Leslie T. Richardson- Memories & Other Stories
During the First World War mother had 20 soldiers of 114th. Battalion boarding at our house, Haldimand House. They were a rough and ready bunch, some of whom were serving their King and Country in an honourable manner, but there were others who had joined because the bread line had been their fate in the depression of the couple of years before the war started. Some were ne'er-do-wells, others lazy and other would go A.W.O.L. at the drop of the hat. Mother got to know them quite well and although she had her problems she mothered them as if they were her own children.
She did all the cooking for the 20 hungry men, as well as for her own small family. Every week they devoured a whole pig besides whatever else was served. Her pies became famous and she had to ration the pieces or one person would eat the whole pie.
She got 10 cents a meal and had to fight to collect that from some of them. She said she got so hard-boiled that eventually the soldiers had more respect for her than even the Sergeant-Major. She had one weapon which he did not have. She ruled the kitchen and if a culprit did not come up to her standard, he did not eat. No pleading, no threatening, no beguiling softened her authority and soon the worst officer knuckled down to her will. She had to be tough as she was dealing with some very independent men, but they met their match when it came to mother.
Rules were rules and the ill-disciplined and bucking soldier soon learned that the parade ground extended to mother's dining room and also to his bedroom.
Some of the men would march right in, after being on a muddy route and flop on the bed, boots and all. When she discovered the mess the next day, the offender would be met with a mop and a pail of soap suds. He scrubbed the stairs and bedroom under her eye, until she was satisfied and then was permitted to come down and eat.
Remember, in those days, all the washing was done by scrub board and tub and the water heated on the stove. The women were constantly changing the beds.
Mother had hired several young and attractive Indian girls to help with this housework. She had to train them too, and moreover keep a rigid eye on them as the soldiers were human. A boarded-up wall kept the help from the paying guests, but sometimes even that wasn't secure enough. Only mother's instincts kept her house in a Victorian and puritan order.
Sometimes some of the men overdid their celebrations and were sick all over the place. Sergeant-Major mother had no pity for them and made them clean up after themselves. Occasionally one would lip her and refuse to concede. It wasn't long before Andy Fraser and a detail of soldiers would arrive and take the soldier off to jail in Cayuga, but not before he cleaned his room to mother's approval.
The next day the jailed-man wondered how Andy Fraser could arrive at that precise time and of course catch him in his misdemeanour.
Mother never told her secret until years later, when the War was just a memory and she remembered the pleasant parts of it. Across the road in the present O'Keefe's home was a family named Thompson, who had the only telephone close by. Mother would slip over and phone Andy and he, as a military policeman was happy to oblige. So often he was waiting for a good excuse to put the soldier on charge anyway.
Eventually the soldiers went overseas. There was a void at our place. Mother and Dad could not take the quietness and the Doctor advised them to take a trip. It was years since they had one.
Mother did not forget her soldier boys. She would write regularly to them overseas. Rev. Capt. Lyons, the Anglican clergyman from town went overseas with the Caledonia troops and Mother would correspond with him. He told mother that when a letter came from her all the men knew her writing and would enter his tent while he read them the news.
Mother could write a real homey type letter, about the various things she was doing daily and would mention what she had baked, etc. When Rev. Lyons read this part he said it was heart-rending to see these battle-hardened men cry, because they missed her cooking. They were truly contrite.
After the war was over several made post haste to our home where they were greeted like lost sons. I rarely had ever seen mother cry, but weep she did, and so did the big fat Indian who filled the door-way and the little Cockney Englishman who stood in front of him.
They were home! Home to the boarding house, which, when the mud of France was liquid, they had dreamed about. They dreamed of the home-cooked meals and the pie and mother. No longer was she the Sergeant-Major, but just another mother, weeping and kissing her wayward sons and welcoming them home again.