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Biography of Richard Weston by Sylvia Carson

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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RICHARD WESTON 1897 - 1989 by Sylvia (Carson) Weston

On Sept. 18th. 1989, Richard Weston, my dear husband and best friend passed away. He was in his ninety-second year. His Spirit has returned to his Maker. His body has been laid to rest in the quiet Huntingville Cemetery. This is the story of his life, as he told it to me, with some information gathered from his brother, Tom. Some stories were gathered also from friends and neighbours who came to bid their last farewell at the Funeral Home. Dick, as his friends knew him, was born on Nov. 30th 1897 in a little cottage on Whistler Rd., off Caledonia, in London, England. He was the fourth child of James Weston and his wife Sarah Jane Thorlby. James was a scaffolder by trade, Sarah Jane supplemented the family budget by working for a Miss Suitor, who lived in a mansion at 51 Highbury Hill. Soon after the birth of Her fourth child, the young mother died, leaving three young children and the infant boy. The family was broken up. No one seemed to know what became of the two older children, James Jr., and Florrie. Nor was the father ever heard of again. The five year old boy, Tom, was placed in Dr. Bernado's orphanage. Miss Suitor took responsibility for the baby, whose name was simply Richard. Miss Suitor was not permitted to adopt the child, so she paid for his care in a private home in London. The couple had no children. The man was a cab driver. Dick's earliest recollection was sleeping in a cot bed in the corner of their room. He also remembered being taken to watch people skating on the Thames when the weather was cold enough to make ice, a rare occasion in London. When Dick was five years old, Miss Suitor took him away from his London home and placed him with another foster family in the village of Messing, north of London, to go to school. Mr. and Mrs May had two little girls of their own. Mr May worked in a brewery and she worked in the farmers fields, picking fruits and vegetables. No doubt Miss Suitor felt that he would be better cared for in a private home than in an institution. Little did she know how unkindly he was to be treated there. He was supposed to be under the watchful eye of the Anglican Minister, Rev. Deacle. But this gentleman was in his eighties and as long as the little boy appeared in church and school, he assumed all was well. His room was a cupboard, off the Master bedroom. Through the thin Walls he could hear the neighbours fighting. He often walked in his sleep and when this happened he was spanked and put back to bed in a hurry. When he was not in school he was ordered to stay in the back yard. It was absolutely bare. He envied the freedom of the birds. He would tie little stones in the corner of his handkerchief and throw it up in the air, in hopes of catching one. He never could. Sometimes he would climb the back fence, and wade through the stinging nettles to play with the boys in the village, knowing full well he would be beaten and sent to bed without supper. At noon the little girls went to their grandmother's for dinner. Dick's dinner was left on the table for him a glass of water and a piece of bread and jam, with flies crawling over it. Supper was the main meal of the day. They often had rabbit. Dick's portion Was the head! Miss Suitor came to visit one year. In the presence of Mrs. May, he could not complain. He did ask her about his family. She said there were brothers and a sister, but he must not attempt to find them. He had no way of doing so anyway. School was not a pleasant experience for Dick. The primary years were not too bad. Miss Hart was a kindly teacher. The second level was different story. The School Master, Mr. Bob Richold, was nervous and stern. Looking at the Clock on the nearby Church tower was punishable by a caning. The School Master had two canes. One was rigid, the other was supple and would wind right around the hand. Dick was often the victim, whether guilty or not, as an example to the others. He had no one to stick up for him. Sometimes he was guilty. The girl who sat in front of him had long blonde hair and she also had lice. He would pull out a hair and drown the louse in his ink well. Once he caught them himself and had to have the kerosene treatment That was not fun! Going to church was a pleasant experience for Dick. He went twice on Sunday, sang in the boy's choir, and went to choir practice once during the week. It was a chance for him to mingle with the other choir boys in the vestry while they donned their choir robes. He loved the music and the beautiful stained glass windows, as the light filtered through them. The church had been built in Roman times, During the War of the Roses, the lovely windows had been removed and stored in a huge oak chest and buried in the ground. After the war they were painstakingly reassembled, leaded together and replaced. The church had a high steeple with a clock in it that had a face on each