Harris Nellie (Ellen)

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                                       By Gail Savoy

TABUSINTAC – Memories and laughter flow easily between lifelong friends when they get together. Nellie (Ellen) Harris and Annabelle MacCallum were both born days apart in 1906. The pair recently celebrated their 95th birthdays surrounded by family and friends, McCallum on Sept. 8 and Harris on Sept. 14.

Both Harris and MacCallum live in the Tabusintac Seniors’ Apartments but each summer MacCallum returns to her family home. This is where I conducted the interviews in honor of their milestone birthdays.

MacCallum has one of the best views of the Tabusintac River from her big country house. As Harris and I drove slowly down the lane we could not help but be captured by the beauty on that beautiful autumn morning.

We found MacCallum and her daughter eagerly awaiting our arrival. MacCallum looked quite comfortable and content seated in her big easy chair in the kitchen with the morning sun streaming in the double windows to keep her warm.

Both were a little curious as to why I wanted to interview them. I know them both quite well through a previous career as a housekeeper. I always enjoyed listening to their stories.

I wondered if they had known each other as children because in those days, living in a rural setting, it wouldn’t be uncommon if they hadn’t. To my surprise, they attended church together, as they still do. But they did not go to school together. MacCallum went to the Price Settlement School and Harris went to Robertson School, which were miles apart.

                                Basket socials devilish fun

“As teenagers we had more contact,” said Harris as she went on to describe some of the ‘devilish fun’ they took part including basket socials. “We’d decorate our baskets, fill it with goodies, and do our darndest to get our boyfriends to bid on the baskets we had made,” said Harris adding woe was a poor girl who had to eat with a boy she disliked. With a mischievous grin MacCallum was quick to say she did not take part in this type of thing. I don’t know if she was joking or not.

Dances and sing-songs held at various friends’ homes were always popular, and word of them spread quickly through the community. Harris says a gentleman named Eddie Holmes usually played the violin for the dances. “We danced drills and lancers,” said Harris with a laugh.

                           Boating picnics were another popular summer pastime.

Harris says she was a visitor to MacCallum’s childhood home quite often. “My sister Katherine had her eye on Annabelle’s brother Howard. So you can expect we went there quite often.”

One became au pair, the other a teacher

MacCallum and Harris say they went to school as long as they were allowed. Both went to Chatham to write their Matriculation papers in their first, second, or third year class. This determined if a student was prepared to attend Normal School to become a teacher, go on to nursing or take a business course.

Harris said these were the only three career options a young girl had, besides leaving and go elsewhere for work. She chose leaving in 1925 to live and work in Boston. “My first job was caring for a lawyer’s two little boys.”

MacCallum stayed in school for two more years taking advanced classes, then went on to a one year Normal School course in Fredericton where she obtained her teachers license. Upon her return to Tabusintac she began teaching at the one room Red Pine Island school house.

“I taught all grades,” she said. This continued for seven years as MacCallum taught in whatever school in the area needed her. She said she went to wherever she was hired. “I didn’t know from one year to the next where I would be.”

MacCallum said she loved it. “There were no tough days. They were all great children and I didn’t have to use the strap.”

But MacCallum gave up teaching when she married Eubulas MacCallum. She became a farmer’s wife and raised a family of six children.

In the meantime in Boston, Harris married, had four children, and worked in nursing homes and hospitals as a registered nurse assistant. She was widowed but remarried a few years later. In 1973 she returned to Tabusintac to make her home here but was again widowed in 1984. MacCallum was widowed in 1987.

I asked about what life was like living as young girls during the First World War. Harris says she doesn’t remember suffering any shortages of food or necessary staples. “We never went hungry.” MacCallum says she recalls seeing many of the boys leave to go to war. Her cousin, Hugh Price, was killed in action overseas.

                                     War news scarce

They said news of what was happening in Europe was not instantaneous like the terrorist attack on America was on Sept. 11. “All we had was the Family Herald and the local paper from Chatham once a week for the news,” Harris said.

The two said they did see each other over the years but really became friends again when they became neighbors at the senior’s apartments. This is actually when they realized their birthdays are so close together. Harris has lived in the apartments for eight years and MacCallum for five years.

“Up until now we have been just like a family there, but now we have lost some members,” said MacCallum. “Changes aren’t easy to accept,” said Harris adding, “The ones who were there had to leave because of health reasons. We all knew each other and grew up together.” “You miss them when they go,” MacCallum added.

                                Active life in apartments

Life at the apartments once consisted of card parties, monthly birthday parties, community sing-songs, and daily exercise class. The two wondered aloud if these activities will continue. “You worry when you get new neighbors. What are they going to be like? Will we all get along? Change is never easy to accept,” Harris said.

Despite their worries, the two still enjoy relatively good health. MacCallum uses a walker to get around now after breaking a hip a few years ago. Her eyesight has dimmed but her mind is sharp as a tack. “You know we are really quite lucky,” Harris said. Unfortunately she is now battling throat cancer and is taking radium treatments. She said she beat cancer once before and is determined to do it again.

Many Tabusintac residents are used to seeing Harris zipping around in her little white car. “I know it sounds strange but I feel safe when I’m behind the wheel,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t go far. Just to Tracadie or Neguac.”

                             Faith keeps them strong

The one thing these two women have most in common is their faith in God. “Our faith keeps us strong,” they said in unison. “I live one day at a time and God willing I’ll see more,” said Harris. With her mischievous grin MacCallum added she is too contrary to die.

“Your attitude when you get up in the morning is the biggest thing,” said Harris. “All you have to do is say a little prayer of thankfulness to the Lord and get on with the day.”

Source: Miramichi Leader Weekend – October 19, 2001

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