Now and Then Feb 26

LOIS AND DON ARNOLD

Lois learned resilience and ingenuity by taking care of herself at a tender young age. “I left home at 11 to work for other families. I learned what it takes to be independent and it has served me in good stead,” Lois shares. “My home life changed after my father died when I was seven and my mother remarried. By the time I was 11 I felt more comfortable living with my grandmother.” That arrangement ended quickly as her grandmother couldn’t have another person living with her. That was a rule pensioners were expected to adhere to in the 1930s. A $10 a month pension from the government precluded taking in dependents.

Shirley Legge’s grandfather Sam got word of this and asked Lois to live with his parents to help look after them. Eleven-year-old Lois began to look after ‘two’ pensioners. Caring for seniors would be something that would become ingrained as a welcomed task for the young lass for much of her life. “Today Don and I are retired. We live in one of Jeremy Gordon’s spacious homes in Mindemoya and we are very happy.”

“Helena Martin and Tom Brown of Collingwood, of English background, were my maternal grandparents,” Lois acknowledges. “My mother Catherine Brown arrived to Manitoulin from Collingwood at 15 to live with her grandmother after her home broke up. Catherine married William Myland, 36, the same year. The Myland family had accumulated considerable tracts of land in the Trafalgar area near Toronto, but when the depression hit they lost much of their land and their wealth.”

William worked hard at general farming near Trafalgar and later on Manitoulin, but died with pneumonia at 56. The couple had six children, three girls and three boys. All three boys died in infancy so the Myland name has not been continued. One boy was only a week old when he succumbed to the flu. Older sisters Elva Bowerman and Violet Mastin also passed away.”

Lois Anna Myland was born on April 24, 1924, the youngest child of Catherine and William. She was named after her aunt, Anna Martin. Mrs. Whit McDonald, a nurse from Tehkummah, attended the birth. The doctor often couldn’t reach an expectant mother in time. “In later years my mother became a midwife and helped deliver babies too.”

When Lois was just three-months-old she developed whooping cough and nearly died. “Apparently I was choking when a visiting relative scooped me up, held me upside down and shook me, releasing the phlegm that was stuck in my throat. I guess I was lucky they were at the house.”

“My first memory at four was sitting on my father’s knee in the old Model T, steering the car to the road. I also remember lying on a buffalo robe with Marie Anstice a year or two later at my father’s wake. We were in the Tehkummah church and I saw the casket.” It seems Lois’ childhood was short and not peppered with the usual memories. She recalls her family trading half a pig for groceries at Ward’s store. She never owned a bicycle or skates and was often teased about this by her cousin Marie Brown Anstice.

After age seven, Lois’s life at home had changed. Her mother sold all the animals. Her sister Elva and husband Alan took over the farm. Lois, 11, moved in with Sam’s grandparents. She took her classes by correspondence. “Sam would pick up the schoolwork at the Providence Bay post office and I would do the assignments on weekends,” Lois continues. “After I finished Grade 9, a year later, I had to write the same test as the kids in the regular school system. That day I walked all the way from the Michael’s Bay area to the old McKennan School in Tehkummah.” Lois was very surprised and pleased to find out that she had attained the highest mark that year. Nevertheless, she had to drop out of school because boarding for high school was too expensive.

She began to date Don Arnold. At 17 he was nicely laid-back and good looking. “Don’s cousin Calvin had asked me to go to Harry Little’s ice cream parlour where I ran into Don. It wasn’t our first meeting but we really enjoyed our chat that day. Our families had visited each other when we were babies.” Lois recalls they were both five when Don was brought to the doctor’s after he and Lois had a bit of a tussle over the water pump. “All I remember is that he started it by pulling my hair and I eventually bit him. I suppose that was our first significant meeting.” They almost broke up once when Don and some buddies enjoyed a boys’ night out during the prohibition era. “I found out from a would-be suitor who came around quite early the next morning to let me know.”

Don, of Irish heritage, almost died too when he was quite young. A kitchen table tonsillectomy led to a significant blood loss, but luckily he recovered. He and Andy Watson were caretakers for the Sandfield School. Don’s father was a blacksmith and he bought and sold cattle, also providing a Percheron stud service for local farms. The smithy built in 1916 with wooden pegs was later dismantled and reconstructed by John Seabrook at his home. “I remember the turkeys too,” Don offers. “Farmers would meet at Andy Watson’s place and the whole basement would be full of freshly killed turkeys. They would be packaged up and sent to Simpsons.”

