Before Tuesday this week, one of the last times Mary Martin and her twin sister Elizabeth ever saw Edith Hastings was on the Holden family farm south of St. Marys on Sept. 3, 1939.
“They loved the day they went out to my father’s farm,” Hastings, 93, said, from her room at Chartwell Anne Hathaway Retirement Residence in Stratford. “Out in the barn on the hay mound, they had a big time out there. They always remembered that.”
One of the reasons it was so memorable is because it was also an historic day in the early phases of the Second World War.
“We went to the barn and saw the pigs and chickens, and the geese in the pond hissed at us,” recalled Martin, 81. “Then we came in for lunch and your dad had his ear to the radio because Britain had just declared war on Germany that day. It was a sad quiet lunch that day, I remember.”
The next day, Mary and Elizabeth started Grade 1, meaning there was less call for Hastings, who had been a babysitter for the girls and their younger sister Margaret. The following April, Edith married Bill Hastings and moved to a big house in Stratford on the corner of Norman and St. Vincent where she lived for 60 years.
“Edith went off to get married and that was it,” Martin said. “Once or twice daddy dropped us at Edith’s house when he went to see his patients in the hospital. We missed you!”
The pair were reunited Tuesday when Martin, who lives in Leaside in Toronto these days, stopped by the Anne Hathaway Retirement Residence in Stratford. She was back in the area this week to attend a high school reunion for students from the 1940s and 1950s hosted at the Stone Willow Inn. After some hugs and gifts were given, Hastings and Martin sat down to catch up, tell stories, and look at old photos.
Hastings showed Martin a photo of herself and the twin girls dressed up to attend a nurses graduation ceremony in Stratford in 1939, shortly before the girls started school. Martin’s parents were Ruth and Robert Latimer. Her father was a well-known doctor in St. Marys who passed away in 1980. “The day of that photo, they were presenting the nurses with flowers on the stage in Stratford, so I had to come with them,” Hastings said.
“I know those hair ribbons, dresses and flowers,” Martin said eyeing up the picture. “We’re all washed and ironed. That’s the hedge at the back door. There was a house next door and then that was the edge of town, on Widder Street.”
Hastings said she could always tell the twins apart. “There just seemed to be something a little stronger about you,” she told Mary. “Whereas Elizabeth always looked a wee bit more delicate to me.”
Martin said her twin sister Elizabeth was always weighed a little less, and was just a little shorter than her – but even so, Martin’s parents always “had me stand on the right in photos so they could tell us apart,” she said. Elizabeth currently lives in Guelph, where she’s lived for 56 years, she said. They both became teachers and have now retired. Their youngest brother Robert, now 76, lives in Owen Sound.
“He was just a little baby when I got married,” said Hastings, whose sister Cora Mitchell still resides in St. Marys.
Now Hastings, who can still walk around her room with some help from a walker, got up to show Martin a photo from her 50th wedding anniversary, which shows her and her husband and three sons smiling proudly. Her oldest son and husband have passed away, but she points to her youngest sons in the photo. “David is 73 and Edward is turning 70,” she said. “My baby.”
A grandmother of eight and great-grandmother to about as many, Hastings said she has a special book to help her keep track of all their birthdays. For her part, Martin said her two sons have given her a combined five grandchildren; all girls.
“No great-grandchildren yet,” she said. “I hope to heck when I’m your age, Edith, I’ll be as good as you.”
Then, after some thought, she asked “were we brats?”
“No, you were cute little girls,” Hastings replied with a laugh. “One time I remember when I was washing the kitchen floor, you got on my back for a ride.”
“I can imagine that,” Martin chuckled.