17 June 1922
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Noted Calgary Author
The first distinct memory that sticks fast in my mind is of being spanked good and hard. I know it was good and hard, because its hurt has traveled down with me over all these years. I do not know just how young or how old I was, but I could not have been much beyond the baby age, because I also recall that after having exhausted the resources of a lusty pair of lungs, I found genuine comfort and balm for my troubled seat and soul in sucking upon my thumb. With this unfailing pacifier in my mouth, I disappeared into oblivion.
My next vivid memory is of castor oil. I was on my back on somebody’s knee. I was held there by main force, while my two hands were pinioned by an assistant torturer, whose free hand held my nose while his accomplice poured the oily, evil smelling, vile tasting liquid down my protesting, strangling throat.
Also I remember having measles, and moaning in distress and despair, when I found my hands and my body rolled in sheets in such a way that I could not reach those itchy spots that screeched aloud to be scratched.
Nothing sweet about those memories. Just clearcut painful events that stand out over all the years. Indeed, my farthest memories are all more or less connected with something painful or exciting. A bump on the head when I fell out of bed. My mother’s screams, which silenced my own. A pin pricking me somewhere. The marble I swallowed, and the resulting excitement, when I was held upside down by my feet, pounded and pummeled, and divers fingers thrust down my mouth and throat, and the relief and joy of coughing or sneezing up the marble.
So much for the far distant memories. I emerge now into a period when I can a bit more clearly place and record certain acts and events that put their indelible imprint upon my mind.
Well do I recall a period of humiliation and hurt when I learned, for the first time, through the medium of my brothers and sisters that I bore an uncanny resemblance to a monkey. My brother, who was of a scientific turn of mind, produced and held over my confidingly lifted face, a magnifying glass, as he pronounced his diagnosis, viz. that my face plainly supported the Darwinian theory. I innocently inquired what a “Darn Theory” was and in lucid and painfully clear language my brother enlightened me. I did not believe him and vented my outraged feelings by ejecting my tongue from my mouth and by using language not at all nice for a little girl. I then retired to my bedroom, where I climbed upon a chair to examine my face in the mirror. Almost immediately I perceived the truth of my brother’s verdict anent my face. At this stage of my career, I was not able to think very coherently, nor had I the capacity for intense suffering, but I may say that when the knowledge of my own resemblance to a monkey sank into my small breast, I climbed down from that chair with a sick feeling at the pit of my stomach. I felt like a pariah, an outcast, and trotted forth blindly into the cold world. I sat me down on the sidewalk, with my feet dangling into the gutter, and after ruminating sadly upon my lot, I found distraction from my woes in making mud pies. I was an artist at such confections, so much so in fact that I often was tempted to taste my own luscious looking creations, which bore a strong resemblance to chocolate cake and candy.
While I was thus innocently engaged, a lady of fashion strolled slowly down our street, followed by a radiantly clad infant of about the toddling age. I glimpsed this gilt-edged personage out of the corner of my little eye, but there was no malice or envy in my heart towards her or her child. Therefore her words were purely gratuitous and calculated to arouse the slumbering demon which lurked in my breast. Her child had paused to regard my mud pies which had taken her capricious fancy, no doubt, and she had bestowed on me a most charming and confiding smile, as she stretched her little hand toward my creations and murmured: “Goo—goo!”
The mother’s voice, with its faintly admonitory tone cut sweetly across my sensibilities:
“Come along pet, Mamma’s’ ittle ‘osebud must keep away from the dirty ‘ittle girl.”
Now it so happened that I had recently emerged from the worst rubbing and scrubbing and drubbing of my life, and I was emphatically not a “dirty ‘ittle girl.” Indeed, my mother had carried my cleansing to the ‘nnth point. I had, subsequent to aforesaid cleansing, been placed upon a high chair and my hair had been cut—not cutely cut or bobbed, mind you—but just cut—clipped tight to the skull. When the clipping had been accomplished, my father took a sort of lawn mower and this he ran over my sore and protesting pate.
