The Fire That Changed Her Name

One evening in Hull, England, Maud and her mum decided to go to the “flicks” (silent movies) — and see Norma Talmadge in Camille. Maud says that wonderful actress “could really turn on their waterworks.” While they were sobbing trough tear-jerking scenes at the theatre, another “scene” was rolling at their home, one that would change their lives forever.

The house had been shut up and some washing, set in front of the fireplace to dry, caught on fire. At least this was the conclusion they came to. The fire smouldered until Maud’s  father had come home from his club and opened the front door. Fresh oxygen fed the blaze and hot flames flashed out at him. It was too late to save anything; the interior of the house was an inferno.

After the movie, as Maud and her mother got closer to their street, they saw “a huge orange cloud lighting up the sky.” They began to run and soon realized the awful truth: their house was the one burning! Several red fire engines raced by them and stopped in front of their house. Firemen piled out and dragged hoses along, pumping water from a tank on one of the trucks.

Panicked, Maud and her mom ran toward their home. A crowd had already gathered. Maud was determined to rush in and save some of their belongings but one of the firemen caught her as she reached the door and put paid to that idea. So she stood outside with the others and watched the house burn, feeling herself the heroine of a great drama. She hated to lose their piano but wasn’t sad about all the old trinkets and whatnot her mum had collected over the years.

After the fire her mother decided to stay with her maternal grandparents, the Waites, who lived nearby, until the house could be restored. Maud could have joined them but some of her school friends were offering her a place to stay and that had a lot more appeal. Maud found being an only child rather boring, and had no qualms about accepting when best friend Phyllis Holmes invited her to come live with them awhile.

Here was a family where there would always be some action going on! Phyllis’ older sister, Cathy, was engaged to be married. She also had three brothers: Ted, the oldest, was an organ builder in Scotland; Harry was a cowboy on a ranch in somewhere out in the wilds of western Canada; Noel, still living at home, was an office worker. Phyllis, three years older than Maud, was an incurable romantic and a tease. She’d often say, “Just wait till Harry sees you. I’m sure he’ll fall for you!”

Phyllis did Maud a great favour while she was living at their home. Maud had always hated her name, especially when pronounced with a broad Yorkshire “u” — and even more when folks called her Maudie. Yuck! One evening she and Phyllis went to the theatre to see Peg O’ My Heart. Afterward Phyllis said, “She’s just like you! From now on you’re not Maud, you’re Peggy, and I’m never going to call you anything else.”

Maud — now Peggy — was delighted. She had some qualms about telling her parents, though, and her name change did indeed bring on a major row when she informed them, but they finally gave in and she was Peggy ever after. Some years later when she moved to Alberta with her husband, she was so thankful Phyllis had dubbed her Peggy, since it seemed every mule in Canada was called Maud. 🙂

You see, when Phyllis’ brother Harry came home from western Canada on a visit, he changed Peggy’s last name to Holmes and took her off to the bush country north of Edmonton, Alberta, to live on his homestead. 🙂

That proved to be a very useful fire indeed.

Word Press daily prompt: qualms

A United Defense

Blackbirds sound the alarm
warn the neighbors of a robbing
raven who dares drift over, checking
menu offerings in the nests.

Two, three, four parents rally
to the defense, dive-bomb the foe.
No slackers here; from every field
they rise to the cry, on guard
for home and fledglings dear.

The fighter jet swallows soar
into attack mode; even a passing seagull
joins the effort. All together, resistant,
insistent, they chase the marauding foe.

I watched, amazed. What teamwork!
We should be so smart.

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Word Press daily prompt: Collaboration

The Poet in the Park

I posted this story when the Daily Post writing challenge was to write about any topic, but your post must include a cat, a bowl of soup, and a beach towel. And today’s prompt word is pursue, so here’s the tale of a poet pursuing the perfect verse.

I wander through the park on this beautiful morning, making my way to one of my favorite places in the whole world. Oh, good! My favorite bench is free. I like this one where I’m sheltered by the maples overhead. After all, the sun’s rays aren’t good for a person, so we’re told, and at my age I have to be careful.

I set my sunhat on the bench beside me and rummage through my handbag for my pen and notebook. I’m a poet, so I always carry a notebook. I relax and breathe in the inspiration around me. This agreeable spot, surrounded by the plush lawn, is so conducive to the task at hand. I need to write a poem for my blog — so why not do one about this beautiful day.

