Shortly after World War 2 started in 1939, Agricultural workers for the P.E.I. government visited farmers and said, “Try this new product, D.D.T. on your crops. It will increase your yield and give you more income, it is not harmful.” The consequences of using D.D.T. on humans would not be known until later. So it sounded good to my father. He would come in from the fields covered with the grey-green dust, and we children walked in our bare feet through the soil. And the crop yield did indeed improve, and so did the profits.
During the war he didn’t hear from his mother, as Holland was over-run by German soldiers. Food grown in Holland was used to feed the German troops. Dad bought a battery-powered radio and we had to be quiet so he could the BBC News from England about the War and especially Holland.
Life must go on. My dad was keen to improve his English. He subscribed to the daily newspaper, The Charlottetown Guardian, and a good weekly paper. “How do you say dat?” Some words were still in Dutch for him. ‘Dat’ is ‘that’ in Dutch. My mother was happy to to help him. We all read some parts of the paper as we sat around the kitchen table in the evenings. That started the habit for all of us.
On Saturday nights my father and I listened for the hockey game broadcast live from Toronto. Since it was always from there the Toronto Maple Leafs has always been my favourite team.
Life was not always smooth. Dad would come in from working in the fields, finding us all reading and complain, “I do all the work around here and you just read!” We learned to find homework or some activity when we knew he was coming in.
My father had been baptized Catholic in Holland but always attended the United Church in our village. My mother’s family were long established Presbyterian and United Church members, and so he was accepted in our local church. Actually, my mother told me “No one knows that he was Catholic. That is a secret”.
The extra money also allowed Dad to buy a late 1930s used Ford car, which greatly widened the scope of our lives. Beaches were available. On a sunny Sunday Dad would say “I need a swim. Lets go to Brackley Beach” or trips for sight-seeing were possible. Discovering new roads.
It happened that I was the tallest in my class, and when the boys quit school to work during the war, I was the tallest in the school. Also, I must have had a composure, and was a good student, so was chosen for president of school meetings or to lead C.G.I.T. advent services, and sang in the church choir, and community concerts.
My father was very proud that one of his children was doing well, perhaps more so because he experienced prejudice on the Island. Islands of all sizes don’t always take kindly to foreigners. Some of the men would ignore him for an entire evening at the local store where the men gathered some nights. He would say to my mother, “what do I have to do?”
In 1947, when the War was over, Dad went to Holland to see his family, on the Passenger Liner, Nieuw Amsterdam. Meals on the liner were first class or tourist class. Dad looked at the first class menu and dining room, saw how people were dressed in there, and was content to be tourist class, telling us later that “June could meet the Queen, but I am a poor farmer in a cheap suit.”
Years pass. We four children had scattered. My brother and I were married and had children. I was living in northern New Brunswick and usually got home to P.E.I. once a year. I could see my father failing each time I was there. My mother wrote me about him. “Your father is suffering from a skin rash. Doctors can’t seem to help him. They call his condition Contact Dermatitis. He is in and out of the hospital.”
So in February I left my husband and two young daughters and took the train from northern New Brunswick to for P.E.I. I am three months pregnant. I stayed with my mother on the farm for a day or two, then went into Charlottetown where I stayed with my Uncle and Aunt.
Aunt Katie came with me to the hospital to see my Dad. I felt shocked at how his head seemed swollen. He was propped up. Nurses were concerned about fluid in the lungs. A nurse explained to me, “He has been given cortisone for a long time to help with the itching.” We sat with him, telling him little stories about my children. I told him I was pregnant, and he said, “That’s nice. It will be a boy.”
The next morning I was on the train leaving the Island, when the Conductor came to my seat. “Madam, we have bad news for you. You must return to Charlottetown. We will stop at the next station. You can get a taxi there. Your father died during the night.”
Shock and grief. And phone calls to be made.