of it's four sides. When he was big enough, he was asked to pump the pipe organ by hand, while a young man practiced the hymns. It was hard work pumping enough air when all the stops were pulled out, but he counted it a privilege. His love of music lasted throughout his lifetime. There was a boy's home in the village of Messing. Some of the boys were orphans, others had parents who visited them now and then. It was operated by the Anglican Church. When Dick became old enough to realize that he was not being treated like other boys, he went to the Rev. Deacle and asked if he could go to the "home". He said he didn't see why not. He rushed back gathered up his meagre belongings and ran to the home. The kindly Matron took him in. He Was loved and fed and clothed, and for the first time in his life he had boys to play with. While still in school, he looked forward to recesses, and Friday afternoons, when the School Master would read them a story. The one he remembered most was called "Lost In The Backwoods". It was about two children in Canada. It appealed to his spirit of adventure. It was the custom of the more affluent Villagers to provide a Sunday meal for the poorer members of Society. Dick was chosen to take a basket of food to a crippled lady who lived about three miles out in the country. These Sunday afternoon trips were pure delight for the boy. He drank in the fresh air of the country side. He admired the green fields, divided by hedge rows, the rolling hills and the cattle and sheep grazing in the pastures. One farmer raised fields of flowers to supply a seed house. He had wisely made foot paths diagonally through the fields so the public could enjoy the flowers without trampling them. The aroma was fantastically sweet! But this would not last much longer. At fourteen years of age his compulsory education was over and he was on his own. He went to work for a Baker. Mr. Goodman was a kindly man, and taught him how to mix the ingredients, mould the loaves, and bake them in the huge oven. But the heat of the oven was too much for him and he would pass out. The Baker would send him over to the Hotel for a shot of brandy to revive him and he would continue with his work. He wrote to Miss Suitor and told her he could not be a Baker, but would like to try farming. She wrote back and asked him if he would prefer to go to Australia or Canada. He had not counted on being shipped out of the Country, but since he knew nothing of Australia, but had heard a story about Canada, he chose the latter. He was sent down to Dr, Bernardo's Home in London, where he spent two weeks in preparation for his trip to Canada. They confiscated his trunk and clothes he had bought for himself and gave him the uniforms and wooden box like all the other boys. (I still have that box) They sailed for Canada in the Spring of 1913. He was fifteen years old. Most of the other boys were younger. Mr Keeley accompanied them on the trip, but they saw little of him during the journey. Some of the boys were seasick, but Dick was not. The sea was rough and the waves were often higher than the ship. Once in a while they saw another ship on tee horizon, and also some icebergs. They docked at Quebec City and took the train to Sherbrooke, arriving late at night. They were bedded down in the Reception House, in East Sherbrooke. The next morning after breakfast he went down to the river to see the huge boom of logs, that had been floated down from the surrounding hills. One of the boys was sent to fetch him back, because farmer was there to pick up 'his' boy to work on his farm. His name Bert Cairns. Dick and his box were loaded into the wagon, and the ten mile trip to Ive's Hill marked the beginning of his Canadian life. He was amazed at the vastness of space and the huge forests. Many a time he was to gaze across the valley to the hills beyond, where Mount Orford loomed against the skyline. Then the lonely English boy longed for his native land. Dick knew nothing about farming, but he was eager and quick to learn. The work was hard and the hours were long, but he was treated kindly. He was willing to take orders and proved himself trustworthy. And so it was during the first winter, the family went away for the week-end and left him with the responsibility of the whole farm. There were the animals to feed and keep clean. There were the cows to milk, the milk to separate. The cream had to be stored in a cool place and the skim milk to be fed to the calves and pigs. And then it happened. The Sow went into labour and produced a family of Piglets. Dick did not know what to do. He walked a mile to the half-brother's farm for some instruction. Jim Harkness returned with him and showed him how to make a bran mash for the sow, and how to arrange the living quarters so that the piglets would be warm and dry. They arranged the pen to give them ample room to keep from being crushed when the mother laid down. The art of making maple syrup and sugar was another fascinating part of farming and he soon learned the method of producing a fine product from the sap of the abundant maple trees. In 1914 the