What is this North of 7 vegetation?

Round bush closeup

Okay, people: tell me about this peculiar round bush. What is it?

There a distinct feature of the landscape around Queensborough and many other parts of this North-of-7 country that puzzled me when I was a little kid growing up here, and still puzzles me to this day.

It is the round, flattish bushes that one sees growing up in places where the soil is thin and the Canadian Shield rock underneath generally quite visible. Sometimes you see whole big areas where dozens of the bushes are growing:

Hillside of round bushes

As far as I know you do not see these bushes in areas to the south, where the soil is deep and rich.

So here is my question: what are they?

A local musical blast from the country-singin’ past

The Singing Post FamilyPeople, do the words “The Singing Post Family” mean anything to you?

The Posts were a family country-music band quite well-known and popular in the Hastings County area (where I grew up at the Manse in Queensborough) back in the late 1960s and 1970s. (How far into the ’70s, or beyond, the band kept going, I’m afraid I do not know.) But only recently did I discover the probable reason for their popularity in this region: it was because they were from here. The album cover of a vinyl treasure that I found at the Madoc Thrift Shop (source of many treasures, in my experience), called simply The Singing Post Family, says they are from neighbouring Prince Edward County. A quick internet search narrowed that down to the village of Carrying Place. (If you’re interested, Carrying Place got its unusual name because it was the place of a long portage for the First Nations people who first lived and moved through the area. You can read more about that here.)

Because they were local performers, the Posts were doubtless regulars on the regional country-music circuit (fall fairs and jamborees), which in turn would explain why they were “names” to residents of this area. But I actually think their fame may have spread further, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might know more about that.

The Singing Post Family, back cover

The back cover of the LP The Singing Post Family. (Note how a fan in the household of its previous owner doodled the singers’ names. Cute!)

Anyway, in the great tradition of family groups – the Carter Family, the Jackson 5 and of course the Partridge Family (Hahaha! Just pulling your leg) – the Posts were a real family band: Dad Norman, daughters Joanne and Debra, and son Kenneth. The record that I found at the thrift shop – which appears to be their first, given its eponymous title – unfortunately has no date anywhere on it, but the album cover says that they “started singing country music as a family in 1967,” so it has to be at least a year or two later than that. At the time of the record, again according to the album cover, Joanne was 17, Debra 13 and Kenneth 7.

Here is the only song by the Post Family that I could find on YouTube. It’s not a song I know, and I don’t find it as interesting as the tracks on the album that I dug out at the thrift shop, but it’ll give you an idea of what they sound like:

I was tickled to death to find my Singing Post Family album. It wasn’t in great shape, but given that I paid something like a quarter for it, so what? It was the memories that it brought back that mattered – and boy did it bring back memories! This baby has a whole bunch of classic country tunes on it. They’re all (as far as I can tell) covers of songs that much bigger stars first recorded, but the Posts definitely have that old-timey country twang, and I have to say they lend the right spirit to material like D-I-V-O-R-C-E (made monstrously famous by Tammy Wynette, of course), Green Green Grass of Home (sung by everybody back in the day, like some other songs I wrote about here, but quite famously by Merle Haggard), and Daddy Sang Bass, which Johnny Cash and the Carter Sisters were known for.

Some of the other titles on the track list were not immediately familiar to me, but once I put the record on for a spin (yes, people, Raymond and I actually have a record player; would you have expected any less from such collectors of vintage stuff?), it all came hurtling back to me, WHAM! Man, did I know those songs! Songs like:

If you don’t love me, baby
If you’re not satisfied
If you don’t care, get on your horse
And ride, ride, ride.
– Ride Ride Ride, made famous by Lynn Anderson

Don’t it make you wanna go home now?
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
All God’s children get weary when they roam;
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
– Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home, recorded by its writer, Joe South (who also wrote Games People Play – remember that one?), and Bobby Bare, among others

