Little House at The Crossroads

The little house at the Crossroads was the home of my great-grandfather, Alexander McKenzie, who was a boot and shoe maker, and employed four men; which was a large business for a country area in P.E.I. The house was on a two acre lot, which allowed for pasturing a horse and a cow, as well as the house itself. No doubt there would be hens as well. There was a line of tall, slender Lombardy Poplars next to the road with a green walk way between them and the house, wide enough for some shrubs and wheelbarrows and children. Another row of the Poplars was at the side next to the field. There were two barns, the small barn and the big barn. The small barn was for the horse and cow and hens, and probably a space for storing the riding wagon and sleigh as well.

The big barn was the shoe factory where my great grandfather and his staff worked. I remember being in the big barn, seeing bits of leather and shoe lasts, and benches where they worked. The house had been abandoned for a few years when I started walking to school and saw it through its stages of aging. We children would take a walk in sometimes and look in through the windows, small in keeping with the small house, with panes broken, and the front door swinging open. The kitchen area went across the narrow end with the door, in the middle was a parlour sort of area, and doors to two small bedrooms on the ground floor. A narrow stairway went upstairs but I don’t remember going up there. There was wallpaper on some of the walls. My great-grandfather died about 1900, and my grandmother moved back in with her mother. My grandfather worked away in New Brunswick lumber industry, and would be home at certain times of the year. My mother was born in that little house, along with four other children. My great-grandmother was referred to by children and, I supposed others, as Grandma McKenzie. She was a very strict Presbyterian. Playing cards were the Devil’s Book. On Sunday reading anything but the Bible or Sunday School papers was not allowed. I expect some of the kids broke this rule whenever possible! Only hymns could be read on Sunday. Grandma McKenzie had the great misfortune to have had her only son leave home and never contact her again. Probably had a quarrel with his father, which was a familiar pattern in those generations. When the children wanted to irritate the grandmother they would sing on Sunday, “Oh, where is my wandering boy tonight”, which caused her to weep, and their mother to get after them.

Being a house near a crossroads meant that there was much socializing, since people would walk to the store or post office, and would drop in to the little house for a “cup of tea” and give the news. The nearby church and school also fostered visiting friends. Before she was married my grandmother had quite a career as a dressmaker or seamstress. She ordered patterns and items like buttons from New York, which was the fashion capital of eastern North America. She probably continued some of this sewing when possible with four children. After Grandma McKenzie died, about 1916, my grandparents bought a larger property, a proper farm, about five miles away. I inherited from knowing this house a fondness for neat houses, Lombardy poplars, and houses beside the road. Sewing, keeping in touch with my children, and clothes that I like, are values that I’ve inherited from the two or three maternal influences in my life.

June Maginley, 2012

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