It was in the sweet summer time, and in our part of the city of Montreal, viz. Hochelaga, the French quarter, a hideous sort of fashion had come into vogue among the French Canadian mothers, who thus ruthlessly disfigured their offspring. My parents were touched with the epidemic, of which I was the first victim. We were a large family. We numbered twelve, and there be various reasons why the distracted parents of a noisy bunch of youngsters should find the aforesaid fashion quite to their taste. My resemblance, therefore, to a monkey, was in the circumstances not so extraordinary. I defy even a Lillian Russell or Maxine Elliott or Mrs. Langtry or Billie Burke to have their hair shaved like a convict’s close to their scalp and emerge beautiful. When to this detriment, add big brown freckles, a wide and substantial mouth, with two vacancies in front, which aforetime was my pride and boast, and you may have some idea of the handicaps with which I had to contend in life, and may feel a sense of sympathy for the hurt to my amour propre.
Howbeit, I emphatically was not a “dirty ‘ittle girl,” I had reached a stage where I was reconciled to my brother’s verdict anent the Darwinian theory, but I drew the line at being called what I emphatically was not—dirty. My mother was an apostle of the God of Cleanliness—if there is such a god—there ought to be anyway. Good churchgoer, as was my mother—(in her young days she had in fact been a missionary in the Far East)—I am quite sure in the depths of her soul she put cleanliness always before Godliness, for she made far more fuss over our physical states than she did our moral—I mean, we were all physically cleansed before we were permitted to travel forth to the church or Sunday school that had charge of our moral cleansing. At all events into our young systems had been beaten and blasted the creed of cleanliness, and it was quite possible for me to sit on a sidewalk and make mud pies and still remain clean.
When that woman, therefore, pronounced me dirty, my back went up as if it were alive with bristles. My first impulse was to spring at her. My second to shout insults and epithets. My third, was to make faces uglier than that nature had already generously provided me with. These wild, warring instincts, however, gave way to craft. With the guileless smile of one turning the other cheek meekly to be smacked, I returned the look of my defamer, who, having enjoined her ‘ittle ‘osebud to avoid me, proceeded sweetly along her way.
I smiled engagingly upon the lingering child—as engagingly, that is, as a monkey might. My smile was returned with interest, and I cooed like a dickie bird, that is, like I thought a dickie bird might coo. It sounded sweet to my own ears, and evidently had its soothing effect on “‘ittle ‘osebud,” also, for she stretched out her little rosy hand, into which I promptly placed the most delectable of my mud pies. Acting upon a further generous impulse, I placed one in each of the tiny lace pockets of that confiding child. My bosom swelled with fiendish elation and pride, as the small fat hand travelled with its luscious lump of oozy mud toward the rosy orifice in little Rosebud’s face, which is commonly known as the mouth. Here was a clear case of the sins of the parents being visited upon the innocent children.
I come now to a period in my life when my memories are not exactly painful. I recall the events largely because of their thrilling impress upon my mind. There came a day in my young life, when with several sons and daughters of neighbors I set forth with zeal upon what I fearfully and proudly believed to be a criminal career. I joined in fact “The Hochelaga gang.” Two of my brothers were moving (very much moving) spirits in this nefarious organization. I was admitted, in spite of my extreme youth—my years numbering but six—because of my ability to scream like a cat. I was in fact, the alarm clock of the gang. Besides the implement that nature had provided me with, I also became the possessor of a tin whistle, and to my supreme joy was taught the use of that piercing instrument. Though I was not permitted to participate in the battles and raids of the gang, I shared all of the dangers, and often was stampeded by the gang in flight, and left alone to bear the brunt of the inquest that followed.
Also mine was the hand that, dabbed in boot blacking or mud, was used to bang upon paper or upon front doors or steps. My hand was used because the president said it was the smallest, and Scotland Yard would less be likely to trace my baby thumb prints. I resented that word “baby” but it was not in my power to resist it.