At the top of the first blank page I write, Ode to a Summer’s Day.

Scratch that. Sounds too cliché. Maybe I should rather start with something like, “I wandered lonely through the park…” I’m not really lonely, though. In fact I’m quite happy to be alone, pursuing my muse.

I hear a rustle, glance down and see a mouse poke its nose out from under a bush. “Wee tim’rous beastie,” I quote. “Your best-laid plans will go sadly awry if you don’t beat it.” The mouse trembles a bit and retreats back into the shrubbery. I return to pursuing a line of thought suitable for this perfect day.

“What is so rare as a day in July?” Hmm… Rings a bell. Has it already been done — or something like it? Anyway, what rhymes with “July”? (I insist my poems rhyme; I find free verse so undisciplined.) Birds fly; awry; my eye. “A day in July gone awry…a bird just dropped in my eye….”  Nope. Scratch that.

I gaze at the treetops above me. Oh, to be a tree top, caressing the sky, I write, then ponder the phrase. Now that has potential! And I may be able to work July in here after all.

I look down and see a cat nosing around by the bush. See there, mouse. Aren’t you glad I saved your bacon? If I hadn’t scared you, you’d have ventured out and been toast.

“SCAT!” I say to the cat, stamping my foot. It appears well enough fed already and besides, I detest the sights and sounds of slaughter. Unaesthetic—not conducive to producing pleasant poems.

I hear a “throb, throb, throb” coming down the path toward me and look up. Ah, some ‘band in a box’ escorted by two teenage girls. I frown, hoping they are only passing by and will do so promptly.

No such luck! They leave the path and stroll out on the lawn not far from me. One of them shouts at the other, “Here’s a neat spot. Let’s stretch out here.”

Oh, brother! It would be neat if you’d shut off that radio. I feel my bench vibrate from the deep bass throbs and I write in my book, “Thunder rolls across the sky; the earth trembles. The powers that be are shaken.”

They unroll two beach towels and, baring as much as legally can be, they stretch out. Exposing their bodies to the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, not to mention the leers and comments of males passing by. And loving every minute of it.

Well, since I can no longer meditate on the stillness of this beautiful day, perhaps I could go get some lunch while they and their boom-box occupy this spot. There’s a neat little Bistro on LaMontagne Avenue that serves an excellent bowl of Vichyssoise, my favorite soup, together with herbed croutons. Perfect for a hot day, together with thé glacé. Which is iced tea, but I prefer the French ambience.

Perhaps I’ll stop by the Library after to brush up on Emily Dickinson. She might have something inspiring to say about a summer day. Hopefully when I get back the girls will have fried and gone.

As I walk away a picture flashes in my mind. I smile as I think back to the sunny summer days of my teens, when my friends and I spent hours browning ourselves in the warm sun. Neither we nor our mothers had ever heard of dangerous ultraviolet rays back then.

Forget the ode to a summer day. Over lunch I’m going to compose a poem about the joys of youth.

My thoughts go back to those two teenage girls and I wonder what their names are and where they live? Do they have a concerned mother like I had? Has anyone told them about ultraviolet rays and skin cancer? Has someone explained to them that there are sharks in the pool of Life, that you need to protect yourself in more ways than one? Do they know where they’re going in life and how to get there?

Really, I’m sure they didn’t mean to disturb my musings. Will they just think me a nosy old busy-body if I try visiting with them?

I turn around and make my way back to my favorite bench, pausing to nod and say “Hello” to them as I pass. Lunch can wait; the Vichyssoise won’t get any colder

Christine G — Reposted from July 2014

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The Way of a Wife

by Edgar Guest

She wasn’t hungry, so she said.
A salad and a cup of tea
was all she felt that she could eat,
but it was different with me.
“I’m rather hungry,” I replied.
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take
some oysters to begin with
and a good old-fashioned sirloin steak.”

Now wives are curious in this—
to make the statement blunt and straight—
there’s nothing tempts their appetites
like food upon another’s plate.
And when those oysters six appeared
she looked at them and said to me,
“Just let me try one, will you, dear?”
And right away she swallowed three.

On came the steak and promptly she
exclaimed, “Oh my that looks so good!
I think I’d like a bit of it.”
(The game is one I understood.)
I cut her off a healthy piece
and never whimpered when she said,
“Now just a few potatoes, dear,”
and also, “Let me share your bread.”

