This thing belonged to my grandma and when she passed away, my mom took it and when she passed away, I ended up with it. It’s about 4 inches high and it’s rather heavy. Also, the flower petals have very sharp edges – you can almost cut yourself on them if you’re not careful. This is a standard old lady knick knack if ever there was one. I don’t like it, aesthetically, but as it reminds me of my grandmother, Edith Hunter (neé Arthur), what can I do but hold onto it, maybe even cherish it at some level?
I have written before on this blog about my relationship with my grandmother, so I won’t go over that same ground again. (Please see “A Visit to Grandma’s House” posted in February of this year.) But in that post, I refrained from telling what I think is a very interesting story about her and how the family ended up on the prairies, so here it is now.
Early in the last Century, around 1907 I believe, grandma’s father and brothers took advantage of the Homestead Act and went out to Saskatchewan to farm a quarter section of land. (This was in the Alsask area, for those of you familiar with the great metropolises of the Canadian prairies.)
Grandma and her mother stayed home back in Ontario, in the town of Ancaster, which I believe is now a part of Hamilton but was then its own dreamy little village. Both were school teachers, and very fine ladies from what I understand. Teetotalers, even. (I know it’s hard to imagine that I come from such pure and virtuous stock, but I do.)
To give you an idea of the two of them in action, grandma told me that one day around this time she and her mother went out to make their calls on a fine Sunday afternoon, but then were forced to hurry back home when they realized they had left home without their white gloves. Scandalous behaviour!
Grandma’s mother was very suspicious of this western movement of the family. She had hoped her husband would come to his senses and return to Ontario after a summer, but he and the boys seemed to be staying put. And then one fateful day, there came a letter in the mail from the wilds of the western hinterland requesting that the girls pack up the house and come out and join them.
Great-grandma was having none of this, and so she dispatched my grandma on a recognizance mission to find out first hand just what it was like out there. At the time, this meant traveling down through the United States to St. Paul, Minnesota and then taking a spur line up into Canada.
It’s hard to imagine a young Edwardian lady heading out on a journey like that, with her envelope of money pinned up inside her petticoat, but she did it. The train dropped her off at a very lonely crossroads in the middle of the vast prairie, not a building in sight. And there were her dad and brothers waiting for her on a buckboard pulled by one gigantic horse.
Grandma loved it. She had the time of her life, and soon enough returned home to her mother singing the praises of the prairies. This was the promised land, Shangri-La, Valhalla, Eden . . . take your pick. She convinced her mother to make the move, and her mother – against her better judgement – acquiesced.
And so the next summer, as my grandma presented it to me when I was a wee lad, she and her mother packed up the fine china and crystal and linens and the piano and everything else and took that same train down through Minnesota and then up into Saskatchewan.
They were dropped off at the same lonely empty crossroads, along with all of their earthly possessions. There on the buckboard were my great-grandfather and my great uncles.
Can’t you just hear the drone of the mosquitoes and the buzz of the grasshoppers and feel the heat of the sun beating down on them . . . and sense the deep endless silence beyond . . . that relentlessly vast and empty space, the big bowl of the sky, high white clouds drifting by, thousands of miles from civilization?
Grandma’s mother took it all in, ever so slowly slumping to her knees on the dirt road, in her white dress and her white lace gloves. She began to sob, pounding her white-gloved fist on the dirt road moaning, “No . . . . no . . . no . . .”
Grandma said you could see little puffs of dirt rise up each time she hit the road with her fist.
I guess great-grandma didn’t like it out west so much. As far as I know, she never really did come around.
I don’t know . . . maybe this little vase once lived on a shelf in that stately old home in Ancaster. Maybe it made the journey out west with my grandma and her mother.
Honestly, it’s one of my least favourite objects, but as it reminds me of one of my favourite people of all time, my dear grandma Edith Hunter, here it will stay as long as I have a shelf to put it on.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s a little gem I found looking for something from this era to share with you . . .