It was fate and a certain amount of biology that Eleanor Frances Powell Horne was born on November 10, 1936, and I was not born until about six years later.
This had its good and not-so-good points.
On one hand, she was able to help our mother with my early days on earth, and while she probably would have preferred a younger sister, I was better than nothing. At least I think so. Also, we were far enough apart that we did not have to compete with each other in many respects, especially in high school.
On the other hand, we were obviously not exactly confidants on many issues, and while we did not fight, we sort of went our own ways most of the time. She was much more outgoing than I was.
However, I do recall a number of events I’d like to share. These are stories primarily intended for Eleanor’s very large family of three daughters, one son, and more children and grandchildren of those four than I could count.
As kids, we got into the habit of wrestling with each other on Sunday evenings after dinner, and we dragged our parents into the living room to watch. It was friendly wrestling, not fight-club-type stuff. Our parents were not really very enthused by this, especially as we used the rather valuable Oriental rug as a wrestling mat, but they tolerated it. I guess it was hard for them to pick sides. Of course she was much bigger than I was, at about 10 or so, and a teenager. Not surprisingly, Eleanor always won. I wanted nothing more than to finally beat her. One wonderful Sunday, magic happened, and I was actually able to hold her down for the count. She did not voluntarily let me win. It was perhaps the happiest moment of my young years.
Next Sunday, I of course excitedly dragged everyone into the living room to once again beat her, at which point she rather haughtily announced that since she was a young lady, there was no way she would engage in such childish pranks. I was devastated, but that was the last of the wrestling matches.
At somewhere around the same age, I had three really good boyfriends from the neighborhood, and one summer we decided to dig a deep hole in the back garden that was not being used for vegetables. I guess now it would be called a man cave. Along the way we learned the annoying principle of the water table. Again, our parents were not really thrilled, but they at least were pleased we were in the back yard under their sight.
Eleanor actually did get involved with this project, although I do not really know why. She helped dig and she spent some time in the “fort”. We lined the hole with packing crates from the local A&P store. In those days, fresh meat was shipped in wooden crates with wired sides and lids for ventilation. They made great liners, but since they originally came with fresh meat in them, they did tend to attract flies, even after much hosing. Lots of flies.
At one point as we were growing up, the family owned a black 1936 Oldsmobile, with running boards. We often visited a cemetery on Sundays after church to pay respects to deceased relatives, and Eleanor and I were allowed to ride on the running boards with one arm wrapped around the window post while the car was moving slowly with little traffic on the cemetery roads. We thought we were pretty special.
One year, when I think Eleanor would have been about 17 or so, we all went on a summer family vacation. I cannot honestly recall exactly where we went, but it was by car. When we got home late in the afternoon, we all took our luggage and started to put the still-clean things away. Eleanor had her own room of course.
All of a sudden we heard a blood-curdling scream from her, and she ran out of the bedroom and slammed the door. Naturally, we all thought that there was someone in her room who had broken into the house while we were away.
However, we soon learned that a starling had somehow managed to get into the house through the chimney, bypassing the damper, and had decided to curl up in one of the dresser drawers she had left slightly open when we went on the trip. The bird was very dirty from coming down the chimney, and as Eleanor pulled open the drawer, it flew out into her face. My dad and I chased it all over the house, and of course its sooty feathers left their mark on everything it touched. Mum was not amused. We eventually pinned it down with a fishing net and managed to get it out of the house. There was a lot of cleaning to do. We did have many laughs about the episode later, and we often joked about the bird that terrorized Eleanor.
As we were growing up, Eleanor spent many summers and other times with mum’s brother, Uncle Lyle and his wife, Eleanor, after whom she was named. They lived in Centreville, Michigan, not far from Kalamazoo. Uncle Lyle was the President of the Dr. Denton Sleeping Garment Mills, a long-standing company, from 1865, that made specialty sleepwear for children. It was actually located in Centreville, a town of only 1425 people as recently as 2010. Lyle and Eleanor were very well connected socially, and introduced Eleanor, the younger, to High Society. Among their friends was the Kirsch family, in Kalamazoo, who owned the Kirsch Window Shade Company. They were the country club set and introduced Eleanor to the ways of the wealthy. They all, more or less, adopted her whenever she visited. There were some times when our mother was sick, and Eleanor moved in with the relatives in Michigan and attended school there.
