October 4 1968

On the day that Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, I am posting a letter that refers to my mothers’ invitation to one of the 2 Czechoslovakian scientists who were friends of the Costains and were affected by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968- when Vladimir Putin and I were 15 years old. I wonder what his memories are of that year?

49 Cedar Road,
Ottawa 9, Ontario.

4th October, 1968.

Dearest Mummy,
Such a nice feeling today – there’s nothing that I absolutely HAVE to do! It’s amazing how few days there are like that, but although we have Carman staying with us, he is going to be out to dinner; and I have a dress for myself which I am sewing, but there is no great hurry; and I have a basket of ironing but there is nothing unusual about that; and I don’t have the car so I can’t go anywhere; so I am going to write to you and then maybe get on with my dress. The dress (I will send you a little bit to see) is a dark cotton – brown and blue shades – which I thought would be nice for this time of year. I should have had it at the beginning of this week as we had such hot weather – 80 and over – but today is to be a high of 50 and may be frost tonight. However I am making it with long sleeves so I will still be able to wear it for a while. We have really been having lovely weather, all September was sunny and warm and everything was still green until a few days ago, and they have just begun to turn and some leaves are dropping now. I haven’t heard much about hurricanes this year so I hope that you are having fairly decent weather and that you have had no more earthquakes. It must be very scary but one thing I should think that Noyack is like a rock it is so solidly built, but I hope that nothing ever happens to prove it.
I don’t think that I have ever thanked you for your letter of 20th Sept. – I phoned Mr. Schuett about the batteries and he sent them so I hope that you will have already received them when you get this letter. I am sorry that I haven’t written for a couple of weeks, but last week Charlie came home from school on Monday looking pale and wan and said he felt awful – he hadn’t eaten his lunch and he just went up and lay on his bed and fell asleep. Later I woke him and he had a temp. of over 100, so I packed him into bed with aspirins, and then Lindy said that she had a cold and sore throat, and in the morning they were both in bed! It seemed to be the same infection but took them in different ways – Lindy’s in her throat and a bit in her ears and Charlie the temp. and then later throat and cold. I kept them in bed 2 days, and then on Thurs. Madame Gemusse, my cleaning lady was coming, and they both hate to be at home when she is cleaning around, so they both insisted they were better and went off to school! They have been coughy and coldy since, but it seems to be clearing up slowly, and then of course this Mon. I got it – only a bad cold, but fortunately although it was miserable for a couple of days it seems fine now and Cec just got a very slight touch, so we are all OK once more! One thing, when the children are sick now they don’t need looking after, and I just more or less go on as usual! One day that they were in bed I was very noble and went down to the Church and helped clean the kitchen. During the summer the men of the Church painted the outside, all that white stucco, you remember? It was quite a job, and they used the kitchen to store the paint and wash the brushes and as general junk room, so it got in an awful mess, and we decided that when they got the stuff out we would have to have a general clean. A lot of the women had helped clean and paint furniture in the Nursery School during the summer, but I was away when they did that, so I felt that I was in duty bound to help clean the kitchen. Four of us did it and it took us the whole morning – cleaning ovens stoves walls sinks counters and floor, and it looked very nice when we were done. However, I’m very glad that I have Mme. G. at home to do my cleaning for me! She comes every other Thursday and is here from 7:45 am till 4 pm and she only takes a little while for lunch and really works hard, so I am very pleased. I pay her $10 for the day, which is the going rate now, but she works for her money whereas you hear of others who don’t come till 9 and leave at 2:30, so I am very satisfied with her. I can’t say that my French is improving much, but at least I have to talk French to her so I am getting some practice and I am surprised at remembering as much as I do. She can bring up the odd English word if we are stuck, and we have great giggles over it! I am thoroughly enjoying being at home all day after my N.S. job last year. I was saying that everyone should take a job for a while, it is so lovely when you stop! The Registrar and Treasurer job is really a lot of work but of course I can do that when I feel like it and I don’t have to rush out every morning. Last week, Mrs. Greenwell, the lady who took my place, had to go and observe another school, so I went and took her place for one morning, so that was quite fun just doing it once in a while, and if anyone was sick I would go and step in for them. I get paid for that, but of course the other is my social work for the church and I don’t get paid for it. You said that you were surprised when you heard that I wasn’t teaching this year – perhaps I forgot to tell you earlier, but when I said I would teach right at the beginning I said “For One Year” until the school got on its feet and could afford to pay the regular salaries. It’s worked out fine, and we are even considering opening 2 afternoons a week as we have so many enquiries still.
