Fifteen

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Fifteen

 

Missing Person

 

     “Booze, sports and church — these were the opiates of the labouring poor. There were more saloons than there were downtown corners in most cities and towns. There, long after the banks were closed, a working man could dip into his hard-earned pay envelope and take home whatever was left some hours later. Liquor and beer were

 

1911

 

Emma had been gone a little over a month when Mary received a letter. Wiping her hands on a towel and grabbing the letter opener from the windowsill, she sat down at the kitchen table eager to find out how her sister was doing.

     Emma wrote the way she spoke, using short, clipped sentences but her choice of words reflected her gentle nature. Mary realized

     how much she missed her and struggled not to cry for fear Mona might hear.

 

October 23

Dear Mary,

 

Carrie got me in at the hospital where she works. I clean wards, do laundry, and housekeeping. I’ve acquired a bed-sitter at 2249 First Street. But I have to share the loo. I’m taking night classes at MacTavish College, a few blocks south of Jasper. I love shorthand. I hope to complete a secretarial course by this time next year.

     How are your food prices? Round steak is 10¢ a pound, stewing beef 6¢. I’m thankful I drink tea, as coffee is more expensive. Most things are reasonable. It’s just as well since wages are down.

     Edmonton’s a pretty city, but very crowded. Hotels and boarding houses are so costly that people are living outdoors in tent cities. The largest ones are by the CNR tracks and down in the Rossdale and Fraser flats.

     Carrie’s boys are growing like weeds, farm life agrees with them. She asked to be remembered to you. I miss you terribly. Must run to the post-box before class, hugs for Mona.

 

Your loving sister, Emma

 

     Mary tucked the letter in her apron pocket. She felt an emptiness in her life that she attributed to missing her sister. That night Jim came home with a newspaper folded under his arm. Even before taking his coat off, he wanted her to see an ad.

     “Have a look at this Mary. They’ve come out with a car made in Woodstock for $650. It comes fully equipped and can be driven year-round. Doesn’t that beat all!” She wondered how anyone could drive it in the wintertime when it had no doors or windshield. “Good solid rubber tires and shaft-driven too,” he added.

     Mona came storming into the kitchen. She wanted to tell them about the Halloween party at school. Mary welcomed the distraction and hoped the car would be forgotten.

     Christmas wasn’t nearly as much fun without Emma. They did the usual family things, bought a tree at the corner lot, took Mona to Toyland at Stanley Mills, and went downtown after dark to see the electric decorations in Gore Park. Mary had hoped her feelings of emptiness would have been gone by then but the Christmas trappings seem to make it worse. This year she wouldn’t be inviting the milkman, iceman/coalman, and mailman in for a Christmas drink. She didn’t even know her mailman’s name.

     That evening, while sorting through Christmas decorations, Mary stumbled across a box of old photos. She felt more than a twinge of nostalgia when she saw Emma posing with her classmates at Hamilton Business College. It seemed longer than four years ago that women wore the high choker neckline. Mary was glad the short open V-neck and a deeper one filled in with a vestee had replaced it. The “pneumonia” neckline, as it was called, making reference to Canada’s long bitter cold winters, was still modest but more feminine and flattering. Having completely forgotten about tree ornaments, Mary studied Emma’s picture and thought about the day her sisters had appeared on her doorstep. If it hadn’t been for Carrie’s persistence and determination, they never would have found her. She couldn’t help but wonder what happened to Will.

     “Did you find the angel?” Mona asked, bursting into the room.

     “I’m still looking,” she said. Packing away the dusty photos, she decided to put an ad in The War Cry to try to find her brother. Mary wasn’t overly optimistic about finding him but she kept telling herself that if enough people saw the paper, it just might work.

 

8295. JANEWAY, WILLIAM. Age 29, brown hair and eyes, came to Canada in 1891 to Stratford (and Hamilton), sent to work on a farm in Ontario. May have gone to the coalmines in San Diego or Western Canada.

 

     Six weeks later the temperature dropped overnight and snow had crusted hard on the sill. Mary would have liked a little fresh air but knew those cold westerly winds would chill her to the bone. Ice strands like tangled shoelaces had formed across the windowpane, leaving cut-like designs on the glass. It reminded her of the patterns the kids use to make skating on Mr. Allenby’s pond when she lived on the farm. She went downstairs to see if there was any mail, an excuse to take a break from ironing. There was a letter postmarked from British Columbia. Mary didn’t know anyone who lived farther west than Edmonton. She ran upstairs to get her letter opener, and in her excitement forgot to shut the door tightly. Her hands were shaking as she opened the envelope, being careful not to tear the paper inside.

 

February 18

Dear Mary,

 

I never spected to here from you. Fellas in town saw the papr and figured it was me you were talking about. Got a good job, stedy work, a cook at the coalmines in Nanimo. Its on Vancoover Islind. Nice place to live, not too cold. Ever bin here Mary? Right and tell me what your up to. Do you no where Carrie and Emma are? Sendin a pitchr. Don’t spose I look like you remembr.

 

Love Willy

 

     Mary couldn’t believe she’d found him. She wondered when he’d changed his name to Willy. She stared at his photo, remembering that Will’s … Willy’s eyes had always looked sad. She smiled at his moustache and couldn’t get over how old he looked.

