Aunt Mary's rescue, and other tales from The Island
Happy amazement prevails that so many good reader-folks related to my recent revelation that I am kin to Prince Edward Island, the wee one of the 10 Canadian provinces. All who responded told of happy times on "thee yigh-land" and one way or another repeated the word beautiful. Beautiful is the other way to say The Island.
In 1914, when I was 6, I first visited PEI as my mother, by then a Yankee, took me to visit my Grampie and Grammie on her girlhood farm near Vernon River. Over the past few years (as I reminisce now), the long new highway bridge from mainland Canada has been completed, and driving over the Northumberland Strait has replaced the churning ferry boats of the past. The most frequently expressed objection to this was "It will change our way of life," and, of course, it already has.
From 1914, the summer World War I came to Canada's attention, I recall some of that way of life. May I share?
On the first Sunday afternoon of our visit, everybody came to call, renew ties, and see the babies. Grandmother Catherine (ne MacLeod) was hostess, and the collation was abundant. Including me, the cousins were estimated, not numbered, and with aunts and uncles the assembly was well begun. Neighbors and friends arrived, and included the skirted priest at St. Somebody's church, the spire of which could be seen across the lush green meadows from Grampie's back door.
Our family was never papist, but while we were none of him, the priest was one of us. I took notice of this at that tender age and remember the priest and how he ate Grammie's Protestant hotcakes. And I remember well meeting George Tweedie, who was about my age and had big ears.
The Tweedies were all there, and alongside the Roman Catholic church spire, their white farmhouse could be seen from Grampie's back doorstep. It was over the field of sheep and on the other side of Finnegan's brook, which flowed across our farm before it came to Leigh's, then Tweedie's. Beautiful.
George Tweedie sat beside me that afternoon, among the cousins, and Mother described us later as, "sitting on our best behaviors, waiting for the cookies to be passed again." There was an older cousin who played the parlor organ, pumping with his feet and making the house rock. When he sang "Keemo-Kymo" everybody joined, and I can repeat every bit of it today!
Keemo kymo dayro dime
Hey, ho, subble bubble sipso
Periwinkle soapfat, pennywinkle nip cat
Kitty catcha kymee-OH!
I never saw George Tweedy again, but some 80 years later I wrote him a letter. Our old folks on The Island had thinned out, but my mother's sister, Aunt Mary-Alice, was approaching her 100th birthday and was living in "a nursing home," which was for her not an apt description. Aunt Mary was sharp as a tack and was in no way impaired. I still treasure her letter to me the day I was exactly half her age and she twice mine, and the Alice-in-Wonderland double rule of three she sent to prove her algebra. Soon after that I heard distressing news.
I know not how this originated or by whom. Aunt Mary, we heard, had exhausted her means and was about to be cast into the streets.
Everything worked out fine, so don't lament, but here in Yankee-land consternation was rampant. We loved Aunt Mary not only as family but also as the sweetest, dearest little lady we knew. The news made us wonder. Mary-Alice had all the fortune of her brother, who had become wealthy with Klondike gold. There was no reason for her to be penniless. What had happened? All of Aunt Mary's folks were now in the States, and it was inconvenient for any of them to ask questions.
Aunt Mary had her centennial cablegram from the Queen. We rallied, of course, and money would go to help Mary-Alice. That's when I wrote to George Tweedie to remind him we had once met as boys, and perhaps he would look to find out and then tell me about Aunt Mary-Alice in the happy haven that was about to kick her into the cold outdoors.
I did not know, you see, that since I had shared cookies and cambric tea with him at Grammie's some 80 years ago, he had grown up, studied law, had been in practice, and was now elevated to the Queen's Bench and was Lord Chief Justice, or something like that, of the supreme judicial appellate court of the Province of Prince Edward Island. That's a nice address.
Distraught as I was about Aunt Mary, I was obliged to bring back my boyhood memory of Georgie-Porgy Tweedy, and picture him in periwig and dignity opening assizes with bailiffs, heralds, escutcheons, and truncheons. It wasn't easy. Robed and attended he might be, but all I got was a kid with big ears eating oatmeal cookies.
As for Mary-Alice, Judge Tweedie wrote me at once, on stationery embossed with Her Majesty's seal, that Aunt Mary was well and was sufficiently funded so we needn't worry. He added that it was not the custom on The Island to give the heave-ho to delinquent centenarians, whatever the circumstances. I felt Judge Tweedie was reprimanding me for supposing such could happen. He sent me his warmest wishes, and said he was sure he remembered me.
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