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Writing women's history one mother at a time... since 2004.

Lois O’Hara’s story of Dorothy §


Mother was born in Hampshire, England May 16, 1904.  Her name was Dorothy May Merritt, the only daughter of Bob and Ada Merritt.  Bob and Ada brought Percy, Dorothy’s brother and Dorothy, a baby just a few months old, across the Atlantic by ship in the fall of 1904.  Percy sat on the trunk and Dorothy was held in her parents’ arms.

I believe the ship docked in Montreal and the family traveled west by train as far as Napanee.  I’m not sure how Grandpa Merritt knew he had a job in Adolphustown, south of Napanee.  First, Bob was the hired man for the Harrisons, and then he worked for Roblins.  After that, he worked on shares in Sandhurst.  In those days farmers often provided a separate small house for the hired man and his family. Finally, Bob was able to buy his own farm near Sillsville. He was capable and progressive.  Bob and Ada had another son, Leslie who was born in Canada.

After High School in Napanee, Dorothy attended Normal School in Peterborough and taught school four years at Dorland.  This is when she met her future husband.  My father, Clarence Davis, stopped at Bob and Ada Merritt’s on his way to Napanee.  No one was home but Dorothy.  She offered to cook him lunch of liver and onions.  They must have been good, for Clarence decided she was the one for him.  On July 6, 1928 Mother and Dad were married in Courtice, Ontario by Rev Harold Stainton who had previously been the minister at Dorland and Sillsville.  After marriage, Dorothy was not hired to teach because it was before the days of birth control and school boards did not want teachers to defect before the school year was over.  Also it was not acceptable for women to teach while showing pregnancy.

Clarence and Dorothy worked hard on the farm.  They had a daughter, Jean in1930, a son, Bob in 1932, another son, Merton in 1934.  I was born in 1938.  There was not much money in the Depression but there was always farm produce to eat.  The family went to Sunday school and Church on Sundays and went to town Saturday nights to buy groceries.  Clarence and Dorothy were very involved in the community.

Our house was wired for electricity in 1938.  The first appliance purchased was an electric washing machine.  I remember the first electric refrigerator.  The first electric cook stove had a wood burning unit built in, as half of it.  Electric appliances made life a little easier.

The day I turned four, I was sitting in the swing when Mother came out of the house to get water from the outdoor pump.  I asked her if she would give me a push in the swing.  She said she would, since it was my birthday.

It was a sad time when the news came that Dorothy’s parents were killed by a train at a crossing south of Napanee.  On Hallowe’en night, 1942 or ’43, Grandpa and Grandma Merritt were taking eggs to sell in Napanee.  It was foggy and when they came to the railway tracks at Mooney’s crossing, Grandpa asked Grandma how was it on her side.  She didn’t see a train coming but in fact there was one and it hit the car.  By the time they were taken to hospital in Kingston, they were both dead.

Another major event was the time our house caught on fire.  I had to run to the neighbour’s house to tell them because they had no phone but we called our “central operator” who opened all the rural lines and gave one mighty long ring!  This alerted everyone of an emergency.  The operator told everyone where the fire was and they came as fast as they could.  Water was used from the cistern via a pump within the house and bucket brigades from the pump on the well outside the house.  Mother ran with a pitcher of milk and put it on a post at the end of the back yard – out of harm’s way.  Luckily there was a builder in the area who had all the right wrecking equipment to pull down the section of bedroom flooring that was on fire and was able to save our house from burning to the ground.

When I was little, she had to hide the storybooks about little Black Sambo and Peter Rabbit because I cried when she read those stories.  She was extremely patient but once when I was crying and whimpering for a long time, she told me in a firm voice, “Stop crying” and I did because I was not used to her speaking sharply.  Another time a neighbour girl was visiting and at suppertime when she was about to go home, she asked me to walk half way with her.  Mother said that was okay but to be sure to go only half way.  When we got to the elm tree that marked half way, Ellen coaxed me into going all the way to her place.  Was I ever surprised when I saw my Mother coming down the road carrying a lilac switch.  She switched the back of my legs and I went flying home, crying my head off.  Mother stayed for a while and talked to Ellen’s mother.

