An interesting new accession arrived by email this week from Ray MacDonald, whose mother, Mary Hawley MacDonald Selby, wrote a series of six emails to her grand-daughter in 1999, when she was in her eighties. The emails describe life in Deseronto during the hard years of the 1930s, when the Hawley family moved here from Toronto in the hope of finding seasonal work in the canning factories. Here’s Mary’s description of the struggle to find clothing:

We never bought new clothes, we wore whatever was given to us in other words “hand me downs”. Shoes did not always fit and were worn past “outgrown”. My feet to this day will verify this. When the soles of shoes were worn through Howard would repair them from old shoes. He then learned how to skin the tread from old Tires to make new soles. The men of the family had one decent pair of trousers and a button up sweater to wear for good and hand me downs for work pants. Never had a suit for over ten years. From l930 to 1939 my Aunts sent their outdated clothes to Mother and I, and we tried to update them to wear. In my first year at high school they sent me a new dress, and I wore it all winter. Each week end it was washed and pressed for the next week. Always had to take it off after School to save it. The next winter I had grown and we Cut it down and made a jumper out of it because I had outgrown it.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into a time of struggle: you can read all Mary’s stories on our ‘About Deseronto‘ site. Her brothers, Howard and Rocky, founded the Hawley Brothers furniture company on Main Street, Deseronto, in the 1940s. This successful firm operated until the brothers’ retirement and Mary describes the early years of the company in her emails.

Technical digression

Sharing the stories was something of a technical challenge: Mr MacDonald sent us the printed emails scanned into a PDF file. I had visions of having to re-type all 10 pages in order to turn them into something that I could share on the About Deseronto site. A colleague from the UK gave me some helpful advice. There are two types of PDF files – some are images only and require optical character recognition software in order to convert them into text (my colleague recommended http://www.paperfile.net/). Others are images and text. You can tell whether you’ve got the latter by searching within the PDF file. If you can find words, then it’s image and text. For this type of file (which is what I had), there’s a useful program called pdftotext which will convert the PDF file into a text file. You can get pdftotext as part of the XPDF download. You have to extract the zip file and then run the program from the command line, after navigating to the directory where the pdftotext program is sitting. You run the program by simply typing ‘pdftotext’ followed by the name of the file you need to convert and the name of the text file you want to create. For example: pdftotext myfile.pdf newfile.txt.

Mary Selby died in 2009, so we are very grateful to her son for sharing these emails with us and for giving us permission to share them with a wider audience.

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