Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Maggie Neill Letters II

Maggie Neill wrote letters to the Gamble family all her life. The Gambles left Ontario in the late 1870's when Maggie was just a young girl, and her last letter was shortly before she passed away. In my opinion, the motivation behind the Gamble letters was Maggie, and we have her most of all to thank for the chronicling of early St. Vincent daily life we have seen reflected in those older letters.

I've decided to share the rest of her later letters in one posting. By this time, Maggie was starting to feel her years. She hadn't expected to live this long, but she did. The one thing that most people have in common as they get older is the realization that they feel inside the same as they were when they were young, that there is never enough time, and that getting old,, to put it plainly! I've yet to hear an elderly person proclaim it is their truly 'Golden Years'. You'll see in Maggie's letters that she is striving to remain independent, and to stave off loneliness...

March 7/45

Dear Alice -

I was pleased to hear from you at Xmas & hope you will write soon again. I daresay you have read of our big storms this winter. We had a hard time digging ourselves out of the snow banks.

Beaverton has been hit hard by the war. About a dozen boys won’t come back - they died overseas & some are prisoners & some missing.

I would like to hear how your lads are getting on. Hope you are all well.

M. Neill

(This was on back of a postcard)

August 25th, 1945

Dear Alice,

I was pleased to get your letter, and hope this finds you all well and the boys back home. A number of the Beaverton boys have come back, but about a dozen lost their lives overseas, among them the United Church minister’s son - an only child - and an Anglican minister’s son.

Some have been prisoners so they must be glad the war is over. I never heard what became of your uncle Alicks boys who enlisted.

I never hear from any of your people excepting once in a while from Mrs. Ladyman. I see by the papers there was a terrible railway accident in Dakota. I have not been on a train for years. I am feeling my age now - 85 yrs. But am doing my own work yet.

This has been a very cool, very wet summer. To-day we are having a thunder storm & quite heavy rain so I may not get to the post office this evening. Thanks for the clipping sent. I put it in my book. Would be pleased to hear from you soon again. I remain
yours affectionately
Margaret Neill.

February 5th 1946
To Mrs. Alice Edkins

Dear Alice

I was pleased to hear from you again but sorry to hear of your bereavement.

It is hard to see those near and dear to us passing away. I was pleased to hear you had one of your sons home with you at the last. I hope the other son may soon get home too.

I think most of the Beaverton boys are home now but about a dozen died overseas, all fine young fellows they were too.

The United Church minister’s only child - a Captain in the Air Force - is gone. His plane went down over Germany they say.

I had a letter from Mae the other day. They have had colds she said. Jean and Rae have settled in Hamilton, and are going to build a house there - a five room bungalow. Rae got his old position back. I never hear from any of the other Gambles now.

I think the weather about the worst I can remember, this last month or so. And fuel is very scarce which makes the situation worse. We had learned to depend on coal or coke but there is neither for sale here at present, and no word of any coming in.

I have a little coal and wood yet The snow drifts are so deep we can’t get the trucks to come nearer than the boulevards. I began this letter on Tuesday and it is now Wednesday evening and rainy after all the frost. I hope tomorrow won’t be icy so we can get down town, as there are puddles on the streets now.

I will enclose a little valentyne in this. Write soon again.
Yours Sincerely Margaret Neill

(Alice’s husband, Percy Edkins, had passed away 11-27-45. His son, William, was given a leave from the Army Air Corps to come home for the funeral. Their other son, Robert, was stationed in Japan)

Jan. 1949
To Mrs. Alice Edkins

Dear Alice

I was much pleased to hear from you again.

I am not staying in my own house at present. Since the first of April I have been living in a nursing home in town - on Simcoe St. I will be 89 years old next Sunday if I am spared. There are seven other old ladies here at present. We each pay 15 dollars a week.

I just had to lock up my house with everything in it. I did not like to leave it, but help is impossible to get now here and I could no longer keep house alone. I have not seen Mrs. Ladyman for a long time. I am lonesome for my own home of course.

We have to stay in bed every day. There is no cure for old age. I never hear from any of the Gamble family but Mae’s people. I hope your boys are getting along all right. Would be pleased to hear from you whenever you can write.

I got twenty-five Xmas cards and a number of parcels. I could not get out to buy any myself. They are as good to us here as people would be anywhere, I guess. We try to help ourselves as much as possible. Our old neighbors are good to call on us.

I cannot do anything but read - I don’t try to write much. I have no spectacles yet. I have my second sight I suppose, so I can read.

We have lots of snow here now - I supposed my house is snowed in. Well, wishing you all a very happy New Year. I remain yours affectionately
Margaret Neill.

Beaverton, Ontario
November 28, 1949

Dear Mrs. Edkins,
Having promised to let you know from time to time how Miss Neill was getting along, this is to say that the doctor telephoned me yesterday afternoon to let me know that she was taken quite ill. I had been up to see her a few days before and she was sitting up in bed, reading some of her clippings that she had ready for a scrapbook and in spite of a slight cold that did not seem to be bothering her much. She was as chatty and as alert as ever.

The news of her illness was, therefore, a complete surprise to me, so I went at once. Mrs. Teer said that the doctor had pronounced it a touch of pneumonia which, at her age, might be very, very serious. She had no temperature to speak of but not being able to get rid of the phlegm (as is the case with so many elderly people) her breathing was a bit laboured at times. As she did not find it too easy to talk, I told her not to and that I would do the talking for both of us. She did not seem to be in pain at all, but I fancy her goitre may be adding to the distress in breathing at times. She was quite rational of course, and seemed to be glad to see me, but the doctor thinks that she may not be able to regain her strength at all. Mrs. Teer was not so pessimistic, but at her age - she will be ninety in January, as you know - anything may happen, so I wanted to let you know how things were with her.

I telephoned Mrs. Teer as early as possible this morning and she said things were about the same. I am going up again as soon as I finish this and will post it on the way. This is the first outgoing mail since I knew of her illness.

Last night I telephoned Mrs. Ladyman in Toronto. She has a nasty cold herself and wanted to do anything possible, but as no one can do anything at the moment I will let her know each day how things go. Anything Mrs. Ritchie and I can do, of course we will attend to. We are both fond of Miss Neill who has been our neighbor for so long and feel so very, very badly that she is so ill.

With kindest regards to your son as well as to yourself.
Sincerely yours,
Mary Ritchie

(There was one more letter from Mrs. Ritchie, written the following day to let Alice know that Maggie had died that day - the 29th...)