Her two little feet would come running into
Our bedroom almost every night.
Her soft little face would be wet from her tears
And her little heart pounding with fright.
She’d hold out her arms, then she’d climb in beside us
In her small voice, we’d hear her remark,
“Mommy and Daddy, can I sleep here with you?
‘Cause Jeannie’s afraid of the dark.”
– Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark, written by the brilliant Dolly Parton and first recorded by Parton and Porter Waggoner

There’s a whole lotta people lookin’ down their noses at me
‘Cause I didn’t come from a wealthy family.
There was ten of us livin’ in a two-room shack
On the banks of the river by the railroad track.
We kept chickens in a pen in the back, and everybody said we was po’ folks.
– Po’ Folks, made famous by Bill Anderson

(Here is a fun little dissection of the Posts’ version of that last one, by blogger Graham at The Vinyl Resolution [thevinylresolution.blogspot.ca], who, like me came across their record by happenstance.)

Anyway, now I’m not sure whether I recognized those songs, and others like them on The Singing Post Family, because of the original versions that would have been on the radio and on other people’s LPs and singles back in my childhood – or because of the local renown and well-known repertoire of the Singing Post Family.

Whatever, I have to reiterate that Norman, Joanne, Debra (I think she was known locally by the familiar Debbie) and Kenneth (ditto: Kenny) had a great old-fashioned, down-home country sound, and I think they totally deserved whatever fame they found, locally or further afield. Their music sounds thoroughly retro to the modern ear. But hey – what’s wrong with that?

Death, anger and grief in the world of nature

Robin

(Photo from the outstanding Canadian wildlife-photo blog frametoframe.ca)

Recently Raymond and I were looking after some cats for Queensborough friends who were away on a trip. Not catsitting or anything; just checking in on the cats every day at their home, making sure their food and water supply was good, cleaning the littterbox when needed, and giving them some quality human-affection time. (Since they are lovely and friendly cats, and we love cats anyway, this was a very pleasant chore. Okay, except maybe for the litterbox part.)

Anyway, this evening I want to tell you a little story about something that happened on one of those cat-tending days. It was a poignant little interlude, and one that really opened my eyes about how things can be in the natural world. And also something that, I am sure, would never have happened to us in our previous big-city life.

Raymond was doing the cat-visiting duties on that particular evening, and the first order of business was to put back into the house for the night the one cat who spends his days out of doors. (Don’t worry! His shots are up to date and he, like the other cats in the household, has been neutered. So he doesn’t risk either rabies or progeny on his outdoor visits.)

This normally routine and brief task was seriously interrupted by a loud cacophony of birds. As Raymond looked up during his walk from the driveway to the front door, he saw two robins who were looking directly and him and shrieking. Non-stop. And looking down, he saw … a dead robin. Not a baby, but not too big. And clearly the robin had only just been killed – by Mr. Outdoor Cat himself, who doubtless (being innately a hunter, as all cats are) was feeling pretty proud of himself, though his air was matter-of-fact.

Suddenly the robins, clearly enraged at their loss, started dive-bombing both the cat and his minder. Seriously! Still shrieking at top volume! Raymond hurriedly put the cat inside, and grabbed a broom for protection on his way back out of the house. And that’s when he noticed that one of the birds, which had been holding a worm in its mouth when he went into the house, was still holding the worm in its mouth, even as it shrieked and dived. It seemed a pretty clear message:

“I was just about to feed my little one – and that monster killed it!
Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

How often do we stop and think that creatures in the world around us might have feelings, just like we do? That for every raccoon or chipmunk or turtle killed by cars on the roadway, for every bird killed by a cat or stolen from the nest by a predator bird, there are family members – mates, parents, maybe offspring – who, in their own way, feel the anger and sadness that we humans do when suddenly bereft?

Interestingly, the robin incident happened on a Sunday evening. That same morning, the gospel reading in church at St. Andrew’s United was Matthew 10:24-39, which contains the verse “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” It’s the text on which the old children’s hymn that you might have sung in Sunday school is based: “God sees the little sparrow fall;/it meets his tender view./If God so loves the little birds/I know he loves me too.”

The very visible and audible grief of the robins made me think of that verse and that hymn; and Raymond and I joined them in mourning for their poor fallen little bird.

