An Art Journey Into Family History Part 9

It feels like forever since I last posted! Unfortunately, there was a battle of the wills between me and the sciatic nerve in one of my legs … and the sciatica won! Sitting at the computer for anymore than ten minutes was excruciating… so writing was out for the time being.

My cousin Kathy came to visit a few weeks ago and we had a wonderful time! What fun it was to discover how much we have in common. It was interesting talking about our families and experiences growing up. It was fun discovering our mutual interest in “artsy fartsy” stuff and finding out that we have the same type of quirky humour that tickles our funny bones!

Kathy put on a clever disguise to arrive in at the Victoria airport. A long black wig with reddish highlights, sunglasses, lace tights under a rather short dress and the piece de resistance… a nose ring! Of course I didn’t recognize her.

When hubby saw “this woman” come through the security gate door, he laughed and said: “Get a load of that! You’d think that middle aged women would know they are rather past the nose ring stage…damn she looks like a hooker ten years past her prime!”

What a hoot it was when this same woman sauntered over close behind us and just stood there. Hubby just raised his eyebrows and gave me this rather comical sideways look.

Well, guess what? She was listening to us! Kathy thought it was me… but she needed to hear my voice to be sure. We hadn’t seen each other since we were little kids but have talked on the phone a number of times. She waited and waited. Finally I said something to hubby about I wasn’t sure whether I would recognize her or not.

This woman tapped me on the shoulder, leaned over towards me and said: “Are you waiting for someone named Kathy?”

A little taken aback, I said: “Well as a matter of fact, yes, I am.”

She took off her sunglasses and I got it! She has the “Burnett” eyes. I would have recognized her immediately had she not hidden behind the dark glasses.

We all roared with laughter… made even funnier when hubby told her what he had said when he first spotted her!

It turns out this was something she had always wanted to do for a good laugh but never had had the opportunity. She told her brother (whom I know quite well) about what she wanted to do and he told her I had a great sense of humour and would get a big kick out of it. He was right… I did.

It was a great start to a wonderful couple of days together getting to know each other as adults. For two people who are not “chatty Cathy’s”, we talked up a storm the whole time she was here. We have promised each other that we’ll get together again soon!

She had brought her copy of my book, “Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life” and wanted me to autograph it! I was quite touched. Just before she left I wrote this dedication “To Kathy, Family by blood, Cousins by birth, Friends by choice, Love Sharon”

That’s exactly how I felt as I watched her turn and wave goodbye at the airport on the day she left. Not only had I got to know my cousin but I had found a friend as well. It doesn’t get any better than that…!

On to this week’s “installment“ from “Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life…

When my great-grandmother arrived back in New Brunswick in the fall of 1929 with my aunt Flo who was now 7 and my aunt Ina, now 4, she was at a loss. Who could she talk to about finding these young girls a good home where they would be loved and cared for?

The details are rather sketchy as to whom she talked to or approached at first. Aunt Flo was too young to remember what transpired during this time. She remembered meeting some of her aunts from the Burnett side of the family. She was especially fond of her Aunt Ruth who was married to her father’s brother Frank.

Most of Frank and Ruth’s children were much older than Florence and Ina. But Flo felt happy being around all these “new” relatives. Being surrounded by people always gave her a sense of comfort and security. She hated being alone when she was a child and hated it even more as an adult!

Aunt Flo recalled how the memory that stuck the most in her mind was feeling very overwhelmed by shyness when meeting all of these cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives for the first time. She had a very high need to feel accepted and be part of the group.

As personable as my aunt Flo was, she often worried whether people would like her. Most people just adored her. She was a fun, kind person to be around, When her girls were teenagers, Flo’s house was filled with all the neighbourhood kids. They loved to come her house to chat and get one of her famous hugs. She gave the best hugs in the whole wide world!

She recalled meeting her Aunt Belle and Uncle Goldie for the first time. Shortly after returning from Ontario, Commela and the two girls went by train to St. John’s for a visit to meet her mother’s brother Goldie and his wife Belle.

Belle and Goldie

Belle Nugent was a Kansas gal with a wonderful sense of fun! The daughter of John Green McKaughan and Emma Reid, she was born in Edgerton Kansas on August 16, 1894.

Belle came from a large family of ten children; six sisters Chloe, Freda, Liddie, Dora, Mildred and Henrietta and three brothers, Albert, Roy and Robert.

She first met Goldie when he was studing for his medical degree at the Unviersity of Kansas. Goldie received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1914 and opened a practice in Kansas.

Belle married Goldie Nugent, Ina Burnett’s only surviving family member, in August of 1916 when she was 22. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Fredericton where Goldie opened up a medical practice. Although I found no indication that Goldie took over his father’s medical practice (Dr. John had died in January of 1916), in all likelihood he probably inherited some of Dr. John’s patients when he returned to Fredericton.