My recollection serves that we had no special purpose for being in existence, save to generally disturb the peace and quiet of an unoffending and happy neighborhood. Our chief sport was doorbell ringing. My, it was thrilling to sneak up some back street or alleyway, and each ascend the steps of the houses in the block, and at a given signal simultaneously ring the doorbells. Oh, the wild shock that raced through our beings as we fled up alley and street and lane, and ran for our lives, as irate householders and officers of the law, appeared or were heard in excited French jabber.
Sometimes we upset pedlars’ carts or put stones into milk bottles, changed the wash on the lines of various backyards, put cats and dogs through open windows, watched for the absence of a gossiping housewife and raided her kitchen expertly, we slipped salt into the French pea-soup simmering on the backs of shining stoves; poured pepper into the coffee pot; chalked caricatures of certain special citizens upon their door fronts and we pinned to the coattails of dignified business men slips of paper on which the legend “Kick Me” or “Kiss Me” blazed abroad to an edified world.
I’ll say for myself that I never really participated in any of these above mentioned diabolical pranks. As before mentioned, I was the innocent alarm clock of the gang, and it was my duty to variously scream or whistle when danger hove in sight. Though not personally responsible, however, I suffered the pangs and shared the fruits of my accomplices’ labors. Indeed, I was reduced to bitter tears by the lamentations of a parent over the supposed demise of a son, whose death by “being run over” was announced solemnly by a brother member of the gang, and I came forth from my concealment behind the door of the front porch sobbing out loudly:
“Taint true! ‘taint true! Mitheth Thmith, Johnny’th wound the cornor, juth playing he’th dead.”
I lisped in those days. My brothers told me it was a fearful deformity, which might turn to deaf-muteness (which was explained to me), unless I permitted them to operate upon my tongue. I did, with dire result. At the first touch of the pin and the resulting blood, I fled to the house, screaming so alarmingly that windows were thrown up all over the neighborhood and my mother came forth in frantic anxiety and haste.
I recall, ah! with what startling vividness, a certain day in the sunburnt month of July. We had torrid days in the summertime in our Montreal, despite the delusion current in the U. S. A., and other parts of the world where provincial souls smugly believe they have secured a corner on the sun’s warmth, that we in Canada are perpetually snowbound and our climate not unsimilar to that of the north pole. That especial day is blistered upon my memory. The heat sank down from the burning sky and pressed its heavy weight upon the defenseless city. It was a day when folks moved only when forced to. It was a day when our mothers clung to the darkened house and kept as far as possible from the sun blighted streets. The fat policeman sat in the barber shop in a stodgy heap, fanning his perspiring face and looking as if planted solidly and eternally upon that stool.
It was, in fact, the ideal day for the operations of the gang.
We met in a woodshed. I remember that woodshed well, because we used to give shows and circuses there, and from charging pins for admission, we raised the price of entry to candy, cake, fruit, or failing these, cold cash; a big brass penny being the fee. Many a time I have stood on a pedestal one of the exhibits in the hall of freaks, while Jean Dupont, the pock-marked French-Canadian boy, who was the manager of the show, pricked and pinched me in his zeal to show that my skin was elastic and pain proof. I have been the bearded lady of a circus. My beard tickled so much that after all these years the mere memory of it makes me itch. My brother had pasted it on with glue, and how can I ever forget the sensation of the removal of said tightly glued beard upon my chin, which dragged away part of my own epidermis.
On this red hot day we were seven strong, and one week—I being the weak link. Out of the mists of reveries, the least details of that expedition prick out sharply and clearly. I remember the clothes line in the backyard, from which we filched dry articles which were transferred into bags. I remember the snowy French kitchen where Jean Dupont helped himself to certain edibles his enormously fat mother had prepared for dinner. How savory and appetizing that spread of green salads, hard boiled eggs, of pastry and jellied chicken, which the French mother had prepared for the hot day, which her youngest son had no compunction in transferring to one of the improvised bags we had made from an article on the clothes line.
