A Hamilton Family Story
By Nancy Toldi
It wouldn’t pass Building Code today. The little house I grew up in might be suited for a garage or a shed, but today’s standards and by-laws would not allow it to be inhabited.
But there you have it. My Grandparents, both on their second marriage in the early ‘40’s, had purchased a few acres of land on the then rural Barton Street of Stoney Creek. Surrounded by farmland – sour cherries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and apples – the property would be cleared and a home built by my ‘oh so talented’ grandfather.
Grandpa Jim first built a one room house. No foundation, no plumbing. A basic structure to keep him and Grandma dry and warm while he went to work building their permanent homestead. A well and an outhouse were enough luxuries provided for the time it would take to complete the task.
The land was cleared and the storey and a half home built in time for the arrival of my Aunt in July, 1944. The little one room home would now become their garage.
At this time I should mention that Grandma’s first marriage had produced my dad in 1926 and his younger sister in 1931. To be married, have two children and then divorce must have been scandalous during this period. But Grandma had always been a strong woman and she managed the role of single mother until meeting and marrying Jim.
Fast forward two years….from 1944 to 1946. World War II was over and Mom and Dad had met at 19, fell in love and, in October of 1946 at just 20 years old, they married. Still quite naive and contraception what it was, they were only married one month when Mom discovered she was pregnant.
At that time, the winter of 1946/1947, they were living in a small travel trailer on my maternal grandparents’ property in Winona. Imagine a young couple of today starting out this way!!
It was evident that the trailer wouldn’t suffice for the family that would start in August of 1947, so my Dad’s Mother and Stepfather offered up the garage, aka one room house, complete with outhouse. A starter home for a young couple. A suitable rent would be charged as there would be hydro and property taxes to be paid.
How they managed when my brother arrived I’ll never know. Dad working and Mom tending to a new baby. Not much housework with only one room and the summer months would be bearable but, oh, what the winter must have been like. Putting on a coat, hat and boots to make the trek to the outhouse. No lingering there over the sports section of the paper. Get in, get the job done and get out as quickly as possible.
The well would freeze in the winter months but Mom and Dad were allowed pails of water from the outside tap at my Grandparents’ house. Perpetual camping! This is the world they lived in.
Before I arrived in the summer of 1950, Grandpa Jim had expanded the house. It now boasted two bedrooms at the back with a side door and short hallway connecting the bedrooms and leading to a bathroom (of sorts) at the end. Still no plumbing but at least we had an indoor facility. The toilet had a pipe to vent outside and Dad had to empty the pail at least once a week; the contents emptied into a hole in the back field. This hole was covered with a sheet of plywood.
Again…no apparent by-laws to prohibit this.
The front door led directly into the living room and to the left was the kitchen. A space heater was the only warmth we had in the winter months. It was situated on the inside living room wall that separated living room from kitchen. A pipe vented through the wall, across the kitchen ceiling and out the side of the house.
As we had no bedroom doors. Mom and Dad would hang sheets over both openings. This would keep the warmth in the living area. With no basement or foundation under the house, I can only imagine that the heat would escape through the floor.
I can still remember the cold coming through the linoleum. At bedtime, I’d make a mad dash, lift the sheet and bound into bed, feet barely touching the floor. How long could a family of four continue to live this way? Apparently, longer than you would think.
In the spring of 1957, with Mom and Dad sleeping in one bedroom and my older brother and me in bunk beds in the other bedroom, my younger brother arrived. A Mothers’ Day gift, he was placed in a crib which just fit at the foot of my parents’ bed.
By this time, although still living with no plumbing, sheets hung for bedroom doors in the winter and a family of skunks living under our house, we had a TV! Sunday nights we would huddle around the small screen to watch the Ed Sullivan Show and then, in 1959, Bonanza. Often, my parents’ friends or family would come over to crowd into our tiny living room to watch evening programming. We were the first to buy a TV.
In 1961 my other Grandpa, died. Although divorced from Grandma, he remained in our life and would pay us Sunday visits, sending us out to the glove box in his car for candies. At only 53, my Dad’s father suffered with throat cancer and the last visit I had with him was in the hospital, where he gave my brothers and me some chocolate which had been a gift to him.
I remember my Grandmother crying when he passed. He was the father of her two older children and, although divorced for over 25 years, I guess it still hurt.
My Grandpa had debts. He was under the false assumption that when a person died, their debts died with them. But not so. At 35, my Dad inherited Grandpa’s 1959 Chev BelAir but he also inherited Grandpa’s debts. It took quite some time for my Dad’s pay cheques to be garnisheed until he was free of the money owing.
Mom became pregnant again in 1963 and in February, 1964, my twin brothers arrived. We were busting at the seams. The two older boys now shared the bunk beds. I slept on the couch in the living room and the twins shared a crib in my parents’ bedroom.
By this time, Dad was working for Ford in Oakville and with the desire for a proper home closer to his work, he got a loan for a down payment from his Mother and Stepfather and we moved to Waterdown.