“My forebears played a significant part in making me who I am. I honor their legacy. I will never forget what they gave me. I will love them until the day I die. ”
―Laurence Overmire, Digging for Ancestral Gold: The Fun and Easy Way to Get Started on Your Genealogy Quest
Memories of My Aunt and Uncle
If you missed the post before this one, you might want to read it first.
Because Granny Shaw was 75 when I was born, she was actually more like a great-grandmother than a typical grandmother. Which meant that my dad's sister and brother-in-law, who had no children of their own and lived with Granny Shaw, were more like my grandparents rather than my aunt and uncle.
Aunt Margaret turned 14 in December of 1911. My dad was born in February of 1912. So, when I was six, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert were both 56, which is a reasonable age for grandparents.
I’ve mentioned before that Granny Shaw had bought the house on 12th street in Brandon after she was widowed, and that not only my dad and his younger sister Jean lived there, but also their older sister Margaret and her husband Albert.
Aunt Jean and my dad left after they were married, but Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert continued to live with Granny Shaw.
I have only a handful of pictures of Margaret and Albert Roney, but although most of the pictures were taken before I was born, neither of them changed much at all. Of course, they aged, but aside from added wrinkles, they looked and dressed pretty much the same.
Sadly, I don't have a single picture of either of them with me.
My parents took very few pictures and all they had was their old box camera. And I don't think Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert even had a camera.
Really, no one I knew thought of taking a picture back then except for special occasions.
I've mentioned before that Granny Shaw, my dad's mother, occupied the room at the front of the house. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert shared a small bedroom at the very back of the house, behind the kitchen. I believe it was an added-on area.
In their bedroom, they managed to squeeze in a three-quarter bed (48"x75"), an old bureau, and a single wooden chair belonging to the small kitchen set. The closet was small, but even so, there was room to spare in it.
Next to the bedroom was a small powder room that Granny Shaw and visitors also used. To have a bath, they'd need to go upstairs to the only full bathroom. Since the upstairs rooms were rented out for small amounts to boarders (often people in need), that was the bathroom they used, too.
I believe the floors in the hallway and two main rooms on the main floor were hardwood, but the kitchen and their bedroom had worn linoleum, and it kind of gave a bit as you walked on it. I always felt that I was going downhill when I walked from the hallway through the kitchen, but I have no idea whether that was accurate or not.
When you entered the kitchen from the front hallway, there was a stove immediately to your right. It was the most interesting thing in the house as far as I was concerned. We had an electric stove, as did everyone else we knew. But this was a large wood-burning stove. Uncle Albert had to bring in wood from a pile in the back yard to keep it burning. The idea of having an actual campfire burning inside your house, and using it to cook your food, was always fascinating to me. I'm pretty sure I roasted marshmallows at it more than once.
Beyond the stove were white or pale grey cupboards, with a sink below the window in the middle of the cupboards.
At the end of the cupboards, on the wall at the back of the house, was a small white fridge. Next to it, there were three doors. The first opened up to a tiny back hall that led to the door to the back yard. The second door was to the powder room, and the third led to Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert's bedroom. It was often left open.
Against the wall alongside the bedroom, and straight ahead when you came in from the hallway, was a small wooden table, with three chairs. It might have looked something like the one below, which has an enamel top.
The Living/Dining Room
The room between Granny Shaw's room and the kitchen was the dining room/living room. I remember that room so vividly I can't believe I don't have a picture of it. A dining room table was in the centre of the room. The chairs were either pushed in if there was a meal coming, or arranged wherever possible along the walls if there was to be company.
On one side of the table were a chesterfield and a piano; on the other side there was a buffet that held the good dishes and tablecloths and the chair that went with the chesterfield. There was a small bay window at the end of the room. On one side of the window was a small glass china cabinet that held keepsakes and ornaments. The other side of the buffet had a dining table chair that had arm rests. Any remaining open space was taken up with odd tables, chairs, etc.
It was always crowded in that room, no matter how many people were in it. And there were often quite a few people. On either side of the table there was just barely room to get by, and moving in either direction became tricky when people were seated or when the piano bench was out.
Uncle Albert had made two more leaves in addition to the four small ones that had come with the wood table so that more people could fit, and both the piano bench and the chairs from the small kitchen table and Granny Shaw's chair were often used for additional seating. When there were more than six or eight people at the table, only Aunt Margaret or Uncle Albert, who always sat at the end next to the doorway, could get out to bring more food, etc.
I do have some pictures of the table and buffet and the china cabinet. For more than thirty years, I owned all three. My dad shipped them to us when Aunt Margaret moved into a seniors' residence just as we were moving into our first house. They travelled from Brandon to Regina, and then to Mississauga, Calgary, and Markham. Not only were they used a great deal by Granny Shaw and the Roneys, but they were-well used by our family, too. I still have the china cabinet.
Ida Margaret Roney was a thin woman, a bit taller than my mother. She typically wore long straight skirts with blouses and cardigan sweaters, sensible shoes, and thick beige stockings. Like her mother, she always wore her hair pulled back in a tight sort of roll and often had a hair net covering it. She wore thin wire-framed glasses and no make-up.
Albert Thomas Roney was born on July 5, 1899, in Mitchell, Perth County, Ontario. He was the son of Robert Roney and Ida Jane Vipond. I assume he went to Manitoba, like so many others, in order to homestead.
Albert was a a little taller than his wife, and always quite thin. I remember him as wearing shirts with coat sweaters that had frayed elbows. Although his grey pants had worn knees, they were always clean and pressed.