It was a great distance from the street—that secret orchard, at least it seemed a great distance to me, who was small and of a feeble sex, and I endured insult and some injunctions to “get a wiggle on you old slow poke,” jabs in diverse parts of my anatomy, disgusted snorts of “that’s what we get for taking her along,” and finally when my steps failed to keep up with my marching gang, which was obliged to halt furiously, I was slapped in the face by someone. I set up one of my famous howls, and the distraught gang took counsel how to shut me up. Pacification was decided upon as being more effective than physical chastisement, and I was finally lifted to Jean Dupont’s back. I forgot my footsore state in the joy of being on that big boy’s back. It was no fun for Jean, however, for as aforementioned, the day was not a cool one, and no one enjoys staggering along under a blazing sun with a heavy child upon one’s back. I was soon transferred to Johnny Smith’s broad back. Johnny was fat, and I remember well how he snorted as he carried me along a single block. Then my brothers took me in turn, and thus I passed from back to back until we reached the goal of our great adventure.
Our journey’s end was at the edge of a wide field, at the foot of a tall wall that entirely surrounded an orchard, whose wealth was evident on the overlapping boughs of trees that dipped a bit above the fence, along the top of which, spikes, or inverted nails were set a few inches apart, a clear warning to predatory boys and girls to keep off. I could not for the life of me see how we were ever to scale those forbidding walls, and having scaled them, how we would escape contact with the aforementioned menacing spikes, that looked like sword points, deliberately upturned to pierce us. Which goes to show that I was possessed of an infantile and undeveloped intelligence, for my companions, of superior mind and physique had no difficulty in discovering an easy means of ingress.
The plan was to leave me outside—on guard as usual, but at this great distance from my home, I refused to be thus deserted or allow my companions to put that high wall between them and me. My refusal to the form of such despairing walls as one by one the boys disappeared over that wall, that purely as a matter of self protection they were forced to take me along, though I was shamefully insulted, and told that I always spoiled their fun and that this was the last time they’d ever take me along, etc.
Our mode of entering our secret orchard was simple enough, yet quite ingenious. One boy stood sturdily by the wall. Another was hoisted to his shoulders. From this elevated point it was an easy matter to reach an overhanging branch, and swing up to the top of the wall. All the spikes in the world could not daunt a boy bent upon securing apples, and to my awed and admiring eyes that first boy appeared a hero, as with his feet planted between two of the spikes he held down the bough. The boys, one by one, on the ground outside and leaped and grasped and were wafted aloft in safety by this improvised elevator. I shudder to think what might have befallen had that bough been of less tough timber.
I was the last to ascend.
All had reached the top of the wall in safety, and all, save I, had landed on the ground on ‘tother side. Now, alas! the eternal feminine awoke to alarming life in me. It was one thing to grasp hold of the end of a branch that automatically swung up by the force of the branch rebounding as released by the hand of the boy on the wall and holding it down. The boys had made an easy landing on the wall, for they kicked out as they swung up, and found a foothole in ample time. Boys are like cats and shinny up trees and walls with fearless agility. Not so I, of inferior mind and body. I clung helplessly to that bough, and would not let it part from me for worlds, though I slipped gradually down its length and landed in a fairly safe and firm crotch. From this spot I refused to move or be moved, despite the hoarse whispers and dire hisses and threats and disgusting names hurled at me by my fellow members of the gang. Those boys averred that the jump was nothing; that the grass was soft; that they’d catch me; that I should close my eyes, hold my breath and let go. All to no avail. Their adjurations fell on deaf ears. I stuck to my crotch, and from there I would not budge, even when the last of the gang had disappeared into the alluring depths of that beckoning orchard.
