These are Estelle Masniuk’s stories, as told to her daughter Trish
Recorded February, 2022
1.The story of my birth. My parents were very young and living in a very rural area. They had come to live with my maternal grandparents during the lead up to my birth, so that they would be able to get to hospital on time. The day of my birth, my mom, dad, and grandfather had gone out fishing, and had come home with a fine stringer of fish. My grandmother, who was more familiar with hogs than she was with fish, decided she would scald them to remove the scales, because that works with hogs — you scald them and then scrape them down. But the fish were not fully dead yet, and when she turned the boiling hot water on them, they started flapping around. She immediately jumped back and shrieked, and my mother came running into the room figuring that she must have injured herself. My mom went into labor from the shock, and so a few hours later, she had me, but she’s never forgotten how much her mother scared the life out of her with that fish incident.
2.This story is called the domestic revolution. The months I was born in 1947, there were triplets to another family, who incidentally already had 6 older kids! The Women’s Institute got together and raised money for a washing machine that cost nearly $150. This was at a time when a school teacher would make maybe $2,000 a year, so it was a lot of money. It would have been gasoline-powered because we had no electricity in our part of the country. They ordered it in through my grandfather’s store, to be brought out on the train from the city. Well, my father decided, without telling anyone, to order a second washing machine for my mother. He would have been only 19, but wise beyond his years. He hadn’t gotten her a fancy engagement ring, but he decided to do this. It really caused a flurry among the community. Normally if there was any extra money it would be spent on a tractor or on more land. But when my mother who was 20 years old with one little baby got a washing machine, it made it very hard for the other men to say no. They both felt it was the beginning of women’s liberation for their little town, and years later, you could see in her eyes when she told this story that she just adored him for doing it.
3.The third story is the story of my brother Gary’s birth. He was the third child and a boy, born in 1950, which is when the Red River flooded. Because of that, he was the only one of the six of us who wasn’t born in St. Boniface Hospital, on the banks of the Red River. He was born at the maternity unit of the Women’s Health Pavilion, which had to open prematurely to handle births during the flood. She would tell us about the brand new facilities — state of the art. She was one of the first mothers in there.
4.The next story is not about the birth, but the baby-hood of my brother, Brian, the second boy. He was so different from the rest of us. The first three of us were all very dark-haired and dark-eyed, but he was very, very fair. His hair was white, and he was a baby pink all over. The neighbors called him a baby “hosca”, the little snow goose in Ukranian, because he was so so blonde. And of course they also teased my dad — you know, “Your heifer done jumped the fence”! As Brian got older, his hair turned dark like the rest of us, but as a baby, he was a blondie.
5.The last birth story is her youngest, Cindy. The first four of us were born less than five years apart (plus a miscarriage in between the 3rd and 4th). By the time she was 24 and my dad was 23, they had four little ones. It was hectic, but it wasn’t that unusual for the time in Catholic communities. My mother was French Canadian Roman Catholic, and my father was Ukrainian Catholic. Then they didn’t have any more babies for ten years, and then two more. So I have two sisters 15 and 17 years younger than me. My mother was so proud of how efficient she had gotten at having babies. The year Cindy, the baby, was born, Estelle had the big family dinner on Christmas Day, and the next day, Boxing Day, she entertained my dad’s business associates at home. In the middle of the evening, she had to excuse herself – “I’m sorry. I really hate to do this, but I’m in labor and I’m going to have to cut this party short.” Cindy was born in the early hours of the 27th, and Mum was home from the hospital in time for New Year’s Eve.
6.My mother was a teacher, and she spent twenty years at one school, and then spent last four years of her career at a different school. She stayed in the same school district, and moved when her principal moved. At her retirement party, her co-workers were amazed to meet her older children, because they had only known about the two little ones, who were still small and at home. Mum told this story over and over with great pride about how private she had been.
7.She also took great pride in holding grudges. In her early years of teaching, she had a really good friend named Anne. They were really good buddies and would visit back and forth. At the beginning of this particular school year, there was only one spare available and she really needed it, but so did Anne, and there was only one to give. You couldn’t split it or share it. The principal decided to give it to Anne, and my mother blamed Anne for it — not the principal! She literally never spoke to her again. My mother would boast to us how she would pass Anne on the street or in the staff room (they taught at the same school for the next 15 years!), and just walk by. We would tell her that she was wrong – that it wasn’t Anne’s decision, and she was depriving herself of a very good friend. But no, she felt really proud of the fact that she had stuck to her guns. I reconnected with Anne 3 or 4 years ago – she writes a column for our little local paper, so I found out she was still alive and in her 90s. I talked to her about this incident and she said she never knew why my mother had turned against her, but that it really helped her to understand things, even 60 years later!
8.My father was a competitive trap-shooter, and my mother would go with him to competitions and bring the two little girls along. They would go to shoots all over Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Minnesota, and North Dakota. At one of these meets, she came home with an idea, and she would tell how she learned a new and better way to butter corn. You fill a tall narrow glass with boiling water with about an inch of melted butter floating on top. Then people just dunk their corn cob in and out, and it’s buttered, efficiently, tidily, and faster. She would repeatedly tell us how she learned it at a shoot down in South Dakota. It’s perfect every time, and you saved on butter.
9.They had a large Siamese cat named Sahib — it means “Sir” in Hindi – and they would take him on these expeditions to the various shoots. One day, the back window of the station wagon was open, and Sahib jumped out of the moving car. Their trailer was behind the car, and when they stopped instantly, they were sure they would find the cat mangled between the car and the trailer. But they didn’t find any sign of him, and they spent several days trying to find this cat. After three or four days, they had more or less given up, and then on the Sunday, they got a phone call that someone thought they might have the cat. Sure enough, he had survived with nothing wrong but a chipped tooth. He was a real miracle cat. (A few months later, when my son was a very little guy, he looked up at me while we were visiting my mom and asked how cats brush their teeth. I tried to explain but he said, “Well, it isn’t working, because he’s got a big green tooth”. We looked closer, and he had a terrible abscess where the tooth had been broken off, and Rob’s noticing the infection basically saved his life).