An update to this post: my Queensborough friend Elaine Kapusta tells me that the Ham Supper will take place Wednesday, April 25, not April 20 (I believe April 20 was last year’s date). And for those planning further ahead, the fall 2012 Turkey Supper is on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Bon appétit!
A great community tradition that was going strong when my family arrived in Queensborough in 1964, was going strong when we moved away in 1975, and is still going strong today, is the spring Ham Supper and the fall Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church.
I was reminded of it this evening by an email from our new friend Gary Fordyce in Oshawa, collector and seller of local history books from Central Ontario (and the source of my just-arrived copy of Times to Remember in Elzevir Township, which is awesome), and apparently also a collector of community news events from the same area. Gary tells me that the 2012 Queensborough Ham Supper is
Friday, April 20 Wednesday, April 25, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. – but don’t tell that to your friends until I double-confirm it; it wasn’t on the community-events calendar on the Tweed website (Queensborough is now part of the Greater Tweed Area) when I checked just now. I’ll keep you posted.
But yes, the Ham Supper and the Turkey Supper. Those words alone bring back such memories. The suppers – fundraisers for the church, and held in the church hall – attracted everyone, everyone, in town. Why would you pass up an all-you-could-eat meal, with the best home cooking, and an evening of rubbing shoulders and shooting the breeze with your neighbours, for probably something under $10 for an entire family (back in my day) and perhaps $25 or $30 for a whole family today?
You’d arrive at the church and go in the front door; in the small vestibule would be Ken Cassidy, selling tickets. The ticket was a worn (re-used many times) piece of cardboard bearing a number, which you clutched as you moved through the swinging wooden doors into the sanctuary (the big room where the service is, for you non-church folks) and found a seat in a pew. It was always slightly odd to be in the sanctuary in the evening, with the lights blazing; normally you were there for the Sunday-morning service, when the electric lights were unlit (unless it was hopelessly dim outside) and sunlight would be streaming though the stained-glass windows. And there in the pew under the blazing electric lights you sat and chatted with your friends and neighbours, all of you waiting hungrily for your number to be called.
Oh, the smells one could smell while sitting there! Not just ham or turkey; also scalloped or mashed potatoes, all manner of vegetable dishes, baked beans – the best, I swear; Boston be damned, the best baked beans in the world were (and I hope still are) made in Queensborough, Ontario – and warm homemade rolls. My tummy is rumbling as I write this.
So you would sit there, and chat with the other folks – some of them church regulars; some of them people who only darkened the doors for the church suppers, which in itself was kind of nice because you maybe didn’t get to chat with them all that often otherwise – and your tummy would rumble as you smelled the beautiful food smells. And then Bobbie would emerge from the choir room/hall. Bobbie Sager (later, after her midlife marriage, Bobbie Ramsay) was always the mistress of ceremonies, which was just as it should have been since she – as general-store keeper, pillar of the church, and pretty much single-handedly the person who ran Queensborough for decades – was The Boss. Bobbie would call numbers, and if you had that number you and your family could finally go in to the overheated hall, find seats along one of the long tables, and dive in to that wonderful, simple, homemade food. Bowls and platters would be placed on the tables family-style, and people would pass them along. Always there were the members of the United Church Women hovering behind the diners, ready to snatch away an almost-empty bowl and replace it with another full-to-overflowing one, to pour you a cup of tea that was so black it looked like coffee, and finally – ooooooh – to offer you dessert. Pie! They would ask you what kind of pie you’d like. And there was every kind of pie, thanks to the pie-baking members of the UCW. You could have one piece, or two, or three.
You always left the table replete, and then some.
But if you were a kid, as I was, you’d then maybe go hang out in the exciting darkness on the church grounds outside the hall with the other kids who’d also finished supper. You’d play tag, or just run around disorganizedly. You’d share jokes and revel in the fact that you were outside together on a special night, a night at the church when it was more about community than about church. And you hoped you could maybe stay there a little past your regular bedtime.
And then finally it would be time to go home. If you were me, it was a short walk down the gentle hill on which the church sat, to the big red-brick house. The Manse. Where Dad would rekindle the fire in the wood stove, all would be light and warm, and there you were: with the people who mattered most. Your family.