A war bride: 1919
My name is Elizabeth. Family call me Lizzie. We are actually British Presbyterians living in North Ireland. My father owned a big bakery that employed around twenty workers. We had a nice home with all the amenities of the time. I was a working girl: a book-keeper at the Belfast Co-op. During the first years of the war, I kept busy, working and waiting for my beau who was off fighting for the British. Evenings were spent at home, sewing my trousseau and writing letters to him.
One Sunday, at church, the minister read the list of the recently killed men. When I heard his name, it was like a bomb had hit me; I gasped and slumped over in a faint. Smelling salts and a smart slap brought me back to my senses. Everyone was staring. My father and brother held me up as we left the church.
I was almost thirty; my chances were growing slimmer by the day when I met David. He was tall, slim, very handsome, a little darker than our boys from home, and a lot more self-assured. He was also of British descent, although sometimes he joked that he had Indian blood in him. His family was from the States and had come to Canada because they were British Empire Loyalists. He talked a lot about Canada, about the future, about his land. Shortly, he asked my father for my hand.
I felt rather excited really, it would be such an adventure to travel across the Atlantic by ship and then half way across America to Manitoba by train. David had a house waiting for us. I had a trunk full of linens. I was ready.
What a ninny I was. What did I know about a man? What did I know about farming? What did I know about winter on the prairies?
That house was less than a cottage, a bit better than a hut; there were two rooms: kitchen and living room. No running water, no electricity. David kept his promise and bought me a second hand piano, and a mission-style pull-out sofa. That is where we slept. Soon I was the chickens, raise a pig, and grow a garden if we were to survive. In the house, I learned to bake bread pregnant. David was pleased with himself. I didn’t have time to feel pity for myself as he expected three meals a day, and often there would be hired men to feed. I had to learn to milk the cow, feed, lay up preserves, make butter, cook the chicken I had killed, plucked, and eviscerated. I washed clothes by hand in a tub. David hauled the water in to heat it on the stove, but I had to wash, boil, rinse and wring it out before hanging it up on the line to dry. It was heavy work.
David worked hard on the land, but all the money he earned went back into the farm. He expected me to be responsible for home expenses, so I started giving a few children piano lessons. Their mothers would bring them over in a horse-drawn cart or cutter in the winter, and sit by the wood stove in the kitchen and drink tea while her darling plunked away at the piano. Sometimes, the three of us would have a little sing-song before they went home. On Sundays, David and I would go to the church in town where I would play the piano and lead the congregation in song. That was usually our only outing except when we needed supplies.
David was nervous since it was my first child. He took me to town early to stay with his mother. I had a week’s rest before, finally, I gave birth. Really, that is such a misnomer. That child did not want to come out, I did not “give” birth; she was literally torn out of me. I was in bed for a month afterwards; David could not hide his disappointment. He had wanted a son, and a wife back in the kitchen. I felt like such a failure. I directed from the sofa, but the hired-girl burnt all the food, and my daughter didn’t stop crying until I finally got back on my feet and tied her, peasant style, to my hip while I worked.
I often wondered if the life of spinster would have been so bad after all.