Singing nuns and Joy is like the Rain: can you hum a few bars?

Joy is like the Rain

All right, I realize that interest in my topic this evening might be limited to a certain demographic; but given the size of the boomer generation, I suspect that it’s a fairly large demographic. People, hands up if you can hum Joy is like the Rain! Or if the words “Medical Mission Sisters” mean anything to you! I am willing to bet that if you grew up in North America in a middle-class white anglo-saxon Protestant, or white anglo-saxon Roman Catholic, household in the 1960s and 1970s, and if your family darkened a church door at least once in a while, then you know what I’m talking about. So in this evening’s post I’m going to take you on a walk through post-Vatican-II-folk-mass-singing-nun territory. Ready?

Okay, so: the Medical Mission Sisters are, as you might imagine from their name, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who work in the health-care field. But in the mid-1960s, in the heady days after Vatican II, one of their members, Sister Miriam Therese Winter, started writing songs, and somehow or other the Medical Mission Sisters singing those songs got an album recorded. Sister Miriam Therese was a prolific songwriter with a knack for a catchy tune and a way of turning Bible stories into rhyme. The Sisters’ biggest hit was also the name of their first album, 1966’s Joy is like the Rain, and if you are, as I mentioned earlier, of a certain age and background, you surely will know or at least recognize it. But in case you don’t, here it is, a blast from the folk-mass past:

In the world that I grew up in, at the Manse in Queensborough, Ont., that song was huge. We sang it in Sunday School. We sang it in choirs. We sang it in school. Public school! (Those were the innocent days when songs with a Christian theme – and yes, I am of course including Christmas carols like Silent Night and Away in a Manger – were actually sung in public schools. Not that I am complaining for one second about the fact that schools are more multicultural now, though I wish that different religious traditions were talked about occasionally at school rather than the whole public-education experience being a big secular bloblike affair. But I digress.)

One thing I find interesting about Joy is like the Rain, listening to it again all these years later, is that it’s not till the final verse that there’s any mention of anything remotely religious – “I saw Christ in wind and thunder; joy is tried by storm.” Until that, it’s all about – well, the nature of joy. I wonder if the fact that it took a long while to get to its religious message (and even then the message was thoroughly painless, even for nonbelievers) was one reason the song was such a big hit.

In poking around the internet looking for information about the Medical Mission Sisters’ midcentury pop-music recording career and Sister Miriam Therese Winter, I discovered (a bit to my relief) that I am far from the only person who remembers them fondly. Here is a very interesting article from 2012 about plans (I don’t know if they came to fruition, but I hope they did) to record a series of CDs, with well-known singers participating, paying tribute to the songs of the Medical Mission Sisters. (The article also has lots of good backgorund information about the Sisters and their songs.)

When I was growing up in the era of the Medical Mission Sisters, my own family’s house – that would of course be the Manse, where I now live once again with the ever-patient Raymond – we had quite a few, perhaps all, of the Medical Mission Sisters’ records. Joy is like the Rain was, obviously, one of them, but here is another that got played many hundreds of times:

Knock Knock

The title song (which, sadly, I was unable to find a recording of on YouTube, but which I could sing for you at the drop of a hat – not that I actually would, of course) is based on the parable about knocking at the door of a neighbour at a late hour, bugging him because you need to borrow food to feed an unexpected visitor. (The moral of the parable is to be persistent with God.) It’s pretty darn catchy, I have to say. And what I also have to say is that I could sing probably any Medical Mission Sisters song for you at the drop of a hat. (Again, not that I would. I’m a terrible singer.) Those songs were such a great way of delivering good old yarns from the Bible. Sister Miriam Therese was kind of a genius.

