Grandparents' stories — and cookies — were just as good in the Bygone Days

For most children, visiting grandparents brings a sense of comfort. And that was also true in the bygone days, especially when it came to good food and good stories.

From fighting pirates to delivering babies, the stories were always entertaining

Maude Palmer, back right, has good and bad memories of her grandparents. (Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

Reginald (Dutch) Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Every second weekend CBC P.E.I. will bring you one of Dutch's columns. 

For most children, visiting grandparents brings a sense of comfort. And that was also true in the bygone days, especially when it came to good food and good stories.

Maude Palmer was born in 1905 in Freeland, Lot 11. She lived to be almost 99 years old and she had a great memory, just like her 97-year-old sister, Kathleen.

She knew her grandparents on both sides of the family, the Codys down east and the Hendersons up west.

Dutch Thompson is an award-winning historian and storyteller. His book, Bygone Days: Folklore, Traditions & Toenails, from Nimbus Publishing, is available now. (Pat Martel/CBC)

She remembered her grandmother from the Cody side coming to visit for a week or two at a time.

"They come by train and then by wagon. She used to come over every winter, tell us Irish stories, sitting around a little old stove. She was so nice."

She didn't remember much about her grandparents on the Henderson side. They both died in 1908.

"The only memory I have of her, a couple of neighbour boys came down, I suppose my age or older, and she gave them a great big slice of homemade bread and butter and molasses. And I asked her, 'Could I have one?' she said.

He said, 'you devil'. That's all I remember of grandpa.— Maude Palmer

"'Get out,' she said. That's all I remember of my grandmother. People have told me that she was really very bossy. That's the impression I got. Now I was only three and a half."

She remembered her grandfather as being nice looking, but she also remembers him giving her a scolding.

"I must have been bad. He was sitting by the stove and he asked me to shut the door and I opened it as wide as I could open it. And he said, 'you devil'. That's all I remember of grandpa."

Ralph Gallant says his mother would be gone for weeks at a time working as a 'granny woman.' (Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

Robert Farquarson says his grandfather was also a great storyteller.

Farquarson was born in 1913 and he comes from an interesting lineage. His dad was a railway man and his grandfather, Montague Pigot, was a shipbuilder. He and his brother Art would visit their grandparents in Mount Stewart.

"Montague Pigot and David Pigot, brothers, they had a farm just half a mile this side of Mount Stewart corner. We would go up by train and get dropped off at the station and hightailed up. Just the same as we would when we visited our aunt in Breadalbane. They'd slow the train down as they were passing the nearest point to that house and we'd jump off and hightail it to the field."

Encounter with pirates

Montague and David Pigot were shipbuilders who would take ships down south loaded with lumber. They'd sell the ship along with the lumber, then return to P.E.I. and build another.

"On one occasion there were pirates zipped on to the boat and they had quite an experience with the pirates," Farquarson said. "They went into David's cabin, picked up a revolver, I don't know if they shot the guys or whether … they had them all arrested anyway."

When the Farquarsons first settled on P.E.I., in Mermaid in 1824, they planted a tree. The tree is still standing and Farquarson said at least three family weddings and countless picnics were held under the branches of that tree. And when his great-grandfather, Donald Farquarson, was premier of P.E.I., he held his last cabinet meeting under that very tree back in 1901. 

Lucy Leclair, seen here with her husband Leonard, remembers stories of her grandmother working as a midwife. (Submitted by Dutch Thompson)

The word granny sometimes describes an older person in the community that everyone loves and depends on, like the midwife, who at one time was the most trusted and dependable woman in the district. 

Ralph Gallant, born in 1922 in Duvar in western P.E.I., and Lucy Leclair, born in 1923 in Rustico, had midwives in their family tree.

Gallant said his mother, Irene Gallant, would be gone for weeks at a time.

"She was an old granny woman, bringing babies. I seen her gone for a month at a time, six weeks."

He said she might have made two dollars for being a midwife to a family. 

'Pretty terrifying'

"I know one family up there, everyone in the family, I think they had seven, she brought every one." 

Leclair's grandmother was a midwife. She said it could be "pretty terrifying."

"She went to this place and it was the worst time of the winter. I guess there was trouble with the birth too. And she was there alone and I remember her telling my mother she prayed, she cried, and when the doctor got down he said it's a good job she was there. He said they would have both died."

One of the best parts about visiting grandparents, now and in the bygone days, is the home cooking. (PARO)

But no conversation about grandparents would be complete without talking about food.

Father Francis Corcoran was born in the Irish community of Baldwin Road, between Mount Stewart and Cardigan. 

He said he would hitch a ride with the mailman on his horse and wagon to visit his grandparents in Little Pond. 

He remembers how people raved about his grandmother's cooking.

"She used to make those big thick molasses cookies. They just loved them. She always had plenty of them. She never had to go back and fill the plate again because the plates were so heaped up," he said.

"They used to call them thrashers, I think it was, but they were thick. They weren't like ginger snaps, at all."

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