My sister, Marilyn, interviewed my mom, Marjorie (Mott) Wright, for these stories when mom was beginning to suffer dementia.They looked through old black and white photos, and mom told my sister about each photo. Thankfully, mom’s memory of her childhood was still clear at that time. And thank you, so much, Marilyn, for collecting these stories. I urge those of you who still have your parents or grandparents around, take time to sit down with them, look through old photos, and record their memories. Life is fragile, and you may never have another chance.
The first time I met my paternal grandparents, Eveline Preston Mott and Byron Mott, was in 1936. I was ten. They drove from Sherwood, North Dakota to Summerland in a black 1935 Ford car. I remember that Grandpa spoiled us kids.
For Valentine’s Day in Summerland, we made cards to give out. We would have class parties and everyone would bring something to share, like popcorn or candy. My parents always made something special for us to take. I always made a Valentine for my mom and dad. We also made cards for everyone we knew.
Miss Stella Wilson taught me to knit when I was 8 or 10. My mom taught me to sew at 4 years. I remember sitting in my high chair sewing, and my mom taking out my “poor” stitches for me to redo.
My dad entered flower arrangements at the Horticultural Fair.
When I was three years old, my family moved from Alberta to Kaleden [They lived there for a short time; then they moved to Penticton briefly, and finally settled in Summerland]. The buttercups were in full bloom when we arrived. Every year I would search for the first buttercups. In Kaleden, my dad built an addition to the back of Great-Aunt Janet’s house for us to live in. The front of the house was a corner store. The house was surrounded by lilac bushes. One time, we lived in a tent on the back side of Dog [Skaha] Lake while my dad pruned an orchard. This was where we learned orcharding work. My dad would catch live rattlesnakes to sell in Penticton. He would tie them in burlap sacks and lay them on the floor of the car’s back seat. Emily and I would sit with our feet up on the back seat and watch them.
In spring, robins were the first birds, followed by mountain bluebirds. In the orchards, the first blossoms were apricots (white), then cherries and peaches (pink), and apples (white and pink). At Easter, we would put away winter clothes and start wearing summer dresses and ankle socks, home knit cardigans instead of jackets (we knit our own from an early age). Everyone hoped for an early Easter. Our family arrived back in Summerland from our year on the prairies [when mom was 12] on May 11 so my dad always planted peas on May 11 from then on.
When we lived in Kaleden, we walked to a little Baptist Sunday School. We had to learn a Bible verse every week. These were made into a chain we could later take home. One time I slowed to pick spring flowers and so was late for Sunday School–I got a spanking for that! When I was older, in Summerland, my youth group would climb up Giant’s Head. We would hold our own Sunrise Service.
Easter meant a change to summer clothes. My mom made us new dresses for Easter Sunday and sometimes we’d have a new hat. For breakfast, we’d have piles of hand-boiled eggs (sometimes coloured), and everyone would eat as many as they liked. Eggs were hidden in the yard for younger children and we had candy Easter eggs as well.
Every Christmas I got a new doll; when I was younger, from Santa, then later from my parents. I named my dolls with double names, like Mary Lou. My last doll was purchased from the Eaton’s catalogue. I saved up to pay half its cost. I still have several of my dolls.
Some of my favourite games were checkers, Chinese checkers, softball (at school), and skipping (at home and at school).
One of my favourite things was swimming in Okanagan Lake. We would sometimes walk to Trout Creek and fish along its edges. Sometimes the small fish we caught would be fried by the Eskimo mom of a neighbourhood family.
I rode borrowed bikes until I finished school and earned money to buy my own. We liked to ride to Penticton (10 miles with lots of hills) and eat at a little cafe–usually soup and crackers. When I was older, we’d come home on the night train.
When we moved from Edmonton [at 3 years old], we camped the whole two week trip. I also camped on the back side of Skaha Lake. When I was 13, I went to a girls’ camp on the lake.
