April 21, 2014
The first Rosie Brown house burned to the ground one very cold winter night when Bob and I were 4 and 5. Mary had arrived by then. She must have been about a year old because she walked for the first time the day of the fire. She was there despite my mother leaving the Catholic Church after her second child. She left so she could use birth control but I guess they forgot or ran out of condoms one night? Or maybe she was using the rhythm method in order not to sin?
The fire started in the attic while we were eating dinner. Bob and I were bundled up and carried across the street by our neighbour Mr Darling. We watched the fire from their bathroom window. I don't remember how I felt although I do remember the sight and the heat.
We moved to another house owned by Rosie Brown. In case you didn't google Rosie Brown I will tell you everyone in Swastika and Kirkland Lake knew who Rosie Brown was. A cranky old poorly dressed Hungarian Jewish woman who had a pack of dogs and usually carried a broom to shoo kid away as they walked past her house. The dogs would bark like crazy when we walked past. Years before we went North Rosie had staked a gold claim, she sold her bakery and bought a whole lot of real estate in the area. She didn't take care of the rundown homes she rented but I imagine she was more or less the only game in a booming mining town in the 30ies.
We weren't in the next house for long and I suspect the previous tenants left in a hurry because we found a barrel full of very nice stuff in the sort of sub basement. In wasn't a basement in the way you might think of it - it was more like a big hole underneath the house with a trap door to get down there. A dozen lovely pink filigreed wine glasses and an 8" high iron bear bank that sits on my counter as I write. I also found my calling in that house - somehow my father bought us a barrel of apples (not an easy feat in Canada's North at that time) and I stole a few of those apples and went out selling them door to door. The beginning of my entrepreneurship! Our dog got distemper and one night my father had to shoot him. The next day the dog was laying out at the back of the house in the snow. All alone. Waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck. I say that because I saw him or her and felt bad. Bad and scared.
I was in Grade One when they bought the solid White House. It was close to the railway track (as was most of Swastika). I loved that house. I watched a black bear carefully herd her 2 cubs across the tracks. Men were riding the rails and would jump off the train hoping to find something to eat. My mother would give them soup and a sandwich on the back porch. I was jealous - partly for the food but mostly because she was so nice to them. Laughing and smiling at them. It does feel nice to be a benefactor doesn't it? The bad years were starting for me. I was I grade one and I got scabies. I called them The Itch and I brought them home from school. As I write this I feel like "the dirty little girl" she said I was. I was put in bath tubs of water that was way too hot for a 6 or 7 year old - then roughly rubbed down with a rough towel. As if hard rubbing would rub the scabies right off me. I vaguely remember her talk about having to wash all our clothes and of course that was also my fault. My hands broke out in sores because I was allergic to the sulfa cream she rubbed on me. I don't honestly remember but I don't think any of the other kids got scabies. I am a sad looking, poorly dressed, little girl in my Grade One School picture. I think I started blanking things out around that time.
Posted by Betty Bishop at 9:52 a.m.