Huscroft history, part 4: Reflections on a Huscroft childhood

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In two weeks, hundreds of Huscroft family members are expected to gather at Lister Park to celebrate the family’s 120th anniversary of their ancestors’ arrival in the Creston Valley. In this fourth installment of a look back at the Huscroft’s history, we present some reminisces by John Richard Huscroft, written in 1991 for the 100th anniversary.

I am the first of seven children born to Kate and Ken Huscroft. I was the first grandchild of John and Amy Huscroft and was named after my grandfather. I was born in Creston on the third day of April 1945, a year that also saw the end of the Second World War and the birth of the atomic age.

In the early years we lived in logging camps and a rented house in Kitchener. We moved to Lister in 1950 and I started school there in 1951. Lister was great after the logging camps — school, neighour kids and running water. We still had an outhouse and gas lights at night, but only for a couple of years.

Lister in the fifties was a close-knit farming community and a great place to grow up. Everyone knew each other and, as kids, we were basically “at home” wherever we went. I remember many good people growing up and realize now how lucky we really were.

One of our favourites was “Uncle” Leonard. Leonard and Edith were, of course, my uncle and aunt, but that was really only secondary as they were probably the favourite “aunt” and “uncle” of every kid that grew up in Lister over a 25-year period. Their community involvement, particularly with young people, was legendary and they touched many young lives. Leonard, fully supported by Edith, was often firm and demanding, but always fair and we learned not only how to play sports but also how to work. Because of this, we gained self-respect and inner strength. Looking back, I believe Leonard had a special gift — he made everyone feel special. To Leonard every kid really was special.

Uncle Mick also contributed a great deal to the young people who lived hand-in-hand with Leonard for many years. Mick was a lot younger than Leonard, being a “teenager” till his early thirties when Marlis forced him to grow up. Mick has always had a great sense of humour, as I found out in Grade 7. I was in my first class with Miss Hendrickson (a lady in her fifties known to all as “Spitting Inga”) and she did roll call to which each person answered “present”. When she got to me I was coldly instructed to stand up, which I did. She then asked if I was related to Mick and Bill. I said “yes” and she informed me that I better not be like them and to sit down. Seems old Mick was the one who christened her “Spitting Inga”. Mick was also a champion kite flyer, deadly with a water gun or air rifle among other things that he “bought for his nephews”.

Harry and Aurea Demchuk were another unique and special couple in our Lister days. Although not relatives, they were definitely family, sharing our successes and failures, always available to talk to and both wonderfully kind and patient people.

I remember Uncle Elmer and the great respect he was held in by the family and realize that he, too, was a very special man who it was impossible not to like. His tragic death in 1953 was a real turning point in our family and the beginning of a very difficult period that lasted for several years. During this period, Leonard was crippled by polio and his daughter Penny died, the mill burned down without insurance, several others suffered from illness and great burdens were placed on people such as my father who was in his early thirties at the time.

The year Elmer died, we were afflicted with polio and spent several months under quarantine at home. During this period, Elmer’s widow, Florence, and her two young children, Garth and Monna, were also at our house and Garth had polio but not as severely as Penny and Leonard. Leonard and Edith, with Penny, were in Vancouver for a long time and Burt and Dot stayed with Granny and Grandpa.

Somehow Ken, my father, was able to step into the space left by Elmer’s death and Leonard’s absence and keep everything going at the mill and that flats farm. The medical bill must have been horrendous in those days before Medicare and he already had been paying for my asthma medicine and Gwen’s eye treatments for several years. The financial burdens and sacrifices must have been heartbreaking.

John Henry Huscroft was my grandfather and being the oldest grandchild, I had the privilege of really knowing him. He was a wonderful man and a true pioneer who lived from the days of covered wagon to the space age. He had a wonderful mind that was bright and inquisitive till the day he died. He was strong willed, kind and thoughtful and in the 19 years I knew him I don’t remember him raising his voice to anyone. I also remember that no one questioned his decisions and that he was definitely the family patriarch and not someone to be challenged.

Grandfather was a self-educated man who had acquired many skills and much knowledge and wisdom over his long productive life. He was a blacksmith, a farmer, a logger, a sawmill man and a builder. He was also a wonderful friend and neighbour and a very special man. I spent many happy days at “Huscroft” working alongside Grandpa with tools he made specially for us in his forge (axes, hoes, shovels, etc.). I also remember the stories (fine-tuned over the years) and playing cards. Rummy was serious business for Burt, Warren and I when Grandpa was playing, doubly so when we were winning because wasn’t above a little cheating when necessary (he always let us catch him at it).

Grandpa was also a very wise and understanding man who was wonderful to share your problems with. He was a man of simple, direct words that always dealt with the bare essence of a subject in a way that made the most complex problem seem quite simple and manageable. He loved his family, his garden and telling stories and I am richer for knowing him.

Granny Huscroft was another special person who lived to be well into her nineties. She was a lady who had several tragedies in her life and yet was always up, singing while she worked and totally happy with her being.

Warren, Burt and I spent many days at “Huscroft” when we were young and I have many wonderful memories — training our hair at night to be a pompadour style with skull caps made from old nylons — storytime in the upstairs bedroom, Scruffy the Tugboat and other favourites — the best home-made brown bread and fudge in the world — home-made ice cream — the three of us drinking homemade beer with crackers and cheese while busy knitting under Granny’s eye while watching Gunsmoke on Saturday nights. Granny never missed my birthday in over 40 years and, to the best I know, never missed any other grandchild’s either. I will always miss her pleasant, happy manner.

I am proud of our family heritage and feel privileged to have had such a wonderful time and place to grow up in.

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