Thursday, November 03, 2016


The grandparents of Doug Macfie on their wedding day.
"Nina and Robin"

Genealogy on the family scale can be framed in many different ways: a story of triumph, an explanation of tragedy, or occasionally the connections turn up a portrait of a specific time and place that isn’t so much a crisis as a portrait of paradise, a dream world we don’t want to give up.  Such an instance is a little town outside Montreal, Quebec, in 1910, where one summer my future mother-in-law, poised on the lip of adulthood, was visited by cousins from Missouri, one of whom kept a journal and wrote letters home.

Rufus Horatio Creller married Emily Bush.  They built the Clarenceville house that became known as the Macfie homestead and had five children.  In 1910 it was occupied by George Hawley Macfie who had married Josephine Orpah Creller.  These were the maternal grandparents of Bob Scriver.  Their children were Ellison Westgarth Macfie (b. 1887) and Robert Eugene Macfie (called “Robin”, b. 1885).  (Bob’s paternal grandparents, the James A. and Mary Scriver owned the adjacent dairy farm.)  Doug Macfie is Robin’s son.

Doug Macfie is the head of the Canada Clan Macfie and a cousin of Bob Scriver, to whom I was married in the Sixties.  In the past few years he has left Quebec and moved to Calgary where he is consolidating family papers.  It is he who sent me transcripts from the daughter of Franklin Truman Creller who beame a wealthy industrialist and developer in Joplin, MI.  This was a time when America was booming, largely due to land development on various frontiers.

There were no airlines yet so cousin Alice and her companions, Gertrude and 3-year-old son Addison, are traveling by railroad and riverboat, which is lucky since their luggage is trunks — not carry-on.  There are complex management issues over tickets, reservations in hotels, temporary storage of trunks while taking side expeditions, and so on.  Sometimes there are long walks between venues.  Rests are necessary!  The records are about weather, food, and scenery, which is mostly picturesque.

The War of 1812, which settled the ownership of the area as part of the British Empire, created a dynamic society of Native American tribes, French, and Englishmen remaining, content not to look to America.  These Clarenceville families were Anglophone in a French context left from before the political shift.  It was a time of British Empire consolidation, with a feel rather like India, but it has not been explored in film as far as I know.  Hired help was likely to be French and I think for Wessie that translated to Blackfeet when she got to Browning as a newlywed.  It did fit with the Metis people seen as “Cree” who were seeded through the Blackfeet world.

Quebec has always been a volatile province, but the families of Wessie and Alice were prosperous middle-class people, Edwardians of confidence in a time when women had parlor skills and men took their cigars aside to make deals.  Think “Anne of Green Gables” meets “Downton Abbey” with hints of “Room with a View.”  (But no Roman history and passion.)  At 23, Wessie was flattered by the attention of Thaddeus Scriver, youngest son, who had gone to Browning in 1903 in order to make his fortune but who was rather expected to return for Wessie and would do that in 1911.  

Alice has no such expectations, but the cousins are confident and joyful.  Alice repeats over and over how much fun “Ellison” is.  (She was always known as Wessie to friends in Browning.)  She’s physically fit, loves to run and could beat anyone in a footrace,and plays tennis in the family’s own court.  But the girls most of all love music — naturally they can play the piano — and Alice has gathered up a lot of duets to bring along so they can play in the evening.  Ellison sings and plays well enough to be asked to perform at events and church.

Alice is a small person who was taken into the family as help when her parents died and developed into an indispensable mainstay.  During the stay of the cousins, she goes to visit faraway relatives, so the girls take over her duties of cooking and laundry.  This is seen as fun because Alice can try Missouri recipes that the family doesn’t know and because the Macfie’s have a mechanical washing machine that makes the job easier.  Still, it can take several days to wash everything if one includes the ironing.  There must be two set-ups as they iron alongside each other as they chatter and sing.  When everything is clean, they go for walks and on visits or picnics.  It’s a simple, energetic life and no one complains that there’s nothing to do.

Addison provides anecdotes.  Observing cows being milked, which he hasn’t seen before, he worries that the poor cows’ teats might be pulled off and then wonders where they will get more milk to store up inside.  

During these late summer months, Josephine — Wessie’s mother — is ill enough to be bed-ridden and weak.  She eats nothing but egg whites and loses twenty pounds.  It’s a worry, but the cousins fill the vacuum and formally “visit” her bedroom to keep her informed.  This is before refrigeration, so perhaps it’s a kind of food-poisoning.  As a mature woman Wessie was plagued with diverticulitis.  The women take their handwork up to the bedroom to do while talking over events and neighbors.

As a side comment, Thad Scriver’s mother was a frail, artistic woman, much loved, who brought two boys to term, but then lost several pregnancies too early to be viable.  Thad himself was premature and grew up to be a small but tough man.  I feel sure that he was thinking of a good healthy mother when he chose Ellison.  She had no trouble with pregnancy and birth.  The culture shift from the graceful life of Clarenceville to the dusty, windy, fragmented reservation was hard on her, but she coped.  She had a piano but I never heard her play it.

I’d better include a quote:

“After dinner we all took a nap, that was always Aunt Josie’s orders, so today we were all glad to listen to the suggestion.  Ellison and I would softly slip out and do something.  One afternoon she and I went across the road and through the gate and down the road by the barn and as we stood by the fence, Ellison began to whistle and here came two of the most beautiful bay colts I have ever seen.  They just looked like twins, each had a white mark on his forehead.  Their tails almost touched the ground and their manes were so thick and beautiful.  Ellison talked to them and gave each one a lump of sugar and they just frisked around and were so happy.  I never saw anything so sweet and when we left they both whinnied at us.  We waved and told them goodbye.  I think they get lonesome and are happy to see someone.  Ellison said they were going to put them to carriage the next year or so.

“After each one had their nap, we sat down to a card game.”  

Then she reports that the phone rang and they were invited to a dance.  The trip home was in mid-October so they had to acquire a few warmer clothes.  I don’t know whether the trip was ever repeated, but perhaps they attended Wessie’s wedding the next year.

Wessie’s son “Robert” or Bob, had a daughter named Margaret who had a daughter named Michelle who had a daughter named Whitney who reminds me very much of Wessie.  She is an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States.  I’ll send her this.

Doug reminds me that his father is Murray who is the son of Robin and Nina.  

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