Nine

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Nine

 

The Church Family

 

“In 1906, Hamilton’s first major strike, and one of its most dramatic, involved the Hamilton Street Railway, when 180 employees walked out to enforce demands for an increase in pay rate, then eighteen cents an hour, and union

 

1906

 

Jim managed to find a couple of painting jobs after he was laid off from the shipyard. He liked being his own boss and continued to dream about having a decorating business.

     When Mona was nine months old they moved to 36 Charles Street, a two-family dwelling a couple of blocks west of James (Hamilton Place and the Art Gallery today). The rent was two dollars more but Jim insisted that “this re-location” would improve his prospects of finding customers. Both residences and businesses had made their home

     on Charles Street, which created an interesting but rather unusual neighbourhood.

     Mary left West Avenue with reluctance, promising to keep in touch with Affie and Vi. She found another Carroll’s at the corner of Hunter and Queen, within walking distance of her new home. Luckily they’d moved before the city enumerator came around, and for the first time, Jim listed himself as a painter.

     Mrs. Tolten’s offer to mind Mona was still good, even after they moved, but Mary rarely left her and was content to stay home to witness each little milestone in her daughter’s life. She had waited in anticipation for Mona to hold her head up, had delighted in trying to interpret each of the tiny infant’s facial grimaces, and had circled her calendar on the red letter day that Mona cut her first tooth. Mary couldn’t have been happier and more content. Unfortunately, her husband didn’t feel the same.

     Jim desperately wanted to buy an automobile. His friend owned a Model T Ford and was in the habit of picking him up to go to the racetrack. He got the courage to ask Joe if he could borrow his car on Sunday afternoon. He promised to drive it with care and supply his own gasoline. Joe was hesitant until Jim slipped him a five dollar bill.

     Mary was excited about the family outing. The fall had brought cooler temperatures and the leaves were just starting to turn. She may not have been so enthusiastic if she’d known what it was costing. The following weekend they set out on an adventure in the country, with little Mona dressed in her Sunday best, bundled securely in the back seat. They headed out of the city in the direction of Woodstock. With Jim having grown up there, he was familiar with the concessions and sideroads of Blandford Township. Although they didn’t go as far as Innerkip, each time they approached a hill or curve in the road, Mary anticipated seeing the silhouette of a large school bell around the next bend. It was difficult to forget the six years that she’d spent at the little country school, for it represented her only formal education.

     The fresh air, the Queen Anne’s Lace, and other wild flowers nodding their heads in the breeze along each side of the winding county roads reminded Mary of her walk to school on the days that she’d been allowed to attend. She wondered if the schoolhouse, nestled beside a grove of apple trees, still looked the same.

 

Blandford School was almost two miles from the Jacques farm and harsh winters often made it very difficult, if not impossible, to get there.

     The morning of September 15 was Mary’s first day at school. From a distance she could see a large school bell on top of the cedar shingled roof. Clutching her old leather satchel with a broken strap, Annie’s castoff, Mary arrived, breathless and filled with nervous anxiety. Blandford School S. S. No. 3 turned out to be a small, grey fieldstone building with two doors, one marked “Boys,” the other

 

     Once they’d left the city limits behind and were well into the country, Jim announced that he was starving. They stopped on the side of the road under the shade of a large oak tree. “What have we got in our basket?” he asked, spreading out the old plaid tablecloth. Mary had packed a picnic lunch of ham sandwiches, fresh tomatoes, and nippy old cheese. Mona was content to nibble on small chunks of cheese and the middle of a slice of white bread, already refusing to eat her crusts. She devoured a thermos of milk almost immediately. For dessert they had some large, juicy red apples that they’d stopped and picked along the deserted country road.

     After lunch Jim took off his shoes, rolled his jacket up for a pillow, and stretched out against the base of the tree. He lit a cigarette and took in long, deliberate draws, savouring each one. Mary played with the baby in the sun, and every once in awhile turned to admire her handsome husband.

     “Someday we’re gonna strike gold, and when that day comes, my lady, you’ll be wearing diamonds and fur. Our little girl will have the prettiest frock ever. As for me,” he tapped himself on the chest, “I’ll be behind the wheel of a shiny, brand new Russell.”

