Have you ever come across an image that stops you in your tracks? An image that calls out to you in a simple unspoken language – “See me.”
I have. A family stands together against the plain block wall of an unadorned house. A father, a mother, and seven children face the camera. These are my maternal grandparents and seven of their children. The year is 1923.
I recognize these children. They are my mother’s siblings, the aunts and uncles I knew when I was growing up. I search each face and see the person they would become. By 1937 there would be six more children born to Lottie and Gore. Thirteen curious, talented, active, resourceful children.
I see the boys — Francis Gore, the eldest, born in 1912; Elihu Ira born in 1915; Gordon Curry in 1919; Ralph Charles in 1921; and baby Donald. Their sisters Dorothy Ellen and Annie Eliza, ages ten and six, wear their best dresses for the photo.
In the 1960s, my mum’s brothers and sisters would visit the farmhouse in Oldcastle where I grew up. I remember conversations in the kitchen, family stories, and always laughter. My grandparents are not a part of these memories. Lottie Pastorius died when my mother was six years old. Gore Charles Pastorius died January 8, 1946.
Aunt Annie, the younger of the two sisters in this photo, remembered living in Harrow near the agricultural fair grounds. This is what she told me —
One day her dad was out working as a fence builder. Her mother was in bed recovering from a heart attack. A lady had come in to help at home and while she was there the boiler and wood stove caught fire. This was the first time Annie remembers them having a telephone. The lady called Annie’s uncle in Colchester. In the meantime, little Annie had run outside, down the narrow alley to a neighbour’s house, knocked on the back door and asked the elderly lady living there, “Can I come and live with you? My house is on fire.”
Twenty years ago, with photo in hand, I drove up and down the side streets in Harrow. I found the house at 163 Wellington Street. A coat of paint and a few modifications have not altered its appearance.
The 1921 Canadian Census was released to the public in 2013. These records confirm the Pastorius family lived on Wellington Street, Colchester South Township, Harrow Village — Gore, Lottie, and five children. Ralph was born in August of 1921. Gore’s occupation is listed as ‘agent’ for wire fencing. Their religious denomination is Baptist.
There was music in the family. My mother tells me Gore and Lottie sang duets in the Baptist church. My mum’s brothers played guitar and harmonica. As a little girl my mum was allowed to stay up late to play the pump organ even though her feet could hardly reach the pedals. Evenings were spent around the radio listening to Wilf Carter ‘The Yodelling Cowboy’, and popular country music performers on WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia in the United States.
In 1939, world events caused tremors that rolled across the fields, shaking the villages of Essex County. In a few short years the boys in the photo would be many miles away. All but one of these young men came home. Donald Arthur Pastorius, Pilot Officer Air Gunner R.C.A.F., 434 Sqdn., died April 28, 1944 during air operations and is buried at Heverlee War Cemetery, Belgium.
I have my own memories of the children in this photograph. I remember one time in the 1960s Francis and his wife came out to the farm. He would have been in his fifties.
I don’t know why he decided to get on one of our bicycles and take it for a turn around the yard. Of course, the bike was too small.
He laughed, and we laughed as we ran after him up and down the dirt drive. In my mind it plays like the bicycle scene with Paul Newman in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. Perfection.
On the days that Hugh dropped in, mum would reach for the green glass ashtray on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. The only time that ashtray made an appearance was when my mother’s brothers visited. I remember a blue and white cigarette package decorated with the image of a sailor, pulled from his shirt pocket – Player’s Navy Cut.
Uncle Hugh renovated our old farm kitchen adding custom built plywood cabinets and a divider with wood spindles that reached the ceiling. I recently read that plywood for kitchen cabinets is popular now for a ‘modern or retro’ look. We certainly felt modern.
When we were kids, Uncle Gordon gave each of us a box of chocolates for Christmas. A box of chocolates!
I remember stepping off the school bus on a brilliant fall day seeing Uncle Ralph’s car in the yard. I loved the times he sat at the kitchen table sharing opinions and stories with his dry wit and humour. He was a poet and a philosopher and had the look of a professor. He wore a tweed flat cap like Prince Philip and wool jackets with elbow patches. He smoked a pipe. Ralph is the scowling toddler in the photo who may have just pulled himself out of a mud puddle.
There was a playful mischief in these children that they carried into adulthood. Aunt Dorothy did not visit often. She married in 1932 and moved to Oxford, England with her husband. I do remember once on a trip to Canada she embarrassed my mother by shamelessly flirting with the flagman as we waited at the level crossing for a freight train to pass.
It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. Aren't we lucky to have both. The people in the photo lived and loved and along the way the circle opened, and I was welcomed into their story.
I look again at the photograph. In this moment time stands still, but once the camera turns away life carries on. I like to think that after this picture was taken these kids wasted no time tumbling off into another adventure. I can see that happening.