Marjorie is the Chairman of our Nursery School Committee which does the business side, so we will have to have a meeting and decide about the afternoons when she comes back from England. She has been over for 3 weeks seeing her Mother, who doesn’t want to travel now, so Marjorie left Jeannie and her husband to look after themselves. Her Mother has this embolism in her leg so can’t get out much, and doesn’t even go out much anymore, but otherwise she seems to be well. We had Dick Graham and Jeannie to dinner this week, and I think Marjorie will be back next week, so I’m sure that they will be glad to see her. I hope that you are planning your trip to Canada for next year – you know your grandchildren are so grown up already, you had better come and see them before they spread their wings and leave home! You know there is not much chance of us all coming to St. V. together again, as the fares for all 4 of us really cost so much, but I think Linda particularly would love to come for a holiday on her own sometime and of course they are both very keen on getting summer jobs now so it means we won’t be having family holidays together much more. When they are both in University Cec and I will be much freer and perhaps be able to come down on our own sometime. Until then, you must just come up and see us! Next summer, I had thought that I might get a trip to Europe with Cec to a meeting, but there is no word of the meeting yet, and in the meanwhile Cec has had an invitation to give a paper at a big meeting in Australia – Sydney. The Gov. is being very mean about money just now and cutting down on all sides, but Dr. H. says Cec hasn’t been away much lately and that he thinks he should go, so that is very nice. Cec first suggested that we might see if we could afford for me to go with him, but the fare for me return is 1500 dollars, let alone living and spending there etc., so I said it would be wonderful, but really I would rather go 3 shorter trips with him to Europe or the U.S. than spend such a huge amount at once and then be hard up. Also of course, Linda will be beginning University then and for the first time we will have to pay directly for her education, instead of just in our taxes, so that this is a few thousand dollars a year extra. Anyway, as far as we know, Cec will be off to Australia in August next year but otherwise no plans. Charlie and Linda both want to get summer jobs, so I don’t know what they will be doing. This year it was very hard for students to get jobs – did I tell you that Bruce was working in the tobacco fields? The picking is very hard work but very well paid, but he was loading racks in the drying sheds, not quite such high pay but it didn’t kill him. I must say that I admire these youngsters who do these jobs to get money to help with University fees etc. and I think it is very good for them and helps to make them very responsible and mature. I wonder if Patrick and some of the fellows like him would deign to work like that – but of course as you say, the Hughes are wealthy! I can’t help being amazed that law in St.V. should be so lucrative though!
I hadn’t heard that Patsy was coming out for a visit, and very intrigued with Peggy’s opinions on Tony and his quelling effect on Patsy. I didn’t think that Patsy could be quelled and I have no recollection of Tony or what he is like at all. I suppose that it is not unusual for sisters to dislike each other’s husbands, but probably Patsy feels the same way about Alex – you must tell me what you think of Tony and Patsy when you see them. Probably it would be more fun for the girls on their own, because as I recall Alex isn’t exactly convivial with visitors, and if Tony isn’t either it will be a pity. I hope that Rosemary got back to England for her swimming and did well in the competitions. Do you think that her time in England has improved her? You said that before she went she was quite a little madam and so bossy and wanted her own way, but if you only saw her a few times, I don’t suppose you could really tell. I must say that girls of 16 and onwards are a pain at times! At the beginning of the summer I thought I couldn’t possibly stand Linda for another year before she went to University! You remember what girls are like with their mothers! Nothing I said or did was right, and anything that went wrong was my fault, and no matter what I said I got back a smart answer! G-r-r-r! As you can imagine I didn’t take kindly to it, but thank goodness, it has improved immensely now and she is quite a normal human being once more and even acknowledges that I am too! It must have been just a stage! Charlie is still the same good-natured fellow he always was, but in the summer even he got mad at his sister sometimes!
I don’t think that I ever told you about my day in Quyon with Lee and her friends – that is the place that has cheap materials. Well, I was to be at Lee’s at 9am and then we collected 3 more females, so there were 5 of us all together. It was the most beautiful fall day – sunny and just a little chill, but very nice and bright. All the other ladies were very nice, but they were all from Lee’s neighbourhood and knew each other well so I was a bit odd man out, but that didn’t matter. We arrived in Quyon soon after 10, to find nothing open – there are 2 shops, the original one belong into the old woman, and another belonging to her daughter, and apparently they just open when they feel like it. So we hung around, and there were 2 or 3 other carloads of people waiting too, and then we went and had a cup of coffee in a pokey little place, and finally about 11:30 the daughter opened her shop. It was just a little old house with 2 rooms but it had shelves around and tables all stacked with folded bits of materials. It was quite well arranged with cottons in one place, wools another etc. and loads of stuff all on top of each other, but you could tell from the