Granny Dunn’s Swing

By Michael McGrath – January 2010

In the mid 1950s, when I was just a bit of a lad, I passed many a day on the family swing. Few households in Iroquois Falls back then had the luxury of a full fledged swing. Sure, there were all sorts of basic examples of the swing hanging here and there from trees and railings in between two ropes bound around a plank but only the privileged few had the benefit of a multi person, proper chair swing that could accommodate family and friends. Ours was a beauty.

I am not sure where the Dunn family swing came from. It had always been a part of my childhood memories. I believe it was ordered through the Eaton catalogue and delivered to the door on horse and buggy by Norbert Grenier. Most finished products came from Eatons in those days and when you saw Norbert and his team of horses or later his old jalopy of a truck at a front door you immediately understood that there would be happy faces to welcome in a new piano, a stove, fridge, sofa or bed. It was pure entertainment to have a visit from Norbert. He was a big fellow with a loud sound and resounding laugh. Most of the time he managed to haul huge heavy loads on his back into the welcoming homes in Iroquois Falls, Ansonville and Montrock. Later in the 1960s all these towns were amalgamated to become Iroquois Falls. Norbert always had a story or a joke to tell and his wide smile and sparkling eyes put the finishing touches on the delivery of a much needed, anticipated and celebrated new item for the home.

Our swing was actually a platform or floor of wood like a small deck attached on the bottom to seats that were about five feet wide. There were two seats on either side of this floor and then a frame held the seats in place and hung them on two wood rails. The seats faced each other and could seat three adults on each side and a couple of children on the floor.

My most vivid memories of the old swing has to do with my granny’s network of wandering friends. I say wandering because I knew them when they had all raised their families and most of their husbands had passed away after years of hard work as lumberjacks, teamsters or paper mill workers All these ladies were in their 60s and 70s in the 1950s and most of them had a lot of time on their hands and they could only bear to sit in their little houses for so long before needing a dose of social contact. My grandmother, Margaret Dunn on the other hand, had two grandchildren at home and was more or less raising a second family. Myself and my sister Patty were lucky enough to be under her care as our mother Emily toiled through her days in the main office of the local paper mill.

I recall that on those muggy days in summer, cool but sunny autumn breaks and as the sun warmed us up after a freezing winter in the spring the swing was there to help us while away hours in friendship, a little gossip and strong, hot tea.

“Hello Mrs. Dunn,” Mrs. O’Donnell hollered at the front door on old Third Avenue in her vary man like voice. She was a tall woman and her strong and deep voice captivated my sister and I. In good weather we made our way to the swing and the visit was on. In a short while Freda Spence would arrive on the scene. Freda was a social butterfly and member of the Moose Lodge who attended mass regularly and could be seen at just about every funeral in town bidding her fond farewell. She simply liked to be around people and in small towns regretfully there are more funeral get to gathers than weddings and the like. Freda loved to clamour aboard the Dunn swing and chat with her favourite neighbours while sipping tea.

Mrs. Harkins sauntered up to the front yard and hauled herself onto the swing amidst warm welcome from the ladies and a how do you do. She knew my granny from the Ottawa Valley days as they were both born in the vicinity of Fort Coulonge and Waltham in Quebec near Pembroke, Ontario. She had a hard life and raised a large family of boys and girls in a little house just around the corner from us on Church Street. In her early years she was counted on for her experience as a midwife and she assisted granny in some of her births. Mrs. Harkins was a stocky lady and had a lot of trouble walking which resulted in a job for me once I could be trusted to find my way around the block and come home. At one point I became her walking companion and I would run around the corner and down the hill in two minutes to help her inch her way up for a half hour walk back to our place and a visit with Granny.

Mrs. Manders, often would arrive to join the group of Irish ladies. She was tall and thin and always looked as though something terrible was going happen to her at any given moment. The poor woman was old beyond her years and she counted on the kindness and understanding of familiar Ottawa Valley faces to open their doors and hearts to her. She was frantic to say the least and the very first person I ever met that gobbled up prescription medicine with her tea.

If it was a hot day Patty and I served lemonade or cold drinks on encouragement from Granny but most of the time the ladies like to have their tea and whatever biscuits Granny could come up with from the cookie jar. There they sat, happy and full of good chatter under the sun, just inside the white picket fence, on the green lawn comfortable in the swing.

Most of the time Patty and I lounged lazily around on the grass near the dragon lilies, sunflowers, bleeding hearts and roses. We watched in fascination as the bees buzzed about fixated on visiting our flowers to gather nectar. All types of bugs roamed the forest of grass leaves at ground level and often we followed them on their travels. The Robins, Starling, Sparrows and Crows floated and darted in and out of our scene there in the front yard like little punctuation marks in the day. Above, all we were comforted by the lullaby of familiar, friendly voices on the swing. The ladies gently motioned the swing back and forth as they soothed each other with words falling like little chutes of memories that flowed from early childhood on farms and from the small towns back in the Valley. They swung back and forth, sometimes in question, at times with a sharp refrain. On occasion in the heat of discussion the swing seemed to pick up on their moods and moved briskly to the rise and fall of their conversation.

With all of the ups and downs on the swing somehow the old friends managed to keep an even keel and their time moving to and throw for hours in our front yard seemed to speed by. It was like some precious commodity or treat that you wanted to preserve and keep for as long as you could but that was impossible. Friends and neighbours passed with greetings and the odd car limped by as the ladies pumped gently on the swing in a rhythm that mostly comforted them. Sometimes, they all fell silent and simply let the swing and movement fill their moments in the fresh air scented by the fragrance of the flower garden.

When the men were seen walking past on their way home from the mill with lunch buckets in hand that was the cue to wrap things up. Granny, they knew still had Emily to feed and greet on her return from her day in the office. There was supper to fix for Patty and I and a host of chores to accomplish. So, the swing finally came to a slow halt. The ladies gave thanks and praise for the grand afternoon and disembarked from the old swing. “Good Day Mrs. Dunn” they sang and headed off down the street to their own kitchens and living rooms with the joy of time well spent in the backs of their minds.

The End

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