Friday, October 19, 2012


Chapter 2 - Mother has a story too

My mother wrote more stories than I’ll ever count. Hundreds and hundreds. Some I’ll never read or even find, and that is unfortunate, because they would help me recall more colourfully a woman who, in my opinion, died far too young.

She wrote stories about the town she grew up in, people she knew and met, common concerns, her unique view about many things, and her children. Hundreds of them were published in her local paper, weekly magazines and public school readers. 

Imagine my surprise as a classroom teacher when I one day read aloud the first page of a new story to a class in a London school - circa 1980 - and felt the story was strangely familiar, that it might be about me. And maybe it was, because I quickly discovered that my mother had written it. (Shortly thereafter, I invited her to the school to read the story to the class).

Her stories were everywhere, ever present it seemed at times, and in the 1950s I seldom ran into the house from school for lunch without seeing Mother hunched over her manual typewriter and hearing clickety-clack, clickety-clack as her fingers danced upon its keys. 

She wrote several stories about the war years, i.e., 1939 - 1945, and while compiling my father’s naval memoirs into book form I discovered a very rare one, indeed. It is a war time story to which both my parents contributed and can also be connected in some way to this story about father’s relationship with Gracie Purvis of Croydon. It was published December 21, 1994 in the Norwich Gazette and goes back over 50 years, to the Christmas season of 1941.

Father begins the story, entitled ‘Recalling a Wartime Christmas’, as follows:

March the first, 1941, I left my employment at the Norwich Co-op and joined the navy as a probationary rating, at Hamilton, taking instructions each evening... (in June) I went on active strength and took ten weeks of training with many young men from the general area.

After a short leave at home we entrained for Halifax where we underwent similar navy training, but now we marched to a far more serious drummer... Our commanding officer informed us that a request had been made by the Royal Navy for Canadian Navy volunteers for hazardous duty overseas... 

Almost to a man, those who had enlisted at Hamilton volunteered for the unknown... and we were given nine days leave.

I wrote my mother that I would be home for Christmas... At Woodstock station someone from Norwich was picking up a passenger, and I came home with them, for three and a half days, which included Christmas. 

Now I will let Edith tell of my arrival.

Mother first tells about a Christmas present that was unfortunately stolen, then writes:

I remember the day he came home on short leave, though I can’t recall that we knew what day he would arrive. In the morning I had washed my hair and put in a few curlers at the top...

*  *  *  *  *

[From the story 'Recalling a Wartime Christmas']

Scene 1 - Mother greets Father with a bang

Setting - Grandmother Catton’s house, Tidey Street, Norwich.  

["Near Tidey St., Norwich, Ontario"]

DateDecember 24, 1941

Narrator: My mother, Edith Catton, walks into the dining room and looks out the door window. She writes that she sees an odd-looking person coming down through the parking lot which used to be just in front of the house. 

Edith: Mother, there’s a strange looking person coming down the road, come and see.

Ida Catton: I can’t at the moment. My hands are covered with flour.

Narrator: But before Grandmother could wipe the flour off her hands, Mother recognizes Father.

Edith: It’s Doug Harrison! (She looks in a mirror, fusses with her hair).

Narrator: There he was, she writes, navy hat on one side, gas-mask over one shoulder, walking down through the snow. According to a book entitled “The Day We Went to War” by Terry Charman, almost everyone in England walked about with a gas-mask. I could say more but Edith is about to leave the house. She writes, I ran out the door, wet hair, curlers and all, and down the snowy sidewalk.

*  *  *  *  *

More to follow.


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