Thirty

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Thirty

 

The Turning Point

 

“For the first five years of the forties, Canada had been occupied with the business of war, and for the remainder of the decade with the nuts-and-bolts of building factories and mills, homes and highways, and healthy bank

 

April 1948

 

Mary's life took an unusual turn in the spring of 1948. She was working as a visiting homemaker for the Red Feather Organization (today the United Way). She was out in the community helping others when she was no longer a young woman herself. At sixty-four she was beginning to feel her age.

     She preferred part-time work but that wasn’t always possible. A visiting homemaker had to be prepared to stay for as long as required. Mary took the bus to Houghton Avenue in the east end of the city to help a family who’d just had their second child, a little girl born at the Henderson Hospital. She walked up the street to the last house at the top of a slight incline. Mrs. Hewson greeted her at the door holding a tiny infant and with three-year-old Catharine hiding behind her skirt.

     Mary, who went by Mrs. Church to strangers, was to help out with the new baby, do some light housekeeping, and prepare meals. She took to Mrs. Hewson right away. She seemed kind, easy to please, and insisted that Mrs. Church take a break mid-morning. They’d sit at the kitchen table while the baby napped and Catharine had a snack, and talk about the weather, the rising cost of food, or a favourite recipe. They seemed to have lots of things in common. Mrs. Church wasn’t used to being treated like this. It didn’t seem like a job, it felt more like a friendship. They even talked about going to church and she admitted that she should attend more often but found it difficult to go alone.

     She was supposed to go every day for two weeks. Her favourite part of the day was caring for the newborn, the little girl who hadn’t been given a name yet. Her parents finally decided to call her Mary and Mrs. Church couldn’t have been happier. The time past quickly, which meant her visits were coming to an end.

     Her last day was one she’d never forget. Mary was napping in the buggy on the front porch, diapers had been taken off the line, the kitchen floor scrubbed, and a meatloaf and sweet potatoes were ready for the oven. Mrs. Church slowly gathered up her sweater and purse. “I think everything is in order. Is there anything else you’d like me to do before I go?” she asked, as she’d done every afternoon before leaving. But today it had a different meaning.

     Mrs. Hewson was sitting at the kitchen table with Catharine on her lap. “You’ve done more than enough. I don’t know how to thank you. I’d love to have you stay on but it’s not possible,” she hesitated. “It’s not just having a second pair of hands; I’ve enjoyed your company and you’ve taken such an interest in us. I’m going to miss that.”

     “I’ll miss it too,” she replied quietly. Mary felt uncomfortable not having had much practice sharing her emotions. “I’ll see myself out,” she said, turning to leave.

     “But you could drop in some time to see how Mary’s doing. It seems a shame that she’ll never remember you.”

     “I’d like that.”

     “Why don’t you meet us at Centenary United on Sunday and come home with us after church,” she paused, “and stay for dinner?”

     And that’s how the two-week home care commitment became a rest of a lifetime friendship. Mr. Hewson would wait for her in the front vestibule so they could sit together in church while his wife sang in the choir, Catharine went to Sunday school and Mary stayed in the nursery. Then she’d spend the rest of the day with them and take the bus home after supper before it got dark. It meant that she rarely had to eat Sunday dinner alone, something she’d never enjoyed. She couldn’t believe her good fortune to have met this kind family who had adopted her in a way.

 

In July 1948, Mary (Janeway) Church stood on the steps of Centenary Church with the Hewson family on Mary’s christening day.

The Hewson Collection.

 

     While Mary was quite used to living alone and didn’t mind her own company, there was something nice about leaving her tiny apartment on the weekends to spend time with the Hewsons. She liked helping in the kitchen, setting the table, or peeling potatoes and carrots for supper. She never waited to be asked, simply found a job and did it. It seemed as though she liked being busy but that was only part of the reason. It was important for her to feel that she’d earned her keep and would “never be beholding.”

     She truly belonged to a family now, like a grandma except that everyone called her Mrs. Church, including the parents. She took that as a sign of respect because of her age. After several months Mr. and Mrs. Hewson asked her to call them by their first names Bob and Gladys, the same day they asked her to be Mary’s godmother.

     As little Mary got older, she liked to snuggle up on the sofa with Mrs. Church to share one of her favourite books, Dumpy the or Scuffy the She never grew tired of the same stories, and although she couldn’t read, knew immediately if something had been missed. Sometimes a grown-up would skip a page but not Mrs. Church; she had all the time in the world. Mary got her undivided attention and what could be better than that to a young child? Gladys could see a special bond developing between Mrs. Church and her younger daughter.

