Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fergus and Frank: Part 1, Meeting and Marriage

The son of Charles and Emily O'Connor of Long Point Farm was Fergus Joseph, born on April 1, 1879, Easter Sunday. As Fergus' second son and namesake wrote of him: "It's hard to describe a man with such integrity of character. He was the perfect son to his parents -- the brother to his only sister and complete support to his family." (Dr. Fergus James O'Connor, Because You asked For It) He was my great grandfather, whose house in Kingston, Ontario I visited often as a small child. He was by then a respected physician and the patriarch of a growing clan. But we were always driven past the old farm house where he grew up, with the stone school house built by old Daniel directly across the road. We would watch for Aunt Ellen’s crumbling house and the “Saddle Rock,” a huge boulder with a stone saddle on the top, as if it had been carved. My great grandfather, his sister Madeline, and all of his children climbed and played on Saddle Rock. It is still there, but hidden by trees.
Fergus was an only child until he was about twelve, and there were very few boys his own age nearby. As a small child he had an imaginary friend called “George.” George “died” as Fergus grew and met other children at school, such as little Joe Bevins from the farm down the road, who became a lifelong friend. Fergus loved horses and wanted to become a jockey, for which he was suited due to his stocky stature. His mother, however, encouraged him to seek as much education as possible. He went to high school in Athens, Ontario, and then went to the “Normal School” for teachers' training in Ottawa. It was around that time that he decided to study medicine.
His father had wanted Fergus to help him maintain the homestead, but accepted his decision to become a doctor. He taught school to earn his tuition for medical school at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. In his third year, he missed classes the first term because his funds had run out and he had to teach school again to make more money, but his roommate took notes for him, so he was able to pass anyway. He did not have much recreation, and only went to one football game all the time he was at Queen's.
In the summer of 1902, when Fergus first registered at Queen’s he rode his bicycle the 32 miles into Kingston. After finishing his business at the university, he became lost. He drove past three young ladies playing croquet on the front lawn and asked them for directions. One of them was Frances Keating.
Frances Margaret Keating was of Norman-Irish stock on her father’s side; her mother was Sara O’Neill. Patrick Keating had come from Ireland to Canada at the age of twelve in the 1840’s.The good people who had sponsored his immigration also paid for him to be trained as an accountant. He made extra money herding the cows of wealthy Kingston residents to a pasture on the city outskirts. Eventually, he bought the pasture and leased it from season to season. He had to face a great deal of prejudice but his kindness and nobility of heart won over many. He married in 1869, had a son James and two daughters, Jane and Mary. Frances was born in 1877. While Frances was away in 1895, either going to school or teaching school, tuberculosis struck her family. Because of the contagiousness of the disease, she was not allowed to return home. Her sisters and her mother died, with her father following a few years later. By 1899, she had no one left but her brother Jim.
I have often speculated how traumatic it was for my great grandmother, not to be able to go home when her family needed her, and then to find most of them dead. She earned her living by teaching school, residing most of the time with her Aunt Kate, who could be difficult, my grandmother told me. Frances had light brown hair, large beautiful blue eyes, and an aquiline nose which she said came from the Romans. She was cultured, gentle, and refined but practical and down-to-earth, too. Her friends and relatives called her “Frank.”
Fergus and Frank did not see each other again for two years until they met at the wake of a mutual acquaintance. They must have seen each other on and off for the next three years while Fergus was finishing medical school and his internship. In 1906 he became the first intern at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston. Sometime during that period it seems he lost his heart to a Protestant girl named Sadie Bryan, but because of the religious differences they could not get married. “Too bad Sadie Bryan is not a Catholic," his father Charles jotted down in his journal that same year.
Then in early July, 1907, Fergus brought Frank home to Long Point farm. As Charles recorded: “Fergus comes home today and brings Miss Keating with him. She seems so much older than him. Emily and Madeline like her but I can’t say I do.” When the couple announced their engagement at the end of the July, the distraught father wrote: “Miss Keating stays here. I am very depressed and sad. Emily scolded me for not being friendly to Miss Keating.” On August 11, 1907, Charles’ entry reads: “Fergus and Miss Keating decide to marry in Sept. I am in a bad mood. Can’t get used to this girl as Fergus’ wife. Emily gets out of patience with me.”
Why did Charles not like Frank? Was she too prim and proper? Or did he know in his heart that his son loved someone else? I wonder. At any rate, Fergus and Frank were married at the dawn Mass at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kingston on September 3, 1907. The Mass was followed by a simple wedding breakfast. Fergus' bride was a fervent Catholic who would make a wonderful doctor's wife, as well as creating an elegant home. The new Dr. and Mrs. O’Connor moved to Gananoque in the Thousand Islands area where Fergus had set up a practice and was building a house. A new epoch had begun.


Anonymous said...

More, more these stories back in time are so wonderful. I feel as though I were living it with them. God Bless them. SST

Anonymous said...

It is very good and I am looking forward to your next chapter.

Love Uncle Jim

Anonymous said...

Hi E.M.V.,

There is a grammatical error in the paragraph beginning "Then in July 1907Fergus brought Frank.........." In the sentence "She seems so much older than HE (not "him").

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I know, dear, but it is a direct quote from a journal and I cannot change it. Thanks anyway!