His hair was an indeterminate shade of brown, and it grew more sparse with each year. His face had never been handsome, and as he grew older, it simply wrinkled here and there and the skin grew more faded and more worn. It was a face one would never notice in a crowd. I also recall he had a slight stoop to his shoulders, as though he had been carrying a heavy pack for too long. Unfortunately, I have no photos of him when he was younger. These are the best close-ups, I have.
Most of the photos I've used here were taken on October 14, 1941. My guess is that Margaret and Albert had taken a holiday and driven to Indian Head to see Bob and Margaret. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Albert would have both been 42, and my dad (Bob) and my mom (Margaret) would have been 29 and 30.
To be perfectly honest, these pictures perfectly illustrate something that bothered me a lot when I was young. I frequently looked first at Aunt Margaret and then at my mother, who had the same name, and wondered how two such different women could inhabit the same world. In these pictures, both Margarets are dressed alike, with suits, blouses, hats, gloves, shoes, etc., but, to me at least, Aunt Margaret managed to look at least 20 years older than her age.
Uncle Albert also looks a bit older than he really was, although the styles for men's clothes back then didn't really suit any of them.
Uncle Albert and Aunt Margaret had moved in with Granny Shaw after losing their farm during the Depression. Thereafter, he worked as a mechanic for a while. When I was old enough to notice, he worked in a cold storage locker plant. Six days a week, including Saturday mornings, Uncle Albert went off to rent lockers to people, help carry heavy packages, and aggravate the bronchitis that plagued him for many years. I vaguely remember my dad's taking me there once so I could see the lockers.
Meanwhile, Aunt Margaret looked after the house and the boarders and washing clothes, etc. She also did most of the cooking, although Granny Shaw still contributed as she was able.
What their married life was like I couldn’t say. I never heard why they had no children. Perhaps they didn’t know themselves.
If they ever argued, I never saw a sign. Rather, my uncle did whatever he was asked by either my aunt or his mother-in-law. I know he sometimes disagreed with them, but I never once heard him raise his voice or make demands.
Uncle Albert was a simple man. I don't know how much education he had. Probably not a lot. He was soft-spoken and shy, rarely taking part in discussions on politics or finances. I never heard him complain even though he no doubt had many causes for complaint.
He was the kind of man who would never be noticed in a crowd. A man who might easily be passed by. But when I was six, aside from my parents, he was my favourite person.
Whenever we visited Brandon, usually on Sunday afternoons, while my parents talked to Granny Shaw and any other relatives who dropped in, and Aunt Margaret fussed over making tea and getting meals ready and such, Uncle Albert would play games with me.
They had a wooden Chinese checker board with marbles. Before I was old enough to understand the actual games, we played a different game. We called it “Count the birdies.” He would pick up some of the marbles in both hands and shake them. Then I would try to guess how many marbles he was holding. When I guessed wrong, his eyes would sparkle and the gold fillings in his teeth would glint as his face broke out in a smile. When I guessed right, he would smile and open his hand to let me count them. Of course, I made him guess, too, trying to hold as many marbles as possible in my much smaller hands.
We didn’t say much, and as I got older and we started playing Chinese checkers for real, I had to make sure I let him win half the time. He always seemed to be having as much fun as I was.
Every time we visited, one of us would get out the checker board, and we would sit beside each other on the worn couch, or on two chairs if the couch had been taken, and we would play.
Not only that, but in the summer, he would let me help water the vegetable garden out back. I loved to make the water go in waves from the hose (something my dad rarely allowed me to do). And we both loved it when we could see a rainbow in the water. I’m sure the added cost of the water I used was something he could ill afford, but he never minded.
Then my aunt would call him to help her with supper, and he would go. I remember him with a tea towel wrapped around his waist, washing the dishes afterwards. Sometimes I helped. Not enough, though.
My aunt and uncle attended church regularly. She played the piano and sang and she also taught young children in Sunday school. I expect he helped with the cleaning and other odd jobs.
Because Aunt Margaret taught Sunday school, on the top shelf of the closet in her bedroom she kept several large boxes with all kinds of flannelgraph backgrounds and cut-out figures of people and trees and sheep and objects that stuck on the backgrounds in a fashion somewhat similar to Velcro. She used them to tell Bible stories. When I visited, she would sometimes tell me the story she had told that week. Sometimes she even let me play with the flannelgraph figures by myself. (Yes, I still have some of them in a file someplace!)
Aunt Margaret also played the piano, and sometimes she'd take the fold-down lid off the keyboard and she'd show me how to play a few notes. Mom knew how to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and I learned to play that.
Sometimes Aunt Margaret would play for everyone. She had several hymn books and some sheet music. I remember that "Jesus Loves Me," "The Old Rugged Cross," "What a Friend we Have in Jesus," and "It Is No Secret What God Can Do" were some of her favourites.
Uncle Albert never said very much about his faith, but he always had a Bible close by, and he always said a short grace before meals.
My parents and I went to church, too, but I always sensed a difference in this house, though I didn’t know what it was.
All I knew for sure was that the three people in that house—Granny Shaw, Aunt Margaret, and Uncle Albert—all loved me. Especially Uncle Albert.
I'm not sure how to explain this, but I was never completely at ease with most people because, for reasons I didn't understand until many years later, I always expected people not to like me, or at some point to tell me I was doing something wrong and correct me. But Uncle Albert always gave me the impression that he was perfectly happy with me exactly the way I was, which was a beautiful gift.
Even today, I tear up when I think about him. No, we weren't related in any way, but I adored that man.
Can you relate?
When you were young, did you have someone who accepted you exactly as you were and never once tried to change you?
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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