Goldie soon had a thriving medical practice. A few years later, in addition to his practice, he became the coroner for Queen’s County and began teaching at the school of nursing.

After fourteen years of marriage, Belle and Goldie still had no children. Whether this was by choice or not is unknown. Belle was a strongwilled, ambitious woman, very active in the community. Goldie, although active in the community, was a quiet, reflective and shy man who would rather go fishing than spend time gladhanding his way around town. He needn’t have worried… he had Belle who was good at doing that for him in her own gracious way.

At the time of Commela and the girls visit, Belle was 35 and Goldie was ten years her senior. Quickly grasping the gravity of Commela’s concerns for the future welfare of the girls, they immediately offered to give both of the girls a home. They were most willing to adopt both girls as their own and make a warm, loving home for them. They would make the necessary arrangements. But first, they needed to do some re-arranging and renovations in their home to accommodate their new, small family. Belle was just thrilled that she would now have some daughters to fuss over!

Belle on a broncing horse whopping it up! When I was a kid, I thought this horse was alive! But alas, it is not. The horse is stuffed and attached to the railing. What a hoot! Yep, Rodeo Queen indeed...

Commela returned to Fredericton with a sense of real relief and gratefulness in her heart. She had found a good home for “her girls”. Belle was a kind, outgoing woman with a wonderful sense of humour and a streak of the “dare devil” who would be good to her granddaughters. She was young and vibrant. She would be able to offer the girls many things as they grew older that Commela could not. Stability, education, a young person’s point of view and a good home being among the most important.

Once Belle and Goldie had all the arrangements made, they sent for the girls. Commela would accompany them to St. John, stay for a few days and then return to Fredericton.

Young Ina was excited. She really liked her aunt Belle and this would be a wonderful adventure. She could hardly wait and chatted incessantly about going to live with her aunt Belle in the big city.

Florence, on the other hand, was very quiet. The thought of leaving her grandmother filled her with terror. She had already lost her mother and now her grandmother? She remembered feeling so helpless. Her grandmother was going to give her away. Didn’t she love her anymore? She had tried to be so good ever since grandpa had died. She felt confused and hurt. She recalled how her grandmother had asked if she wasn’t feeling well on that trip to St. John’s. Upon reflection, she later remarked that she must have been unusually quiet for her grandmother to wonder if she was ill.

Aunt Flo couldn’t remember how long they were there before the day came when her grandmother was to go back to Fredericton. She did recall telling Ina she didn’t want to stay with aunt Belle and Ina pleading that she change her mind and stay with her there.

“Of course, gramma didn’t know this is how I felt. I hadn’t said anything and Ina, for once, didn’t snitch on me. It might have been easier if she had.” Aunt Flo recalled. “But as the day neared when gramma was to go back to Fredericton, I remember feeling very panicked I must have put up a pretty good fuss of some sort. All I remember is Gramma with tears in her eyes and in the end, she took me back with her to Fredericton. Since my mother had died, Gramma had become my mother and I remember feeling terrified to lose my mother again.”

Over the next few years, Florence and Ina visited each other often. Florence really looked forward to going to St. John’s and getting together with her sister and aunt Belle.
They had fun together and it created a bond between the three of them that lasted though their lifetimes.

When both of the girls married, Belle became a “gramma” to their children. She loved every minute of it! She enjoyed her “grandchildren” and enjoyed having them around.

Both girls moved away from St. John’s with their husbands. But the girls would often “go home” for a couple of weeks each summer. My cousin Laurie recently recalled, “They would shoo us kids outside to play in the backyard of gramma’s house and the three of them would sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and talk, talk, talk! They never seemed to talk themselves out”, she said with a smile in her voice.

When Florence was 12, her beloved grandmother, Commela Grant Burnett died. Florence was devastated. Where would she go now?

For the next couple of years, she lived with her aunt Ruth and uncle Frank. “They were always nice and very kind to me.” she said. “But I never got over the feeling that I was being “taken in”. It certainly wasn’t anything that they ever said or did. I just missed my grandmother so much. I felt like I had been abandoned by everyone who loved me and I was the third wheel at the dinner table.”

When Florence finished school, she went to live with her Aunt Belle, Uncle Goldie and sister. She decided to attend secretarial school so she could get out on her own as soon as she could.

The next couple of years were good years for both of the girls. They had many fun times together and managed to get into all sorts of “mischief”. Aunt Belle was always “game” for anything fun and they enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

Flo recalled. “Aunt Belle was somewhat old fashioned. But then again, most teenagers think their parents are old fuddy duds. Ina and I did a lot of crazy, fun things together that aunt Belle didn't approve of. See honey, some things don’t change over the years after all.” she said with a chuckle in her voice "Kids still think their parents are fuddy duds!"

See you next week,