     The last time she saw him he was fourteen. He was coming down the dusty, county road in a small horse-drawn wagon and met her on her way home from school. He’d been given a job as an apprentice with a travelling peddler and didn’t want to leave without saying say goodbye.

 

Mary had not seen her brother Willy since 1896. This photo was taken in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, B.C., in 1911.

Courtesy of Gail

 

“Take me with you, please, Will,” she begged, clinging to his arm. “I can help you.”

     “I can’t do that. I’ll be on the road for days. It’s no life for a girl.” Will paused, gently freeing himself from her grip. He lowered his voice as though someone might be listening. “I have a plan. As soon as I get settled, I’ll come back for you. And we’ll find John, we will.” He added, “I promise. In the meantime I want you to take this,” he said and handed her a small white envelope.

     “What’s this, Will?” she asked.

     “It’s money, not a lot it’s part of what I earned at the Lounsburys. I want you to keep it, Mary. If for some reason you can’t wait for me to come and get you, you’ll need some money. Hide it in a safe place and don’t tell anyone!”

     “When will I see you again?”

     “I’m not sure, but I’ll be

 

     Mary held his photo in her shaky hand. She was afraid it was a dream. Maybe Willy’s letter and photo would disappear by morning. Jim arrived home and wondered why the door had been left ajar and their apartment was a chilly 63 degrees.

     The next day Mary sent Willy a reply and wrote her sisters to share the good news. It would have to be a family reunion via the postal service, a little impersonal but no less exciting. Somehow she felt more secure, knowing where her brother was and that he was okay. Mary wrote to him on a regular basis but Willy’s letters were sporadic.

     Shocking news hit the papers in April 1912. “Wireless Played Noble Part in Saving of Lives.” The article reported that ships nearby had answered a distress call from the Titanic and had averted a tragedy on the Atlantic. Mary had heard all sorts of glowing reports about the magnificent ship and wasn’t surprised that no one had been hurt. But the next day, the headlines told a different story. The which was supposedly indestructible, had sunk and over fifteen hundred people were dead. She’d made that same trip across the ocean twelve years earlier and could well imagine how frightening an experience it would have been, not only for those who died but also for the ones who survived. She was relieved that she didn’t have any relatives aboard the fateful ship.

     While she tried to absorb the magnitude of the tragedy at sea, she noticed a smaller headline on the front page: “Titanic Disaster Thrilled Hamilton.” She thought it must have been a misprint. The known as “The Great Family Journal,” explained that it had arranged for a special leased wire from New York, making it possible to issue a 6:00 a.m. extra that morning. They claimed that not only did it contain a more accurate account of the shipwreck but it was also the only paper on the street at such an early hour.

     Mary realized that the headline meant Hamiltonians were thrilled with the impressive news coverage, not with the disaster. To say that this was poorly worded would be an understatement. But no one paid any attention to it. People were pre-occupied with checking the names of survivors listed in the paper, hoping their relatives or close friends were on it. Tragedies that claimed so many lives were hard to comprehend.

     The last day in June Mona came home with her first report card. Mary was thrilled with her teacher’s comment, “Mona is a polite, well-mannered child who follows the rules.” Mona had already met her Junior I teacher (Grade 1) Miss Hazel I. Stephenson and was looking forward to returning in the fall.

     “She has grey hair and glasses and she’s very smart,” she told her mother, “and her name starts with the letter ‘S’ just like my last teacher.” Mona seemed so innocent and Mary didn’t want that to change. She’d read an article in the Hamilton Herald about the risks of young girls growing up too quickly.

 

The freakish fashions which shamelessly display the physical rather than the innocent charms of young girls, are a disgrace, and put their mothers in an equally bad light. With large and amazing hats, transparent shirtwaists, skirts reaching but a few inches below the knee, so tight that the figure is boldly displayed at every step, with stockings of the thinnest silk, our girls present a very improper spectacle. What has come to be a common street sight today would not have been tolerated ten years

 

     Thankfully, Mona was content to go out for an ice cream, or a soda, or take the incline up the mountain with her family for a picnic. She loved going to the beach strip, the narrow strip of land that divided Lake Ontario from Burlington Bay, and the Canal Amusement Park to have a ride on the new Ferris wheel. Mary was mistrustful of the large, noisy contraption that resembled the waterwheel she’d seen at the gristmill in Innerkip. She preferred to take the eastbound radials to visit the orchards and small towns in the Niagara Peninsula. They stopped in Bartonville, Stoney Creek, Smith’s, Winona, Grimsby, and Beamsville. It was nice to leave the city behind and enjoy the tranquillity of the countryside.

     That summer Willy visited Emma and Carrie. Emma described how shy he’d acted when they met him. Mary could only imagine what might have taken place that day at the train station. According to her sister, Willy was soft-spoken and didn’t talk much. He said that he’d never stayed put long enough to get married and he liked his job as a cook at the coal mines. He had had the chance to work underground but wasn’t interested after what had happened to John. Somehow Willy must have found out about their brother’s accident in the San Diego mines that cost him his life.

     Willy stayed three days and headed back to Vancouver Island. He told Emma that he hoped to be able to afford a train ticket to Hamilton some day. Mary was sad to have missed the Janeway family reunion, but she was thankful her brother had been found.