Our childhood defines our personality. It shapes who we become. When Vilma Moretti had grandchildren, she realized that her childhood and theirs were worlds apart. They had absolutely no idea what life was like for Vilma when she was their age. Theirs was a world of computers, iPods, cellphones, texting, Instagram, and YouTube.
Vilma thought that when they were grown they might be interested to know what it was like for other generations to grow up. She started collecting recollections—her own, and those of some of the many people she met every day while running Keith’s Restaurant, her family’s business at the intersection of Pelham Street and Highway 20, in Fonthill. The result was, “A Little Book About Us,” published in 2009, from which this series is excerpted. Keith’s is gone, but the stories remain.
For our inaugural entry this week, we present three generations from the same family: Mother, daughter, and granddaughter, and an epilogue.
Mary Louise Grant
Born 1930, Thorold
My school is a big square brick building. There are two floors and a basement. It has a very big playground. The boys have to go in one door and the girls in the door at the other side of the school. The boys and girls do not play together.
Everyone gathers in the centre of the school. Some students are on the second floor in the balconies. We sing God Save the King, a hymn and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Announcements are made and we quietly file off to our classrooms. One announcement repeated often is “Please do not walk on Mrs. McManamy’s rail fence.” We have eight rooms and only single ladies can teach us and the principal has to teach Grade 8.
We play allies at recess and many other games such as “Red Rover come over,” and in the autumn we make leaf houses. We have many horse chestnut trees and elm trees. We make rooms with couches and chairs and sweep our floors with a broom (which is really a plant). Every once in awhile the boys come after school and break them up. Cold and rainy days we stay in the basement and play games. We learn by rote and discipline. You have no noise in our school and no running in the halls.
In 1939 the Second World War broke out. We are making an afghan for our war effort and collect tinfoil and roll it into big balls. We buy War Stamps at 25 cents apiece. We have to have coupons for our sugar, meat and tea.
We have a radio for entertainment. We never heard of TV or computers. There are very few cars in Thorold and airplanes are a novelty. We would look to the sky if we heard a small plane go over and say, “Look, look, a plane!” We have a show in town. For 10 cents we can go Saturday afternoon and see two movies, news, a cartoon and a serial.
Our town is very small—about 4000 people. We do not lock our doors. All children can walk anywhere and be safe. We have a milkman that goes door-to-door. He has a horse and the horse knows just which house to stop at. We have a junk man with a horse-drawn wagon. We sell him old papers that we collected from friends so we can buy War Stamps at school. This way we do not get a black mark on our report card for not saving money.
We have to be in our house by nine o’clock because there is a curfew and the police enforce it.
We have no fridge and all we have is an icebox. It looks like a fridge, but you have to open the top and put in a big block of ice (25 cents) and a pipe goes down the back, and when the ice melts the water goes into a pan and we have to empty it.
We have the library and I love it. We have to be very quiet—no talking—and do not destroy the books or else!
Everyone does not have a farm to go to, but I do. Five blocks up Sullivan Avenue is the end of Thorold Town and my grandparents have little farm. They have chickens, cows, horses and pigs. They also have fruit. I pick raspberries in the summer and get paid the going rate—1 ½ cents per quart box.
I watch my grandfather milk the few cows he has. Then my grandmother puts the milk in the separator and bottles it up and sells it. She churns the cream into butter and makes cottage cheese from the buttermilk and they drink some of the buttermilk.
Chickens—they are so interesting. My grandfather has an incubator in the basement and my grandmother raised chickens for a few years. She had to take the trays, full of eggs, out of the incubator and turn them every day. One day, I was there and she told me to go down to the cellar and look in the window of the incubator. Sure enough—there were cracks in the eggs and soon out emerged little chicks. So cute! Then they had to be transferred to a huge box on the front porch with a big light in it for warmth. I like to watch the chicks running around and peeping and eating. But alas, they soon grew too big for the box and had to go to the chicken coop.
I am allowed to go up in the silo with my grandfather and shovel down the silage for the pigs. As the silage supply decreased over the winter we got near to the ground and didn’t have to climb up the ladder.
In the summer, I ride on the hay wagon and on the manure spreader when Grandpa goes to the field to spread this good fertilizer on the ground. When I do this, my mother says to me, “MaryLou, leave your shoes on the porch. You have been in the barn again.” I have only one pair of shoes, you know.
Those pigs—the sow had so many piglets one time she couldn’t feed them all so, of course, Gramma got two and she put them in a box and fed them with a baby bottle until they got big enough to go back to the barn. (I have a beautiful picture of her feeding one piglet while the other sat at her feet waiting for his supper.)