Alone sat I on the tree crotch and debated the question of how I was to get down either side of that fence. Two things arose to divert me from the weighty problem. Number one, was a big red apple, which to my supreme surprise and joy, I discovered hanging just a few inches above my head; Number two, was something I saw from my eerie perch on high across the tree tops just as I was digging my teeth into number one. I must say I was well trained by the gang, for I dropped that precious apple from my teeth, and instantly brought the whistle to my lips. In an instant from all sides rushed the members of the gang, blouses and pockets bloated with the plunder, they came in full flight.
It was a remarkable, thrilling sight to see those boys skin up that fence. True, it was easier getting out than into the orchard, for there were trees all along the fence inside the orchard, and a boy had only to climb a tree and leap out. Climb and leap they did, with miracle like celerity, but none too soon, for now a voice that to this day roars back in my ears with its booming menace, was raised loud in our land. Growling, groaning and barking, the ugliest and biggest bulldog I have ever seen sprang into sight and leaped at the fence, over which the last of the terrified boys was hastily departing. At that moment I felt sure that my days were numbered. Little did I dream that my short life would end in the jaws of an ugly bulldog. Why had not providence permitted me to make my exit through the medium of measles, chicken-pox, mumps, whooping cough or some one of the other deadly diseases of which I had once been a painful victim.
With my companions fled to safety, here I was high up in a tree, a foot or two above the spiked fence, while on the ground below a roaring, barking ugly bulldog, vainly leaped to reach me, and a big blackbearded man with a horsewhip in his hand glared at me with the fiercest expression that beetling moving eyebrows can give to even the mildest of faces. In my desperation, I released my grip on the branch, and taking my life in my hands, I dropped to the wall. Blindly I kicked out for a foothold, but what my feet and hands failed to find, my dress enveloped. There was a tearing and rendering, and then the spike found a strong patch in my clothing, and settled firmly there. I hung suspended from that fence on the orchard side. Wildly through my terrified brain, bulldog, black-bearded man, horsewhip, apples and boys raced like figures in a nightmare and then I became conscious of a voice addressing me in French:
Bon jour, mademoiselle. Comment vous portez-vous ce matin?
In those days I could speak a sort of patois French, having been born and lived all of my short life in the French quarter and I remembered those familiar words of polite speech, but why a bearded man should address me, aged six, impaled by my dress on a spike on his wall, “mademoiselle,” and wish me a fair good morning, and inquire how I “carried myself” was beyond my infantile comprehension, which was incapable of taking note of a humorous sarcasm. I stammered back the shortest word I knew in the French language.
“Wee, wee, wee” (oui), which is French for “Yes,” though to what I was assenting I knew not.
The man below me must have been very tall, for his head reached almost to the top of the fence. He wore spectacles which made his black eyes appear to blaze the fiercer, as they pierced and held my fascinated gaze.
“What do you do on dat wall?”
At that moment budded into bloom my first comprehension of the potency of women’s tears. I turned on my water works with full power. I cried so hard and heartily that he had to shout at me to make himself heard, and presently to my amazed consciousness that percolated the comprehension that he was attempting to reassure and soothe me. I cannot remember that Frenchman’s words, but the gist of them was that I had nothing to fear, and everything was all right and: “Dere, dere, pauvre petite fille la!”
The next, I felt myself lifted down from my uncomfortable, but safe position on the fence, but just as I was on a level with his shoulder, I heard a renewed bark, short sharp, and with even a joyous edge to it now, and I looked down into the eyes of that bulldog. I began to scream and cling to the neck of that bearded man, who laughingly soothed me and assured me that “Napoleon” would not bite a flea.
When at last I was placed on terra firma, I clung frantically to the leg of the man, while that big ugly bulldog first nosed me and then—as true as I’m alive—licked my hand and face.
Subsequently, Monsieur Lajeunesse (professor of physics at Lavalle university), opened the jaws of ‘Poleon and showed me that the old bulldog had not a tooth in his head, and when he learned that I was my father’s child, Monsieur Lajeunesse himself took me home, and on my return from that expedition I decided not to ride on the reluctant backs of members of our gang.


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People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonyms used in this text

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see
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