World War 1 broke out in Europe. He was l6 years old. The next Spring he walked to Sherbrooke and enlisted with the 117th. Battalion. Training at Valcartier Camp was rigorous. Only once was he disciplined. The Sergeant Major noticed some hair on his chin and sent him to kitchen duty for the day. He had not yet learned to shave! It did not take him long to master the art! In a few months they were shipped to England. The 117th was broken up and sent to other units, many of them to the 5th CMR's. Since Dick was still only 17 yrs. old, he was held back for a couple of months. However the casualties were so high that they sent him over anyway, to join the 5th CMR's. He never found one of the men with whom he had trained. He landed in the thick of the fighting and was in every major battle from then on. Since he had no family to worry about him, he volunteered for the scouting party with the advanced troops. He had many narrow escapes, but was never seriously injured. He must have had a guardian Angel! The horrors of that war were to haunt him the rest of his life. And now I must interrupt this story to tell you a little about Tom, the five year old boy who was placed in Dr. Bernardo's Home. I Do not know how long he was there, but he finally ran away and went to Wales. He got a job with a Minister, assisting the gardener with the maintenance of the Parsonage. One Sunday when the Minister was at church, he and the maid decided to sample the Keg of Communion wine, that was kept in the cellar. When the Minister missed the wine, they said that it must have leaked! Tiring of that job, he hitched a ride on a passing cart. He ran away to sea as a cabin boy, and finally became a full fledged sailor. He had a girl friend in London by the name of Daisy. He was thinking of returning to land to settle down when the war broke out. He had to stay in the Navy for the next four years defending England's shores. One day when he was on leave in London, he met a Canadian soldier in a Pub. They exchanged names and the Canadian remarked that there was a Richard Weston in his platoon. Tom said "That's my brother!" He got the address and wrote him a letter, giving him Daisy's address and told him to go there on his next leave. Dick went there, and the family took him in with open arms. He repaid the kindly mother by purchasing for her a set of false teeth. Such was his practical nature. It was two more years before their leaves coincided and the two brothers met for the first time. It was Christmas and on that joyous occasion he attended the wedding of his brother Tom and Daisy. He had always longed for some relatives, and now he had a brother, and a sister-in-law, too. What joy! The War dragged on. Dick received the rank of Corporal. He was a crack shot, and they planned to train him as a rear gunner in the new air planes that were being deployed. But the war came to an end and after spending a few months as a peace keeping force in Belgium, they returned to Canada and he was discharged from the Army in the Spring of 1919. Dick returned to Ive's Hill, but he was not needed on the Cairns farm, so he decided to look for work elsewhere. He went to bid farewell to the Harkness family, whom he had come to know quite well. The Harkness family consisted of Jim, a bachelor, his brother Will and his wife Alice. They had no children. The two men were partially blind and were needing help with the farm work. They offered him a home with a little spending money if he would stay with them. And stay he did - for forty-five years. They treated him as their son. It was his first real home. Mrs. Harkness took care of the business of the farm. She ran a tight ship and recorded everything, from the price of eggs to the number of rolls of wall paper required for each room in the house. She recorded the times that haying began and the number of loads of hay that each field produced. In the winter, the men cut logs. Will and Dick would cut down the trees, and Jim would haul them to the saw mills, with a team of horses and double sleds. Pulling a load through the covered bridge at Milby was difficult as the planks were bare. They would shovel snow onto the runner tracks so that the load could slide over it. They cut blocks of ice from the Huntingville Mill Pond, hauled them home to be packed in sawdust, where they would keep well into the hot summer months. They kept the milk and other food cool in the wooden ice box in the kitchen. When company came, they would make ice cream. Nothing we have today could compare with that delicious concoction, flavoured with wild strawberries, or maple sugar and butternuts, gathered the previous fall. When the Spring planting was done in 1920, Dick began to yearn for his brother, Tom, and England. He went back there and visited them, as well as some of his old school chums in Messing. Many had lost their lives in the war. The Baker had moved to Tiptree. He went to work there, delivering bread with a pony and cart. He didn't like the job. He hated dealing with the public, and asking for money from poor people for the bread. He would have enjoyed giving it all