Mary Elizabeth Darling - part one



(part one of four)
(The spelling of Calnek is as it appears in the paper...PV)

My Early Girlhood Days In Berwick

(By Mary Elizabeth Darling)

I am only asking you to go a piece of the way with me – just through the first section: possibly in this short jaunt you may review some familiar situations and parallel incidents of your own experience.

It is not a "make believe" as the children say; it is a really true story, a memory sketch including some of the current events of that time.

Let us go together to the far eastern Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, the setting of this rehearsal. Some years before the American Revolution and shortly after the French Acadians were exiled a number of colonists left New England and migrated to this Acadia, the "land of abundance," my "forbears" among them. It was in 1760 my great-great-grandfather on my paternal side came with his wife and married sons and daughters and settled in Annapolis not far from the Royal Port where they landed. The Calmack Savage History of the County of Annapolis, published in 1897, has this to say of them: "No individual family has done more than this, in the planting of orchards and changing the wilderness landscapes of a century ago into objects of value and beauty. Monuments of their industry and intelligence are conspicuous in many townships of the county." My maternal ancestors came about the same time.

This western section of the Province was not only favorable to agriculture, but the climate was equally as agreeable as the one they had left.

Port Royal, changed to Annapolis Royal in honor of Queen Ann, abounds in historical lore. "Before the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock a thriving village stood on the shores of the Annapolis Basin, the "Port Royal"; the first ships built on the Continent unfurled their sails there, and a near-by stream, now called Allen’s Creek, turned the wheels of the first mill constructed in North America.

These several immigrant New England families took up government lands and had much in common. They worked harmoniously together and proved themselves to be excellent settlers; composed of British stock they had inherited some of the sterling qualities of their early progenitors who had left their native land for greater freedom, some for political reasons, some for "righteousness sake" and here and there one for his own sake. Of these early ancestral pioneers to America of which our family has any claim, we like to mention two or three of particular interest: "Dear saintly Elder" William Brewster of Mayflower fame. The marriage alliance of Thomas Tupper of Sandwich, with Martha Mayhew, daughter of Thomas Mayhew, Indian missionary and Governor of Marth’s Vineyard, who had the patience and ability to translate portions of the Bible into the Indian language. Also a remote connection wit the family of Elizabeth Foster who in the history of her domestic life has become the disputed author of nursery rhymes. I like to picture her seated in the family pew of the Old South Church of Boston with her numerous family of children, and in the midst of the long solemn sermons and prayers composing some jingling verse for their home amusement. In the colonial records of Massachusetts, there are others listed in creditable citizenship.

My father was one of the second generation born in the Province. He received his education in William A. Calneck’s School, Annapolis, which prepared him for teaching and surveying lands. He did not marry until after his thirtieth birthday. I presume the delay was caused by the slow process of acquiring material success that he deemed necessary for establishing a home. His teaching and surveying career gave him an opportunity of seeing and living in other localities; he was blessed with good business qualifications and was watching out for some favorable place to settle.

In 1847 he with his father and mother removed to western Cornwallis, where they had purchased a farm at a point where the Annapolis Valley ceases and the Cornwallis Valley begins. These two beautiful strips of country are what is now called the "Garden of Nova Scotia," where apple orchards and verdant meadow lands abound. The farm was a good investment; it included woodland, pasture, orchard and meadow, with a dwelling house sufficiently large and suitable for two families; it set back from the road on high ground and faced the south, overlooking the orchard and meadow; it was of old style architecture, made of wood with a long frontage, with ample windows and two front doors set round with little panes of glass. The upper story had a row of dormer windows projecting from the roof. The interior was well planned and very comfortable. The living room and some of the bed chambers had good old-fashioned fireplaces. It was situated a mile from the village of Berwick.

In October of that year my father went back to Annapolis to claim the sweetheart he had wooed there and bring her to this home, his bride. The letters that had passed between these dear people were kept in mother’s choicest treasure box until they were creaseworn and brown with age. I myself have handled these romantic documents. Envelopes were not in general use at that time. I remember the sheets were neatly folded and bound together with sealing wax, and stamped with an engraved seal. Over the country there was only a periodical transfer of mail, and frequently letters and parcels were delivered by friendly carriers.