She wasn’t hungry! She’d refused
the food I had been glad to buy,
but on the meal which came for me
I know she turned a hungry eye.
She never cares for much to eat,
she’s dainty in her choice, I’ll state,
but she gets ravenous enough
to eat whatever’s on my plate.

From his book Collected Verse of Edgar A Guest
© 1934 by the Reilly & Lee Company

Word Press daily prompt: Better

The Old, Old Story

by Edgar Guest

I have no wish to rail at fate,
and vow that I’m unfairly treated;
I do not give vent to my hate
because at times I am defeated.
Life has its ups and downs, I know,
But tell me why should people say
whenever after fish I go:
“You should have been here yesterday”?

It is my luck always to strike
a day when there is nothing doing,
when neither perch nor bass nor pike
my bated hooks will come a-wooing.
Must I a day late always be?
When not a nibble comes my way
must someone always say to me,
“We caught a bunch here yesterday”?

I am not prone to discontent,
nor over-zealous now to climb;
if victory is not yet meant
for me I’ll calmly bide my time.
but I should like just once to go
out fishing on some lake or bay
and not have someone mutter: “Oh,
you should have been here yesterday!”

From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A Guest
c. 1934 by The Reilly & Lee Company

Word Press daily prompt: none

Piglet Rescue Unravels

Tumpy Stays Home

Back in 1900 a young immigrant named William Story, working in Eastern Canada as a carpenter, met Ruth, a music teacher newly come from Scotland. Before long the two were married and headed for the prairies to claim a homestead.

Their oldest child was Tom, next came Ruth, her mother’s namesake, then little William, who for some reason was given the nickname “Tumpy.” This story takes place on a mild February day in 1921 when Agnes was a baby and Tumpy a lively five-year-old who did not want to get dressed up in his good clothes and go to town with his family.

Mom had ordered him to put on clean overalls and his woolen pullover and be ready when Dad brought the sleigh. But he hated that itchy pullover — and having to “behave like a nice boy” all day. Instead of going upstairs to his room he sneaked out the front door and ran to the barn.

He found his dad harnessing the driving horses and pleaded his case. “I don’t want to go along. I want to stay here with Norman.” He’d even fill the firewood box if he could stay home.

Norman, age fifteen, was an orphan his parents had taken in several years previously. He was one of the family now, a hard-working lad and Tumpy’s hero. If Norman was going to stay home and clean out the barn, Tumpy wanted to stay, too. Dad thought about this and gave his consent, along with the warning, “Stay out of Norman’s way when he’s working.”

After his family left Tumpy wandered around the barn checking on the animals. He’d heard his dad tell Norman that old Molly, their sow, was likely going to have her piglets today. “But she won’t need any help. You can leave her alone.” Tumpy went around to the “maternity pen” and watched multi-colored old Molly snuffing around contentedly. He and Molly were good friends. She was such a gentle sow he was able to ride piggy-back on her around the yard last summer and fall.

Next he wandered into the lane and got in the way as the work horses dragged the stone-boat out to the field with a load of manure. Norman told him to look out if he didn’t want to get splattered. “And stay away from old Molly. Remember what your dad said.”

Oh, the power of suggestion! Tumpy headed back to Molly’s pen to check on the sow. Sure enough, one tiny pink piglet had been born!

The Sick Baby Pigs

It didn’t seem to be moving very much. Maybe it was sick? In which case Tumpy knew exactly what to do. He’d watched his dad deal with sick piglets before. The tiny thing needed warming. So over the rails he went, snatched the piglet, stuffed it into his jacket and headed to the house. Molly offered a protesting squeal, then went back to the birthing process.

He ran into the kitchen and opened the oven door on the wood stove. This was piled full of green firewood to dry out for future needs. Tumpy tossed the logs onto the kitchen floor while the piglet squirmed and squealed inside his jacket. Thankfully the oven wasn’t too hot. His dad had told him how you need a gentle, even heat when you’re using the oven for an incubator. Just one log at a time. And you never close the oven door!

Tumpy needed rags, so he yanked open his mother’s towel drawer, grabbed several tea-towels drawer and laid them in the oven. On these he set the tiny pink piglet. Then he rushed back out to the barn to see if any of Molly’s other piglets needed saving. Maybe they all would? By the time he’d returned with #2 he could see the first pink piggy was warm and dry. He sat on the over door and stroked them for a moment before going for another.