Before leaving the subject, I want to give you a couple of examples. You can find a fair number of the Sisters’ songs on YouTube, but I have my own personal favourites. This first is one that we sang in school (yes, in public school) and also in Sunday School at St. Andrew’s United Church many and many a time. I fondly remember the late Jean Bailey of the hamlet of Cooper, a wonderful pianist, who often accompanied this one and played it fervently and brilliantly. It’s the parable of the wedding banquet, wherein we are all invited to come for an eternal whale of a time and most of us turn up our noses at it, leaving space for the poor and forgotten. (And let that be a lesson to you!) Here goes: “Pray hold me excused, I cannot come…”:

And here is the one that I think is my personal favourite, because it’s beautiful and uplifting and has a nice 1960s folk vibe to it and … well, all of that:

So yeah, thank you, Sister Miriam Therese and the Medical Mission Sisters, for reminding us musically that

When you walk in love with the wind on your wing
And cover the earth with the songs you sing
The miles fly by.

Let’s bring back that flagstone walkway

The old footpath

Do you see those roundish dents in the Manse’s front lawn? They are its way of telling me, “The old flagstones are under here – dig them up and put them on show again!”

If you looked closely at the old photo from 1965 that I featured at the top of last night’s post, you might have noticed the flagstone walkway that ran from the front porch of the Manse down to a gate in the fence that surrounded the yard at that time. In case you failed to do a visual-memorization exercise with the photo, here it is again:

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

I’ve written before about how I would like to have that flagstone walkway (and funky old gate and fence) once again. And the thing is, I am quite certain the walkway is still there – it’s just buried under some sod and grass. I even discovered one of the old stones one memorable day. This summer in particular, the indentations in the front lawn where the flagstones used to be are more noticeable than they have been (to me, at least) in the previous two summers since Raymond and I bought the Manse. I’m pretty sure that under each of those indentations is a small flagstone.

It’s like they’re sending me a message: Get on this project, Katherine!

A story that began exactly 50 years ago – and continues

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

This is the earliest photo I have of the Manse. It was not taken in 1964, the year my family arrived here, but a year later – June 6, 1965, according to my mum‘s handwriting on the back. That’s me on the right and my sister, Melanie, at the front gate that used to be here. The date is significant because it would have been Melanie’s third birthday, and it was also (again according to my mum’s notation) her first day at Sunday School at St. Andrew’s United Church. Scroll down for a 50-years-later version of the same scene.

I feel I must not let July 2014 slip away without mentioning that it has a very special significance for me. You see, it was 50 years ago this month – in July 1964 – that my family – my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, my mum, Lorna, and my younger siblings Melanie and John (Ken, the youngest in our family, wasn’t yet born) – came to live at the Manse in beautiful little Queensborough, Ont.

We came here because Dad, newly ordained as a minister of the United Church of Canada, was taking up duties at his first pastoral charge, which included the churches in Queensborough, Hazzard’s Corners and Cooper. (You can take a little tour of that pastoral charge with me here.)

I don’t think I remember the day we first pulled up in the driveway in Dad’s 1956 Chev. (I was, after all, only four years old.) My mum remembers it vividly because pretty much the first thing that happened when we got out of the car was Will Holmes, who lived across the street, calling out to us with a warning: “Don’t drink the water!” (The water in the well at the Manse at that time was not potable, which meant we had to carry our drinking water in buckets from a community pump up at the schoolhouse. You can imagine what happy news this was to a mother of three children aged 4, 2 and 4 months.)

I don’t know what was the exact date of our arrival in July 1964. However, I assume it must have been around the middle of the month, because I have Dad’s sermons from 1964 and the very first one is dated July 19.

I read through that sermon the other day, sitting on the front porch of the same Manse that my family arrived at all those years ago. It is a good sermon; Dad’s sermons were always good. His text was from Mark 6:34, which is in the story of the feeding of the 5,000: “(Jesus) had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he had much to teach them.”

Dad did a good job in the sermon of explaining how lost, confused and helpless a flock of sheep is when their shepherd – the person who lives with them and whose call they know, the one person whom they will trust and follow – is suddenly not there. I confess I’d never really thought about that before. Obviously that was only a small part of his overall sermon, but it stuck with me.

