Chapter Four My Mother Agnes Ruxton

My mother Agnes Ruxton was born on July 3, 1860 in Woolwich Township, Waterloo County, Ontario. She married John Skilling when she was about 17 in about 1877. I don’t know the date or the year because they never mentioned their wedding anniversary and I regret that I never questioned them. I do know that all the ladies wore hoops under their skirts at that time.

I remember my mother telling me of the time when it was becoming fashionable for the girls to leave off their hoops. Another girl dared her to go to an event without her hoops, promising to do likewise. My mother took up the dare but the other girl chickened out, much to my mother’s great embarrassment.
My mother’s father was named Andrew[1] Ruxton and her mother was Nancy Smith, a Pennsylvania Dutch girl I am told. She died of cancer before I was born.
My mother was a gentle, sweet, kind woman.  She had been a tailoress before being married and was quite musical. She had a good alto voice and usually sang in Father’s choirs when she was not pregnant or nursing a baby. They had 10 children all born in Teeswater. So you see our dear little mother had little time for anything else but mothering and housekeeping.

Agnes Ruxton Skilling
My mother did not have many conveniences. There was no hydro or indoor plumbing of course, and I remember how the wind would whistle up the holes of what was politely called “the water closet”. We never had a well but got our drinking water from our next door neighbour’s pump. We had a cistern which provided lovely soft rain water for bathing and laundry.
Saturday night was bath night and the wash tub was brought in to the kitchen beside the nice warm wood-burning stove.  There was a copper tank at the back of the wood-stove which, if kept filled with soft water, provided hot water for dishes and the bath. It was usually supplemented with the copper wash boiler which was put on top of the stove. We each took our turn in order of age, beginning with the youngest. Some water was dipped out and some clean water put in after each bather finished.
Bathing was only one ritual of the weekend. Our shoes were also all polished and set out ready for Sunday. Wood and kindling were split and neatly laid out for Sunday morning’s fire. Often the vegetables were prepared and as much work as possible done so that the Sabbath could be religiously kept.
On Sundays no music except hymns could be sung or played. No sports could be indulged in. One activity permitted was taking a walk. In my mid-teens a young man, a student at the university, came home and took his younger two brothers skating on the pond. There was a great hue and cry from all the church members. This was aggravated by the fact that these were the sons of superintendent of the Sunday School who had so gravely sinned by ‘breaking the Sabbath’.
Our family of John and Aggie were taught to respect the Sabbath and to eschew all forms of card playing and dancing. We attended church services at 11 a.m., then Sunday school at 2:30 p.m., and back to the evening service at 7 p.m. Then we often went for a walk depending on the weather or the season. Usually our family would go home, bringing a friend or two, to have a sing-song around the piano. We all sang in harmony, with someone holding the lamp so that whoever was playing could see the music. My brother Orville had a particularly beautiful tenor voice as did Harold. My father and Bill were baritones and Mother, Mae and Gert were alto. Maude and I sang soprano and we certainly all delighted in harmonizing the old gospel songs. Then we went up to bed, carrying a lamp to each of the upstairs bedrooms.

My mother was a peace loving woman. She always seemed to be making excuses for anyone who got into trouble for failing to reach a very high standard of character or behavior. That is not to say she wasn’t high spirited or couldn’t on occasion get very angry, but at the same time, I think of her as the most compassionate person I ever knew. How else could she have kept her sanity while raising 9 children, all so different and all of whom adored her? I do not think I ever heard her say “I love you” but there was no doubt in any of our minds that she did love us all dearly. I recall one day some kids made some insulting remark to me that hurt me greatly. Who it was or what was said has been long forgotten. I do remember as I ran home crying I was thinking: “Well if nobody else likes me, I know that Ma does anyway.”
We never had much money but the thought that we were poor never entered our heads. In fact, at special occasions like Christmas, we always gave to the poor. Our mother kept us well-dressed even though she would have to rip up a thread-bare overcoat and turn the nice new-looking inside to the outside. When our older brothers and sisters outgrew their clothes, we younger ones fell heir to them. I rarely had a brand-new dress, but I was so proud of my sisters’ clothes that I couldn’t wait until they discarded them.
My mother’s sister Emma, whose husband, uncle Alvah Watson was stationmaster for the railroad in Michigan, often sent us a parcel of her used clothing. We received with delight these fine clothes made of beautiful fabrics. Mother would often sit up till long after midnight, with the lamp placed in a strategic position on the treadle sewing machine, in order to have some garment or outfit ready for a special occasion for one of us.
My mother always moved very quickly when chopping things up or rolling out pie crust or kneading bread. Her very large eyes were brown but not dark brown. I suppose you could call them hazel. I often used to see her deep in thought, staring out into the distance with those warm brown eyes wide open and her thoughts far away. She had very long, lovely dark brown almost black hair which she wore in a large coil at the back of her head, called a ‘Psyche’ knot. She often wore it parted in the middle and drawn back in waves over her ears to the back. These waves were achieved by winding the hair back and forth through very large hairpins kept for that purpose. I loved to brush her hair which came down to the choir seat. In those days women considered it an accomplishment to be able to sit on their hair. As she grew older, her hair became streaked with grey but never white. She never had it cut. Rosemary and Ned have inherited hair similar to my mother’s and I like to think mine used to be like hers too.

[1] likely her father was David Ruxton not Andrew

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