Our Son Will

The beginning -

Sept 1941 - Grade Six - Miss Doyle's class. Who was this funny guy who sat at the front of row 2 (so he could be watched)? His reputation must have followed him from Grannie Christensen's class.

I sat about 3 seats up from the back, and it seem every time I leaned out and looked up the row to see what the clown (Gordon) was doing, he would look back and make one of his many faces at me. Being shy and the new girl I would quickly lean back in. No much else happened between us in grade six. Yvonne Simmonson was much cuter and sought after.

The Giles (as everyone called them) moved to N. Van the next summer & stayed til the war ended, so the clown returned as goofy & sometimes as embarrassing as ever.

Marion - a bit younger than when she moved to Jasper, but still the wisp of a girl Gordon made faces at.


Dad - circa Miss Doyle's grade 6 class

Grandma, Grandad, and Dad with the truck they drove from Jasper to Vancouver in 1942, via the Roger's Pass and the very treacherous Hell's Gate Canyon road. The journey took them a week.

Because of Grandad's deafness, the result of childhood illness, he couldn't serve in the armed forces during WW2. He wanted to pull his weight, so he signed up to work at the Burrard Shipyards in North Vancouver. He built cabinets in the captain's cabins of dozens of ships.

Dad and Grandma, 1944. Dad grew to his nearly-6'3" height in North Vancouver. He joined Sea Cadets, played bugle. Grandad built them a small, sturdy home there. They returned to Jasper in the summer of 1945.

Grade 10 1945-46
I met his Mom Apr. 9, 1946 - Gordon's 15th birthday. A disappointment for me - not the party or meeting "Mom", but I thought he was turning 16, as I would be doing in a few days. I must have been interested without realizing it.

High school droned on - had good and bad times. We two first connected at a house party at Faulders. Gordon got too handsy - I got mad & left he party - he did too & walked me home. Asked me to go you with him. Why did I say yes? - but I did and there started us down that fateful road to joy and woe.



The Marion that Gordon saw on his return to Jasper. She's in the little Valley of the Crooked Trees.

Her dad was a keen photographer who developed his own prints. He worked in colour long before it was popular and affordable.


1947, ever a wisp, ever lovelier

We didn't go steady until grade 12. In the spring he bought me the solitaire I still cherish.

Dad paid $160 for Mom's engagement ring. Through all their struggles and poverty, he was careful not to miss payments, hence forfeit this pledge of his love. He carried this payment card in his wallet long after he'd paid it off.

He quit school in the spring, and got a job truck driving for the government. He looked cocky and exciting in his jeans, open shirt, and ski cap with the brim turned up with a new chauffeur's badge on it. He was happy and felt like a man.

Fall 1948
I returned to school, but with all my friends gone I just didn't want to stay. I went to work for Perrier's, which wasn't much more fun than school.

On a Monday in Nov. Gordon & I went to clean up Katie* and Jake's apartment as a surprise while they were away in Edmonton. I'm sure we know what would probably happen - and it did in a clumsy & incomplete way - but there's no turning back it seems after that happens.

Young lovers, 1949, in Marion's parents' front yard in Jasper.

*Mom's older sister, Katie, had married Jake a couple of years earlier. He was a war veteran who worked for the railway. They lived in an apartment in Jasper.

Summer 1949 (Mom & Dad in Toronto)
Two empty houses, lots of time and beds ...

Grandma & Grandad spent from June - Sept every year running their Cavell Chalet tourist business, 18 miles from town, leaving their house in town empty. Mom's parents went to Ontario that summer to settle some inheritance business that had been pending since the war.

... & of course on July 6 the rhythm method tricked us. We lost track of the days. The 20th arrived and I knew I was pregnant. What to do? Dr. Straughn gave me some pills to take, but of course didn't work.

We drove to Hinton & got a marriage licence & blood test & were going to return the next week to get married. I don't know why we were given the licence when we were underage. I said I wanted to tell Mom & Dad who were still away, hoping I could have a nice wedding as they were going to be home in about a month.