 

While other men were building cars for the masses in the early 1900s, low-priced vehicles that almost anyone could afford, Thomas Russell had his eye set on the well-to-do. Though he used slogans like “A high-grade car at a wonderfully-low price” and “Made up to a standard, not down to a price,” his namesake car, the Russell, was hundreds of dollars more than the competition — $450 more than Henry Ford’s Model C, to be

 

     With his cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth, he raised his arms slightly, curled his fingers, and wrapped them around an imaginary steering wheel. He looked at her, grinning the whole time like a young boy who’d been given a new toy, and said, “and it won’t be black, it’ll be cobalt blue. It’ll have a …” he paused as though he’d lost his train of thought or begun to feel foolish, took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped his hands into his lap. “For sure, we’ll be the envy of the neighbourhood someday when we strike gold.”

     “We already have,” Mary replied, but Jim was too busy dreaming to hear her. Mona was growing restless, no longer content to sit on the blanket. After she took a few steps, Mary let go of her hand. She took a couple more, faltered, and tumbled gently into the long grass. She tired quickly, curled up on her mother’s lap, put her thumb in her mouth and dozed off. This would have made a lovely family photo, if only they’d had a camera.

     A light rain shower shortened their picnic and they ran to take cover in the car. By the time Jim had put the top up, the rain had stopped, but it was obvious that the best part of the day was gone. He was anxious to head home long before dark, so they packed up and left.

 

Taking up the new fad — “the infernally combusting engine” — took courage. Patience and a spirit of adventure were as important as a well-stocked tool box. Early tires, for example, were flimsy affairs, and punctures (nobody called them flats then) were common. You had to know how to use the things in your trunk: patch kits, wrenches and the good old

 

     The gentle motion of the car put Mona to sleep before they’d reached the first concession road. They only passed one garage on their way back to the city, but Jim was well prepared with his own gas can of extra fuel.

     Mary had enjoyed their excursion in the country and knew the fresh air had been good for Mona. She wasn’t in the habit of taking her to public places for fear she might catch something, but an outing such as this was ideal. For the longest time, she wouldn’t even take her in the buggy to the market. She preferred to go to the park for some fresh air. Mary had become a fastidious housekeeper, convinced that dust and dirt were how diseases like tuberculosis and scarlet fever started. Doctors didn’t have all the answers. Jim kept insisting that she was too protective. “Mona needs to get out more and do things like other children. And we should get out more too.”

     The first time they left the baby was to go downtown to the Savoy Theatre. Mary had only seen pictures of balconies and box seats in magazines before that evening. Sitting in the first balcony holding Jim’s hand and watching her first real live theatre made it easy to forget her responsibilities as a mother for a few hours. Little did she know that one day she’d be returning to watch “moving pictures.”

     Once the warmer months arrived, they got in the habit of asking Mrs. Tolten to babysit in the evening. Sometimes they took the trolley, an open streetcar, down to the docks to sit and look out at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, one of the most elegant structures of its kind on the Great Lakes. They could easily hear the music that floated across the water from the second-floor ballroom.

     “Someday we’ll be dancing in that ballroom,” said Jim, grabbing her hand and pointing, “dressed in our finest.” It amazed Mary that he never tired of dreaming; in fact she believed he thrived on it.

     “Let’s just enjoy right now,” she said quietly.

     “Why are you so easily satisfied?”

     “Because I’m happy.” She was content to sit on the dock and watch from a distance. Like most home children, Mary had grown up in a world where she was an observer. Jim, on the other hand, was a doer, not a watcher. “I couldn’t be happier,” she reiterated, patting his leg affectionately.

     Just when Mary had their place on Charles Street nicely decorated, Jim announced that they were moving to an apartment on Dundurn Street (Fortinos Plaza today), once again convinced it was a better location for his business. It was their third move in three years and she hoped that her curtains would fit the new windows.

     About the same time, Mona entered the terrible twos. In spite of her tantrums and fussiness, the little girl continued to charm her mother. Mary started asking Mrs. Tolten, who absolutely adored Mona, to babysit so she could have a break and go downtown to window shop and browse. One of the most elegant stores in Hamilton was the Right House, on the corner of King and Hughson. The building, trimmed in Ohio freestone and steeped in a rich history all its own, stood out among the others because of its height and grandeur. So many plate glass windows faced both streets that it came to be known as the Crystal Palace.