As did one other thing, a phrase that I found really striking. Dad was talking about “the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God,” and saying how we, like the crowds who flocked to Jesus in the story from Mark’s gospel, often can’t say exactly what it is we are looking for: “There is some help, some guidance, some teaching we all lack even if we cannot put our finger on our particular need.” He goes on: “Underneath all our surface needs is the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God. Jesus understood that need of man to reach out to God, the need of the finite to touch the infinite.” (Italics mine)

“The need of the finite to touch the infinite” – it’s a beautiful and profound turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Anyway, aside from the thought-provoking content of my father’s first sermon as a young minister: isn’t it something that exactly 50 years later I am able to read and reflect on that sermon in the very same house in which he wrote it? I feel very fortunate – perhaps blessed is a better word – to be living in the handsome old Manse once again. And to be here with Raymond, who is the best (and most patient) husband ever.

In fact, I am going to show you a photo of Raymond and me that pays tribute to that full-circle thing. Remember Melanie and me at the front gate? Well, here are the current occupants. Same place – and a half-century later on.

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

Same place and one of the same people (me) as in the photo at top – half a century later. (Photo by Ed Couperus)

We failed to buy this hi-fi. Was that a terrible mistake?

The hi-fi we failed to buy

This restored 1970s Electrohome hi-fi, complete with totally unnecessary wooden cabinet, was practically the first thing I clapped eyes on during my latest excursion to an antique warehouse. We didn’t by it. Should we have?

Remember how yesterday I directed you (thanks to having been steered that way myself by reader Bob McKeown) to a Facebook group about growing up in Peterborough, Ont., in the 1970s (and, less importantly in my view, the 1980s)? Well, if you’ve forgotten, or didn’t see that post, it’s here. And if you check it out, or remember from when you did, you’ll know that one of the cool photos I found on the Facebook feed was of a vintage hi-fi set. You know – the kind with the tinny electronic apparatus built into a great big (and utterly unnecessary, as we learned in the later 1970s when we freed ourselves from such units) wooden cabinet that housed the large but tinny speakers. Every household had one, once upon a time.

Including, of course, the Manse! I wrote here (with a trace of nostalgia) about the Sedgwick family’s midcentury stereo, which as it happens was purchased from Pigden Electronics of downtown Madoc.

Well. Just think what Raymond and I came across for sale not long ago! Yes, you guessed it: it’s the hi-fi unit that you see in the photo at the top of this post. It was practically the first thing I found on our latest foray (we tend to get there at least once a year) to the wonderful Stratford Antique Warehouse in Stratford, Ont. My jaw dropped, not only with happy recognition but also at the price: a mere $150 for the unit in full working condition!

Hi-fi interior

Does that bring back memories or what?

Still: did we need it? Of course not. Would it be incredibly awkward, maybe impossible, to get home in our little Toyota? Indeed. We decided to take a pass. We left the store.

And went for lunch. And got talking about it. And then got talking some more. With the result that after lunch, we headed back to the Stratford Antique Warehouse.

Hi-fi label

A Deilcraft cabinet for the Electrohome stereo – I am 99.9% certain that that’s the same make as the hi-fi my family had at the Manse back in my childhood. Gulp.

You know, we got as far as measuring the hi-fi, and calculating ways to get it into, or on top of, the car. Raymond was even in the process of sorting through his impressive collection of bungee cords. But in the end, something stopped us.

It wasn’t the transportation problem. It wasn’t the price. (Lord knows $150 seems pretty reasonable for a piece like that.) It was the fact that something seemed a little bit off with the metal cylinder over which you place the hole in the record. Remember how those cylinders were maybe four or five inches high, and you could stack a whole pile of record on them, and they’d drop and play one at a time? That was how you did party music in those days – the 1960s/’70s equivalent of the iPod playlist. Man, I hadn’t thought of that in years and years!

But now that I had, I wanted the ability to re-create that vintage entertainment setup in my own home (which would be the Manse). And on this hi-fi, the cylinder was just a little thing that barely poked up above the turntable. No loading up of multiple records on that baby.

And that’s all it took. We came to our senses, and once again left the store without the hifi.

Am I sorry?

Yeah, a little bit. But I did take the card of the chap who was selling it… So stay tuned.