Don joined the service as a young man but left for health reasons. His discharge came just prior to the Battle of Dieppe and this may have saved his life. Don and Lois decided they would look for work down south and marry soon after. “We headed right to Toronto with one suitcase each and the $200 that Don had earned as caretaker for the schoolhouse. It was enough for about a week. If we hadn’t found work we would have had to come back and admit defeat.” The two stayed with cousin Jean Irving, just long enough to set their wedding day and get their first paychecks from Dominion Bridge.

Dominion Bridge was a war plant that made large shells, ammunition for the big ships. “I sat on a high stool beside a conveyor belt,” Lois explains. “I had to apply a compound on the shells which would move through a big press. If I didn’t completely cover the metal with the grease a loud shriek would emanate from the press, alerting me and the rest of the plant to my mistake. I made sure that didn’t happen too often for the six or seven months we worked there, until the war ended. I am sure my lack of hearing today has a lot to do with that noisy plant.”

Their nuptials were held at the minister’s parlour on St. Claire Avenue on April 10, 1943. “We had no time for a honeymoon, so just returned to work for our next shifts.” Later that summer they were home for a visit when Lois, barely pregnant, came down with a ruptured appendix. “I was in the old hospital and I was afraid I would lose the baby, but we were lucky and the pregnancy was saved.”

When their first daughter Nancy was born in Toronto the couple was renting two rooms in an old house. “We bought our first home in 1952. It cost $8,500, had nine rooms and you could see the Woodbine Race Track from the third floor. Not surprisingly, the former owner had been a bookie’s. We lived there for 20 years, turning the place into a rooming house. We had no car yet. I had insisted that we would not buy a car until we get a house. In 1954 we bought a Dodge Mayfair, the top-of-the-line Dodge, for $2,400.”

Lois also volunteered at the children’s school as a mother’s helper and Don began his 39-year stint as a driver for the Canadian National Railway. Don drove teams of horses through Toronto, delivering fish he had picked up at the CN rail station. The fish would arrive from both the east and the west coasts. “I passed the Royal York daily and I would park the horses on the street when I had to pick up or deliver a package.”

“One of my horses was just terrified of paper. I was picking up a package, standing at the front door, when some paper blew between the horse’s legs. Both horses started to run and the pair did not stop until they were in the barn. They ran three lights in Toronto, and amazingly, never hit any vehicles or people on their way. I had to get a ride with another CN delivery team,” Don offers, grinning. “Another time the same horse encountered blowing paper and became agitated; jumping across the street and landing on top of a lady’s car, significantly damaging the hood.”

Don decided to ‘desensitize’ his paper-fearing horse with weights and a rope tied around the neck of the horse, attached to a bit and a hydro pole. It was a windy day and soon paper blew by. The horse reared up and started to froth at the mouth before throwing off the weights. Don calmed him down by pulling on the rope and the bit. It worked! The next time he took him out, flying papers did not seem to bother him. He was a good horse after that.

The barn boss, however, didn’t like the horses. He wanted to keep them in the barn. He also wanted to separate the team; he felt that one horse could do the work of two. On his next trip Don had to take one horse to pick up a 200-lb case of fish from the CN rail track, located in a hollow near where the base of the CN tower is today. He managed to load the fish but then, half way up the grade, the horse noticed the mare was missing and stopped pulling, letting the load go back down the hill.

The barn boss accused Don of not knowing how to handle the horse even though Don had grown up with horses. The boss tried to deliver the load himself and had a similar response from the horse, but this time the wagon hit three cars on the way down the hill. After that incident, the familiar team was hooked back up and subsequent loads of fish were delivered without a hitch. The Manitoulin man felt vindicated when the boss who had accused him of incompetence was proven wrong.

Their next Toronto home would be a bungalow in North York. Lois’ mother had come to live with them. “Initially we rented out the Woodbine house but there were just too many issues so we sold the place. We sold it for $37,000, considerably more than we had paid for it, but we just found out it was recently renovated and sold for a whopping $750,000.”

In the 1970s the couple bought a Florida condo so they could spend their winters in a warmer climate. They were also planning to move to Whitby and get out of Toronto. “We had just bought a new home when my mum died. We decided we did not need the big home in Whitby and sold it within three years. We had recently completed a home in Sandfield for Don’s parents. We did all the finishing work ourselves to make sure they would be very comfortable. Expenses were manageable. They only had to pay for telephone and hydro. Taxes were repaid to seniors.”

