FREDA SMITH

Freda Smith – Photo by Bill Trevaskis

 

"I was in love. but for my parents, I'm sure it was devastating. The first daughter to leave home, not only leave home but leave North Haven, leave the state of Maine, leave the country."

My birth name was Freda Rose Mills. I'm now Freda Smith. I was born August 5th, 1930. 

Leta And how long have you lived on North Haven?

Freda All but two years of my life. I lived in Canada from 1949 to 51. I was married in Hillsborough, New Brunswick.

I don't like the water. I don't swim or anything and I don't like it when it's rough. Somebody asked me, “Well how come you live on an island then.” I said, “Because it's the most beautiful place in the world.”

 
 

Well, we had hens and we had pig and we had two cows, usually. My favorite thing was helping to feed the cows and my father rented pasture land, which is across the road from Betty Brown's now and part of it was behind where the store is. And I’d walk the cow up there every morning and walk her back at night and I could milk the cow too.

We drank some milk or used the milk. But we also–well we didn't sell it, we swapped it for Mrs. Quinn, Pauline Quinn, babysat for Alden when my mother started teaching school, when Alden was three years old. So, we gave them milk, traded for care for Alden.  

I wasn't very happy about getting the eggs from the henhouse. But my sister was very good at that. One time we went down to collect the eggs, that one of our chores when we were younger. We could always go down and gather the eggs. And there was a broody hen on the nest and I went and put my hand under her to get the egg and she opened her mouth and went, “Erghhh,” like that. So, I hauled my hand back. My fearless sister, two years younger than me went, grabbed her by the tail feathers, flung her on the floor and gathered the eggs.

Everybody had ration cards. Everybody had to give up a second tire, if they had a car with two spare tires. And everybody was saving string, you didn’t throw away anything. Everything was being saved. Tinfoil, you'd have balls of tinfoil. Old rags, people would come, buy old rags for the war effort. And there was a civil defense warden that came around. We all had to have blackout curtains you couldn't have any light showing at night. So, if they saw any lights coming around the windows, they'd knock on your door.

They took our ferry boat, which wasn't called a ferry, it was just the regular boat that went to the mainland. And so, we had to make do with whatever boat would be available to come over and do our runs. Anyway, they didn't take cars and the boats that we did have, that they took off, only carried one car.

I didn't think much about it, because I, you know it wasn't, I wasn’t grown up enough then. But it didn't seem bad at the time. I mean it wasn't hard because everybody was doing the same thing.

Well, one thing that stands out now is the difference between the summer population and the year-round population. There’s a lot of things that like swimming lessons and tennis, sailing and all that is open to the year-round people as well. And back then, it was either–that was the type of things that the summer kids did and the native kids, well we just played around home most of the time because my father had to work that was his busy work time.

I don’t know if we weren’t allowed. There was like a level, a different level. Not that we were below the summer people, but we worked for them. We didn't feel–we didn't visit or have meals with them. We worked for them. And there was a few of the summer children like, that worked for Elmer Hopkins or like that did, you know, kind of blend in. But there wasn't much blending back then.

Freda (far left) and other Haven's Inn waitresses

I was working at Haven's Inn that summer. And you didn't have to be whatever age you have to be now with a work permit to work. If you could hold up a tray you could work. So, there was three of us that were under 16, under 15 actually. My sister Priscilla, my cousin Corinne Mills, and I worked there.

Haven's Inn, where Freda worked as a teenager

And one night, we went to the movie, it was For Whom the Bell Tolls. I thought, I'll never get up, I had somebody coming in for breakfast, I’ll never get up in time to get to the dining room.

So, I decided, I guess I’d not go to the rest of the movie. So, I left and outside to the barn there standing on the street were these two or three boys and a couple of waitresses. So, I started talking to one, I'd seen him on the wharf. He came in he was on an M10 which is a tow scow originally. He was covered with diesel oil and didn't look very attractive. But I started talking to him and, “What's your name?” I guess I asked first. He said, “Bernard Smith.” And I said, “Where are you from?” Because I knew there was a boat came in to pick up pulp wood to take to Bucksport Mill at the time.

And he said, “Parrsboro, Nova Scotia.” I said, “Well the only one I know of named Bernard is my father and isn't everybody's name Smith and how did I know you that come from Parrsboro, Nova Scotia?” He said, “Well, ask Donny here.” And so, I asked Donny Pace, he said, “Yeah that's right. That's what his name is and that's where he's from. I’m from Truro.”

Bun on Freda's bike

So, next day was Sunday or a couple of days later and they wanted to go for a ride around the island. They didn't have bicycles, so we loaned them our bicycles, Priscilla and I. So, when I got my bicycle back, which was a boys bicycle second-hand with a horn and a light and neither one of the worked. And I got it back, the light worked and the horn worked, so we started seeing each other, of course, he was 20 years old. I wasn't supposed to be going out with any 20-year-old boys, men, whatever. He only came in once in a while. So, after that all summer whenever they were in we'd see each other. And we wrote letters back and forth for four years. It cost him four cents to send a letter to me three cents for me to send a letter to him.

But we were married in Canada in 1949. I was eighteen.  Almost 19. For someone to marry somebody from away and move away, wasn't very common.

Leta So was that hard to do for you?

Freda Not for me I was in love. But for my parents, I'm sure it was devastating. The first daughter to leave home, not only leave home but leave North Haven, leave the state of Maine, leave the country. 

We lived in a little apartment house on main street. Well, it wasn't little it was an old warehouse and we lived upstairs. We had three rooms. We had running water from a facet in the hall.

And there was a woman lived on one side of us in her apartment. Her brother lived the other side of us in his apartment and across the hall was a family of four with two small children. And we all had to have–get water from this one facet in the hall. And we all shared a room with a flush toilet in it. We paid $5 a month for that apartment.

Leta Did you get homesick?

Freda No, everybody said I would. But I said, no, I was too happy. But I did kind of miss my sister Priscilla.

Because we didn't have a telephone. But I wrote every week. I’d ask a lot of questions too. You know, how do you make this? How do you do that? I wasn't very educated about being a housewife.

Freda's high school graduation picture in 1949, the year she left for Canada

I'm the oldest. She was two years younger than me and Alden is eight years younger than me.

Through the years, we were really close. And the last of her years, when she wasn't well and was more or less confined to the house or to bed, we talked every night on the phone. And the last of it, she could do not much but watch television and read. So, I didn’t enjoy reading, but she did. And I said, “Oh, how can you just sit there and just watch television or read books?” And she said, “You know, you can travel all over the world in books.”

And I thought about that because when we were little girls, I don't know if we were two and four or three and five. We [could] hardly wait to get to bed at night, so we could, as we called it, tell stories. And we had twin beds in the same room, close together. So, we'd go to bed and we'd have all these fantasy stories. And pretty soon we'd hear our mother's voice, “Girls, it's getting late you've got to quiet down.” Well, all we heard was quiet down. So, we thought, we'll just whisper, so we whispered, but apparently too loud. So, she said, “Girls, you've got to quiet down and go to sleep. It's getting late.”

So, when I wrote something up for her service, I started it out by telling about our fantasy stories. And I ended up by saying, I thought about what she'd said about you can travel all over the world in reading. And so, I said, it reminded me of two little girls many years before that could hardly wait to get to bed to tell stories.

Freda, Bun and two of their children on North Haven

 
 

Photos courtesy of the Mills & Smith families