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Perfect Mother’s Day gifts last a lifetime

Benson Park Hall - the original Barker homestead known as The Grange

Overcrowding in Picton’s old Mary Street School, in the early1950s, prompted a creative solution for pupils in the grade three classes of Mrs. Coral Gardiner and Miss Eileen McAlpine. We were told that our classrooms would be moved to Benson Park Hall. The initial disappointment we might have felt, following the announcement that we were to study apart from the main student body, quickly disappeared, after our first day in class

Just as its name declared, Benson Park Hall (the original Barker homestead known as The Grange) was located in a park, bordered by a stand of tall pines. While the playground at Mary Street School had been covered in asphalt and boasted the dubious distinction of overlooking the town dump, Benson Hall was surrounded by a grassy playground, complete with swings and slides. Our new “school” also was close to Main Street, Picton Fire Hall and the Market Square. There was activity all around us.

My new teacher, Mrs. Gardiner was a vivacious woman with the gift of instilling enthusiasm in her young students. When we studied the desert, she supervised us in recreating our own small Sahara, right in her classroom. A large, shallow wooden box was placed on a table and filled with sand. We were then encouraged to add cacti, camels, an oasis and other flora and fauna typical of a desert landscape.

A few weeks before Mother’s Day, Mrs. Gardiner announced a special project. Because it was to be a secret, each of us was instructed to tell our parents only that we were required to bring a photograph of ourselves to school. Once these pictures had been obtained, our teacher brought out small saucer- shaped molds. She showed us how to mix Plaster of Paris and helped us to pour it into the molds to harden. Hooks made from loops of wire were embedded in the plaster, during the solidification process..

Once the Plaster of Paris had hardened and the plaster “saucers” had been removed from the molds, we were told to invert them, then paint them in our favourite colour. I chose a cheerful cherry red.

When the paint had dried, Mrs, Gardiner guided each of us in trimming our photographs to fit the flat, painted surfaces of our saucer plaques. Our pictures were then pasted in place to create unique pieces of wall art. Our teacher suggested that they would make perfect Mother’s Day gifts.

Excited at the thought of giving my mother such a fine a present, proudly, I carried it home. It would be my “real” first Mother’s Day gift to her. In previous years, because I was too young to shop, my father had always included my name on the card he purchased to accompany his gift.

Mother expressed genuine delight with her present and, for a time, it hung on our living room wall. A few years later, it found a home in one of my mother’s dressing table drawers, in which she saved special mementoes.

A few weeks after my mother’s death, in the winter of 1997, I began the sad task of sorting through her personal effects. In the drawer of her night table, I discovered the photo plaque I had crafted for her more than 45 years earlier. Although I had given her many, far more impressive gifts through the years, it was this present she had chosen to treasure for a lifetime.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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