A New Work of Mercy

ROSE A. HAMBLY March 15 1921

A New Work of Mercy

ROSE A. HAMBLY March 15 1921

A New Work of Mercy



TWELVE-year-old Nellie walked beside me and confided, “Next week I will have a new mother and four new brothers. I have had before three mothers and when they die little baby die with them.”

Next to Nellie’s was another motherless home—six boys between two and eleven years of age, and a wistful little girl of eight who was struggling with the family washing in a pail when I entered. Two little boys clad simply in ragged shirts many sizes too large sat on the bed and cuddled their knees in an effort to appear fully clothed. The father was preparing dinner—boiled potatoes and tea. Two barrels of cucumbers bubbling and frothing in a garlicy brine stood in a corner.

One boy could not put his foot to the ground—such a hot little foot with a suppurated swelling. “It is nothing,” said the father when I suggested lancing. “That boy tough just same like wolf, run to road on snow, no shoe, no stocking, jump on sleigh, laugh, clap hands, ride to bridge and run back fast like deer.”

“Yes, it is very bad thing for me and for these children that my wife die. Every Sunday I walk, walk, walk to find wife, but these girls no good. They say ‘Too much children, too much work, no like

“Why not marry the widow Melinski?” “That no good for me, she have four children. I go Winnipeg, stay two weeks, hunt wife—no good. I come home, babies all cry, ‘Where is mamma, why you not bring mamma?’ It is great trouble for me that my wife die.”

Not then but later I learned the manner of her death. She was chopping in the bush when she began to be in pain and crept to the house. Nick, her husband, was hauling wood and had just left with a load. At nightfall he returned, and the next day the mother being racked with chills a neighbor was sent for. The neighbor heated a tub of water and the sufferer was seated in it but. gained no relief, and so Annie Oskushnir departed out of this life in the twentyseventh year of her age leaving seven children with her husband and taking with her her youngest born.

And, oh how she would have rejoiced to see rye so tall and thick last summer in the little field her own hands had cleared.

Eventually the children were placed in an institution, and during the year the two youngest, who had probably suffered most, have died. There are so many, many Annie Oskushnirs.

A young man who has taught for a number of years in a New Canadian settlement in Northern Manitoba said to me not long ago, “When will they begin to take thought for these women?” He told me of a fayorite pupil, married at fourteen, dying in childbirth on her fifteenth birthday after three days’ agony. “They sent for me, I don’t know why, perhaps she asked for me. The house had only one room, and I it was full of neighbors coming and going—

even the blacksmith in his leather apron. So long as I live I shall never forget how her eyes implored help. The roads were gone, for the snow was melting, and the nearest nurse or doctor sixty miles away.” And epidemics. Last winter we had I do not know how many cases of scarlet fever. One little girl, who was thought to be fairly convalescent, took cold. She became feverish and her mother carried her outdoors and rocked her for an hour in a temperature of 28 below zero. She was delirious when taken in and died the same

In May measles ran through the settlement and it was necessary to close school for a few days to assist some of the women. One mother who asked for help had been applying cold water to her daughter’s chest. She told me that thirteen of her children had died in infancy and early childhood.

MANY of the Ukrainians and Poles believe that illness and misfortune are caused by witchcraft and the evil eye. Bees are kept at the teacherage and I am sometimes asked for beeswax for medicine. This is how it is used. The wax is melted in a cup, and a pan of cold water is held above the afflicted person’s head. A charm is repeated and the hot wax poured into the water to assume the shape of the creature—perhaps a person or animal— that has caused the trouble. This is supposed to break the spell.

I was one time unfortunate in having my hands infected with poison jvy. A

kind neighbor gathered certain leaves and flowers to be burned and wished me to hold my hands in the smoke while she repeated the magic words. “This,” she said, “is a very heavy medicine. I myself was cured of lameness by it when I was a girl.” Her faith was in no way impaired by the fact that she still limped.

Their customs in maternity cases seem callous, even revolting. There is no preparation on behalf of mother or child, no nest-making or dainty stitchery. New born babies are immersed in water and then rolled up in cotton—very often a flour sack. The arms are bound rigidly

by the sides and the legs stretched straight out and bandaged together. No freedom of the limbs is allowed for seven weeks. Most babies are bottle fed. Some mothers are physically unable to nurse their babies, others do not wish to be interrupted in their work outdoors. Infant mortality is terribly high due to improper feeding.

