I don’t remember a lot about my family’s arrival at the Manse that first sunny day in July 1964. (I was, after all, only four years old, as I’ve mentioned.) Only two things stick in my mind.
One is a swing set (was it painted pink, maybe?) that looked pretty appealing to a four-year-old, especially one who has sat through a long drive in the car – though I don’t remember where we arrived from; probably either the Sedgwick family farm outside Gelert, in Haliburton County, which my father had inherited six years earlier when his father died; or the home of my mother’s parents in Leaside, the pleasant, leafy Toronto neighbourhood where Lorna (my mum) grew up.
Anyway, the swing set was at the home of our new neighbours, the Gordons, and I’m pretty sure I was able to go play there in fairly short order. Their daughter, Connie, was an early friend.
The other thing I remember was the shouted welcome from the elderly man (Will Holmes, we later found out) who was standing in his front yard across the street, watching us pile out of Dad’s 1956 Chevy Bel-Air. It wasn’t your typical welcome.
“Don’t drink the water!”
Ah. Just what you want to hear. Especially if you are the young mother of three very young children (me, 4, my sister Melanie, 2, and my brother John, 4 months). If my father had been told ahead of our arrival that the water at the manse was not potable, he hadn’t shared this information with my mum. Perhaps just as well; she might very well have refused to come. It was a long way from Leaside, in more ways than one.
I guess we were lucky that we at least had a well, and running water in the house. Not everyone in the village did; there were outhouses here and there. But the well had been dug too close to the cesspool (“an underground reservoir for liquid waste [as household sewage]”) and the water was contaminated enough to be undrinkable.
So for all the 11 years we lived at the Manse, water had to be pumped by hand from the well outside the the schoolhouse (now the Queensborough Community Centre) and carried in buckets back home. That was a chore for the children, as soon as we were big enough. Dad would call out the name of the person whose turn it was (the victim, we felt like): “Katherine! Water!” “Melanie! Water!” and there was nothing for it but to make the hike up the hill to the school (maybe five minutes) and haul back the pail (or two pails, if you could) of water. Not bad on a nice summer day; a real drag in deepest winter. But it had to be done.
There was a stand in the pantry for the pails of water, each of which had a dipper in it. If you wanted a drink of water, you dipped the dipper in and you drank from that. Everybody used the same two dippers, and we never thought twice about it. Seems amazing now, but we all survived and thrived.
I guess ministers who came to the Queensborough-Eldorado Pastoral Charge after my father left were less complacent than were Dad and the rest of us (though I wouldn’t include my mum in that) about having to pump and carry water; a few years after we left, a new well was drilled. The water, according to all recent tests, is 100% safe to drink. But let me tell you, it’s going to take a while before it doesn’t seem really weird to me to run water from the tap in that kitchen into a glass and actually drink it.
But I guess I’ll have to get used to it. The pump at the school is no more.