In 1988 Don and Lois came home for the July long weekend. “I remember thinking Don’s mother did not look well. We planned to return in two weeks for a family wedding. Two weeks later the phone rang at home, very early in the morning. “‘What’s wrong?’” Lois asked her mother-in-law. “She said, ‘I wasn’t feeling all that well yesterday so Dr. Stadnyk asked me to come to the hospital for a few days. When you come, visit me here.’”

They came to the hospital to see Mrs. Arnold and managed to chat with her. They had a nice visit, returned to the Sandfield house and attended the wedding the next day. “We got to bed late that night and I woke up suddenly at four in the morning. I listened to the birds singing for a while and then woke Don up an hour later, telling him we had to get to the hospital.”

When they got there Dr. Stadnyk explained that Don’s mother had had a severe heart attack at 4 am. He thought that someone had called Lois and Don, but no one had. They saw mum, hooked up to lots of wires and beeping devices, and spent some time with her. She wanted them to visit Aunt Rae who lived at the corner of Hwy 540 and Silver Bay Road. “‘She is not long for this world,’” Don’s mum insisted. Don and Lois said goodbye and had lunch with Aunt Rae.

“Later we found out that mum died five minutes after we left her. The staff didn’t know where to reach us.” Before her death, mum had packed up some money in plastic wrap and hidden it under the house for her two boys. She only trusted Lois with this information. Lois retrieved it and gave it to the two intended recipients.

Lois’ last job before retirement was selling wine for Chateauguay Wines. She stayed 18 years, until her 70th birthday. In 1994 the couple moved back to Manitoulin to take over the Sandfield home after Don’s parents passed away. In 2010 Don and Lois moved to the first new seniors’ apartments across from the hospital in Mindemoya and stayed for two years.

“Years after my father’s death I met the funeral director who had buried him. Upon hearing my name, he said to me ‘I gave your daddy his last ride’. I was very upset with this insensitive declaration. He probably thought he was making a joke,” Lois claims. “I remember one time this director was in the old hospital. He had to bring out a casket by himself and he wound up letting the full casket slide down the stairs. I wasn’t impressed.”

“We had other colourful characters like Tell Bradley, the Blacksmith who imbibed from time to time. Righteous Mrs. Tucker would lecture him on the street about his ‘lamentable habit,’ as she saw it. One day he responded, ‘Mrs. Tucker, you know one day I will dance on your grave.’ Since Tell never drove anywhere in his fancy new car, except to the Providence Bay Fair once a year, he assumed his unhealthy habit would not lead to his early demise. Mrs. Tucker died before Tell, but nobody is sure if he kept his promise.”

“Don had two brothers. Leland died of lockjaw as a young boy, after stepping on a rusty nail at the blacksmith shop. Wendell is 83 and lives on the Island,” Lois explains. “We are proud of our six children. Nancy has four girls. She worked for London Life for many years. Sandra has three boys and she was with American Express. Wendy, a nurse, worked for OHIP in London. She has two boys and two girls. George has a son. He and his wife Amy have an H & R Block business. Lucinda has two boys and works with emotionally disturbed youth in Durham. Shelley Ann, the youngest, is a personal support worker doing home care in the Oshawa area. She has a boy and a girl.”

“Now we live happily here among other retirees in one of Jeremy Gordon’s units, all at ground level. We have our own garage. Jeremy is a fantastic landlord. He plows the snow, regularly checks to see if we need anything and even changes the light bulbs for us,” Lois boasts. “Angie, the granddaughter of a friend, checks on us too. She will come in and fix stuff, like the 30-year-old coffeemaker that we still love and use daily.” Great-granddaughter Joy will drive the couple when they need to go a little further than Mindemoya. Another helper is Ed Love. “He makes sure we have what we need and he often helps with getting the garbage out. I went to school with his mum. His aunt and uncle are good friends.”

“Don and I have had a good life together. Don is patient and calm. I am the feisty one.” I really have no regrets apart from wishing I could have spent more time with my dad when I was growing up and maybe stayed in school to become a nurse,” Lois shares in conclusion. “On a personal note, I spent three weeks in the hospital recently with congestive heart failure (CHF), but I was told I had a strong heart. A little CHF hasn’t slowed me down. We will celebrate our 71st anniversary on April 10, 2014.”

“Manitoulin is the best place you would ever want to be. You have a sense of independence you wouldn’t have in the city. People are different here than any other place I have been. They always offer a caring hand; they will help you when you need it and that way you can stay longer in your own home. We get along with everybody and we are happy here, living one day at a time on the island we love.”