My earliest recollection of these people and this home was a little more than a decade later, when I was little past three years old. I found it a very happy place. My father, the youngest of six boys, never had a sister, and my advent after two previous disappointments in the birth of sons, made me very welcome. My grandparents, too, shared in the family’s delight. Very shortly after my mother’s marriage her parents passed away within a year of each other; this placed me in the exclusive possession of the two families of the household. It was immediately decided that I should be named for my two grandmothers. There was a discussion which name should be first. My mother quietly yielded and I was baptised Mary Elizabeth. When I grew up to years of understanding I failed to comprehend any satisfaction it gave my esteemed grandmother, as her sobriquet and mine, was, with few exceptions, invariably "Molly." My mother made one of the exceptions; she always addressed me by my full name. There was something impressive in the way she pronounced the words, which left in my heart a lasting sweetness. In the years that followed she told me many things concerning her childhood and parents, and I am sure she often grieved for them and regretted they could never know her children. Dignified and reserved as she was, with the busy cares of her household and the many demands made upon her, she was exceedingly considerate of others and made a wonderfully harmonious home.

On the lower floor there was no communicating door between the apartments; this arrangement protected the older people from the noise and frolic of us children, but from the floor above was a staircase leading down through a small entry, one door opening into their living room, and one into their bedroom. I very early learned of this way of reaching them. In stormy weather my brothers would help me down for a little visit. One night when I was put to bed and left alone in the dark, I scrambled out and down those stairs myself, one little foot after the other finding the step below and behind me, chuckling all the way with glee, unconsciously announcing my coming. Through an open door I could see the reflection of a lighted candle to guide me, and there in a big four poster, with canopy top and hangings, were the raised heads of the dear old people who with much surprise had heard my coming. Each wore a nightcap this made them so alike I was at first puzzled to tell one from the other. This night adventure was never repeated; it caused too much disturbance; that is possibly why I remember it so distinctly. The discipline of the family, never at any time harsh, was always firm.

As time went on I became better acquainted with my surroundings and inmates. My brothers were always devoted to me, although I now realize that I must have frequently imposed upon their indulgence and interfered with their rights and play. If they had an opportunity to ride one of the horses. I must have my chance; if they had a hoop to roll, I must try my skill; if grandfather helped them to make kites, there must be one for me; willow whistles and tops the same and everything else; I wanted to do all the things they did and share in all they had. One thing was denied me, and was hard to bear. In winter they had high boots and could tramp and frolic in the snow, while I jealously watched them from the window inside. These scenes of seemingly endless snow, so white and sparkling in the sunlight, mantling the buildings, frosting the trees, piled high in lanes and roadways so that paths had to be shoveled out and strong oxen used to force a way for travel, never had for me the charm of spring and summer. In the mild seasons the length and breadth of the farm was our exclusive playground. We seldom if ever had any youthful playmates. My brothers led me about to frequent excursions. Sometimes among the trees hunting birds nests, in the pasture picking strawberries, and in the woodland gathering mayflowers, and checkerberries.

One particular day my younger brother and I lost our way in the woodland. We trampled round and round amid the fragrance of spruce, hemlock, birch and maple trees; their branches brushed us again and again and held us prisoners. We became very tired and I almost hysterical; finally we found an opening and

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The First Section

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hastened home. I thought there would be a great ado made over us, but my brother said not a word and walked off cheerfully s though nothing had happened. In the yard we passed by Thomas, the farm hand. He called out, "there is company." We knew this by the two empty carriages before us. We slipped in through the kitchen entrance where Johanna the maid was too busy carrying out her duties, to scarcely notice us; warm and dusty, with a lump in my throat I passed on into the dining room where the table was surrounded by guests and sidled up to my mother and began whispering our woeful tale. She drew me to her for a moment, said "I am sorry, my dear, run away and rest, I will attend to you a little later." This unavoidable negligence on her part was a severe shock. I would have gone directly to my grandfather for comfort had not my brother directed my attention to the extra good things Johanna was saving for our supper, so much more tempting than the wholesome bread and milk diet that would probably be offered next door.

My grandfather, from good old Puritan stock, believed laziness was the worst form of sin, and very early began inducting my older brother into some of the ways of arm life. Often he took him about the place and taught him how to sow grain, drop potatoes, plant corn and sometimes he would ride the horse between the rows of crops and do other light "chores," in which my younger brother was sometimes expected to join him; but for the most part we two younger ones were left much to ourselves, directors of our own amusement. We both had an adventurous spirit, always ready to go somewhere or attempt something new. One bright morning I found him in the woodshed handling some fishing poles and saw a can of angleworms on a bench beside him; all his movements pointed to a fishing expedition. As usual wherever he was going. I wanted to accompany him; the family elsewhere engaged, there was no one to say us nay. Moreover, we were privileged to wander at will over the premises, so off we started down the road, two very youthful sport-hunters.