Mom came home, but said no wedding Dad was away til spring. It was a great disappointment, she didn't understand - we loved each other, and we wanted our baby.

I stayed in Jasper til mid Jan 1950, even had Christmas dinner at Gordon's folks. They had to have known I was pregnant, but just hoped I'd go away.

Gordon went to Edmonton to work for Wilf Pollard doing lath & plaster. He stayed at McKinlay's.

Gordon's maternal grandparents, Murdoch and Leaffie McKinlay, at their house in Edmonton, ca. 1960. They'd retired to the city after homesteading and farming together for more than 50 years. On the farm, Grandma McKinlay had often taken young pregnant women will nowhere else to go. She welcomed Gordon and Marion, whatever their circumstance, whenever they needed a place to stay or good food to eat.


Marion's mother, in Stanley Park, 1939, foreground; Miette River, Jasper, 1940s. Ever a lady, a great spirit, lively sport, as well as a force to be reckoned with. Mom loved her "like sunshine", she said.

I went to Edm. also & Mom and I stayed with people Dad had stayed with when he attended Anglican Synod. Mom never told them I saw pregnant, so it was embarrassing being there. Gordon & I saw each other sometimes & went to a movie sometimes.

I begged him to find a suite for us so we could be on our own, but I guess he was too young and afraid to take that step. Meanwhile I got bigger & bigger, and more concerned. Finally Mom suggested we go by bus to Cloverdale and stay with Staggs. It was now six weeks before Don was born & in bad winter conditions. It took us four miserable days to make the trip, having to go through Seattle to avoid read closures. No bathrooms on the buses those days, so I was often in agony.

Once again Mom never mentioned I was pregnant & Ollie Stagg didn't really want us there as she was pregnant also.

When I said good-bye to Gordon, I took the bus alone to McKinlay's. They weren't home, so Gordon & I had some time alone. We argued because he didn't want me to go, but what choice did I have? All he had was 50, which he gave to me. I felt so sad and desperate.

We had no contact while I was in Cloverdale as I didn't even have a nickel for a stamp.


I saw this poem in a magazine while I was in Cloverdale awaiting Will's birth.

We used to walk one little street
So joyfully together,
Oh surely I'll go back someday
Through any kind of weather.
And lightly slip among the crowd
No wiser and no older,
Until I find my rightful place
An inch below your shoulder.
Then tuck my hand beneath your arm
And swing my step to yours,
The windows will remember us,
The unforgetting doors.
Someone will cry, "They've met again,
Those who so happy hearted!"
We shall not ever know my dear,
That we had ever parted.

The morning of the day Will was born was more beautiful to me than any other day I have lived, & I felt an elation that's hard to describe. I'll never know why - maybe new life on its way does that.


I first saw this poem when I was seven. I was looking through Mom's jewellry box, where she kept a copy. Her mom had just died, leaving lots of shocking secrets to be discovered. Mom decided not to do this, to tell me everything. She told me then about her giving up my brother at birth and what they did to get him back. When she died, she said, she wanted this read poem for her, and for Dad, no matter who went first, because they belonged together, forever.

I had a doctor's appointment that day so Mom & I took the bus into Vanc to Dr. Johnston's office and then by bus (standing all the way in labor) to Grace Hospital. We arrived about 5 PM - Mom didn't stay long, & I felt very alone. Will was born around 9 PM Apr 3. I wanted to see him to so badly but was told not to.

I was alone all the next day. What a long strange day. Mom came the next day & I was moved into a room with another unwed mother.

Every day I wanted to see my baby boy, but was told it would be easier to give him up if I didn't. The other girl in the room was keeping her baby, so had her every day. That made it harder for me.

The day I left the hospital I couldn't leave without seeing him. The nurse held him up to the glass but wouldn't let me hold him. He was so beautiful (& sleepy), chubby with long black hair, little fists doubled up. I didn't want to stop looking at him and leave. He didn't look like a child of evil born in sin, and he certainly wasn't. Katie was wrong.

