Mary Elizabeth Darling - part two



(part two of four)

My Early Girlhood Days In Berwick

(By Mary Elizabeth Darling)

(Continued from last week)

I do not think it possible that any family ever had as many first, second and third degree cousins as ours. If they were not connections of my parents, they were of my grandparents. From my earliest recollection our house was very frequently filled with company. Added to the numerous relations were friendly acquaintances, and the Methodist clergy and politicians passing through the Valley found our house a pleasant retreat; also comparative strangers in need of a hot dinner or a night’s lodging gave us a call. In those days hospitality was second to religion. These social relations, while sometimes burdensome, lent a charm to the otherwise secluded country life.

Beside the weekly newspapers, Religious Quarterly and English Review, other circulating publications were rare in rural districts, and these visitors always had some interesting news to relate. Even we children gained something of an unconscious knowledge of many things not necessarily found in books.

Another memory of this period was the religious atmosphere in which we lived. Religion was a dominating power and every one was affected. I learned the "Lord’s Prayer" from hearing it daily repeated at family worship. Every Sunday I memorized a passage of Scripture. How familiar some of them are! "Suffer little children" "He that is slow to anger," "If thine enemy hunger."

There was much theological controversy, and arguments on doctrines and creeds universally taking place, reaching towns and villages. Our house had ever been a centre for the discussion of civic and religious questions. I recall one evening in particular when Calvinism was the subject. My young life was so closely associated with "grown ups," I overheard and absorbed much of their conversation. Calvinism was such a mysterious word my curiosity was aroused. I asked my father to tell me what it meant. He gave me some evasive answer with a kiss, and reminded me it was my bedtime. I then turned to my grandfather who never refused me anything. I have always felt his religious beliefs were very liberal. He happily trotted me on his knee and softly hummed some ditty on the elect and damned. Dear grand-daddy, with his fair skin, pink cheeks and mirthful eyes, was always so comforting.

Another thing of local importance was a lively agitation to build a new church. From the very beginning of the village there had been a strong organization of Baptists who had early built a fine house of worship for themselves. Among the later settlers many gathered under its roof who were not of that creed. Someone had to assert himself. My father had a personal interest in the matter, and being ever solicitous of the welfare of the community, met in consultation with others, where it was decided a Methodist church would draw the most followers. My father was appointed subscription chairman and began at once gathering funds. At the end of two years of laborious zeal with successful results, the little flock moved into a fine new church, which stands today a monument of the efforts of those earnest people.

This place of worship had special interest for us. My mother was brought up a Methodist, and it became the sacred shrine of the family; both of my parents were faithful workers in it. My father began his services teaching a Bible Class, and this continued to the end of his life. My mother did not fail in doing her part. There was no such thing as real poverty in the village; local benevolence was helping to nurse the aged and render occasional relief to tired mothers in cases of epidemic, but in church programs everywhere, foreign missions are included, and my mother became the leader in this branch of work. Sometimes she would allow me to accompany her to the meetings where I would take delight in joining in the singing of "From Greenland’s Icy Mountains."

One of the happiest memories I have of my father is when he was teaching me to read, and it was with him that my brothers and I began our elementary education. When he settled in a home of his own the oversight of the farm and other business interests released him from further public school teaching. His own family was a different proposition and I think he not only felt it a duty but experienced real pleasure tutoring us. This happy association of home training did not last very long; as soon as my younger brother was equal to the mile walk to and from the village, the studies of my companions were transferred to the district school. This change made the days long and lonely for me. My mother began to interest me in the performance of light, helpful tasks that brought me closer to her daily life and filled the breach with happiness. She assumed the duties of teacher. Wadsworth was her favorite poet. She chose the simpler poems for me, such as ""o a Snowdrop."" ""haste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring," and "To a Butterfly."

"Sit near us on a bough,
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days when we were young."

Sometimes she would select a bit of prose that we would read in concert, and in this intimate way my lessons were continued.

One thing of Provincial interest at this time, 1860, and of interest to all the American British Provinces, and the United States as well, was the visit of the Prince of Wales (the late King Edward VII). He made the tour in H. M. S. Hero. The first stop was made at Newfoundland; the second, Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was in this city that his grandfather, "Edward, Duke of Kent, made his headquarters in 1798 when he was Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America." During the Prince’s visit in Halifax he travelled inland forty-five miles to Windsor where, at the University of Kings College (founded 1790 by Dr. Ingles) a reception was held. It was there my oldest brother, in company with my parents, had the pleasure of seeing him. My younger brother and I felt quite slighted that we were not included in the party, and during their three days’ absence we talked over and over again the little we had learned about the royal family. The national anthem, "God Save the Queen" was as familiar to us as the "Doxology." We wondered why the Queen did not come. When we grew up we would go to England and see her and this wonderful Prince that everyone was talking about.