moment you went in that the place was damp – it had that musty smell, and all the material smelled musty too but apparently she is getting a new shop down the street and I hope that is dryer poor woman! All the pieces were marked with the size and price and we poked around and looked and I got the cotton for my dress which I am sending you to see and a piece of dark red wool material to make Linda a winter dress and a piece of lining material to match as it is a bit itchy. Well after about an hour in there I was well and truly finished, but the others were still busy looking and putting back and changing their minds! However, we then heard the other shop was open, so some of us went there – WELL! This had been a shop with a shop window, but it hadn’t been cleaned for generations I’d say, and inside there was material stacked on waist high benches and underneath, practically up to the ceiling! There was a little wee passageway down the middle and if the old woman was standing in it, no one could get by! She was a sight – fat and pendulous, with a cigarette drooping from her mouth, and nagging at her old husband all the time, and after a while she heaved herself up onto a great mound of the materials and sat there like a horrid old hen on a nest! The whole place just gave me the willies – it was so messy and crummy, and you had to heave bits of material out from all these piles and poke around, and you felt that it must all be absolutely filthy, as I’m sure it could never be cleaned. I don’t know how much stuff was there, and some of it was probably good, but who was ever to find out? I wouldn’t have had the patience or inclination to stay long in there, but the others all rushed in with enthusiasm, so I looked around and in the end got another dress length of dark red material – not a wool, some synthetic material, but with a cosy feel, and then I saw a piece of cotton in a navy and pink pattern, so I got it for Mme. Gemusse who was busy cleaning my house for me while I was gadding!
Why I got all this dark red material was that Nan sent Lindy a pretty small dark red handbag for her birthday, and she had nothing that she could use it with, so I thought a dress to match would be nice for school in the winter. I wasn’t sure of the exact shade and in the end the wool is the better match, and the other which is more a cherry red I shall use myself. Now that my hair is getting greyer I find that I don’t look good in some colours that used to suit me – a plain brown or beige just don’t go with my hair, but I think a dark red should be OK and of course blues and greens are still fine. I need a winter coat this year, and I have no idea what colour to get. Anyway, to go back to our expedition, I finally could stand it no longer, so one of the other ladies and I went and got in the car, and about 2 o’clock the others appeared. There was no decent restaurant where we could get lunch, so we bought buns and cheese and cookies etc. at the grocery store and had a sort of picnic in the car, and even after that Lee and one of the others had to make another trip to the daughter’s shop, so that finally I got back about 3:30. It was quite fun, and obviously the other girls looked on it as a sort of day’s outing, but I think another time I wouldn’t want to spend so long there – the old woman’s shop is really kind of horrid!
I was telling some of my friends about the expedition and one of them told me of a new remnant shop which had opened at Orleans near where I used to go to the butcher, remember? It hadn’t been opened long, but she had got some nice material, so yesterday afternoon, Ruth Lockwood and I, in the pouring rain – thunder too! – set out and went to see what it was like. What a contrast! Nice clean neat little shop and a very pleasant woman – of course I don’t suppose there was one tenth of the material, but at least you could see what there was! I got something to put in your Christmas parcel for you and Auntie Muriel, which I think is pretty – in a way I feel it is like sending coals to Newcastle to send materials to you, but at least none of your friends will have bought the same material! Also if you now have a good dressmaker it does away with having to alter the ready-made dresses. By the way, I have all sorts of old patterns – would you like me to put them in a parcel sometime? Or aren’t they much use?
Last Friday the United Church had a Hat Show in our Church – it was a sort of joint effort, except that they arranged the hat business and we helped with the refreshments. It only cost .50¢ so it wasn’t expensive and there were about 8 or 10 girls and women from each church who modelled the hats. The woman who had the hat shop gave a commentary, and the girls walked around the room with the hats on and then put them on tables which were right down the middle of the room with mirrors on. There were hundreds of hats – felts, velours, velvets, feathers, material, even what they called winter straws, rain hats, fur hats and what have you. When the show was over the hats were for sale, and you could go and try them on and look at them all, which was great fun! There were some very pretty feather hats there in lovely colours, but I don’t know what my coat is going to be like so it was silly to think of getting one – anyway they were all so big on my head, they wobbled when I moved! Casey only had which really fitted and looked best on me was of course the most expensive hat there! It was a fur hat of black mink – only mink tails, which are the cheapest part but the hat was 26 dollars, and I wasn’t really tempted! It was a nice evening though and all your old cronies were there, Mrs. Davis and Mrs. James, all asking for you.
Piano tuner here – Lindy is taking piano cum singing lessons this year with an English lady, Mrs. Cass-Beggs!