On his fourth trip Norman caught sight of him at the pen and yelled, “Tumpy! Whatever are you doing with that? You’re supposed to leave Molly alone, remember.”

Even at his age, Tumpy understood how important Molly’s litter was to the farm income. “It’s sick and I’m taking care of it just like way Dad would do. And anyway, it was you he told to leave Molly alone.”

Norman didn’t see things that way and stopped his chores long enough to scold Tumpy every time he saw him dashing out of the barn with another squealing piglet inside his jacket. But Tumpy was saving their wee lives. Dad would surely be pleased.

A Speedy Recovery

After he’d stolen the seventh piglet old Molly was squealing angrily at his interference in her affairs, so he knew he’d better quit this rescue operation. And by the time he set #7 in the oven the others had miraculously recovered from whatever ailed them. Lively and hungry, they’d scrambled out of the oven and were exploring the kitchen, hoping to find their mom and protesting the lack of nourishment.

Tumpy decided to offer them some milk, but this didn’t pan out — or rather, it did “pan out.” He’d set a basin of milk on the floor and the babies overturned it, then waded through the puddle, spreading milk drippings all across the kitchen.

Whatever else might have ailed them, these piglets were blessed with healthy lungs. One little pig was wee-wee-wee-ing under the sofa. One was nuzzling a stick of firewood tossed on the floor. One was grunting from behind the wood-box. Another had gotten itself wedged under the treadle of her sewing machine and took this for the chopping block. It was squealing its little lungs out. Another had fallen down the cellar stair and was wailing about that. A couple more added their motherless cries to the racket.

Mother Almost Wept

Right about then the family sleigh pulled up to the door. Mother, carrying the baby, stepped into the kitchen. A wave of heat hit her from Tumpy’s faithful stoking of the wood stove. Then her jaw dropped as she saw the pigs, her once-clean tea towels, the milk — and heard the squealing.

Recovering from the initial shock Mom stepped carefully through the kitchen and set little Agnes down in the parlor. Then she returned to face the mess. By this time the rest of the family had come in and were staring at the scene. Dad took charge, ordering Tom and Ruth to “Go tell Norman to come get the sleigh and unhitch the team.” Then he turned to Tumpy. “How many piglets have you got in here?”

He spied Mom’s basket of ironing sitting on the counter, dumped out the clothes and started catching the squirming piglets. Norman came running in about then, saying, “I told him not to do it.” Dad assured him it was all right and asked him how many more piglets Molly had. “I think two, but I was scared to bother her.”

Soon the piglets were corralled in the basket, Dad tossed the ironing on top of them so they’d stay put, then he carried them out to the barn with Tumpy trailing after him. “You stay out of the way, Tumpy, while I get these pigs back into Molly’s pen. And don’t you go back to the house right now, either,” Dad warned him.

No doubt there was a happy reunion in the maternity pen. Tumpy doesn’t record what was said or done to him later as a reward for his efforts, but it had been such an exciting day that he was one hungry little boy at the supper table. But not for pork.

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Historical note:

I read this account in the memoir of Bill Story, titled TUMPY, Stories of the Homestead Days, published in 1979. I’ve retold it in my own words.

WordPress daily prompt: Unravel

This is an extra-long blog post, I know. I debated whether to do this in one long post or divide it into two parts. What do you think? Would you have preferred half today and half tomorrow or are you happy with the whole account at one shot? Any comments?

Over the Cusp!

Welcome to my new site!

Yesterday’s Word Press prompt word was cusp. And yesterday I was on the cusp of a new blogging adventure at this fresh site. Starting over!

With the help of the champions at WordPress Support, I’m now over the cusp and into the fun part. Subscribers from both my other blogs have been switched over and this blog is now up and running. Joy, joy!

I know there are still a few glitches, like the missing sidebar with my Blogroll and Tag cloud. (If you readers see one, please let me know.) Hopefully those will be taken care of soon. I’ve scheduled a number of posts already, so the Categories tags above will soon fill up and we’ll be in full swing. Please come back and visit again. And thanks to all my Followers for your patience during this change-over.

If you wish to read any of my previous posts on my earlier blogs,
please visit Christine’s Reflections and Christine Composes