I found out later the year was 1886. The baby was crying and had been for some time. My brother older than me, a sister younger, shared a room.
Mother had been walking the baby for what seemed forever, but the crying didn’t change, it just went on.
Then the sound we’d learned to fear, the front door burst open. It was father and his shouting let us know he’d spent the evening in the pub.
“Can you no shut that ones yelling woman? It’s all a man hears in this house.”
“He’s hungry husband! My milk has dried up and you leave no money for food, it all goes for the drink”
We all cringed at the sound of the slap and mother’s cry, followed by fathers shout.
“You’ll no be telling me how to spend my money and if you can’t shut that one up I will.”
“No! No! Don’t shake him like that, he’s just hungry, give him back to me I’ll keep walking him. You get off to bed,”
“Oh Lord, what have you done man? He’s not breathing!”
This was followed by a keening cry from mother. “You’ve killed our wee one you drunken fool, oh that it’s come to this.”
A blur of time, neighbours in the house, mother slumped in a chair weeping, police taking
Father away. Someone says he’d killed the baby in a drunken rage.
More time, neighbours take us to their home and share their meagre food. Snatches of conversation, she’s failing, been sick since the baby and now this.
They say our mother has died. What’s to happen to us? We cling to each other for comfort .They say we must be brave.
A stranger takes me to a men’s club in the city, says I’m real lucky they have found this place for me to live. All I have to do is polish the boots of the men when they come in at night. The boots are left in the hallway outside their room. I must stay up until all the men come in from where ever their evening led them. If my cleaning and polishing is not to their satisfaction a clip on the head by the boots owner is my reward.
I wonder where my sister and brother are but I never see them again.
Another stranger comes and takes me away from the men’s club. You’re going on a ship I’m told. You’re going to Canada.
There is a bunch of us children, we’re in a roped off area in a big building trying to adjust to not being onboard the ship, more strangers looking us over. “He could work the fields, that one she could help in the kitchen,” we hear. I learn later the place is called Halifax. I’m eight years old, the year is 1888.
I’m living on a farm. If I’m good and work hard there’ll be schooling and some day a part of the farm. They didn’t tell me I’d only be let go to school when the weather stopped us from working the fields.
There’s a lean to off the kitchen where I sleep and eat along with the family dog. Each evening the woman brings a supper plate for me and a bowl for the dog. There is no conversation other than instruction of what is expected of me the next day.
The years pass, I’m now twenty. I ask what part of the farm will someday be mine and soon realize like schooling it will not happen.
I hear of a place called “The West.” People have gone there and written back. It’s a good place. It fills my thoughts and dreams. I leave the farm and find what work I can. I save every penny. I’ve never had money before.
The money buys me a ticket to a place called Winnipeg. Off the train I follow my nose to the stockyards. A fella calls out, you looking for work?
Its 1904, I send for the girl who said she’d wait for me, back in Nova Scotia. She is only fifteen so I have to bring out her mother too.
The year is 1954, I’m dying. I look back on a full life in spite of my early years, a large loving family, what will the future hold for them? How will they remember me?
As the greatest example of a good man, a loving father. We were proud to call you dad.