When I was young, our family had a black, curly-haired dog we called Laddie. We got his name from our grade one reader. I had my own Rhode Island Red hen that laid small eggs. I got to eat her eggs myself.
On Saturdays, we had to clean the pantry. I also helped prepare meals, like peeling potatoes. My least favourite chore was washing dishes. We had to sweep and scrub the floors with old cloths. We had to look after our own bedrooms. We piled up orange crates and hung a curtain in front for cupboards. To do laundry, we had to heat wash water in a tub, then use soap and scrub. Rinsing was done in a separate tub. We also had acres of vegetables and orchard to weed and work in.
My mom was a wonderful cook. She used lots of fruits and vegetables grown in our orchard and garden. We ate potatoes every day and she had a specialty she called “the dish” that had rice in it. We also raised chickens that we canned. During the week we always had homemade bread as well as cakes and cookies. On the weekends we inevitably had guests and she would make a big cake or pies.
In the summer, there was always lots of home-grown vegetables and fruit. Often, when corn was in season, we’d have a challenge to each our length in corn (cobs). Then we’d eat fresh peaches, just picked, for dessert. It was usual for us to have guests in the summer and everyone would eat tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, etc. We kids would be given a gunny sack and we’d go pick enough corn for everyone that was expected for supper. At suppertime, everyone would take their food and sit on the verandah and steps to eat.
I started school a year early [because there were very few grade 1 students that year, and sister Emily was starting grade 1 so the school asked to have her be in grade 1 as well]. From grades 1 to 7, I attended Summerland Elementary. When we moved to Saskatchewan [for a year], I finished grade 7 and started grade 8 in Glen Ewen School. There, there was one room for grades 1 to 8 and the high school was upstairs. We moved back to Summerland and I finished grade 8 at Summerland Elementary. I then attended and graduated from Summerland Highschool, a four-room school at that time. I liked almost everything, but in high school I didn’t like math and science very well. I took Latin instead of French in high school.
In my early grades, most of my teachers were Christians and some also taught Sunday School. I had Miss Banks, Miss Hobbs, Miss Dale (she read to us through Genesis and taught Sunday School), Miss Wilson (she also taught Sunday School, as well as piano), Miss Garnet, and Mrs. Tingley. Mr. MacDonald was our principal. Most of the teachers I had later were men. What I remember is that many of my teachers did lots of music with us and read us lots of books.
At recess we skipped and played softball. We also played “giant strides” and had swings and a sandbox. In bad weather we played jacks. When there was snow we played “snow pie.” We’d tramp the snow down like a pie. The “it” would be in the middle and the rest of us had to run along the edges and try not to get caught. When it was time to go into school we lined up and walked in 2 by 2.
Every spring there was a school concert in the Ellison Hall. We sang and each class put on its own play. Our costumes were made of crepe paper. In grade 2, I was a daffodil. We did our plays out of our readers, things like Mother Goose. We didn’t have school trips, but during high school I rode a school bus to school.
Emily and I graduated in 1943. There were only 7 or 8 of us left because the other had already left to join up for the war. Because of the war, we didn’t do anything really fancy. One time, when our teacher left the room, all of the girls (except Emily) jumped out of the window and hid by laying down behind the hedge. We also all joined the Cadets. I was a Quarter Master Sargeant. We didn’t have a prom. Most of the boys were gone. We had a school banquet. Our school’s colours were gold and blue. We didn’t have a mascot.
For sports, mostly we played pick-up softball at noon. We didn’t have a lot of sports because of the war. Instead, Cadets took over. We learned to march and shoot. The war also meant that there weren’t enough men to look after the orchards. During those years, the school year ended at the beginning of June so students could all work in the orchards. School didn’t start again until the end of October so that we could work in the packing houses. There were very few school sports events. In the early days, there were some basketball games and I’d go when I could. During the winter, we’d have at least one skating party. We went skating on a lake in the hills east of Summerland. We didn’t have a band.