The Cornwallis river wended its way along the foot of our meadow; at this extreme western end of the Valley nearly thirty miles from Minas Basin where it empties. It is not very wide or very deep, a clear sparkling stream that enhances the beauty of the scenery, and at certain seasons of the year lures the fisherman for trout.

On the pleasant country roads running north and south over the Valley, strong wooden bridges span this stream. We children enjoyed lingering on this familiar one that I usually crossed in the family carriage. It was quite a liberty to be a pedestrian and stand upon it. We leaned over the railing, gazing down into the clear water below to see what living things there were in its depths, and be fascinated with the reflections of ourselves. My sunbonnet tied snugly under the chin so enveloped my head that my face was only a black form set in, but my brother’s curly hair stood out below his straw brimmed hat. We bowed and moved our hands about, every turn making a new picture. Finally my brother became impatient, we walked on over the remaining plank floor and slid down the slope of the grassy bank into the meadow and proceeded up stream for quite a distance on the opposite side from home.

My brother selected what he considered a lucky place and we cast our lines. Sitting quite close, he showed me how to hold the pole and cautioned me not to talk. After what seemed an interminable while he had the satisfaction of landing a small trout. Grandfather had taught him, with my older brother, the art of angling. This was my first experience. My little hands soon tired of holding the pole in one position. I let it drop on the bank and my brother took charge of it; almost immediately there was a frantic wiggle and he very nearly lost control of it, the hook, trailing about on the river bottom, gathered up an eel: We had a disagreeable task separating the eel from the hook, it was such a squirming looking thing, so snakelike. I was tired and became nervous and wanted to go home. The mistake of crossing the bridge dawned upon us, and to save distance we sought a log crossing near by. My brother, with the two poles dangling from his shoulders, went safely over; but I, when very nearly reaching the other side where the log narrowed, slipped into the river and would probably have drowned had not a neighbor boy, who stood near examining my brother’s "catch," jumped forward and pulled me out. This was more than a thrill, it was almost a catastrophe, and suppressed all the pleasure of the day. The two boys brushed the hair out of my eyes, wiped my face, and tried to wring the water from my clothing. The farmer lad, much older than my brother, put me on his back and carried me most of the way home. We took a path through the meadow and orchard, when he set me down and left us.

A solemn conference ensued. We both felt conscience stricken, going away as we did without permission. My brother blamed himself for the mishap. "My! I didn’t know girls couldn’t walk a log." This remark was humiliating to my pride, and with rather a weak voice I answered, "I almost walked it," I felt cold chills running up and down my back and still conscious of falling I could not keep the tears back, my strength and courage failed. Fido, the good old faithful dog, trained to guard the house, met my pale face and dripping garments with such profuse attentions that he toppled me over.

With the exception of my grandfather our absence had not caused any uneasiness; he was ever on the lookout and with his glass had spied us from his front doorstep, hastened down the walk, picked me up and carried me into the house, my brother following. The sight of the fishing poles had told him the whole story. My father, seated at his desk busily absorbed in drawing a township map, was thus interrupted; we were two miserable little culprits before the bar. An exciting time followed, what with the silent rebuke directed more to my brother than myself, and getting me into dry, warm clothing and to bed, the entire family assembled. My grandmother administered a cup of hot herb tea and tender nursing began. For several days I was quite ill and languid. My condition was punishment for us both; however, later on we found our comings and goings were considerably restricted, especially mine. I was kept under closer supervision.

During the days of convalescence my doll family was a great solace. Grandfather came in often to cheer me, and on one of these occasions he admonished me to instruct my image pets never to take any "short cuts," the longest way around is the surest way home."

I early learned to sew, make patchwork quilts and dolls clothes. I fashioned my doll’s hats and dresses from those of our visitors, and sometimes in church I would pick out an attractive model.

(Continued next week)

(NOTE – The author of the above sketch is the daughter of the late Edward C. Foster, who will be remembered by many of Berwick’s older residents as one who was prominently connected with the establishment of the Berwick Camp grounds and other local enterprise. – Editor.)