away, but it wasn't his to give. The Baker was planning to buy a truck and urged him to stay and run it. Canada had won his heart. He returned to Ive`s Hill and the Harkness farm. His brother, Tom, came with him, leaving his wife and little son behind. He hoped to send for them when he got established. But work was hard to find after the war. He helped on various farms around the area. But Daisy hesitated to cross that wide ocean, so Tom returned to England. The two brothers did not meet again for some fifty years. They did keep in touch by mail, thanks to Daisy. Dick kept every letter and every picture. He was proud to learn that Tom's two boys were named after the two of them. Dick saw many changes on the 'Hill' during his lifetime. Jim Harkness Bought a car for four hundred dollars. A few more dollars bought the license and that was all that was required. His poor eyesight made driving difficult, and the car didn't know the way home, like his horse did. He missed a corner, went into the ditch and out the other side. He turned around in the farmer's field and got back on the road to Lennoxville. The noisy machine frightened the horses he met. He ran into one of them and knocked it down. It wasn't hurt, but he paid the distraught driver a few dollars to calm his nerves! Somehow, he made it back home. From then on, Dick became the family chauffeur. On his first trip to Lennoxville, he miscalculated the space needed to turn around on Depot St. and before he got the 'thing' stopped he had climbed the steps to Wharram's Meat Market! Then came the telephone. Dick helped build the lines and establish the Phones. He was Secretary and repair man for several years - a voluntary job of course. There were as many as ten families on a line, so conversations were supposed to be kept short, in case of an emergency. The telephone revolutionized the social life on the hill. The women, especially appreciated it. In winter they often became isolated. They stayed home and kept the wood fires burning, while the men rolled the roads, did the shopping, paid the bills, and brought home the news. And now the news, whether good or bad, travelled fast. And so did the scandals! One of these I must record since it involved the two Weston brothers. The Minister, at the time, was married to a friend of Mrs. Harkness. They had grown up together in Carlton Place, Ontario. The Sunday service in Milby was conducted in the afternoon, and the Minister usually had supper with the Harkness family. He would depart for home immediately afterwards, but he would stop on the way to visit a certain Mrs. "Y" with whom he had become emotionally involved. She was a beautiful woman. She was well dressed and had her own horse and buggy. Her husband either did not mind her flirtatious manner, or he didn't care. He put the minister's horse in the barn and continued with his evening chores, while she entertained him in the parlour. When Mrs. "F", who lived close enough to observe this, called up Mrs Harkness on the phone, she was livid. And so were all the others who listened in. Dick's brother, Tom, was visiting him at the Harkness place at the time. Mrs. Harkness rang up Mrs. "C". Her husband came over and Tom and Dick accompanied him to the "Y" Place. There was the Minister's buggy and they could see the two of them in the parlour. The three men stole the buggy, and hid it behind a little hill that had a wind mill on top of it. When the Minister came out his buggy was gone along with the hymn and prayer books, which he carried from church to church. Mrs. "Y" hitched up her horse and drove him home. No one know how he explained it to his wife! It was three days later that Mrs. "F" called up Mrs. "Y" and said she could see something behind the Mill Hill that might be the missing buggy. Tom worried that he might be Found out by his boot tracks, which bore unique English treads on the soles. But a light snow fall soon covered the tracks, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The romance continued and more drastic steps had to be taken. One Sunday when the minister entered the pulpit to begin his text, a sheet of paper lay on the page with these words "Love thy neighbour as thyself, but leave his wife alone." He closed the book, and announced that there would be no service today. He walked out of the church and never returned. The hand writing on the page was Dick's. Someone asked him to do it so that the Minister would not recognize the writing. I think he always felt a little guilty about it. Perhaps the most time saving device for the dairy farmer was the invention of the Milking Machine. The noisy gas run motor frightened the usually placid cows. Many a bucket of milk spilled in the gutter before they finally go used to it. The new electric motors were much quieter. Electricity brought many more changes. Electric lights replaced the kerosene lamps and lanterns. An electric stove was a miracle, and so was the vacuum cleaner I to say nothing of the toaster and the washing machine. The old battery operated radio often gave out during the Hockey game, and the electric radio ensured an