Aunt Kay’s Memories of Growing up in a Simpler Time

Kathleen Quayle (Sutherland), also known as “Sweet Aunt Kay”

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.” – Oprah Winfrey

     Kathleen Quayle agrees. The Williamstown woman is to celebrate her 90th birthday on Dec. 16.      She is one of 11 kids born to Murdock and Catherine (Mullin) Sutherland on the Northwest Miramichi.   I am privileged to have grown up with my “Sweet Aunt Kay” who taught me a lot about life and a lot about love and faith.  Several years ago, Kay, with just a Grade 3 education, jotted down a bit of her life story and I believe faithful readers of “The Giver” magazine, like her, will enjoy reading highlights about an earlier way of life, where nothing was taken for granted.

“We had to go to school to get the family allowance … I was 14 at the time.”

By Kathleen Quayle

     I was born in Hilltop in a log hut.

     That was our happiest time, or for me, it was as a family. Dad worked in the woods all day. None of us went to school, as it was too far to go. School was out in Sevogle or Trout Brook.

     We trapped mink, weasels and rabbit with traps set by the brook. It was my brother Perley’s job to skin them, but we’d all share the money and Mom would make rabbit stew.

     We would sell the mink and weasel skins and buy our clothes for the winter. We only got 50 cents a pelt, but we could buy a ski suit for $2.50 at that time.  There was also a 50 cent bounty on porcupines back in the ‘40s, because they ate the bark off the pine trees so bad that the trees would die and the Government wanted to save the trees.

     I also remember Dad and Mom would get old King, our white horse, into the wagon or sleigh, and take us out to Minto Harris’s in Sevogle – and out to our grandmother’s nearby, for a visit. Then, we would go to the Sevogle School at Christmas time (it was next door) to see Santa and the Christmas play.

     It would be pretty cold sometimes. I remember Mrs. Minto Harris – Greta McAllister –took the coat off her daughter’s back and gave it to me. She thought I would be cold on the trip back to our cabin, and she told her girl she would send to Eaton’s catalogue and get her a new one. What a heart that woman had! She was so good to us and everyone, a great lady.

     When we got home Dad would get the wood stove going, and sometimes water would be frozen on the table.

     We had to be tough. We were never sick, and there was always a small baby among us. But Mom made nearly all our clothes, and kept us warm.

Our Log Cabin

The Sutherland home, a log hut in Hilltop, where Aunt Kay was born in 1930 and lived until she was 14 years old.

     Our cabin had two bedrooms: Mom and Dad and baby in their room; five of us in the other room, three at the head of the bed and two at the foot of the bed, with lots of toes in your face all night.

     The two older boys slept up in the attic on straw mattresses on the floor, only crawling room up there. But they were happy, not like the young boys now that have everything and are not happy.

     We only had straw mattresses. Mom would make them with 100 pound Robin Hoodflour bags. They were strong with a lot of red and green writing, and Mr. Robin Hood with his read and green hat on, a pretty jolly looking fellow. Mom would take the bags and wash them in Gillis Lye soap she made from beef tallow. Most of the time, she got out nearly all the markings on the bags.

     Mom would ravel out the bags. She knew how to do that. At one end of the bag, she would cut the string and, if you cut the right end, it would ravel right around the whole bag.

     It would take nine or 10 bags to make one mattress. So she would sew them all together and fill them with straw. The straw is an oat plant that has oats on top of it, that men feed their horses with and we make oatmeal out of. Older people know all this stuff, but lots of young people do not. Well, after the oats are taken off the straw by the big machines, only straw is left – a big long piece of grass I will call it. So Mom would fill that big bag with straw and there was the mattress.

    It made a good bed as long as you kept it shook up every morning. When it got old and didn’t keep its shape, out went the straw to the cow stable, or to the pigs, or to whatever needed it.

     Mom would wash the big tick, as we called it, and fill it with new straw. Dad said it was better than tree boughs they used in the woods to make a bed for the men to sleep on.

     For pillows, she did the same thing. After killing her roosters and hens, she would take the feathers off of them, wash the feathers and fill the Robin Hood bags. Those were our pillows, and good ones at that.

     In 1944, Dad and Mom moved out to the George Estey Place, down by the river in Sevogle. We had to go to school to get the family allowance. The Government gave the oldest ones $5 a month and the small ones a lot less. You could only get the allowance, if you went to school. I was 14 at that time.

Kathleen Jennie Sutherland was born Dec. 16, 1930 in Hilltop, NB. She married Perley Quayle, a school principal and farmer from Williamstown, on Sept. 14, 1950. He died in 1975 and Kay was left a young widow. Their only child, Audrey, and her husband, James Whitney, have three children. Kay is also Great-grandmother to six. Kay has led a humble life, working hard and touching lives everywhere with her kindness, generosity, wisdom and faith.

