from the back seat.
Margaret never learned to drive, although she was still talking about getting her license well into her seventies. In Winnipeg, when she was working, she hadn’t needed a car. She’d take the trolley downtown to work, and her fiancé might have had a car, as did her uncles.
I asked her one day why she hadn’t learned to drive. She said that Bob tried to teach her after they got a car, but in those days every car had a gear shift—there were no automatics—and she had a lot of trouble getting the hang of shifting gears. Bob was afraid she was going to strip the gears on his car, so he simply stopped trying to teach her, and she apparently let it go. Why she didn’t try again when automatic gearshifts came out, I don’t know. Possibly by then it was fear of the unknown. And I expect by then she was nervous and used to Bob’s doing all the driving.
An Unexpected Problem
Bob and Margaret had no doubt expected her to get pregnant fairly quickly. After all, Bob had nine siblings and Margaret had six. Of Bob's siblings, only his brother Lorne and sister Margaret had no children. Margaret's brother, Hughie, was married shortly after them, and he and his wife Oral soon had a baby boy. Bob's younger sister Jean, who had married the year before them, had become pregnant within the first year, and now had a daughter (Joan) and a son (Barry). Margaret's younger brother, Hughie, had a son, too.
However, Margaret hadn't become pregnant and in her early 30s, she'd begun having what was then termed “female troubles.” One year passed, and then the next, with no signs of pregnancy.
After several years of going to the doctor and trying various treatments, they decided that she needed a hysterectomy. At that time, this was major surgery, and could involve up to three or more weeks in hospital.
Margaret's friend, Eve Markham, who lived in Wapella at this time, was a public health nurse. My guess is that the reason Margaret stayed in Wapella with these friends in 1943 while Bob drove to Winnipeg was because she was recuperating from the hysterectomy.
Margaret rarely spoke about this time to me, other than to say that her life changed afterwards. Of course, the immediate result was that she was unable to have any children. But in the bigger picture, this period marked the beginning of a life-long string of visits to doctors for a variety of complaints, some of which were taken seriously and some of which she was told were “in her head.”
This picture was taken in Indian Head in 1946, in what was either winter or early spring. World War II was over by then, and the country was getting back to normal. The picture was taken just before they left to go to Ontario. I believe the car behind them is the 1932 Ford Bob had bought in Winnipeg in 1943. My guess is he was driving it to a car dealer (either in Regina or Winnipeg) to trade it in. Then they’d take a train to Windsor, Ontario, where they’d pick up their new car and drive it home.
This was actually quite common in those days. Cars were made in Ontario and shipped out west. By driving it yourself, you saved transportation costs. Mom later told me short bits about the trip and some of the things they saw, like Casa Loma and Niagara Falls.
They both look happy in this picture.
The last picture I have of Margaret and Bob prior to my arrival was taken in the late summer or early fall of 1947, and you can see their new car in the background.
On the back of the picture Margaret wrote, See how brown Bob’s arms are. He got a good tan down at the lake. Note my extra weight.
The lake would be Lake Katepwa, near Indian Head, where a number of their friends had cottages.
The one thing Bob and Margaret definitely had was a lot of friends, a number of whom remained close to them for life.
Adopting a Baby Girl
At some point, perhaps after the summer of 1947, Bob and Margaret felt they were ready to apply to adopt a baby. By this time, Margaret's brother Mervin and his wife Evelyn had a son, and Hughie and Oral were expecting a second son. Bob's brother Lorne and his wife Elsie, who were also childless, had decided to adopt as well.
I think they were very nervous about the whole thing. Likely anticipating everything that could go wrong. I strongly suspect that some of their friends—people like Eve Markham and Grace Horsman—persuaded them that they should adopt.
Margaret wanted a little girl, and Bob was fine with that. According to the adoption papers, which I was able to get from the Province of Saskatchewan Department of Social Welfare, Robert had averaged $3,000 a year for the last 5 years. That doesn't sound like much today, but it was actually slightly above average for that time.
What I do know for sure is that on March 3, 1948, my birth mother appeared in a juvenile court in Regina to say that she wanted her baby to be adopted, and that she was unwilling to keep me. The judge then ruled that I was "neglected" and made me a ward of the court, who was then suitable for adoption.
I was two months old. It would be 50 years before I found out how much my birth mother actually wanted to keep me, and why she let me be placed for adoption.
On March 25th, Bob and Margaret Shaw received a letter from the government. It gave them a little information about me (the baby) and my parents—information I would never see—and asked them to arrange to come and meet me in the next few days if they were interested.
On March 31st, 1948, Bob and Margaret drove from Indian Head to Regina (a little over 30 miles) to meet the baby girl they had been offered.
According to the social worker who brought them to see me, I was "a beautiful baby and in perfect condition. The Shaws thought she was a wonderful child and did not hesitate about taking her."
They drove me to their home in Indian Head that day. I would be placed in their home, and a caseworker would visit regularly. After a year, they could apply to make their guardianship permanent.
So these two people, who had known each other for all of six weeks before marrying and had waited nearly ten long years to start a family, adopted an almost three-month-old baby they had just met. Then they scrambled to learn how to raise this child who, while physically looking very much like their natural daughter, was actually nothing like either of them.
. . .
Can You Relate?
Most people know someone who adopted a child, gave a child up for adoption, or was adopted. When you think of "adoption," how do you feel?
. . .
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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