As Eleanor matured, she was able to find summer jobs with Hiram Walker’s where our father worked as a bookkeeper. She was on the production line, doing exciting things like applying labels to whisky bottles. If anything would motivate her to further her education, those summers would. Not that she needed it; she was good at planning and always seemed to know exactly where she wanted to go in life.
She did well in high school, at the Hon. J.C. Patterson Collegiate Institute, Windsor’s oldest high school. It was also where our father attended, as well as me, and my late wife Dannie. One year, all four of us attended a high school reunion. The exact years I do not recall, but it was pretty amazing. Eleanor served as Head Girl in Grade 13 (in those days we had 13 grades) on the Student Council.
I do recall one end-of-high-school party that the senior students in Grade 13 held in Point Pelee or some such place. Alas, there was a torrential downpour, so Eleanor invited all of the party animals, 30 or so, back to our house to finish the party. Of course, there were no cell phones etc. in those days; they just all showed up unannounced. “Mum and Dad won’t mind a bit!” I have a feeling there might have been some special liquid refreshments brought along. My contribution after the herd had finally departed sometime around dawn was to clean the kitchen floor. Anything for my sister.
She was accepted into Queens University in Kingston in an arts program, and lo and behold, met one Richard Masters Harding, who was attending RMC. The rest you probably know. Our parents and I made the long trip to Kingston for the graduation ceremony. We were not a wealthy family by any means, but somehow our parents scraped together enough money to see her through university. I was really proud of her.
The final recollections relate to soon after Eleanor and Dick were married, with Pat about a year old and Susan about to arrive. Some are not directly connected to Eleanor, but are still part of the family chronicles.
I was invited to spend the summer with the family in St. Lambert, to give Eleanor a bit of a break with two very young children and Dick at work with the RCAF. I learned the fine art of diaper changing on both older nieces. I also learned that challenging my father to a whisky-drinking contest at the RCAF base pub in St. Hubert, at the ripe old age of 16 or so, was definitely not a good idea. I lost, big time. Oh, how I lost.
I also discovered that two or three years of what was laughingly called French in high school in those days did not equip me to actually say anything in French to anybody on the streets of St. Lambert. I could not even ask a passer-by how to get to the post office to mail our parents a letter. But I could conjugate dormir really well. Probably better than he could.
(BTW, for the information of future generations, letters are pieces of paper on which one writes words by hand to form a message and entrusts some stranger to physically take the piece of paper to the intended recipient, upon payment of a fee for service. Letters were quite popular until about 2010.)
I also learned that flying the CF-100 all-weather fighter simulator with Dick was not quite as easy as it first seemed, as we went through the sound barrier on our screaming descent from 55,000 feet, at which point the wings would have fallen off in real life. I managed to pull it out of its death dive about 500 feet above the ground, and was truly a piece of unmovable jelly when we landed. The whole thing seemed so real, even in those days of very basic flight simulators. Dick and the sergeant in charge of the simulator had to lift me out of the cockpit. There were some anxious moments when the sergeant challenged my even being there, (he was not around when we “took off”), as technically I should never have even been in the simulator, let alone fly it, but fortunately Dick was an officer who pulled rank and the issue went away.
I did not join the RCAF.
No matter what transpires with Eleanor, I will always have these fond memories. Joyously pinning her down on the living room carpet over 60 years ago as if it happened yesterday is perhaps a bit bizarre to stand out so much. But the brother- sister bonds never fade, regardless.
This story has been compiled with love a few days after visiting her at Wentworth Lodge, Dundas, Ontario, in May 2015. Unfortunately, she has been passing further and further into dementia over the past several years, and has now been placed in the final stage facility. She no longer recognizes anything or anyone and has forgotten how to chew her food; she just exists in her bed. Physically, she is in pretty good shape, and could continue to exist for some time. Such a horrible disease.