     Mary would never forget the day that she got a message that they wouldn’t be at church on Sunday. There’d been an accident and young Mary had been taken to the General Hospital. The thought of something happening to the little girl made her panic and brought back painful memories of losing her own daughter. Since she had no phone, she jumped on the bus and headed to the east end of the city, relieved to find out that the youngster was back home with only minor bumps and bruises. An Eaton’s delivery truck had backed into her as she peddled her kiddie car across the driveway. An apology from the store manager, a reprimand to the driver, and a doll the same size as Mary was delivered the next morning. She was back to her usual self within a week and the ordeal was soon forgotten.

     Occasionally, Mary visited the Hewsons on Saturday. The littlest member of the family would watch at the window mid-morning until she saw Mrs. Church coming and then head out to greet her. She’d grab her free hand, the one that wasn’t carrying a purse, and almost pull her up the street. It was wonderful to be needed and made to feel so important. Mary had a soft spot in her heart for the little girl; after all, if it hadn’t have been for her, she’d never have been there in the first place. She always spent the first little while with little Mary before sitting down with Gladys to catch up on things over a cup of tea.

 

During the summer of 1950 young Mary Hewson was taking her dolly for a walk in the stroller.

The Hewson Collection.

 

     “Lately I’ve been having a terrible time getting Mary to eat her supper. I don’t know what the problem is,” the young mother confessed.

     “Maybe she just isn’t hungry,” Mrs. Church replied. “After all it’s been warm lately and I find my appetite isn’t the same.” That evening not only did Mary refuse to eat supper, she wouldn’t touch her dessert, which she usually devoured. A few days later the mystery was solved.

     “Well, I found out why Mary isn’t hungry,” Gladys said, as she put the kettle to boil. “She’s been going door-to-door asking for treats. Isn’t she the limit?” she said, shaking her head.

     Mrs. Church smiled, imagining how hard it would be to say no to the little fair-haired girl with big blue eyes. “Are you going to talk to your neighbours?”

     “No, Bob made a typewritten sign that I pinned on her jacket, the navy corduroy one she always wears outside to play. It says, “Please do not feed cookies, chips, or candy.” Thankfully she can’t read yet.”

     It was little day-to-day things like this that made Mary’s life more interesting. It didn’t surprise her to hear that the little girl fired the cleaning lady the fall she started kindergarten. Apparently she’d overheard a conversation in which her mother said she wasn’t happy with the woman but didn’t have the heart to let her go. Gladys was almost relieved that her daughter had dealt with the situation but certainly wouldn’t have admitted it.

     Mary couldn’t get over the young child’s spunk and the way her parents dealt with it. She would never have gotten away with those things when she was growing up. Her life as a home child had been so different. Reflecting on her past, she realized how many things had changed since she was that age.

     The 1950s were unfolding as a decade of prosperity, a time when people were becoming consumers instead of shoppers. The fifties introduced superhighways, suburbs, shopping plazas, and television, which most considered to be a “passing fancy” and only a slight improvement over the radio.

     Who would have predicted that in less than two years over a million televisions would be purchased and people would sit for hours watching anything from health-remedy ads to westerns and cartoons? It was no surprise that television was responsible for closing two hundred movie houses in the first three years.

     Mary remembered watching Percy Saltzman, the first Canadian to appear on television, talk about the weather. It was September 8, 1952, and she was working as a housekeeper for a family on Aberdeen Avenue. Working for the well-to-do helped her keep abreast of new technologies like the television. The growing popularity of TV dinners and TV tables meant no one had to miss anything on television during the supper hour; even the test pattern was considered a novelty. Not only were the lifestyles of Canadian families altered, their living rooms were rearranged to accommodate the “big box.”

     There were those who had a television and those who wished they could afford one. Shortly after they came out, Bob brought a small one home on loan, and it took up a central location on their dining-room table. Mary witnessed the excitement, but without an aerial or antennae they could only get one channel. The girls still sat there mesmerized by Country a half-hour commentary on farm matters and gardening tips. The television was gone after a couple of weeks. After that the two girls went down the street to Donna Patton’s house to see the Howdy Doody show. Mary remembered how reluctant Gladys had been, for fear they were taking advantage of their neighbour.

     Mary continued to visit the Hewsons, especially looking forward to holiday weekends since it meant staying an extra day. She realized that she’d have been lonely if it hadn’t been for them. Taking the streetcar to the market every Saturday and going home to cook for one was something she didn’t miss, and she was thankful that she had much more than that to fill her days.

     Bob and Gladys were thrilled when another baby came along; this time a little boy named John. A year later they sold their two-bedroom house and bought some land to build a home in the village of Stoney Creek. They hoped to move by the end of the summer, but if it wasn’t quite ready they could always stay at their cottage on Lake Erie a little longer.