This story was originally printed in the Christmas 2020 Issue of Giv’er Miramichi magazine.


  1. Laura Mcwilliams on January 13, 2022 at 3:36 pm

    I fully enjoyed this story, some of the memories bring me back to the stories my mom and dad told us on how they lived, we called it in the Olden Days, I appreciate the memories, love this story.

  2. Robert Ross on January 10, 2022 at 9:05 am

    I own a 1927 Model T Ford that was purchased from a Sutherland family by Bernie Danby who sold it to me. There may be a connection……just wondering…..?

  3. Lois Wightman Budd on September 23, 2021 at 9:56 am

    My cousin, Catherine was my moms(Mona) half sister. I remember visiting by the river. Thank you for the story.

  4. Patti Lago on September 22, 2021 at 11:49 am

    A lovely story resonating with the beautiful, kind, and hard-working people representing Miramichi. Warms my heart and makes me miss home. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Arlen Curtis on September 22, 2021 at 1:11 am

    What a wonderful story and person Mrs Quayle is and what a great asset to any community. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s and these stories are, oh so familiar!

  6. Tyler MacIntosh on September 21, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    Great Story
    Nothing like Today
    We have it way easier and don’t appreciate it
    People were tough back then
    When I was little visiting New Brunswick I used to think if I ever work as hard as my Grandfather (Eugene Harris I would be proud of Myself

  7. Heather Hachey on September 21, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    I did the tracking on some memories found out that the coat was my mother’s Edith (Parks) Harris

  8. Janice Travis-Mutch on December 14, 2020 at 7:56 pm

    What a lovely, kind and generous lady! On the lighter side, I was at G&G Brothers some years back. I was contemplating about whether or not if I should consider purchasing a spacing saw, as I found using one hard on my back, and wondered if I was too old for the task. I was in my forties at the time. I met Kathleen (who would have been in her early seventies) heading out the door with her son-in-law coming behind carrying a repaired spacing saw. I asked him who used it? He said Kathleen did, but they were really trying to get her to stop using the chainsaw!! I bought a spacing saw! 😄

  9. Wayne Mullin on December 13, 2020 at 5:25 pm

    My parents lived in the old cabin for awhile after they moved out. Mrs Quayle is my father’s half sister’s daughter.

  10. Kathleen Stevens on December 13, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Wow, that family had hardships we will never know and survived. Parents and children both , so amazing. Thank you for sharing part of your life with us. You are a strong and beautiful lady.

  11. Lincoln Keays on December 12, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    Perley Quayle’s grandmother was Elizabeth Thompson Keays. she was the daughter of my great great grandfather, Thomas Keays from his first marriage. Her mother died giving birth to her in 1833 at Trout Brook. Elizabeth died in 1889.

  12. Eileen Girouard on December 12, 2020 at 9:32 pm

    A fine woman who really knows the meaning of hard work. I’ve witnessed her driving a big antique tractor and have picked potatoes and blueberries with her (not nearly as efficient) Her sister Marjorie was a dear friend of mine. I remember stopping in to Marjorie’s one day as she was sitting outside with her hair in curlers. I asked how she was doing. (She would have been around 75). She said “Oh I’m having a lazy day. I piled two tier of wood and I’m all in”. Wonderful women.

  13. Rebecca Stewart on December 12, 2020 at 9:02 pm

    Excellent story by Kathleen’s beloved niece. I’ve been blessed to know Kathleen since the day I was born and have many fine memories of playing with her grandchildren and animals in the barn, fields, apple orchard, spring and surrounding property. I’ve enjoyed many a fine meal over the years in her kitchen, with a crowd at the fancy dining table, sampled her fine rolls, bread, war cake, date squares, pickles, pies and Apple sauce from her orchard. Her work ethic, knowledge about how to get things done and selflessness is second to none. I dearly love this heavenly woman and cherish having her as part of my fine Christian heritage 💗 Happy birthday Kathleen 💗🥳

  14. Linda Sweezey on December 12, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Really enjoyed this story and made me wish my Mom was still living as I know she would have experienced some of this too as I remember her talking about the straw ticks. Thank you so much for sharing your story Mrs. Quayle.

  15. Maureen Smith on December 12, 2020 at 9:26 am

    I loved reading this story. Thank you

  16. Gary Coakley on December 12, 2020 at 12:23 am

    I grew up in Millerton & knew Mrs. Quayle for many years … She is one of the finest women I have ever met ..As is her Daughter Audrey … God Bless her .

  17. Betty Huider on December 11, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Great article.

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