When I was a teenager, I happened to find a few cigarettes hidden in the house.  I didn’t know who put them in a round basket but they sure intrigued me.  I thought I would take one and try it in my bedroom – with the window open of course.  Well, after a few puffs, Mother came marching up the stairs and said, “There will be no smoking in this house.”  I listened.

While I was growing up, Mother worked hard, helping with farm work as well as preparing meals for the family.  She would “mow away” hay in the hay mow and spread grain in the granary.  She milked cows and picked tomatoes.  She boiled sap from maple trees.  She would cut heads off the chickens, pull the feathers, eviscerate them and cook a chicken for supper.  I never heard her complain or say bad things except once she said “shit” when she was cleaning manure from the chicken house.  This made me feel like laughing – to hear her use that word. Once I heard her tell Father off when he made excuses from going to church.  Another time I remember her saying, “He was always talking, talking and more talking.”  Father was careless but Mother never nagged.

She seemed to prefer doing outside farm work to housework but maybe she saw that as essential.  She would come in from doing heavy work and prepare meals.  She made good use of a pressure-cooker, which would cook a meal in a hurry.  After she ate, she was so tired; she often fell asleep at the table.

Once she stayed up late, to help me finish sewing a blouse, so I could wear it to school the next day.

Mother and Father picked apples for Alec Allen on the first concession and they both worked several years in a tomato canning factory in harvest season.  As well, Mother picked raspberries several years for the Heathcotes on the waterfront.  She took part of her pay as berries to bring home and can for the winter.  We also had our own orchard, berries, a garden and a field of tomatoes to maintain and harvest.

Mother had a few accidents.  Once she fell down the cellar steps with an armful of firewood.  Another time she cut herself badly but never went for stitches.  When she was 54 years of age she was diagnosed with Diabetes.  It was difficult for her to follow the prescribed food plan.  Nearly all her life, she was short and “pleasantly plump”.

There was a turning point in her life.  In her fifties, she and Father felt strongly about joining a fundamental church.  She took discipleship seriously.  Some family members had to ask her to tone it down.

In the early 60’s there was a shortage of teachers. She was persuaded to teach a couple of years in local schools.  She took this opportunity to press her religious beliefs on the pupils.  Some parents did not want their children exposed to her ideas; although I was teaching at the same time and religion was part of the curriculum.

I recently read a letter she wrote to me the week before I was to be married.  It was a kind, polite letter with no demands.  When I was breaking up my marriage, she told me that when she married Dad, he had not made any living arrangements, so she went home to her parents until Dad divided the house.  His mother would live in her own half of the house from then on.

Mother had beautiful penmanship and she had a habit of copying recipes and making notes whenever anyone was making a speech – a habit that I have inherited (without the penmanship).

About 1970 she and Dad went on a trip to England and Wales.  She spent many hours writing to relatives ahead of time.  This trip was very important to her and she never dreamed Clarence would actually go.  Mother and Dad were able to go on several trips to the east coast and to the west coast.  They spent five winters in Florida.

She organized a Merritt picnic and prepared most of the food herself.  At the picnic, there was a time for reflection and I remember her saying she was very glad her parents were able to send her to Normal School.  When the time came for Mother and Father to leave Picton and move to a church Retirement Home in Unionville, she proudly said, “This is the day I retire”.  This would be retiring from cooking and housekeeping.  She was 83 at the time.  She had lovely rosy cheeks and her hair did not turn grey or white, so she did not look her age.   She died of Diabetes complications the following year.

I always felt Mother was a very patient, kind and considerate woman.  She did without so others could have food, clothes and maybe a few extras.  I thought she was very fair and she never criticized others.  I always thought she was a good role model.


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