The Jitney Trail railroad was our connection to life itself. Both the hard times and the good times followed this trail and the path wasn’t always a straight one.
My neighbour and dear friend, Mrs. Mina Latham encouraged me during the toughest times of my early life to stay in school. My mother needed me to work and wanted me to stay at my job of clearing the brush for the new railway that was going to follow along the Granton side of the Middle River to the soon-to-be-built Michelin Tire plant. It was 1965 and I was going into grade 11 that September.
I was making money for the first time and it felt good that I was able to help my family. Mom wanted me to stay at the job when September rolled around and my dear neighbour and friend of Sylvester told me I needed to finish school. Education was very important to get anywhere in life, she told me even back in 1965.
After much soul searching I listened to her and went back for my final two years. Two years later in Canada’s centennial year of 1967, I graduated, being the first sibling in my family to complete a high school education. It was quite an achievement back then, especially during the hard times our family encountered in those early years. I don’t regret those 10 years living in Sylvester and was proud to be a part of going to the United Church with Mrs. Latham and her family and then later, to the Salvation Army in Westville. God was calling me for service and I felt His hand upon my life. My spirit was on fire for the Lord and I knew God had set a path for me to follow.
Perhaps it was those earlier days when, with my mother’s help, we conducted Sunday school in the back woods where we lived; the neighbours, the Dunns, the Wilsons and the Whites attended at different times. My mother was very proud of me at the West Pictou High School graduation in June 1967 and so was my friend who had kept encouraging me to complete this phase of my education.
It was at our graduation prom where I had my first date with a classmate from Hopewell named Shirley. I was so shy but decided to have a good time. My mother thought it was sinful to go to dances but I would not allow her to rob me of the happiness I enjoyed that night with my new girlfriend, dancing in the high school gym. Now it was time to leave home for I had found a job at Scott Maritimes Pulp Limited in Abercrombie and found a boarding family in Westville at Bella Oliver’s home. I felt like I was living in a mansion.
Leaving home was an emotional journey and that Saturday morning in early July, I walked along the railway tracks heading to Westville carrying my bag of possessions heading for the new life. I was leaving my younger brothers and sisters at home and my mother; all of these feelings tore at my heart strings. I spent much time in prayer asking for God’s leading and I felt this was God’s decision for my life. I had wondered where my mother had gone earlier that Saturday morning as I started on the next leg of my new journey.
Just on the other side of the the Sylvester bridge, whom did I meet on her way home but my mother! Mom had walked along the tracks into Westville, bought a parting gift for me and tried to get home before I left. We hugged each other and cried. I had turned 18 and was embarking on a new journey, yet I was leaving my mother and family to continue their path. Such love, such sorrow in parting and for the rest of my days I would remember how my mother sacrificed so much for me and for all my siblings to keep us together as a family. The tears still flow at times and there is hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of all she has done for our family. Mom’s faith in God and the inner strength she possessed kept me strong throughout my own struggles and disappointments.
The blessings continue to this day. Our marriage in 1972 laid the foundation to our own home and I had my first teaching job in Middle River (Rocklin) in a one-room school with seven grades. From $200 a month at Scott Maritimes in 1967 to $500 a month as a teacher in 1972, I felt like a millionaire. I could write a book about my two years of experiences in Rocklin with those 26 students from Grades primary to six. Then from there, the path led to Dr. W.A. Macleod School that opened in 1974, to Acadia Street School in 1987, A.G. Baillie School as principal in 1994 to retirement in 2006.
My faith deepened. Our family grew to include our daughter Stacey in 1977, our son Robert in 1981 and our daughter Sarah in 1987. We took up residence in Hopewell in 1979 where we have remained ever since. What tremendous blessings our children have been to us!
I am so thankful to God for helping me to serve Him diligently. It was a promise I made to God back in 1967 that God would have all there was of my life to serve Him. I thank Him especially for my wonderful wife – a powerhouse of faith and strength these past 46 years – our church who helped raise our family, the fellowship we enjoyed and our friends and neighbours who provided us with many blessings down through the years.
The Jitney Trail of faith has led me to this moment in time through the difficulties of losing friends and family, the good times and the challenging times, yet God has proven faithful and I praise Him for the journey.
Where are you in your own journey of faith? The Bible says: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near… and He will have mercy upon him.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Fred Jeffery is a retired school principal and member of the Salvation Army.