Our grandparents exerted themselves to make us happy. Every day we dined with them, and among other good things, we had rabbit pot pie and wild birds. Grandfather was a clever sportsman and we often bringing in something appetizing for the table. For diversion he took us to the grist mill, and we made a visit to the young lambs. He helped us fly our kites, and in the evenings told us stories. The third day was the longest, when, toward evening we became very impatient. Grandfather calculated the time when the wanderers would return. We made frequent trips to our driveway, looking down the road, and twilight was creeping into darkness before we finally heard the familiar even trot of "Jerry," our best roadster. How excited we were! After the greeting we began at once questioning my brother. My first – "Did the Prince wear a beautiful broad-brimmed hat, with full, downy plumes extending to his shoulders?" "No! He isn’t a fairy. He’s a real man, nearly nineteen years old." Buttons and straps did not mean anything to me. The romance of seeing him entirely vanished. My older brother kept up his enthusiasm and, through the newspapers, followed the Prince’s entire tour. At Ottawa he laid the corner stone of the new Parliament building, and in the United States he travelled incognito, Baron of Renfrew.

This was the year we left the old home and moved into a larger one that my father planned and had built for us on some property he had acquired near the centre of the village. Although the new home would give my grandparents more modern conveniences, it was with reluctance that they left the old place. Only the advantage the change offered to the rest of the family decided them. To me, also, there was something pathetic about leaving the home where I was born and had lived so happily; my dormer window doll house, the yard where I had merrily skipped the rope and played so many childish games. I did not have to consider the fowls and animals. They were all going with us, to new shelters and pastures. But the dear of garden, with its rows of Sweet William, Canterbury Bells, Delphinium and Lilies of the Valley, the bushes of lilacs, wild and cinnamon roses and syringa, and the summer house honeysuckle never seemed to put forth such a delicious fragrance as the morning I left them.

But, like all children, I loved the novelty of change and the excitement of seeing the household goods put in place. I was impatient to see the best room. Everything in it was new; a velvet carpet, and a set of furniture upholstered in flowered silk and wool rep, with curtains to match, the papered walls with landscape patterns. I tip-toed in to see it and to me it looked "fit for a queen." The three-ply Scotch carpets of the old house would not stretch to the full size of the new rooms they were to cover, but a border of painted floor made them quite as useful and sanitary. The braided mats found their usual places in the bed rooms.

In my round of inspections I missed the several cheerful open fireplaces; with the exception of two, Franklin stoves and grates took their places. Even in my grandmother’s kitchen I found a cook stove. My father thought it a labor-saving device for her. In the old house she cooked in skillets suspended from a swinging crane and in a tin oven before the fire. Even I regretted the change, and at times I think she did. Child that I was I had always found the food at her table more tasty than ours prepared over a cook stove. But more than that was the loss of the cosy chimney corner where I used to sit on my grandfather’s knee and listen to old-time stories while the savory dishes were cooking. The brick oven in our kitchen was, as usual, to cook the bread and pies for both families. My mother was ever thoughtful to lighten the housekeeping cares of my grandmother. She always divided the annual make of jellies, jams and preserves with her.

The quaint corner closets gave a homey

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appearance to the new surroundings. My grandmother’s was filled with older things than ours. She had pewter plates and porringers, a tea service of gold lustre ware, and a set of blue willow pattern, Delft. On the top shelf were two relics, a rare pipe and a snuff box. The decorations of the sideboard were the same; two decanters and small glasses. I never witnessed their use, but supposed they were exclusively for special ceremonies.

In her parlor, over her mantle shelf, were two silhouettes and an engraving, pictures of some ancient family grandees. The costumes were what attracted me, the tied-in-wig, the knee breeches and buckled shoes.

There was never anything more pleasing to us children than to listen to the stories of the early life of our grandparents, and the handed-down ones of their immigrant progenitors. We heard of the stormy passage her grandfather and his family encountered coming from Boston to Annapolis Royal, one hundred years before and of the crowded condition of the vessel, and of the goods and chattels they were bringing to a new home. At one time the storm became so severe they almost gave up hope of every seeing land again. They had two negro slaves with them who were overcome with fear, and who kept calling on the Lord for safety. My grandmother always pointed with pride to the several heirlooms she had inherited from her Boston ancestors.

The move to the village brought us closer to the schools. My brothers had less than a quarter of a mile to walk, and for the first time I mingled with girls of my own age. I was placed in a neighborhood Girl’s School, but as to making friendships among them, none took the place of my delight in the companionship of my brothers. With them it was different; the association with other boys proved helpful. It gave them more pep and character. I suppose it was that I missed in my new associates. Young girls of that period did not have much initiative. My preference for my brothers was so noticeable that one day the mother of one of my classmates complained to my grandfather in my presence, that whenever I would see them coming home I would leave the girls in the middle of a game and run away. I so well remember my grandfather’s reply, "You must excuse her, Madam, she was raised with them." My early exclusive environment created a tie of comradeship not easily broken.

Life in the village was quite different. It brought us so near to people; frequent neighborhood visiting was quite a novelty; in the mile-away old home only rare local calls were exchanged. Unless it was an errand of good will or mercy my mother seldom made calls. She was cordial to all who came to see us; it was natural to her to be courteous and she spared no pains in training us children in good manners. We were early taught to obey and have deference for our elders. All this loving care bestowed upon us in our tender years has rendered her most precious.

I think what my mother most appreciated in the change, was the close proximity to the church. There would be no more crowding so many people into one carriage, and none need be left behind.

The move was a great accommodation to my father. He was Justice of the Peace, settled all public differences, and in connection with his surveying lands, he drew up all the deeds, leases and mortgages that were required by the people for many miles around.

(Continued next week)