 


Katie had become pregnant with her first child at exactly the same time as Mom. Katie's beautiful boy, Jason, was born in Edmonton just one day after Will. He was a rhesus baby, which is extremely rare for a first-born. She'd gone to Edmonton weeks before he was due, because the Jasper hospital wasn't equiped to deal with complications. She stayed alone in a hotel in the big city, while her mom was far away with Marion, making sure she gave up her baby for adoption. Katie's delivery was difficult; Jason's birth was traumatic, a wonder that he survived.

In a few days we went to the Child Welfare Office where the adoption papers were to be signed. We had to wait awhile because the Christies, the adoptive couple, had our son at their doctor's office having him checked over. They had to have a perfect baby before they would agree to take him. This really hurt me, because I thought they wanted a child to love, and I wanted him just however he happened to be born.

I was crying so hard I could hardly read the papers I was signing, but I did read "If this document is signed under duress it will be considered void". I thought - I am signing under duress & it is witnessed, so maybe I could soon prove that, and have our son with us.

As we left the building I was still sobbing and feeling very bleak. I said to Mom "I will never have another child."
We stayed a week or so at Stagg's, which was difficult because their friends asked about the baby and I had to lie and say he wasn't well enough to leave the hospital, & that my husband was working in the north.

Back at Jasper
Now what do I do with this life of mine, with the big hole in it?

Gordon was back in Jasper by then, working in the round house. I forget how we reconnected, but our families forbid us to see each other. Gordon came to my bedroom window one night, and I sneaked out to be with him. At first I told him our baby had died, but after sneaking out a few more time I told him the truth.

||
Together on the Lodge Road. [Hey Dad, stand up straight!]

Gordon & some of his friends had stolen some government tools*, which were found in his car when the CN cop was looking for alcohol. He was charged and taken to jail in Edmonton. His grandfather appealed the case, but it couldn't be heard until the fall asizes.

We had been planning on saving enough money to go to the coast - get married and try to get our son back. Gordon worked at the Western Construction truck camp, and I got a job at the Bay.

During this time I wrote several times to the Child Welfare in Vanc. asking how our baby was, and letting them know our regrets at giving him up. They told us of his progress, which was hard to hear, but I just had to know.

Fall 1950
Gordon won his appeal and was given a six month's suspended sentence. Gordon's dad told me to stay away from his son (not likely). We left [for Vancouver] on the train one day and told no one of our plans.


Dad, who was 18, and two younger friends worked for CN. They used CN tools for their work, and they used the same tools to fix their old vehicles. They tossed a wrench and a couple of other smaller tools into Dad's car, on the floor of the back seat, not to steal them - they had regular access, no need to take them - but to keep them out of the rain.
A CN cop, "who had it in for every young fellow in town," Grandma said, caught them. They fessed up and expected to be told to put them where they belonged and never do it again. Not so lucky. Only Dad was charged, and as an adult, of course.
The RCMP took him in handcuffs to Edmonton. When he was being led onto the train, an old lady saw him in his good clothes, with a Mountie on each side. She obviously missed the 'cuffs, for she exclaimed, "Oh, look at that fine young man, joining the RCMP."
Grandad McKinlay, who had been a Justice of the Juvenile Court in Edmonton for years, intervened for Dad.
Mom's reporting of this is typical: straight-up, no fudging. She had a remarkable need for the truth - not that she didn't try dodge it at times, but she kept a clear-eyed view. She was courageous about consequences, since they are another part of the truth. She paid for this trait dearly through her life, until she couldn't take it any more.


We went to [brother] Jack's apartment [in the Vancouver area], but were told he was away until the next week, so we got a room at the Regis Hotel and made enquiries about getting married. We were denied a licence. I spoke to the dean of the cathedral [Christ Church, which Mom had attended in the early and late 1930s] and begged for his help. He said he spoke to the Welfare Services, but there wasn't anything else he could do.

