Being the oldest of us four kids, my oldest sister Rita often made it a priority to be the first one to rise on many mornings. She made early morning rising a priority for she felt that she had to be the first to check on the farm animals especially when the lambs were being born.
Rita had a love for animals which I believe she retains to this day. She was always there if there were animals to be taken care off. There were many frigid spring mornings when baby lambs would be born in our cold barn. If a mother sheep should reject the lamb or the lamb appeared sick, Rita would have that baby lamb in a cardboard box in our house. The box would be sitting beside the kitchen wood burning stove so that the little lamb would be warm. She would feed a milk mixture from a bottle to many of these lambs until they were strong enough to return to the barn. My father raised a few other animals on our farm for our own use. We usually had a cow or two for the milk, a pig or two for winter’s meat, some chickens for the fresh eggs, and we usually averaged about 20 sheep at any time. The main purpose of having sheep was for their wool.
I clearly remember my mother being the one who sheared our sheep every spring. Mum would lay an old flat door on top of two empty 45-gallon gas drums. Looking back to that period of time, I have to consider Mum to be a pretty tough lady.
Mum would grab a sheep from its pen, lift the sheep onto the flat door and tie its legs together. She then would proceed to shear the wool from the nervous sheep’s body NOT with a pair of clippers, but with a pair of scissors. When the wool was removed, mother would untie the sheep’s legs and lift it back to the ground.
I remember the before and after size of the sheep being quit shocking. I have been informed that she could shear a sheep this way in 35-40 minutes. I would consider that time to be pretty good, especially working with only a pair of scissors. After a period of days when all sheep were sheared, she would take the wool down to the outside well and hand wash it all in a wash tub. Mum would then spread all this wool out on the ground to dry in the sun. Once all the wool was dried and she had it all bagged, she would send it to Condon’s Woolen Mill in Charlottetown via the PEI/Caribou ferry. Here the wool was made into various colored blankets, yarns etc.
This mill would keep a percentage of your wool and in exchange would send you the remainder in whatever you requested; it could be money, woolen products or yarn.
Loraine MacMillan is a Pictou Island lady that I have great respect for and have known all my life. Her memory bank is like that of an encyclopedia. She totally amazes me with the information that she provides me with. Loraine informs me that back in those years, five pounds of wool and $5 got you a real nice woolen blanket. Mum would usually always get a great deal of yarn made from her wool. She used this soft precious wool to knit sweaters, socks and mittens for her family. Mum would spend hours knitting large pure white woolen mitts for my father to wear when fishing the spring lobster season. There was a superstition years ago about wearing any colour other then white when fishing. Any dark colour could mean bad luck. My father, for many years, would wear no other color on his hands when lobster fishing. I as a mater of fact remember having my off colored gloves or mittens thrown overboard and replaced with white ones. I learned quickly about how to acquire a new pair of mittens or gloves. All I had to do was wear a dark colour out in the boat with my father and they would disappear before I got back home.
It appears that hard work was never frowned upon during earlier years. Physical labour was just something that had to be done. I often think about how things have changed in the past 40 years. One can only imagine the changes that will take place over the next 40.
Picture shows mother washing the wool at our outside well on Pictou Island 1959.