I recently published a story called the Allure of the Farm, where a boy enjoys his visits to the friendly old couple who lived on a farm outside his town, and whom his mother had befriended despite having no apparent connection.
This story is fictional but has an autobiographical basis. It’s based upon my own recollections of visits with my mother to just such a couple who had lived a short distance out of the town in Nova Scotia where I spent my early years.
On the surface, it was an odd connection – my mother and the farmers. She was a town girl with no other connection to the farm life that occurred outside our town. She had not been raised on a farm, or worked on a farm. She had no business or other dealings with farmers. How did this connection come about? Well that’s an interesting story that speaks about the importance of connections in a cold and unfamiliar world.
How they connected
My parents had immigrated to Nova Scotia from Scotland in 1957. In fact, my father was only the second pathologist in the province. His arrival in northern Nova Scotia was slightly controversial – given that his profession was such a rarity (that pathologists sometimes perform autopsies as part of their work was the source of the controversy in that rather backward time and place). But that’s a story for another time.
On the first day of school in their new country, my mother sent my eldest brother off to school in the style to which she was accustomed – a British school uniform. The very one she’d sent him to school in back in Scotland. At the end of the day, when picking up young Thomas, a part-time teacher at the primary school pulled her aside to give her a little advice: in Canada, kids didn’t wear school uniforms – at least, not in the public schools. She would do her son a favour if she bought him some jeans and t-shirts that evening for him to wear to school going forward. But the message was delivered in a familiar, lovely rich Scottish accent. It was Mrs. Dickie (the inspiration for my story’s Mrs. Simpson).
Why they connected
It seems that Mrs. Dickie had cried upon seeing Thomas in his uniform – it was the uniform of the very school in Edinburgh where Mrs. Dickie had herself taught before immigrating to Nova Scotia – many years before. My mother was no doubt thrilled to find someone she could relate to in this new land. Someone with a shared understanding and background. And from this unlikely meeting, a lifelong friendship was formed.
Mr. Dickie enlisted in the Canadian army during WWII and stationed in Scotland before the assault to reclaim Europe. That is where he’d met and wooed Margaret. They married and then settled on a farm in Nova Scotia after the war. It must have been a pretty tough life for them – especially for Margaret as I don’t believe she had a background in farm life. Despite wanting them, the Dickies were unable to have kids of their own, and so were unable to share the burden of daily farm work with capable young people.
A kind and gentle couple
By the time I knew them, they were well into midlife. Mr. Dickie was a tall, quiet man with the largest, strongest, most worn hands I’d ever seen. Yet he was one of the kindest and gentlest souls I’ve ever met. He kept a small collection of wind-up action toys in a box in a closet under the stairs. They were always pulled out onto their living room floor when I came to visit. They were part of the joy of a visit to that farm.
Margaret Dickie was similarly tall and striking. She was as loud and confident in voice as Gordon was quiet. Yet, she too was full of kindness.
We sometimes visited the farm as a family, but many were the time that it was just my mother and I. I suppose this was when my older siblings were in school – I wasn’t yet of school-age. They were some of my favourite visits as I had the farm and the Dickies’ attention to myself.
The Dickies are now long gone and the farm sold and consolidated into a larger, neighbouring farm. Although I haven’t been back, I assume all marks of the Dickie’s life there are probably expunged. But fortunately, they still linger on happily in the memories of the people whom they touched when they were here.