September 25, 2006.
Mom could not understand why she was constantly feeling so unwell in October of 1951. However with the sea voyage from Holland to our new homeland Canada and the painful emotional farewells to her family beforehand, she just felt it was due to all these difficult events. Without warning in November she started to bleed heavily. This was very frightening for her and my dad as they were in a strange land where neither spoke the language, had no family support nor did they know any doctors. My dad explained with great difficulty to his employer that a doctor was needed as quickly as possible for his wife. When the doctor arrived we were scared, as we did not understand what was wrong with our mom. I was only 10 years old and such matters were not explained to children in those days. The doctor gave my parents to understand that mom was pregnant and if the baby was to be saved she was to stay in bed for the next several weeks.
In the spring of 1952 we moved from Warren to St. Charles where dad went into a partnership with a farmer named Lafontaine. Dad would run the farm while Mr. Lafontaine operated the grocery store in town. The house we lived in was not much more than a shack. We could actually see outside through cracks in the walls! But at least we lived there by ourselves.
In early June after an otherwise uneventful pregnancy mom went into labour. The nearest hospital was in Sturgeon Falls about 20 miles away and of course mom had not seen a doctor except for that time when she had almost lost the baby. A neighbour, Mr. Lemieux, drove mom and dad to the hospital. As the back roads were not paved up to Highway 17, it was a terrible ride for my mother. When they arrived at their destination mom was in hard labour. Dad approached the nun at the registration desk to ask that mom be admitted to give birth. She refused telling Mr. Lemieux that dad’s bill must be paid first from an earlier hospital stay due to an accident he had suffered. Dad loved to tell this next part of the story. A man, whom he did not know happened to walk into the hospital lobby, took in the situation at a glance and asked the sister what the problem was. After it was explained to him he took out some money, paid dad’s hospital bill and finally mom was admitted. This man refused to give dad his name and we never did find out who he was.
After a long and difficult labour, mom gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Marianne. She was born on June 7 which was my birthday! When dad arrived home to tell us that we had a baby sister, I was elated! Finally after three brothers I had a baby sister and on my birthday no less. Dad apologized to me as he had only a small birthday gift for me, a red, white and blue sponge ball. Joyfully I replied that I had received the best present possible for my 11th birthday, a baby sister. What more could anyone want?
That evening Mrs. Lafontaine invited all of us for supper. Her sister was there as well with her family. I had excitedly told this other lady about our new baby and how I could not wait for mom to bring Marianne home so that I could help take care of her. The two women were speaking to each other in French with concerned looks on their faces. By this time I understood enough French to realize they were discussing the fact that, “le bebe est tout bleu”. That meant little to me, as I had no idea what colour newborns were supposed to be. However the expressions on their faces told me that there was something seriously wrong especially so when they told me that the baby might not be coming home with my mother. Fear lodged in my heart. However it dissipated when a week or so later mom did indeed bring our baby home.
Marianne had red hair and big blue eyes. She was beautiful! Mom told me later that as soon as she saw her she knew that the baby was a mongoloid baby with slanty eyes as well as the fact that she had a serious heart defect, which is why she was blue at birth. Today such children are referred to as having Down’s Syndrome. We did not realize that this was alife-long problem.
When Marianne was 3 months old we moved to Creighton Mine where my father was working in the mine. The baby was constantly ill and hospitalized many times. Dr. McGruther told my parents that she would never walk but be in a wheelchair all of her life, would likely never speak and her development in general would be slow. Dr. McGruther gently explained to my parents that the baby was multiply handicapped physically as well as mentally. Creighton residents were most supportive and drove my mom and dad to hospital each time it was needed. Father Regan walked to our home two miles back of Creighton at least once a week to have tea with my mother and to generally check to see how we were doing. One day while working underground one of dad’s colleagues approached him to ask,”Dutchie, I heard that you have a sick baby”. When my dad replied that this was so he told him about a hospital in Toronto that was just for sick children. That day on the way home from work dad stopped in to ask Dr. McGruther whether Marianne could be helped there. Dr. McGruther replied that she was not strong enough to survive the train trip to Toronto.
When we arrived home from school every day the first thing we would do is say hello to our baby sister. She smiled at us from her bassinette and that made our day. Her red curly hair and blue eyes were so beautiful! She radiated love to us all!
In May, Father Moore came to Creighton with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima with which he travelled the world. After hymns and prayers around the statue with the entire parish attending, Father Regan told Father Moore about our family and our sick baby. The two priests walked to visit us bringing with them the rosary from the statue. After we prayed the rosary around Marianne’s bassinette Father Moore gave my mother a small medal which he took off his watch and told mom to pin it to the baby’s nightie. He also said that we should pray the rosary daily around Marianne’s little bed and promised that we would see a change in her condition within 10 days. On the tenth day little Marianne died. What a shock! I will never forget my mom putting a mirror in front of the baby’s mouth to see if she was still breathing. She was not. Dad had sent my brother Ron for the doctor. Dr. McGruther was on vacation and Dr. Thibodeau was taking his place. He pronounced the baby dead. Mom washed the baby then wrapped her in a blanket and so my dad carried her in his arms out of the bush. When he got to Wavell St., Mr. Brown saw him coming and asked if he could help. Dad explained that his baby was dead. Mr. Brown drove dad to Lougheed’s Funeral Home in Sudbury. The next day, June 5, we had a small funeral service for my baby sister with Father Regan officiating. Marianne was just 3 days shy of her first birthday. In her short life she had drawn our family so close together! I will never forget her as long as I live!