     The gilded gold lettering on the stone sign read, “1843. Thomas C. Watkins, 1893.” The original dry goods store known as the Right House had been so successful that fifty years later Watkins decided to build a lavish, four-storey addition to the original structure. Painted on the side of the building in bold capital letters, the sign read:

 

THE RIGHT HOUSE

     DRY GOODS

     MILLINERY

     MANTLES

     CARPETS

     THOMAS C. WATKINS

 

     Mary could only imagine how wealthy this man must have been before he died three years ago. It was rumoured that his ghost lived in the store. According to the story that has remained unsubstantiated, the Otis elevator car was locked in the basement each night after the store closed. A key was required to move the elevator. Every morning it could be found on the fifth floor where Watkins’ office was located.

     Mary was reminded of this story as she approached the tall, stately building. She felt like she didn’t belong here and knew better than to ask if there was bargain basement shopping. As she walked through the large doors, she kept telling herself that anyone was allowed to look. With a weakness for hats, she headed to the millinery department to admire the brimless wool cloches and veiled sateen pillboxes. She wandered through the dress goods, quickly past the mourning-goods counter, thankful to have no need for it. Mary would have liked to come home with a dress length of cashmere, crepe, or de laine, but instead just ran her fingers over the silk velvet as she walked through the dress and mantle trimmings.

     Although there were several elevators, she climbed the beautiful hardwood staircase to the waiting gallery halfway between the ground and second level. It looked like a fancy sitting room complete with chairs and writing desks. The public were encouraged to sit and rest or arrange to meet a friend here. Mary enjoyed the view from the balcony. Somewhere she’d read that there were over 150 Canadian tungsten lamps on the main floor.

     It was fascinating to watch people. Some hurried in to make a quick purchase, while others lingered and ended up buying nothing. Mary fell into the second category. She had another look from this vantage point before climbing to the second floor to see the beautiful damask tablecloths and curtains made of white linen lawn. The third and fourth storeys had carpets, linoleums, and other home-furnishing items. Offices occupied the fifth and sixth floors of the building. She’d also heard that there was an emergency ward complete with a bed.

     Mary usually paid a visit to the washroom. The facilities were the prettiest, most impressive example of modern sanitation that she’d ever seen. Even if she had no need at that moment she went in and washed her hands. The polished Italian marble trim glistened like the sideboard in a rich man’s dining room. And Mary would know since she’d worked for a number of well-to-do families.

     On her way out, she had another look at the hats and bought five cents worth of yellow ribbon to make Mona a hair bow. As she made her purchase, the clerk stopped to answer the phone. It annoyed Mary because she thought a customer should have the salesclerk’s undivided attention. At the same time she was impressed that the store hired females and had telephones in every department.

     Mary hurried out the big doors, glanced up at the city hall clock tower, and was surprised that she’d been gone that long. She jumped on the streetcar, anxious to get home. As she walked in the house, Mona ran toward her with outstretched arms.

     “How was my little girl?”

     “A perfect angel,” replied Mrs. Tolten. “And how was your shopping?”

     “It was fine. I just browsed in the Right House,” Mary said, sitting down on a kitchen chair with Mona on her lap. “They have such beautiful things.”

     “By any chance did you see Thomas Watkins’s ghost?” she asked, sounding far from serious.

     “I don’t believe in ghosts,” Mary said unconvincingly, handing her some change. Mrs. Tolten kissed Mona goodbye and was gone. Ghost story forgotten, she busied herself in the kitchen preparing supper.

 

By late August Mary had had enough of the hot, humid weather. The thermometer still registered in the high eighties. The chain of events that followed would always remind her never to become complacent and take things for granted.

     She and Jim had taken Mona to Gore Park for the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria, their daughter’s namesake, when suddenly the little girl became violently ill. They immediately went home and put her to bed. At first they thought Mona had catarrh because of the flu-like symptoms of fever and sore throat. When she hadn’t improved after a few days Mary feared the worst, some dreadful incurable disease like typhoid or scarlet fever. She remembered giving Mona canned peas a couple of days earlier. Was it possible that she might have food poisoning and be dying from “summer complaint?”

     She asked Dr. Storms to make a house call. He examined the feverish fretting child troubled by a stiff neck, muscle pain, and cramping spasms in her arms and legs. The doctor suggested that they come to his office the following day. The concern in his eyes would haunt Mary forever. She was convinced that Mona was dying. Jim was convinced his wife was overreacting.