by Carolyn Brown *As published in the March 2021 issue of the River Valley Sun
Ahhhhh, what is a century, you might ask other than merely a passage of time. But think, if you will, of living through two world wars, the first pandemic, the Wall Street Crash, the polio epidemic in the early 1950’s and now the second pandemic. Let me introduce Ruth Madeline Cronkhite Caverhill, our eldest resident born May 29th, 1915 to Bessie and Perley Cronkhite, a precious girl growing up with three brothers, Arnold, Allen and Carl. This was a year after the start of the First World War in the community now better known as Lower Southampton. Immediately following the war was the 1918 influenza, (Spanish Flu) epidemic which was prevalent in many military personnel in 1918. At the time, it saw 50 million deaths worldwide with one-third of the world’s population infected and it knew no age. And yet, life in the Cronkhite household continued on while the world responded to a pandemic in much the same way we are doing today. How can that be, you might ask? Given there were no pharmaceutical interventions, guess what? People isolated, quarantined, used good personal hygiene, disinfectants and wore masks while limiting their presence at public gatherings. Ruth has seen this all for a second time!!
She started at the Cronkhite School when 6 years of age and stayed until finishing grade 8. She had her first jobs during these school years, helping out in homes and even learning to milk a jersey cow, she tells us. About the time the Wall Street Crash was ending, Ruth became a relief operator at NB Tel and stayed several years there becoming Chief Operator. That quickly ended when she married her love, Eugene Caverhill on June 13th, 1942. Ruth remarks that If you were married they would not allow you to continue working so with love speaking louder than her job, Ruth walked away. She remarks how times have changed!!
And now there is talk of war. Wanting to serve his country, Eugene enlisted and went to different locations in Ontario for training while Ruth worked at a few different jobs back home waiting for the chance to join him. That finally happened in Woodstock, Ontario, where she worked at the Thomas Organ Company. Then they were off to London, Ontario to a small 2 room apartment they shared with another young couple who remained friends for many years after. Here Ruth worked for General Steele putting a liquid solution on bowls and spoons which hardened in an oven to make an enamel. Sadly during this happy time Eugene received his overseas call and Ruth returned home to Lower Southampton.
Missing Eugene so much, Ruth was determined to remain focused and busy. Working some at her Uncle Burley’s home and store, she was always open to trying something new so journeyed to Montreal with a sister in law to work in an ammunition factory. And what did they do there, you might ask? Well, she filled bullets with TNT arriving at work to dress in a coarse cotton uniform and shoes with no nails in them given the explosiveness of TNT. It was mandatory to shower before leaving the factory every evening. That was draining work and the ladies soon decided to return home and worked for families again in the local area. Her dad and brother Arnold built her a little home which she loved living in as she patiently waited for her Eugene. She stopped working as time got closer to the soldiers returning because she didn’t want to be late for that train!!In November, he arrived and they settled in to living life in their home. The arrival of Peter and Paul 2 years and 2 months later made a perfect world in Ruth’s eyes and filled their home with joy and love.
Interestingly enough, the little house got moved closer the highway by a man from Bristol with a team of horses. Ruth says she has no idea how that could happen but it did and all that was broken was the cover of a little dish. Do we pack things all up for a move today? Maybe there is a lesson here!! It was in this location they watched their two boys grow until Eugene and his brother, Arnold, decided to take over the General Store. The store was the Cronkhite & Caverhill store and sat at the top of the old bridge hill in Lower Southampton. Ruth and Eugene ran the store from 1954 to 1966 while the boys attended school while living above the store. For two weeks every summer, Arnold and his wife ran the store so Ruth and Eugene could vacation with their boys. Although not open on Sundays or evenings, it was not unusual for them to open for someone in need and many have shared fond remembrances of Ruth in the store. When Peter and Paul went to begin UNB and with all the community changes happening, the Caverhills added two bedrooms to their home and enjoyed being “back home”. Eugene helped Arnold with carpentry work and Ruth worked again as a waitress in two places before moving on to the Stedman’s Store. After it burned she moved on to the big new Department store and stayed until “ I finally retired”.
While building homes and working in carpentry, Eugene suffered some health concerns and sadly at the young age of 58, March 29th, 1977 passed away. Ruth says” it was a sad day when he left us and I have missed him so much all these years.” Ruth continued stoically on in life taking great joy in her sons Peter and Paul and their families which include 4 grandchildren, Marissa, Brennan, Bruce and Michael and now 3 great grand – children. She says she always tried to do her part to be a great “ Nana” to them and that she is so thankful at nearly 106 to have been able to see them flourish. She says” if Grampie Gene had lived, what a joy you would have been to him!!”
Ruth is the last surviving member of her immediate family and here she is surviving another pandemic, still with a sparkle in her eye and a quick smile which so many have been blessed with in her many years. We were so pleased here at Ruth’s home, Riverside Court, to have her be the first recipient of the covid vaccine. We look forward to a birthday celebration in May with a very special lady whom we treasure every day, Ruth Caverhill