Growing up in the late 30's and 40's
  by Josephine Wilson-5leaver

What I remember most about growing up on Merasheen Island are the bitterly cold, deadly long winters. How we hated but enjoyed them!

As a child, I remember my father coming from outside with icicles hanging from his moustache and declaring, ‘You, youngsters are not walking to school today! It's below 0° out there“. Below 0° could be anywhere between -20° to -40°.

There were no slacks -or pants of any kind for girls then. We wore dresses and cloth coats. Our woolen stockings were worn above the knee. Shoes and boots were seasonal.

No one bothered to shovel the snow. There was no snow removal of any kind. We trudged through snow often up to our armpits, across gardens, over fences taking every shortcut imaginable to get to church and school.

Ironically, it was often as cold inside as outside since the entire house was heated by a wood stove in the kitchen. Insulation was unheard of in those days. Loads of firewood hand cut and dragged over the hills or cut and brought by boat from the other end of the island supplied the only heat on which we could count. Thank God for strong fathers and brothers who worked so hard.

At night, because of the dread of fire, the stove could only be stoked to barely burn. The whole house became a cold storage unit.
Large families were a blessing in disguise. We girls slept four and sometimes five to a bed. ‘Heads and tails’ we called it. The boys slept in similar fashion. Mama and our sisters made lots of quilts. At night we were buried beneath them. Between body heat and the weight of the quilts, we slept like babies. On a bitter cold windy night with the windows rattling, Mama would appear in the dark with Holy
Water sprinkling us all. John could always be heard yelling, ‘Don't drown us, Mama". Then for good measure, she would whip the hooked mats off the floor and pile them over us in the beds. Then off she'd trot to her room muttering, ‘God bless the ships at sea“.

Our generation had no skates, skis, or commercial sports equipment of any kind but we couldn't wait for the harbour to freeze over. Before it was safe, George, Anthony, Edgar and their cohorts would go “toe-e-ing" over the clumps of ice. If I had a dollar for every time they fell into the freezing water, I'd be rich.

The heavy snow was great for sliding? Our fathers built huge catamarans out of herring barrel staves or molasses puncheon stoves. We dragged them to every hill and piled in three and four at a time. There were Wilsons, Bests, Hennesseys, Hanns, and Connors - all the gang from Little Merasheen careening down the Big Hill to Philly's Bottom. We could be heard shouting and laughing from one end of the island to the other. But it was cold! Cold! Cold!

We always had a Christmas tree in the parlour and there it stayed still trimmed until Easter. After all, you could only make quick dashes to unheated areas of the house.

All the vegetables were stored in an outside pit in the back garden. It consisted of a hole dug for a barrel to fit inside. The home-grown turnips, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes were stored there. If they were kept in the porch or pantry, they would freeze just as the water in the buckets did.

We all survived those years because of our parent’s hard work and ingenuity. Our clothes, food, shelter, and recreation reflected and proved the old adage ‘Necessity is the mother of invention“.