I had no idea at the time how lucky I was to have even a few months of lessons with such a music scholar and teacher!

What do you think? The mailman just brought your letter of 28th Sept. so thank you very much. The new mail delivery does not make much difference to us – our mailbox was very convenient, but some of the people lower down in Rothwell Heights didn’t have boxes at their driveways, but hundreds of them all together at a crossroads and that must have been very hard in bad weather. You had a bad time with the Bishop’s jubilee and the flowers and brasses must have looked lovely, but what a pity that it was such a dreadful morning. However, at least it cleared up for the reception and I’m glad the stormy weather passed by. Our Harvest Thanksgiving is this Sunday so I will have to see what we have left in the garden for it – we still have lots of carrots and beetroot and some squash, and lots of lovely little fat pumpkins! They look so nice and chubby and are so easy to grow that I think they are very rewarding! Our actual Thanksgiving is the next weekend, and there is a holiday on the Monday, but I think we will have our Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday and I will have our Czechoslovakian friends to dinner. (By the way only two Polduses – a young couple – early 30s – Joe and Eva!) Carman arrived last night and is staying till next week sometime as there is a Radio Astronomy Meeting in Ottawa, but it looks as if we won’t see much of him as there are meetings on Sat. and on Sun they all go up north to Algonquin Park where there is a big R – A set up. Mr. Trudeau, although we still like him very much, is being extremely mean to scientists – he’s on a big economy kick, and he has cancelled a big new telescope that was being built out in B.C. and another big project at Chalk River, the Canadian Atomic Energy place, so this is very sad for science in Canada.
Now I have to mention your bright idea about the three week trip to the W.I. but no matter how cheap it is, for the four of us it will be nearly $1000. And with Cec going to Australia we just can’t consider it. As I say, later on perhaps Linda will come, or Cec and I but definitely is out for all of us next summer – sorry! Much cheaper for you to come to us!
It is indeed amazing to think that it is a year since Uncle Fred took ill, but I also think it is amazing how he has persevered and managed to improve to the extent he has. I would think it would be dreadfully easy just to give in and do nothing and be a vegetable, but would need a lot of effort and hard work to go on trying with the caliper and trying to talk etc. Ena is certainly looking after him well now, but he looked after her well too. You don’t seem to have been reading very NICE books lately! I am reading a nonfiction called “Effie in Venice”– letters by Ruskin’s wife to her parents – he was peculiar and afterwards the marriage was annulled and later she married the artist Millais! Such on-goings!
Must stop – lots of love from us all-

One thought on “October 4 1968”

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