My grandparents went to one-room schools. Grampa did a four-year education and my Gramma, nine years. Grampa went to school only when he had nothing else to do, so he said. My grandmother got an extra year because the teacher was working his way through for a Minister and he had to earn money, so he taught Gramma Grade 9. This was rare in rural areas. Most children went to Grade 8 and then to work.
Born 1962, Fonthill
My parents were Orlin and Mary Louise Crysler. I was the youngest of six children, and we were all really close in age. I was raised in Fonthill, and attended Fonthill Public School. I am going to tell you some of the ways things were for a ten-year-old in the early 1970s.
I don’t remember any buses going to my public school. They were for the older grades. I lived a mile and a half away from school, and I sometimes got rides but I mainly walked or rode my bike. I didn’t wear a bike helmet—no one did. You didn’t have to. I didn’t carry a backpack—no one did. I either carried my books or put them in the really big basket in the front of my bike. I didn’t lock my bike when I got to school—no one did. I just parked it in the bike rack and walked into school. The school supplied all of your school supplies, and the class sizes were around 30 kids or more—yet there was order. We played tag at recess. We also played on teeter-totters and swings with the big wooden seats on them. We tobogganed a lot in the snow. I remember leaving my toboggan at the school for the winter.
Grade 4 was the first year I took French in school. It had become compulsory recently. We had spelling bees and math challenges every Friday. Most kids went home for lunch, but I stayed. I carried a brown lunch bag to school every day. There were no calculators or computers. I had to go to the library and take out books to find out information because there was no internet.
Stedman’s was my favourite store to shop in. I often went skating at the outdoor rink in the winter, and swimming at the park pool in the summer. I could go by myself; there was always someone I knew there to play with.
I remember my brothers offering me 25 cents to bike uptown (1-1/2 miles) and I would do it often. I could ride my bike uptown or down the road all by myself. I could go to a friend’s house after school if I wanted to, as long as I was home for supper. Everyone in Fonthill pretty much knew who everyone was then. You definitely could not
get away with doing anything wrong. I knew where everyone in my class lived, and visited many of their homes.
In my home we never said “I’m bored,”or you would be given some work to do. If I wasn’t working around the house or around the farm, I was playing. I usually played outside. We played a lot and there were six of us, so team games were easy. We also loved board games and cards if it was raining.
I remember at ten I was a little young to go out to work in the fields, so I worked in the barn, mostly making boxes.
My most favourite thing from my childhood was that most mornings my dad would go up town to Keith’s Restaurant for his morning coffee. He would get almost to his truck to get in and then he’d whistle at me to come with him. I would run as fast as I could and get in the truck. I loved going to Keith’s with my dad. In 1972, there were no Tim Hortons in Fonthill. Keith’s Restaurant was packed at 10:00 in the morning with the people of Fonthill, and I was there in the midst of them. I would hop up to the counter and sit on the orange stool and spin. I would always order a chocolate milk (white milk with syrup stirred in) and a Long John donut (when they still put whipped cream inside), and listen to all the people talk. I was so happy to sit beside my dad and listen to all their conversations. Quite often they would swear and almost everyone seemed to be smoking. I loved it when Vilma would wave at me from the little window to the kitchen.
I really liked when Mike the milkman came down our road too. We could charge chocolate milk to our parents’ account. He delivered milk right to our house every week. We sometimes ordered groceries from Klager’s Food Market, which was across from Keith’s. They would deliver them right to our house and we could charge them to our account. I really enjoyed being a ten year old in Fonthill. Fonthill was a great place to live and still is.
Born 2002, Fonthill
(Written at age 6, in 2008, while living in Leamington, ON.)
I have my birthday and Christmas close together, so I just had lots of fun. I have a brother Nick (24), a sister Stephanie (21), a brother Jeremy (16), a mom (45), a dad (46), and a brand new puppy named Maxine who isn’t even one yet. I love her and want you to know she has blue eyes.
My mommy asked me what it is like for me, at six in 2008, at home and at school. This is what I told her. I go to school at Margaret D. Bennie School in Leamington. I go every Tuesday, Thursday, and every other Friday. I go all day. Some days I go to school, and some days I stay home with my mom. I love every day. School days are great because I get to ride the bus. I love the bus. It picks me right up in front of my house and takes me to school. There is a monitor named Margaret, she is in Grade 8, who makes sure I get to my class okay. I am in senior kindergarten. Next year I go all day every day because I am in Grade 1. In school I get to play with my friends. I am in a class with 13 other children and I like them all. We do all kinds of activities. We have gym class, and computer class. I like computer class the best because we have one computer in our classroom that we share, but in computer class I get one all by myself. We have really fun activities to do on the computer. I stay for lunch. We eat together in our classroom. I really like my teacher, Mrs McKeller. She is very nice to me. I have fun all day long and then I get to ride the bus home. My mom is waiting for me on the street to see me into the house. Some days my brother Jeremy is waiting for me. Someone has to, or they won’t let me off the bus. Safety first!!!