We bought an ugly green Ford sedan (1941) with the money Gordon had saved, & spent my money to survive. I came down with the mumps on both sides, so had to stay in the hotel for a few days.

Jack returned, and we told him our troubles. He was very concerned and said he would help us. We were running out of money, so with hope that Jack would come through for us, we headed back to Alberta.


Jack Cleveland was Mom's half-brother from her dad's first marriage. He was 12 years older than Mom. He had named her Marion. He remained very fond of her until he died in 1993.

The weather was getting cooler, & and the car heater wasn't much help, so we wore every thing we had. We started over the Big Bend Hwy [Rogers Pass] & it started to snow. By the time we reached the summit we were worried - no other cars around & the snow piling up. We were very glad to see a snow plow coming. It had been sent to see if anyone was still on the road. We followed it down and then they closed the road.

We were out of food, & looking around for something free. Saw a box of apples that were probably too poor to sell, but they were manna to us. When we arrived in Calgary we had 15 & very little gas.

We bought one bowl of soup and grabbed as many crackers as we could to put in it. We wired the McKinlays in Edm to pls. send us some money for gas, but by nearly dark it hadn't arrived, so we headed north. At a small service station at Wodehouse, we asked a kindly looking older woman if she would take a cheque for some gas. She reluctantly did, and we made it to McKinlay's hungry & tired late at night. (The cheque bounced & with an apologetic letter we sent the kind lady her money.)

Gordon's Mom & Dad were there too - they all took it for granted we had gotten married, & we let them believe it. They likely wanted to believe it to avoid any shame.



November, 1950. More than let them believe it, Mom & Dad faked their wedding photo at that time, in part because they wanted so much to be married and felt as if they were.


In a day or two, we, with Anne & Don went to Jasper. We stayed at their place til after the new year (Brenda was conceived, hoping to help us if we could have our first baby.)

Jan 3 1951
We took off early in the AM with our car loaded down. We heard they were hiring at the mines up the coal branch. They were closed down for a reason I can't remember. We stayed at a hotel in Coalspur - it was freezing and in the morning Gordon had a hard time getting the car started.

On to Edmonton where we rented a dingy basement suite. We had to sell the car to buy food. Life was misery & me with morning sickness.

Gordon got a job as a swamper on truck delivering drilling mud to oil wells. I found us a bit better suite - drafty, but at least above ground.

It was while we were in this suite that we heard from Jack that he had a court date, and everything ready to go ahead the first week of March. We were excited & scared.

The McKinlays paid our expenses to go to the coast - by then everyone was on our side, and anxious to have their grandson.

The Court Case
John Sutherland (Jack's lawyer) met us at the CN Station. He didn't know us, but he had heard I was pregnant. I was not quite 3 months, so if I hadn't been wearing the big grey coat I carried Will in, he would have had a hard time finding us.

I denied all the way through the case that I was pregnant, because they tried to use it as a reason for not needing the child we had*. They couldn't have proved I was pregnant without revealing how they knew, as it would have been unethical for the doctor in Edmonton to give that information, and only he and Gordon and I knew of my condition.

The case went on for five days and was very intense. We had to cover up why were hadn't started the case sooner, because of Gordon's having been involved in the tool stealing & his suspended sentence. We were surprised they never found out about it. Also, they never asked us for a marriage licence.

 

*Mom said that the couple who had adopted my brother argued to the judge that Mom and Dad could always have another child. Mom quickly said to the judge that she was her parents' fifth child, and she'd hate to think that she was any less wanted because they had four children already. The judge was very impressed with this.

She also said that the adoptive father told the judge that, if he had known how much work this baby was going to be, he'd never have agreed to the adoption.

The court case took place in the imposing Vancouver Court House, now Art Gallery. Mom and Dad were close in mind as I did this sketch, published by The Globe & Mail. It shows the back entrance of the court house, now the front entrance of the art gallery. Dad was a decade dead then; Mom had been trying to join him. I asked her to write their story then, to keep her heart warm through the losses and blows of her last years.

