Like all young couples, Jean and Irving Kaine wanted children but had to wait for five years after their marriage for their first daughter, Doris Marilyn (my mother) to arrive followed two years later by Helen Jean. The girls were born in 1932 and 1934 during the time of the Great Depression in Canada when many people were unemployed and struggling to make a living. Irving had a steady job as a Presbyterian minister and with housing provided by the church was not a wealthy man but managed during those hard times. Jean and Irving grew vegetables in their garden, kept chickens to sustain themselves and were given fresh produce by the congregation. My Aunt Helen told me about the time that Irving and Jean were hosting an important get together for the Presbyterian church officials and Jean was annoyed that the crop of baby chicks that had just arrived were keeping warm on the dining room table of the manse. The chicks were quickly moved to the study where the young girls, Doris and Helen reluctantly spent the duration of the meeting diligently making sure that the little chicks did not smother each other. Raising chickens takes a bit of work!
Doris and Helen spent most of their formative years as the minister’s daughters in the towns of Grimsby and Dunnville on the Niagara Peninsula about an hour and a half west of Toronto. The pictures taken throughout the years of their childhood show two smiling and very well dressed little girls most often in matching outfits and well curled hair complete with ribbons. My aunt Helen recalls that she “dressed like a rich person”! As indicated in previous episodes, Jean always loved the latest fashions!
Of course, the life of a minister’s wife and mother for Jean was not all work and no play. Throughout their life together, Irving and Jean always had a summer cottage to go to for relaxation. I have many fond memories of the times spent at their cottages at Waubaushene on Georgian Bay and Oro Lea Beach on Lake Simcoe. Images that come back to me include fishing from an old wooden rowboat patched with melted paraffin wax; popcorn made in a wire cage popper over the wood stove; an old fashioned drop side toaster that inevitably burned the toast that would then be fed to the shrieking seagulls; the front door flanked by giant patches of sour rhubarb to be both dreaded and savoured; fireflies at dusk and spicy watercress growing beside a brook…
The Kaine’s first cottage was at Rondeau Park near Chatham in southwestern Ontario where Irving grew up. Located on the sandy shores of Lake Erie, Rondeau is actually the second oldest provincial park in Ontario, after Algonquin Park. Irving and Jean would rent out the cottage for part of the summer to be able to afford it but when they were there, Irving was in his glory using the building and cabinet making skills he had learned as a young man to build furniture and make improvements on the very basic structures. He even enlisted Doris and Helen to shingle a roof when they were teenagers. Maybe that explains my aunt Helen’s lifelong fear of heights!
After the girls were born, Jean found the busy life of minister’s wife and mother intensely overwhelming (she called it nervous exhaustion) and needed a break from it all. Maybe the saying is true, “A change is as good as a rest” because, accompanied by a cousin and an elder from the church, Irving and Jean set off after church one Sunday in 1937 on a planned road trip to Florida. Irving must have had the same adventurous spirit as Jean to embark on a journey to the deep South when there were no super highways and tourism to Florida was in it’s infancy. How interesting it must have been for them to feel the tropical heat, see the enchanting Spanish moss festooned over the trees and oranges for the picking. I know that they went to Saint Augustine as I have the tourist book they used with the sights they saw carefully checked off, including the Presbyterian Church of course! Maybe they went to Cypress Gardens as well, one of the first tourist attractions in Florida that had opened in 1936. What I do know for sure is that Irving was entranced with Florida from then on as after many other moves and adventures in the ensuing years, the couple eventually made Florida their home in the 1960’s but that is a story for another time.