The girls marry young, sometimes at thirteen, frequently at fourteen. In some parts of Manitoba girls born in this country have grown up and married without the advantage of a day’s schooling or any other influence to modify the customs of their ancestors. It is not easy to realize how isolated some of these communities are. I spent seven months forty-five miles from Winnipeg without seeing a woman who could speak English.

Many of the women have beautiful speaking voices and they have too a fine sense of what is courteous and fitting. One summer day after school I accompanied three of my pupils to their home nearly four miles away. Their mother, a particularly good friend of mine, came from the field to welcome me when she saw me coming. Presently her husband joined us and we sat and talked for half an hour, the children interpreting. Now the Ukrainian woman is above all things hospitable and delights to set before a guest the best she has, but this time food was not offered or even mentioned. Having nothing to give me and knowing that I would understand she did not embarrass herself or me with apologies. The finest lady in the land could not have done better.

I happened to mention Shevchenko, the Ukrainian patriot poet, to an English friend and she exclaimed in surprise, ‘‘Have they poetry?” Most assuredly. Their literature is of a high order and they have no mean history. Though the mass is illiterate no one can deny that there is something inherently noble and splendid in a people who have for hundreds of years maintained their language, their nationality, and their religion in the face of educational handicaps, political oppression and religious persecution r this the Ukrainians have done. The' centuries of serfdom have undoubtedly left their mark,, but treated with understanding and justice, the rising generation in Canada is capable of a great contribution to our national life.

The Red Cross Nursing Station

TN MANITOBA the Red Cross, coA operating with the Department of' Public Health, begins to answer the question, “When will they take thought for these women?” In August a nursing station — one of four in the province—was opened at Reynolds in charge of a nurse' whose duties are wider than those of the Public Health nurse in districts with resident doctors.

“What is your work?” I asked the Reynolds nurse.

"Anything I can do.”

Reynolds station, a six-roomed cottage, stands on a beautifully treed little peninsula in a crook of the Whitemouth river, and one crosses a picturesque bridge to i reach it.

“It is almost bridal, isn’t it?” Miss Red Cross said gaily, opening cupboard doors and displaying pretty dishes, neat silverware and serviceable linen.

One room had a table full of Public Health literature, and scales for weighing babies. A roomy prass held drugs and supplies.

Easy chairs, a deep couch, magazines and a gramophone tempted one to linger ! in the living-room. The next time I looked in the floors had all been freshly painted, and chintz over curtains were blossoming at the windows.

Have you ever heard any one say, “I dread having a trained nurse, they need so much waiting on?” Let me tell you what this nurse does. In the first place without any assistance her home is a shining example of hospitality and good housekeeping. Housework though is a mere trifle to be disposed of before tackling the main business of the day or night—waiting on the sick in their own homes, some-

times tramping seven or eight miles to do

And it isn’t the work but the conditions under which the work is done. There is the G.W.W.D. railway running east and west, and one road over which no automobile has ever passed following the Whitemouth river. For the rest one scrambles through bush and swamp as best one can, but for the nurse there is always a road wherever she is needed. The houses have two or at most three rooms and many of them swarm with fleas. “I had a little time to spare after making my patient comfortable, and I wanted her to know I was interested in cleanliness so I scrubbed her floor.” I shuddered for I had seen that floor. And in all this great area—the eastern part of the Greater Winnipeg Water District, there is no doctor for the simple reason that no doctor could make his salt depending on his fees. The people, upstanding and willing enough, are too poor to make it worth while.

With so many calls to make and such long walks, the nurse necessarily spends little time in her own home, yet one room is fitted for an emergency case, and a number of patients have been received and cared for.

And how the children like to go there. “Miss Red Cross said I was to stay for dinner and she let me help her and after-

ward I washed the dishes.” If you could only see their homes you would know what a great treat this was, and then to he allowed to wash such lovely things and put them away!

“I had cake with brown candy on it, and Miss Red Cross showed me how to make it and I showed my mother,” another one chimes.

At dusk one evening I walked with Miss Red Cross to a house a mile away where a man lay praying for death. “Why must people suffer so?” she said standing at the head of the bed and waving a green branch she had taken from the weary wife. The woman lingered and questioned with her eyes—perhaps the last night, and would the nurse, a stranger to the Ruthenian tongue, know the sick man’s needs. Wise in the ways of pain she stooped and deftly turned him in his bed. The woman nodded and stole from the room to rest that night in the bed she had not known for a week.

A noble work is being done in relieving present pain but the greater task bound up with this is that to which the Department of Education, the Department of Public Health and the Canadian Red Cross in Manitoba have unitedly set themselves—the education of the young in better ways of living.