Mom was very aware that lying in court, saying they were married, was perjury, a criminal offence with no statute of limitations. She and Dad didn't get married until 1969 when Will was 19 years old and living independently, so if a clerk, for example, in BC Vital Statistics recognized their names from old trial and news reports, he wouldn't be taken from them and put in foster care. Not likely, but Mom had been through too much with Will to risk ever losing him again.


We had a meeting alone with the judge, and I think he liked us - he was very kind. We also met with the Christie's - me with Jean & Gordon with Jack. I was feeling really badly for Jean, and told her we would want to share our child's growing years with them. Jack Christie didn't show much emotion, so it was hard to know how he felt. He did say to Gordon he would have been willing to return our son to us during the first 2 - 3 mo - as he was difficult and cried a lot.

We see our son
We met in the lawyer's office. The Christies in a separate room with Donny. After signing some paper, a secretary brought Donny in to us. We never saw the Christies, which was best.

I didn't rush up and take our baby, because he needed time to check us over. Also it was hard to associate him with the 5 day old baby I had seen before leaving the hospital. Now his hair was fair and his features slimmer and finer. He never cried, just looked very serious. Poor little fellow - how could he understand.

I took him from the secretary, and he didn't seem to mind. It was so wonderful to finally hold him, and fill in that big sad hole I had had for nearly a year. When we left Gordon carried him & the little fellow never fussed.


Mom said they bought a few things for Will at the Army & Navy store first, where the news blasted on a radio through the store that the young couple who'd given up their son for adoption had just gotten him back. She felt people's eyes on the three of them, wondering if this was them. She couldn't get out of there and to the train station fast enough.

We went right to the train station for the long trip to Edmonton.

Dad sent a trumphant telegram to his mom:

More news followed, on Will's first birthday.
The year's limitation for getting him back was up then; they'd just made it.


It was hard to keep Willie amused with just a few toys, and he wasn't walking yet. There was a really nice teenage boy sitting near us & he was great. He let Willy pull his hair and he played baby games with him. After the 14 to 15 hour trip we were very exhausted. It really started to hit home - We had one baby (a big one) and another one on the way.

Some how I can't remember who met us in Edmonton. I know we stayed at McKinlay's the first night. Then next day to our drafty dreary suite. The crib was being shipped, so we had to make a makeshift bed for Donny by turning the daybed toward the wall and piling up pillows at the ends. I had to stay with him until he fell asleep.

My days were lonely with Gordon away at work and I didn't know anyone. Also I had no carriage yet. One day I did walk over to McKinlay's - carrying the baby (25 lbs), but I never did it again. It was too much.

It wasn't long before we decided to move back to Jasper - I saw so happy. Anne & Don drove in and back with us. They had the truck and took Willy with them.

By then we had bought a big old gangster looking black car for $90. It got us to Jasper, but was nothing but trouble after that.

The Suite at Hartleys

Mom's writings stop here. She, Dad, and Will lived in a tiny skid shack in Grandma and Grandad's back yard for the summer of 1951. They used the faciities of the house, but didn't move in, despite it being empty while Grandma and Grandad lived at Cavell Chalet for the summer.

Dad began working at the Jasper Park Lodge, building log cabins for guests and staff, as his dad had done 25 years earlier. He was making 90 cents an hour, about the cost of a loaf of bread.

In September, Mom, Dad, and Will moved into the back suite of Hartley's house, which was one of the biggest houses in town and decidely the most decripid and creepy. Nothing else was available to rent in town, and the skid shack wouldn't do through the coming cold seasons.

Hartley's suite cost a very expensive $90 a month. Even the mother of the man who lived there preferred to sleep in the spider-webbed back room of her china shop on main street than share the old tumble-down family home with her middle-aged son. He was a brilliant man - thwarted genius - who grew more hunchbacked, greasy, and strange over the years.

"George's Jars" - One of many stories I could write about this unusual man, who lived two doors down from my home, age 3-14.