I also really like the days I stay at home too. I do all kinds of fun things at home. I am my mom’s little helper. I help her do all kinds of things. We bake together. I even invented my own cookie recipe. We put all kinds of goodies in them. My mom let me name them too. I called them Hannah’s MishMash Goodie Cookies. Everyone loves them. Mom says they should because they are basically candy. I also am getting really good at mashing potatoes. I love to learn to do the things that Mom does, and my mom loves to bake and cook. One day I am going to bake and cook good like her. I love to create things and make books, cards and stuff. My most favourite thing in the whole world is scotch tape. I love to tape and make things. I got eight things of tape for Christmas so I am very busy right now. I also love to play on the computer. My big brother Nick bought me a whiz kid learning center for Christmas. I can play on it all by itself or I can plug it into our computer. I just plug the USB cord into the computer and the back of my Whiz kid, put in the disc and I can play and do all kinds of learning activities. I can even download more pages for my Whiz kid. I need help doing that, but all the rest I do myself.
My dad works in a greenhouse right behind our home. I can visit him whenever I want to. When he comes home from work we eat supper, and then most of the time he plays with me. I love when he plays snakes and ladders with me because I can beat him at that game. My dad is also a fireman for Leamington. He has taken me in the fire truck. He is very busy, but he always makes time for me. We go shopping together too. Every night at the end of my day, both my mom and my dad tuck me in. They both sing to me and pray with me. I like that. I have a pretty great life.
I have two grandmas, there is the one who knits a lot, and the one who gives us a home sometimes. My mom’s mom is the one who gives us a home sometimes.
I love to make cards for the people in Niagara and send them in our mailbox and I also send emails to them. I love our trips home to Niagara. We travel to our home-away-from-home, Fonthill. I stay at my Grandma Crysler’s house, where I have my own room and bed there. My best friend Sarah Stewart also lives in Niagara. Sarah’s mom and my mom were best friends when they were growing up and still are. One of my favourite places to visit while in Fonthill is Keith’s Restaurant. I love their kiddie pancakes.
Hope you like my story about me. Love, Hannah.
By Lori Crysler
I have lived or worked in the Fonthill area most of my 57 years, except 2004 to 2010, when I lived in Leamington. I returned to Niagara in 2010, when my marriage ended in divorce.
My children and I moved in with my mother, Mary Lou Crysler, on Hollow Road. My mom had lived there for over 50 years. I started again to work at Keith’s Restaurant as a waitress, and worked there until it closed in May 2017. I started to work at Sobeys, a job I love, since just as at Keith’s both the customers and staff are like family to me.
In July 2010, my family moved in with my mom for three years. We enjoyed many things together—outings to St. John’s Conservation Area, shopping, eating at Keith’s, playing card games.
In 2013, I moved out of my mother’s home into our own home in North Welland. I love doing things with my family and friends in this community.
My mom moved out of her longtime country home in 2014. She has enjoyed living in the Fonthill area for over 60 years. She turns 89 this August, and now lives in a lovely apartment in Fonthill.
My mom loves playing cards, and spending time with her family, taking them out for dinner, especially at Keith’s, which she still misses. My mom still drives and definitely doesn’t look or act her age. Mom is all about family, and she takes excellent care of her ever-growing one.
My daughter, Hannah Terpstra, loved living in Leamington, but also loved living in the Fonthill area at her grandmother’s house. Hannah started school at Glynn A. Green, and took both piano and swimming lessons in Fonthill. Hannah’s favorite hangout was Keith’s. She worked there two days—once on Take Your Kid to Work Day, and on the day before it closed its doors. Hannah also loved St. John’s Conservation Area, and it was one of her favorite places to take pictures. Photography was one of her passions as were all the arts.
When we moved into our own home in 2013, Hannah started at Gordon School, and then onto Centennial High School. In 2017, she started working her first job, which she loved, at Beamsville Fish & Chips. She also loved Centennial, because it was a school that loved the arts. Hannah, like her grandmother and mother before her, was all about family. Even at 16, she would choose to hang out with her family.
This past January 11, on her 17th birthday, Hannah’s health took a sudden, unexpected turn, and we lost her. It was a great shock and a great loss to many of us.
I write here about three generations of women that loved family and this community. It was family and his community that are bringing us through this. We will continue to keep the faith, love, and smile, as does Hannah from her beautiful home above. Thanks again to each and every one of you. ♦
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