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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Mary (Clair) Meraw
Date Posted: October 9/2012
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1900's to 1990's
Mary Clair was born in Ontario on July 17, 1904, the third of six children. They lived on a farm a few miles from the nearest town. Her father heard of the golden opportunities in the west, so in 1913, they bought a homestead at Kerrobert, Saskatchewan. Her brother was old enough then to also lay claim to homestead land. They started farming with three oxen and two horses. They had good gardens and crops to begin with, but in 1924, they had a complete crop failure, so they moved to a farm at Standard, Alberta.
When Mary was young, there was lots of hard work and no conveniences. Her father built a new home on the farm in 1915, but it was lost in a fire in 1916 (along with a new piano). They rebuilt and bought another piano as music and reading were very important to the family. The Clair children all took music lessons. A neighbour on the farm was an English homesteader who taught them piano. He lived with his mother and Mrs. Clair was very adamant the children call him Mr. and his mother Mrs. to show respect for their elders.
The school teacher always boarded with the Clairs. When the children were older they drove to school with a horse and buggy. In bad weather, Mary's father drove them to school. The teacher rode with them.
School was closed after Christmas until March. It was then open all through summer. The Christmas concert was always a big event for the school. Mary loved to recite and act in plays. In their home, the Clairs always had a Christmas tree-not spruce, but a poplar tree from around the slough. They decorated it with green crepe paper and real candles. The candles could only be lit when father was in the room. They made gifts for each other.
There were many box socials at school and the money raised went to buy a school piano. On July 1st, a big picnic was held at the school. Before they could go, the Clair children had to pick rocks. Then in the afternoon at the picnic, there would be races and ball games and food to eat. Home-made ice cream was always on the menu. Ice came from a well on the Clair farm. Mary's father would put straw down on the ice to hold it longer - sometimes from August to September.
As a young person, Mary played tennis and golf, and rode horseback. Groups of young people would ride on Sunday afternoons to neighbouring stampedes. She was active in girl guides as a youngster. After she married, Mary was too busy to do these things, but she joined the I.O.D.E. in 1924, and is still a member. She has also been a member of the C.W.L. since 1920.
One of the children's chores was to bring the cow in from the pasture. They would then have breakfast and walk three miles to school. After school, they brought in wood and coal, gathered eggs and fed the pigs. When they were older they learned to milk. They had good times together as a family.
The Clairs were devout, so every Sunday they drove thirty miles to church by team of horses. They would leave at 5:00 a.m. to get to church by 10:00 a.m. they took turns going to church - one time her mother and two of the children would go, and the next Sunday, her father and two children would go. The younger ones stayed home. The churchgoers would have dinner at an uncle's and then drive home.
When Mary and Harry married and had children, they were very strict about attending church. This is still a tradition with Mary and her married children.
In 1924, Mary left to take a bookkeeping course. She worked for the Bell Shoe Co., learning to fit shoes and ladies' wear. In 1929, she went to Claresholm and worked in a shoe store doing shoe fitting. During this time, she met Harry Meraw, a salesman in the retail business. They married in 1942 at Battleford, Saskatchewan. Harry had opened a business in Wetaskiwin in 1939.
After they were married, they both worked in the store. The first store was in the Compton Block (now French Block). Later they bought across the street from Harry Smith and were there until they sold the business. They employed many local young people (boys and girls), from fifteen to twenty at one time. Mrs. Meraw trained them in business, taught them how to give change and good service. She enjoyed working with young people and the public.
The Meraws built a home in 1944. Harry left the store in the hands of his wife and worked for three months with one builder to build their home. It was ready to move into by August 19, 1944. August 19th was a significant date to the Meraws-Harry had opened his first store on August 19, 1939, and he was to die on August 19, 1980.
The Meraws had one son, Mickey, now working in Calgary for the government, and one daughter living in Lloydminster.
In 1949, Mary's brother drowned while at work in the oilfields and his wife died shortly thereafter. The Meraws took two of the nephews and raised them as their own. They kept the two children's surnames (Clair) as they wanted the boys to maintain their own family ties. The two adopted boys, Hugh and Walter, now live and work in Edmonton.
Mary's mother and father also lived with them. This was wonderful as her mother could watch the children while Mary worked in the store.
Mary Meraw has been a willing volunteer in many organizations in Wetaskiwin. She has a lot of friends and has done many crafts. She knitted and crocheted many items for her grandchildren. She took up ceramics. Many of the lamps and vases in her home are her creations. She did three needlepoint pictures of their house from a snapshot and gave them to her children for Christmas. Mary has a wonderful memory. Her advice is: "Don't marry too young and enjoy your youthful years. When you marry you are tied down and can't do some of the things you would like to do."
Information compiled in 1997.
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