The fall toward the end of the Depression n the 1930s an unusual family moved into our little village. The man (the father?) was white as was the woman, but two children were black and one was white. Gossip said this family had circus connections.
That winter I helped teach the Sunday school class in the United Church in which at least one of the children was enrolled. My friend Mona and I, in a sudden fit of missionary zeal, visited their home one late afternoon. I recall noting how desperately poor the family was. The little hovel was dark and dismal. I remember seeing a loaf of dark bread dough rising on the stove warmer, looking as if it could sit there all day and never rise. We were poor but this was abject poverty.
In spring the family suddenly left the community. My sister Sue tells me that before they left town Mrs. Welsh came to Dad in the store and gave him a rhinestone necklace as her thanks for the food he had often given them. She thinks Mother gave them some of our too-small clothing.
Sometimes I wonder how many families have Dad to thank for food when they didn’t have any. Dad couldn’t bear to see people hungry possibly because he had experienced hunger during the famine in the Ukraine in the 1920s.
Dad didn’t want the necklace but accepted it anyway. At some point he gave it to my oldest sister Frieda.
In 1966 when I was beginning free lance writing, I returned from a writers’ conference in Wisconsin with new ideas and energy. Editors kept saying they were looking for material with seasonal emphasis. I had just had a story rejected by Canada’s large Family Herald and Weekly Star. It had the Welsh family with its assortment of children as its main characters.
I revised my story, changing the time to fall, before Christmas, and added a Christmas school concert in northern Saskatchewan. I called the story “The Red Catalogue Dress,” in which a little black girl and the rich doctor’s daughter both wear the same Eaton’s catalogue red velvet dress to the concert -- with a surprise ending.
I sent if off to the Family Herald once again hoping no editor would remember its previous rejection. In two weeks I received $125 and later resold it at least once, if not twice. This was my first big “success” in writing. I was launched.
But then the story gets even more interesting. At some point Frieda gave the rhinestone necklace to her niece Grace, who gave it to her daughter, Olivia, to wear to her senior prom. Was that necklace once worn by a circus performer?
Grace says Frieda gave her two necklaces. She also gave me one. Where did all these necklaces come from? Were Dad’s five little loaves of bread multiplying? Were rhinestones falling from heaven? And if I give mine away will it reproduce once again?