My best friends:
– Dena (Rhodena) Moore: from grade 7 on. We went to Nurse’s training together
– Mary Beer, grade 1
– Ruth, Gweneth, Noreen (Sparky): highschool
– Maretta Embree, from Trout Creek: grades 1 to 12, and church
– Emily, my sister, was always one of my best friends
– Ruth Daynard: from Kelowna, during my teens
– Mary Zebroff: grades 1-6. I remember sleeping over at her house and listening to the Doukhobor men singing late into the night.
– Gladys Daniels: grade 5 on; she was from Ireland and was part of a BIG family.
– the Hicksons, especially Phyllis; we went to school together and to each others’ birthday parties.
At Hallowe’en we always went trick-or-treating. I usually dressed up as a tramp. I’d act like a boy so nobody would know who I was. I’d put together my costume from mens’ and boys’ clothes. Our jack-o-lanterns were goofy, not artistic. They usually had big teeth. We’d put a candle inside to light them. Treats were usually nuts, Hallowe’en taffy, homemade candy wrapped in waxed paper, popcorn and popcorn balls.
On the Saturday or Monday of Thanksgiving, the whole family dug potatoes. My dad did the digging and the rest of us bagged. For supper that night we’d eat sausages, salads (from homegrown vegetables with homemade dressings), vegetables, and apple pie. If we dug potatoes on Saturday, we’d go on a big, long hike on the Monday. Lots of our friends would go with us and then, often we’d go to friends for dinner. We decorated the church with harvest/Thanksgiving things. We sang Thanksgiving songs at church and at home. On Thanksgiving Sunday, we always either had guests or were guests for dinner. At home we all helped prepare dinner, then washed the dishes together– one washed, two dried, one did pots and pans. We sang in parts while we did the dishes. Our Thanksgiving foods were chicken, salads, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, gravy, cake and pies. Mom did the meat because it was too precious to take chances with.
At Christmas, we would go up in the hills to find a tree that suited us and haul it back home. Our decorations were mostly homemade. We first had electric lights during the war (early 40s). Mom and Dad put them on after bedtime. They made it look like fairyland. Dad read The Christmas Carol. We hung our stockings (one of Dad’s!) on our beds or wherever else we found room and the younger children would go to bed early. On Christmas morning we always woke up earlier than we were supposed to, to see if Santa had come. Either we took our stockings to Mom and Dad or by the tree to open. I usually got a tiny doll, candy, nuts, an orange, little books, and other small things. In the toe was an apple. I got a Mac and Emily got a Delicious. For breakfast we had sweetened grapefruit halves and our favourite breakfast food, then we’d open our presents.
We made a lot of our presents. We often gave Dad pencils, and Mom pincushions. Sometimes we went to the 15 cent store in Penticton. With a dollar we could buy small gifts like hankies for our relatives and friends. My mom made a lot of our clothes.
After presents, we would go to our neighbours to wish them a Happy Christmas. Every other year we had to go for Christmas to Uncle and Auntie Kelly’s. It was painful![Note: Mom told us that Grandma and the children–Emily, Marjorie, Laura, and Preston–ate in the dining room with Uncle Wellington and Aunt Laura, but Grandpa–Aunt Laura’s nephew!–had to eat in the kitchen because sometimes he had worked in the orchards for Uncle Wellington, and that meant he was considered a hired hand and therefore could not join the family in the dining room. Lots of other stories like that… Maybe a story for another time!] The other years we had company for dinner. Usually there would be 17 or 18 in all. I usually sat at a small table with the younger children so I could help serve them. Sometimes we had a goose for dinner. Dad always read the Christmas story on Christmas day.
Love all the details! Better memory than me!
Thanks, Nancy. Yes–better memory than me, too! That’s why I write things down whenever I think of them, and also read all my parent’s old letters and notes and go over their photos. What a treasure!