uninterrupted programme, unless the power went off. Dick was a quiet shy man. He loved the country life. The farm animals were his friends and it was a sad day when they had to go to market, or to be killed for meat. He sometimes went to the woods with his gun, but he never shot an animal or bird. He would sit very still at the base of a tree, while a deer passed slowly by, only a few feet away. The only time he used the gun was to put a suffering animal out of it's misery. Hours of work on the farm were long and hard. When night chores were done he was glad to go to bed. He never attended the social functions on the 'Hill'. He never played cards or attended a dance. He never drank alcohol, and only after he left the farm did he take up the habit of smoking. In 1976 he quit smoking, cold turkey! Will Harness died in 1942. His brother Jim passed away in 1945. Dick ran the farm alone until Mrs. Harkness became ill in 1955. She would not let him hire a woman to care for her, so he had to do it. She showed him how, and he prepared the meals and did the dressings on her ulcerated legs. They sold the farm and moved to the bungalow in Huntingville, that Mr. Campbell had built for them. She died in 1957. Dick then went to work for Mr. John Campbell on construction of homes and houses in the area. Then he went to work at the Planing Mill in Huntingville. It was one of the last water powered saw mills in the country. He lived alone for thirteen years. The neighbours were kind and brought him baked goods and invited him for meals. He was very independent and reluctant to accept help. He spent many Sundays with Donald and Marion Brown. When Marion discovered that he had never in his life had a birthday celebration. She did something about it. From then on they showered him with gifts each year. I met Dick in 1958. He was helping to build the staff house of Grace Christian Home. I was on the Committee and on the Staff. When we went to inspect the new building, there were two men working there. I knew one of them was Dick Weston but I did not know which was which. It was twelve years before he got up courage enough to ask me to marry him! In 1969 I bought the property next door to Dick's, and moved there with my Mother and two deaf brothers. I asked Dick for information about the location of my water pipes, since he was well acquainted with the former owners. He was more than willing to tell me all he knew about the place. He showed me around his neat little place, with it's well kept lawns and flowers. We became good friends and I appreciated his help and advice, my brother kept asking me to invite him for meals on my week-ends off. I was disappointed when Dick asked me to marry him the following year. I felt I should refuse, because of my heavy family responsibilities. But I was also afraid of loosing a wonderful friend. He assured me that he had got to know my family and wanted to help. When I finally agreed, he wanted me to be really-sure, so he told me all the reasons why I should not marry him. He said he was an old man, set in his ways, and could not easily change. He never wanted me to be unhappy, but it would break his heart should I later decide to leave him. Then he said that he would always love me no matter what I decided to do. I assured him that the answer was still 'yes' and we went to tell my mother. He said to her "I am going to steal your daughter." She thought he said 'dog' and she laughed and said "What do you want my dog for?" We were married in the living room of the big old farm house on Aug. 14th. 1970. My family did give us plenty of troubles, but he helped and supported me. When he lost his memory, I helped and supported him. Our nineteen years together were the happiest of our lives. The little boy across the road adopted him as his 'Grandpa Dick'! The little girls next door called him 'Uncle' He was kind to all and was always ready to help anyone who needed it, expecting nothing in return. Most everyone appreciated his help. One of the highlights of his later years was his reunion with his brother, Tom, after fifty years. He came to visit us several times with his two sons and their wives. Tom passed away in 1980. Dick was not a 'church' man, but he had a simple childlike faith. He trusted in God's goodness and provision day by day. He loved music, especially the old hymns, and often sang as he worked. Once when we were talking together, he remarked that it would have been nice if had a boy or girl to carry on the family here. But since he was older than I, he did not want to leave me with a child to care for alone. I said that just because he was older than I did not mean he would die first. He said "wouldn't it be nice if we could go together" I mused that it would not likely happen unless the Lord returned or we were killed in an accident or something. Then he said "No , I'll go first and find a place, and wait for you," He is waiting now. Psalm 90 verse 4 states that a thousand years is as yesterday. Time does not seem long there. So - "Wait a minute. Dear, I'm coming." -Sylvia--

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