An Off and On Family
For the first several years of my life I probably went back and forth between the Vances and the Forsyths and was very close with my brother Jim. We ran around the farm yard together, jumping down from the hay mow to the ground at least twelve feet below and teasing the old cock or the old ram until they chased us. It’s a wonder we survived.
Then when I was about four Mom & Dad F went to spend a year in British Columbia and I went with them. Dad managed a ranch; Mom worked in the canning factory at Ashcroft. My memories of BC are few and dim: sitting in a train car crossing a trestle high in the air, looking down fearfully to the river winding far below. I remember a donkey grazing on a hillside.
They left Allen & Louise (my Dad & Mom V) to run the place while they were away and came home to a disaster. The livestock had all been sold and the money was gone; the house a mess. One time Mom F told me that during their year away Louise had used her nice clean tea towels as diapers.
(It really wouldn’t have mattered; Louise had no clue about laundry. I was told by her neighbor that Louise threw everything from barely rinsed diapers to dresses, shirts and work socks all in the same load. My sister Donna and I both came to the same conclusion over the years: Mom V barely had the understanding of a nine-year-old.)
Well, coming back and finding things in this state did nothing to improve Dad F’s temperament, plus he was sick with ulcers. (He had operations later, when I was about seven.) Moreover, Dad F and his son had “issues”, as they say nowadays. Dad told me one time that his father never had anything for them but the toe of his boot, so Dad didn’t inherit many good parenting skills. When I was about five Mom had had enough; she took Verne and left the farm. She worked at the hospital in Melfort (about 20 miles away) for almost a year, then went to Saskatoon. I stayed on the farm with Dad.
For some reason she came back and got me after awhile. But times were tough for her in Saskatoon; she later told me she couldn’t afford babysitters so Verne, by now age 16 and working in a garage, would babysit me by taking me to his job and leaving me in his car all day. From the time I was six until I was eight I remember a half dozen different babysitters. When I was nine I was on my own during the day.
In the summertime my siblings (except the youngest) would come and spend a month. We spent most of our days at the swimming pool. Mom packed us all off to Summer Bible Camp for a week every year. And when the Saskatoon Exhibition was on, Mom F would give us each some money and we’d wander around the Ex all day. There was no real home life as such: Jim and I did things together; Donna was on her own; Rosie and Wilma spent their days together. We pretty much looked after ourselves.
Rosie Comes to Live With Us
I’ll back up now to when I was seven and my sister Rose Marie was two years old. One day she was sleeping in her crib when Dad V decided to spray the house with DDT to kill flies. Everyone else got out but no one thought of the baby. Finally someone remembered, but I think Rose suffered some damage from that episode. At any rate, Mom & Dad F brought her to live with us in Saskatoon, too, and she stayed with us until she started school. Then she went home again.
Her presence posed a few trials for me, for Jim and Donna would tease me on occasion that “Uncle Fred likes Rosie better than you. He’s going to send you back home and keep Rosie.” I was scared of that, too, but thankfully it never happened.
When I was younger I did go back and spend a week every summer, but this got harder to do as I got older. Rats running across the bed at night; the “cash & carry” toilet overflowing; maggots and general filth; a few fights between Allen & Louise. Not things I was used to.
Back to Rose. She grew up and married a grain-buyer named Butch Free. They were quite young, she was 15 and he 20 when they were married in October of 1973 but they are still happily married today. Butch worked in a Wheat Pool grain elevator for some years, then took computer training and worked in the Pool Head Office in Regina until he retired. Today he works for a local hardware store for something to do; for years Rose has been on the housekeeping staff at a couple of different nursing homes in the city where they live.
They have two daughters, Michelle Jeanne and Crystal Ann. Michelle married Mike and Crystal married Kevin. The families live in the same city so Butch & Rose are enjoying their five grandchildren. Rose is the only sibling I have any regular contact with these days.
Thank you for sharing this story. It must have been hard to write and to think about those painful memories. linda
Actually, I didn’t know any better back then. Children don’t have a lot of different examples to do comparisons; they just take life as it is. I had great times with my brother and sisters when we were together.
I was lonely for my siblings at times. One time I was so blue I asked Allen if I couldn’t come home — bearing in mind how he’d always complained bitterly that “Freddie got one of his girls.”
I thought he’d be delighted but he said, “No, you’re better off where you are.” He was right, too. I couldn’t have lived with them. It was just too rough; I wasn’t used to it.