Ch. 3 Mother and Dad

Mother and Dad

My father was born on the farm north of Oak Lake on October 16, 1893 and was named Robert Cecil Smith, third child of Robert Klock and Margaret Maria Smith. Errol Klock Smith and Melville Frederick Smith preceded him. There were four to follow – Grace, twins Walter and Ralph, and Muriel.

Dad took his grade 9 in Griswold, perhaps a year or two of high school and later attended business school in Brandon for a short period. But he farmed nearly all of his life, buying our half section (S1⁄2 19-10-23) from a John Knevitt in 1920 or 1921. Why Dad was not in WW1, I never knew. He was 21 when the war started. “RK” had good political connections (Liberal) and maybe two sons in the war (Errol and Melville) was deemed to be enough. Dad worked hard on our farm for over 35 years, right through the Depression of the 1930s, but when my brother Lyman took over the farm, Dad was employed by the Federal Government’s Farm Credit Corporation and later the Manitoba Ag. Credit Corporation. He also worked for the Province’s Assessment Branch, arranging suitable compensation for farmers who, for example, had land expropriated for various public works like the town of Carman floodway bypass and the Shellmouth Dam on the Assiniboine River in Western Manitoba. His younger, university-trained colleagues were impressed with his ability to get a fair deal for both the farmer and the government. He was really good at all these jobs and probably would have been better at that, than at farming.

One anecdote from my teen age years tells a lot about Dad. One summer weekend my “town” friend, Albert Chassé, who was one grade behind me in high school, came out to the farm for the weekend. It was summer and our work horses were stabled out of the hot sun. Albert thought it would be fun to throw stones through the open barn door to hit the horses and scare them. So we did, and the horses jumped forward when hit – they were not hurt, just startled. In the middle of this stupid routine, I felt something hit me gently on the back. I turned around in time to see my Dad walking away after having tossed pebbles to hit both Albert and I. I was mortified. Dad had taught me a lesson I would never forget and he did it without saying a word.

Dad and Mother, after farming, lived in Winnipeg briefly, then in a small house in Brandon before going into Hobbs Manor, a seniors’ residence. Mother died in 1983: Dad in 1985.

Marion Agnes Smith was born on January 16, 1899, the third daughter (after Annie and Norah) of Alex Smith and Blanche Bannister. She worked in a Griswold (east of Oak Lake) drugstore and taught briefly at a one room school west of Souris, Manitoba. I know little about their courtship, but knowing Dad it was probably not particularly flamboyant. Dad did speak once about returning from Griswold on a wintery Sunday night. He apparently would take the driver (a light fast horse) and the cutter (a small 2 person sleigh) and drive out to south of Oak Lake, where Mother lived, stay for supper and drive her to her Griswold boarding place. Driving back to the home farm through the Sioux Valley Indian Reserve, he recalled seeing a teepee with the flap partly open and a fire burning inside. Now this was no “display” teepee at a summer fair or exhibition – this was the real thing. Mother and Dad married in 1922.

There was another “First Nation” connection – this time with my Mother. When we lived on the farm, the Sioux Valley Reserve was only 3 miles away. Still, like many rural Canadians who lived adjacent to these reserves, we knew few of their residents and less about their way of life. Mrs. Pratt was a native woman who wove beautiful willow baskets and sold them around the area. She became my Mother’s good friend and when Mother could afford it, she bought – for $2 – one of Mrs. Pratt’s baskets. Mrs. Pratt outlived my Mother and even into her 90s played the organ in the Sioux Valley Anglican Church. I have always wondered if, as a small child, Mrs. Pratt could have sat around a campfire on the reserve – perhaps in a teepee – and listened to elders who would have spoken about the Minnesota massacre of 1862. The Indian people in the Griswold area reserve were remnants of the Sioux people who fled north after the massacre. Because she knew mother so well, it is likely Mrs. Pratt would have felt comfortable speaking to me. Perhaps – maybe not, but unfortunately I’ll never know.

Somewhere I have an original letter from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Pharmacy, sent to Mother in 1919, accepting her into Pharmacy with her excellent high school marks. I can only guess that Grandpa “Alex” probably said – in his broad Scottish brogue: “No daughter of mine is going to University!” and nixed the deal. Or maybe it was lack of funds. How different her life would have been. Instead she married within a couple of years and worked so hard for so many years to keep things going on our little farm, enduring hardships today’s women can’t even imagine. She was musical and loved to dance but Dad was from a strict family (“Whistle on a Sunday if you must, but it must be a hymn!”), so Mother didn’t get to dance very often.

It’s too bad that the seniors’ place – Hobbs Manor – in Brandon wasn’t finished when Mother and Dad were ready and needed to go into such a facility. They finally did move in, but after a year or so Mother started to experience the early stages of dementia. She died in 1983, at age 84, of a heart attack. Dad lived on for about a year and a half, enjoyed Meals-on-Wheels and regular visits from high school attending grandchildren (ours), but broke a hip in 1985 and passed away in Brandon General Hospital at age 91.

I was fortunate to have had such loving, caring parents.