Pearl Sklapsky-Holben Memoir – written April 22.1989

Lottie remembered leaving the Merrill station, hearing. “Here comes the train! All the relations that had gathered began to kiss them all good-bye. It was such a hurry and flurry only to find out it was a freight train, and not their train after all. There was not much chance of losing any of the children as no one wanted to be left behind, so they were directly under foot, and it was just luck that they didn’t get stepped on. Suddenly the correct train arrived, and an Aunt asked, “Goodness? Do we have to kiss all you kids again?”

Lottie said, “No sir!”, grabbed her parcel and a sibling by the hand and headed for the train. Mother missed her at one point and thought she’d been inadvertently left behind.

An aunt gave Thelma a picture of ballet dancers. The man wears a red clown suit and the lady, a blue ruffled tutu. It hung for years on a bedroom wall. Her daughter Sharon Bell has it now. Great Grandma Novak gave Thelma a small gold plated purse, much like a cigarette case of today. Women didn’t carry purses then. A chain fit on the wrist, and inside were places to slip coins, and on the other side, a place to put folding money and room for a small hanky. A woman in those days never carried money as men did all the business, but she may find a trinket she’d like to buy and need a bit of money for such things or to hire a cabby to take her home if she tired. As well as the little purse, Great Grandma Novak gave Thelma a set of gold earrings for pierced ears, as this great old lady had her ears pierced. What the older girls were given. I don’t know since they were married and away from home before I arrived on the scene.

They travelled by train to Winnipeg, but not without incident. Train rides can be tiring at the best of times, where the children have a limited space in which to play and run off excess energy. They sat still and listened to stories, tried to play quiet games, and colored, but soon all lost its appeal. Restlessness became a problem after a while. Mother, who never really complained, didn’t get much rest or sleep with a small nursing babe in arms, and another wee lad of less than three needing loving too.

Hilda helped with the others, amusing and lending a hand, pointing out the window at new things to see. Hilda was a real little Tom Boy who kept the family honor back home in Michigan. She would clean up on anyone, fighting for her brothers and sisters. Anyone who dared to pick on a member of her family had Hilda to contend with.

Lottie was listless and pensive. She’d never been far from Grandma Tester, and was missing her greatly, having spent much time with her from babyhood and wondering when she’d see her again, if ever. Lottie was the pride of the Tester family being the first grandchild. She was lonesome for the old home and anticipating this new place which was unknown. What would it be like? Who would they meet? With the talk of wolves and freezing to death and wild Indians, it was enough to scare the heartiest person.

Not enough to be travelling to an unknown territory with tired cranky children to contend with, a derailment on the Canadian side occurred. Mother was just returning from taking young Fritz to the washroom when a split rail caused eight cars to slip down a steep embankment.

The car they were in didn’t tip over, but was listing very badly. Hilda was left in charge of Norman, Lottie was sent to find Dad, while George and young Frank looked after the little children, as Mother went to see if she could help.

Mother returned to her brood in time to rescue Norman as a woman insisted he was her baby and Hilda was doing her best to hold her ground and her baby brother, saying, “No, no, no. This is our baby!” Mother got the woman quieted down and found her baby, which I believe was a little girl! Fred remembers climbing up the steep embankment along the railway.

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