Trish Summerhayes

Somethings Don’t Change.

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I have just sold my private home care business after spending a lifetime nursing and caring for others. During that time I have also been a wife, a mother and a grandmother. I was a "ban the bomber" in London in the sixties and a part of the back to earth movement of the seventies here on Vancouver Island. These experiences have made me who I am. I am me. I am an Island Woman.

Island women I invite you to read this column written by Nellie McClung, in 1942 during the 2nd world war, and tell me how you felt when you came to the end. I challenge you to tell me that it left you unmoved. The words that came to mind for me are fears, doubts, survival, support of neighbours and friends.

Now we have the same feelings but the battle now is climate change. Let us be aware of the need to pay attention. The years go by but our needs do not change.

Let me hear from you.

Trish Summerhayes.



This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on Sept. 13, 1941.


When September comes, we know we are definitely facing into winter. The few yellow leaves of August, the odd chill wind that makes us say: “It begins to feel like the fall” — these are like the first grey hair of the middle 30s that we are able to accept with composure, but with September half gone we know that winter is coming round the mountain.

Seniors home care, care facilities,RV parks B &B, Churches, Brew pubs, craft breweries, vineyards, distilleries, Pets BC. Seniors 101, Island Voices promoting the products and services available for seniors on Vancouver Island. Seniors 101 lifeline. Snowbirds. Employment. Politics. Vancouver Island Now. Island woman magazine. Around the Island, Newsletters.Today I have been gathering seeds. All year, I look forward to this season when I can put seeds in jars and bottles, complete with name and date. These I use for putting in letters, and sending out at Christmas in little red boxes with silver bells, and I hope they give half as much pleasure to the receiver as they do to me.

And I see I am in good company in this distribution of seeds. General Jan Smuts of South Africa sent 16 packages of grass seed to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt — drought-resistant grass seeds.

There is something fascinating about seeds and the adroit way they have of getting themselves carried away from home. They know if they fall at their mother’s feet they will choke each other to death, so they contrive various means of hitchhiking to “foreign parts.”

Some, like the maple seed and thistledown, have wings and are carried away by the wind; some are bright and edible and so attract the birds who carry them away; some are burrs to catch in sheep’s wool, dog’s hair or people’s clothing and get their ride that way. The valuable ones, knowing we cannot very well do without them, leave it to us to store or ship them.

I noticed the seed of geraniums today. Good gardeners never let their geraniums go to seed, but it is hard to keep up with the spent blossoms, and I was delighted when I saw the little brown sack with its whirl of white thistledown to catch the wind. Lilies have a big seed-pod packed with seeds as neatly as the rolls of nickels and dimes which come in to the banks from the Fifteen Cent Store. We always leave a few pods on ours for the pleasure of looking at this perfect packing.

This year, Vancouver Island is growing many more seeds than usual. One of our neighbours has a field of cauliflower, many thousands of heads, for seed; and a lovely picture they have made in all their stages of development.

Seeds are tricky things, too, and will be up and away, leaving behind an empty pod if you do not gather them at exactly the right time. I often wonder how poppy seed, with the pods opening at the top, can get out so quickly. Sunflower seeds are as honest as their big round flowers. They have no tricks at all. When we want to give the bantams a real treat we get a few heads for them, digging out the first few seeds to give them a start.

Especially favoured by wild canaries, the red sunflowers have to be protected with muslin; but to see a flock of canaries come down from the sky and help themselves always gives my heart a lift and makes me glad we have something that brings us that flutter of golden wings.

This autumn has an urgency in it that I have never felt before. I have always enjoyed the rich abundance of autumn, both here and on the prairies, the harvest haze, the cool nights, the race against frost in Manitoba where we covered the citrons and tomatoes if the thermometer went down to 40 at sundown. This year, there is a new sensation that cannot be described exactly. It is the feeling that nothing must be wasted this year, not an apple must be left on the ground or a berry on the vine.

Death and destruction have come to our world, crops have been burned, food stores destroyed, the good earth scorched, and by the people who love it and have cultivated it by the sweat of their brows and the pain in their aching backs. Liberty to them is sweeter than food, and more to be desired than the labour of their hands. The hard-working Russian people are now added to Hitler’s victims, and the desolated earth cries out in agony.

Perhaps I am growing fanciful, but it does seem to be that I never knew a summer when seeds formed as easily as they have this year. We cut only a few heads of cauliflower when the whole row broke apart and shot up their seed columns. The same is true of other plants, and so it is with flowers — rhododendrons that bloomed in their proper season are now blooming again. Perhaps the call of the scorched earth has sounded around the world and tapped out a call for them to which the plants are responding.

Whether the plants know what has happened to their brothers in Europe or not, one thing is certain. We know about the bare cupboards in the robbed countries. We know that the grim shadow of famine walks in the places where once happy people joyously gathered in their harvests. Greece, gallant Greece, is starving for wheat, and the plight of all the conquered people grows desperate with the approaching winter.

Reports of crop reduction in Canada fill me with anxious dread. Surely this is the wrong time to reduce acreage, with a whole continent threatened with starvation. There are reasons for crop reduction, but they are all short-range, narrow-gauge reasons, municipal rather than national reasons.

I know farmers must live; I know about food surpluses caused by the closing of foreign markets and the scarcity of shipping space. I know about glutted markets and low prices; I was raised on low-priced wheat, some of it frozen, too (I can see the “runny” dough still — something like wet cornstarch). I also know that this hemisphere will have to save the people of Europe if they are going to be saved.

Mr. Churchill spoke of the deep pit into which the people of the conquered countries have fallen and out of which they cannot climb alone. We, in Canada, should be the first to volunteer to help these people with everything we have. It will cost money, it will raise the tax rate — but what of that? None of us will have any money when this war is over, but I hope to see here in Canada miles of elevators full of wheat, ready to be given to the people of Europe when the great day comes and ships can sail the sea in safety to any port.

Many stimulating words are spoken on the radio and written in the papers these days. We are pretty dull clods if we are not moved by them, but let us be careful to turn every emotion into action. Right away, before our good impulse cools! Mr. Churchill’s speeches rally us as the fiery cross called the Highlanders to arms, but it is not enough to feel patriotic. It is not enough to grow rapturous and dewy-eyed over the bravery of the British people.

I want to mention again John Groom’s Crippleage in London, which still carries on in spite of shrieking shell and devastating bomb. I am proud to belong to a country that does not forget its handicapped children in wartime. I have just had a letter from Groom and a report of the institution, and in it I read that the spending money of the children is one penny a week, but “owing to the curtailment of revenue, that fund may suffer.”

I thank my readers for the help they sent to this most worthy institution when I wrote about it, some weeks ago. I cannot believe that these little ones will look in vain for their weekly stipend — the address is “John Groom’s Crippleage, 37 Sekfords Street, London, E.C. 1.”

Some of McClung’s columns from the 1930s and 1940s have been collected in a book, The Valiant Nellie McClung: Selected Writings by Canada’s Most Famous Suffragist, by Barbara Smith.

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